An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Programme Evaluation Transition Year

REPORT

 

Margaret Aylward Community College

Whitehall, Dublin 9

Roll Number: 70321P

 

     Date of inspection: 3 December 2008

 

 

 

 

Introduction

Quality of programme organisation

Quality of programme planning and coordination

Quality of learning and teaching

Summary of strengths and recommendations for further development

 

 

  

EVALUATION OF THE TRANSITION YEAR

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

This report has been written following an evaluation of the Transition Year (TY) in Margaret Aylward Community College, Whitehall, Dublin 9. 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 three days during which the inspector liaised extensively 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 students’ work and reviewed relevant documentation pertaining to the programme, as well as teachers’ written preparation. The outcomes of the evaluation were discussed with the school principal, the deputy principal and relevant staff 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.

  

Margaret Aylward Community College was established by the Sisters of the Holy Faith in September 1969. In 1983 it was transferred to the City of Dublin Vocational Educational Committee (VEC). Margaret Aylaward Community College is an all-girls school. The TY programme is well established in the school as it has been on offer for a number of years.

 

 

1.         Quality of programme organisation

 

1.1        Whole school support

 There is very good whole-school support for the TY programme in the school. In the course of the evaluation, it was clear that the senior management team has a strong commitment to, and a thorough knowledge of, the programme. Their leadership regarding the programme and its implementation is most effective.  The programme is discussed formally at staff meetings and much informal discussion regarding TY also takes place among staff and management. The TY teaching team meets as a distinct group to discuss and plan the programme. This is commendable. The TY teaching team displayed a positive attitude to the ethos of the programme. The morale among the TY teaching team was seen to be generally very high. All members of staff are consulted regarding the skills, interests and talents they have, which they may wish to use in designing a module for TY. This is very good practice.

 

The majority of teachers delivering the TY programme are very familiar with the programme’s guidelines and ethos. However there has not been any opportunity to have whole-staff continuous professional development (CPD) regarding TY in the recent past. In the interim, before such a whole-staff CPD event might be organised staff could usefully consult the website of the TY support service at www.slss.ie. This is a very useful resource and many materials may be downloaded. There is also information about the new Transition Year Teacher Professional Network on this website which may be of interest to the teaching team. In addition there are courses provided in local education centers that are specifically aimed at aspects of delivering the TY programme in schools.

 

Currently there is no formal induction process for teachers new to teaching TY in the school. When resources permit, it is recommended that consideration be given to having a formal induction process, including the provision of a prepared pack of resources relating to TY, for new teachers.

 

1.2        Resources

 Resources are used very well to support the implementation of the programme in the school. In total, sixteen members of staff are assigned to teach on the programme. Timetabling for the various modules and subjects is generally good. However some issues need to be addressed in this regard. In the case of French, two class periods per week are assigned on two consecutive days. Ideally when subjects only have two lessons assigned to them, it is recommended that these lessons be spread out. In total twenty-six hours per week is assigned to the TY programme. This does not comply with the Department of Education and Science circular 29/95 which stipulates that a minimum of twenty-eight hours of instruction time must be provided for the students. It is recommended that this issue be addressed as soon as possible.

 

Some material resources are kept in a room next to the staff room. It would be helpful if a list of all TY-specific resources in the school was made and included in the relevant planning documentation. There is no specific office allocated to TY. However members of the teaching team have access to the main school office if such facilities are required, for example prior to organizing outings for TY students. There are good information and communication technologies (ICT) facilities in the school and students in TY have good access to these facilities. This is commendable as this access gives students the opportunity to develop ICT skills.

 

The TY capitation grant is used effectively to fund workshops, subsidise outings and cover other costs associated with the programme. A specific TY contribution is requested from parents to fund some of the activities which are part of the programme.

 

1.3        Student selection and support

 The TY programme is optional for students in the school. Members of staff go to great trouble to encourage students to avail of the programme. Students who will benefit the most from TY are specifically targeted and encouraged to participate in the TY. It is recommended that the criteria for suitability for participation in TY be formally documented and then reviewed from time to time. This will bring greater clarity to the process of student selection.

 

The guidance programme for students prior to entry to, and in the course of, TY is very good. Students are given timely advice regarding TY while they are still in junior cycle. This is good practice as it enables students to focus on the benefits of the TY programme. Once in TY students receive a lot of help from the guidance department in the course of the year. The guidance counselor meets students in September to see how they are settling in. This is effective practice as it ensures that problems can be dