An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme
St Colmanís College
Fermoy, County Cork
Roll Number: 62260C
Date of inspection: 10 November 2009
This report has been written following an evaluation of the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) in St Colmanís College. It presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for the further development of the programme in the school. During the evaluation, the inspector held meetings with the school principal, a core group of teachers and with a small group of students. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector liaised with the programme co-ordinator and visited classrooms to observe teaching and learning. The inspector provided oral feedback to teachers on lessons observed. The inspector also examined studentsí work and reviewed relevant documentation pertaining to the programme, as well as teachersí written preparation. The outcomes of the evaluation were discussed with the school principal, the programme co-ordinator and members of the teaching team at the end of the evaluation period. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
St Colmanís College is an all-boys Catholic voluntary secondary school overlooking the town of Fermoy. The school was founded in 1858 as the Cloyne Diocesan Seminary and was a boarding school until 2003, a year that also saw the first lay Principal being appointed. The LCVP programme is well established in St Colmanís, having been introduced into the school in 1996. It attracts a high uptake, with anything from between 50% and 90% of the Leaving Certificate student cohort opting for the programme. There are currently two LCVP groups in both fifth year and sixth year.
1.1 Whole-school support
In St Colmanís College, LCVP students are integrated with their peers for all other subjects and come together as distinct groups for link modules lessons. In the course of the evaluation, students demonstrated a high level of awareness and appreciation of the value of participating in the programme. A member of staff, who is not currently a post-holder, acts as LCVP co-ordinator and is responsible for the implementation of the programme. She is assisted in this task by the guidance counsellor and a core LCVP team comprising the schoolís overall programme co-ordinator and the two teachers of the Link Modules. Two members of the team have completed professional training in relation to the programme.
Whole-school support in relation to the provision of teaching resources for the programme is very good. Funding is provided on a needs basis and both teachers of the Link Modules have access to information and communication technology (ICT) during timetabled link module lessons. Teachers are encouraged to avail of continuing professional development (CPD). Two members of the core team have availed of LCVP in-service in the past and it is envisaged that the third member of the team will complete LCVP-specific in-service training, provided by the Second Level Support Services (SLSS), in the near future. This is strongly encouraged.
In sixth year, timetabling for LCVP consists of two single lesson periods for the Link Modules, which is in line with the syllabus. In fifth year, however, the allocation of two single periods falls short of the recommended three periods per week. The school is urged to provide the extra time allocation, perhaps including a double period to facilitate in-school and out-of-school enterprise visits. It is also noted that this year, for the first time, the LCVP co-ordinator is not timetabled for the Link Modules and has no timetabled contact with the LCVP class groups. In line with syllabus recommendations, it is strongly recommended that the co-ordinator be timetabled for some class contact with LCVP class groups.
The LCVP syllabus requires all students who take the programme to follow a course in a modern European language other than English and Irish over the course of the two years of the programme. Recommended practice is to have one lesson per week throughout the two years of the programme Ė however, if this proves difficult, a module of the same time equivalent can be provided for those students who need it. In St Colmanís College, in order to fulfil this requirement, it is reported that those students who are not taking a language for the Leaving Certificate examination are provided with two intensive one-week modules over the course of the two years. It is planned that a language assistant will provide this module in the current year. It is recommended that a comprehensive plan for this language module be drawn up and that the module is delivered by a qualified language teacher or teachers. It is also recommended that the school provide its own assessment criteria and certification for this module.
The LCVP co-ordinator, who carries out her task with efficiency and dedication, does not have any time allocated for co-ordination of the programme and this makes the effective co-ordination of the four LCVP groups challenging. It is recommended, therefore, that management allow sufficient designated time for the co-ordinator to successfully manage the programme.
A dedicated LCVP notice board in the staffroom provides information relating to LCVP matters for the whole staff. The schoolís overall programme co-ordinator carries out much of the work involved in the studentsí work experience placements and the guidance counsellor provides support and information for students, particularly in relation to their career investigation work. Other members of staff provide support for the LCVP team through volunteering to carry out work experience monitoring and visits and this is commendable. It is suggested that further steps could be taken to increase more whole-staff awareness of the programme, with a view to developing more cross-curricular links, particularly with the Vocational Subject Groupings (VSGs). More widespread consultation with the whole staff regarding the programme would be of benefit.
A central storage area is available for shared programme resources and teachers of the Link Modules have built up a good range of resources for the programme. Information and communication technology has been very effectively incorporated into the LCVP, with students and teachers having good computer access. Teachers of the Link Modules have base classrooms and data projectors have recently been installed in each room, thus enabling the use of broadband-linked ICT in the classroom. Management has also ensured that the two computer rooms are available to the classes during timetabled lessons for the Link Modules. This is good provision. The teacher-based classrooms also provide the opportunity to create a stimulating learning environment through the display of subject-related posters. It is suggested that this could be further developed to include specific learning outcomes (SLO) and samples of studentsí work.
LCVP teachers are appropriately assigned. The involvement of teachers who are also associated with the Business Studies and ICT departments brings added, relevant, expertise to the programme. Teachers of the Link Modules and the co-ordinator demonstrate very good collegiality and co-operation, and form an enthusiastic and hardworking team.
1.3 Student selection and support
The selection of students for the programme is in line with the objectives for the programme. Students who meet with VSG requirements are actively encouraged by management to take the programme. The guidance counsellor and LCVP programme co-ordinator ensure that relevant and timely information is given to prospective students and their parents, and that students who would particularly benefit from the programme are targeted. Traditionally the programme has had a healthy uptake, with currently just over half of the Leaving Certificate student cohort taking the programme.
It is evident that studentsí needs, including any special educational needs, are identified and communicated to members of staff. Effective links are in place between LCVP teachers and the special educational needs department to ensure that any necessary interventions are put in place to provide the appropriate support for those students who need them. All of this is very positive.
1.4 Home, school and community links
Links have been developed with local employers and third-level institutions. Students are encouraged to attend open days, and a careers day is held at the school to further facilitate students in their career and further-education choices. Visiting speakers are invited to give talks to the students from time to time. It is suggested that the programme could benefit from the extra timetabled provision suggested previously to further develop in-school and out-of-school visits, and to increase links with local enterprises.
Parents are informed of their sonsí progress during annual parent-teacher meetings which are held in both years of the programme and are contacted if there is a problem regarding their sonsí progress. It is strongly recommended that LCVP studentsí progress should also be included in formal school reports to parents.
The school has been involved in whole-school development planning and subject-department planning is well developed within the school. The core LCVP team formally meets about four times per year in order to discuss, plan and evaluate the programme, and it is good practice that these meetings are minuted. From time to time, issues relating to LCVP are brought to the attention of the principal who then meets with the team. It is suggested that a copy of the minutes of all LCVP planning meetings should be relayed to senior management in order to ensure that the principal is kept informed about developments and issues in relation to the programme.
The written plan which has been developed for LCVP is well thought-out and comprehensive, and shows evidence of much good work. Schemes of work are laid out for each week for each group, with details of classroom activities, specific learning outcomes and resources included. From planning documentation it is evident that planning for students with special educational needs is an integral part of the programme. Some links with other subject departments are included in the plan and it is recommended that the team look at ways of increasing these cross-curricular links.
It is evident that teachers of the Link Modules share teaching resources and confer on a regular basis. Excellent use has been made of ICT to develop resources and to make these resources available not only to the teachers but also to students. Each student has his own LCVP file on the intranet system where he can access a folder for each topic or area of study. He can access lesson plans, marking schemes, details of learning outcomes and information relating to material covered. This is highly commended as a very practical way of facilitating and supporting self-directed learning. Studentsí portfolio work is corrected using ICT, enabling students to make their own corrections once they have been highlighted by the teacher. As it is clear that the LCVP team is very open to collaboration and a sharing of ideas, it is suggested that ongoing discussion of the specific methodologies and resources used for the different activities and tasks, with the aim of further increasing independent learning, would be of benefit.
The LCVP co-ordinator has good knowledge of the programme and its implementation, and has been involved in teaching the Link Modules up until this year. However, the lack of both co-ordination time and, currently, contact with the LCVP groups, as mentioned previously, presents particular challenges in the co-ordination of the programme. There is good communication between the co-ordinator and members of senior management. The recent reinstatement of work experience for LCVP students, following discussions between the LCVP team and senior management, is a welcome development, as this is an integral component of the programme.
During the evaluation it was evident that the co-ordinator and the LCVP team are in regular contact and work well together. The co-ordinator actively facilitates the sharing of resources and good practice. Both the co-ordinator and teachers are commended for their enthusiasm, hard work, team approach, and their willingness to try new approaches and methodologies to effectively meet the needs of their students.
The curriculum for LCVP incorporates the relevant components of the programme. There is good provision for students to develop their ICT skills. Contact with the guidance counsellor is provided through individual interviews and regular class contact. Links are in place with the religious education department in relation to voluntary charity work which students carry out as part of the programme.
Students complete a week of work experience as part of the programme and this is well managed. Good preparation and follow-up procedures are carried out. Employers complete an assessment sheet on each student and this is then given to the students. Contact is made with the place of employment, either through a visit or phone call to each studentís employer during the work experience placement and it is commended that other staff members volunteer to carry out some of this monitoring.
It is suggested that the team should look at ways of introducing new and varied opportunities for LCVP students to engage in enterprise activities both inside and outside the classroom. Cross-curricular links between vocational subject groupings and link module activities should be encouraged where possible.
3.1 Planning and preparation
A high level of both long-term planning for the programme and individual lesson planning was in evidence. The taught programme reflects the written plan for the programme and good collaboration and support were in evidence among team members. ICT is used effectively for teaching and learning materials and the fact that students can access LCVP planning documentation electronically is very good practice. During the evaluation visit, individual planning for lessons had clear aims and lesson content was suitably challenging for students. In one instance, the provision of a back-up handout for students ensured the success of a lesson where the broadband connection was temporarily suspended for part of the lesson.
3.2 Learning and teaching
A good standard of teaching was in evidence during the course of the evaluation. Lessons were well structured and the lesson pace was appropriate to students. Good continuity with previous learning was in evidence and the lesson aims were clearly outlined to students at the outset. Instructions for student activity were clear. A range of teaching methodologies was used, including active-learning methodologies such as group work. Teachers demonstrated an awareness of individual studentsí learning needs and it was evident that this informed the delivery of the lesson. The good practice of linking lesson content to studentsí own lives and interests was seen in one lesson where examples of local companies were used to prepare students for a SWOT analysis on a case study. In this lesson, suggestions were made that students be given more time to come up with their own ideas and become more actively involved in group discussion before being presented with examination questions and possible solutions. In another lesson, where students were researching their career investigations on-line, the importance of making the work their own was emphasised. A career investigation completed by a past student was effectively used as an exemplar to demonstrate what was expected of students.
In the lessons observed, students were purposeful and involved throughout. They engaged well with lesson tasks and were appropriately challenged by the learning activities. The quality of studentsí understanding of lesson content was reflected in their ability to answer questions and it was evident that effective learning was taking place. A review of completed portfolio work and recorded interviews showed a high standard of work.
Classroom management and atmosphere
Classroom management was very good, with teachersí affirmation of studentsí efforts contributing to the overall positive and pleasant classroom atmosphere. It was evident that teacher-student rapport is very good and that teachers have high expectations of students. Group work was well managed, with the formation of the groups well planned to maximise learning outcomes. The teacher-based classrooms have provided the opportunity to create a print-rich environment and it is suggested that this could be further developed.
Studentsí work is well monitored and constructive feedback is given to students. Assessment is carried out through class questioning, correction of studentsí portfolio items and homework, class tests and observation of classroom interactions. Attendance and progress are systematically monitored and recorded. Commendably, a member of the team has been involved in certificate examination work in the recent past and this gives a good insight into the portfolio and written-paper marking system which is then shared with students and other members of the team. Parents receive feedback on studentsí progress at parent-teacher meetings. It is recommended that LCVP studentsí progress also be assessed through the schoolís formal assessment procedures and that they sit an LCVP examination as part of the schoolís in-house examinations. LCVP studentsí progress should then be included in formal reports to parents.
4.1 Programme evaluation
The LCVP team carries out a formal review of the programme at the end of the year and there is evidence that this evaluation process has had an impact on the planning and implementation of programme. Certificate examination results are compared with national norms and inform planning. An end-of-year student questionnaire has been used in the past to get feedback and suggestions from LCVP students. This should be used with all LCVP class groups to further inform the planning of the programme. It is suggested that this evaluation process should, in the long term, also involve parents and the wider school community.
Students currently taking the programme are aware of the benefits they have gained from participating in the programme. There is evidence of the development of studentsí learning and self-management skills, and students develop clear plans for future progression. Students feel that the programme provides them with skills which will assist them with career choices and gives them the opportunity to achieve more points in the Leaving Certificate. The research, ICT, report-writing and teamwork skills gained by students, as well as the experience which work placements provide, have all been listed as effective aspects of the programme. Attendance levels are high and take-up of the programme is very good. Community links have been forged through the work-experience programme and enterprise links. Overall, it is felt that the LCVP is an asset to the school and its students.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ Students demonstrate a high level of awareness and appreciation of the value of participating in the programme.
∑ Whole-school provision of teaching resources for the programme is very good.
∑ The LCVP co-ordinator carries out her task with efficiency and dedication.
∑ Work experience placements are well managed to ensure maximum benefit to students.
∑ ICT has been very effectively incorporated into the programme, and excellent use has been made of ICT to develop resources and to make these resources available to students.
∑ Students who would benefit from the LCVP are actively encouraged to take the programme and relevant and timely information is given to prospective students and their parents.
∑ Good communication between the LCVP team and the learning-support team ensures that appropriate supports are in place for students with additional educational needs.
∑ A well thought-out and comprehensive plan has been developed for the LCVP, and individual teacher planning is of high quality.
∑ Self-directed learning is encouraged and facilitated.
∑ Teachers are commended for their enthusiasm, hard work, team approach, and their willingness to try new approaches and methodologies to effectively meet the needs of their students.
∑ Appropriate support from the guidance department is provided for LCVP students.
∑ Teaching and learning observed during the evaluation was good.
∑ Students engaged well with lesson tasks and were appropriately challenged by the learning activities.
∑ Classroom management was very good, with teachersí affirmation of studentsí efforts contributing to the overall positive and pleasant classroom atmosphere.
∑ Studentsí work is well monitored and constructive feedback is given to students.
∑ Evaluation of the programme is carried out by the team regularly and informs planning
∑ It is evident that the programme outcomes are of benefit to the whole-school community.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
∑ The school is urged to provide extra timetabled provision for link module lessons in year one of the programme, and to provide some time for co-ordination of the programme.
∑ It is strongly recommended that the co-ordinator be timetabled for some class contact with LCVP students.
∑ It is recommended that a plan for the language module be drawn up and that this module is delivered by a qualified language teacher or teachers. It is also recommended that the school provide its own assessment criteria and certification for this module.
∑ It is suggested that the team should look at ways of introducing new and varied opportunities for LCVP students to engage in enterprise activities both inside and outside the classroom. This should include an investigation of possibilities for increased cross-curricular links.
∑ It is recommended that LCVP studentsí progress be included in the schoolís formal assessment procedures and that studentsí progress be relayed to parents via formal school reports.
Published, February 2010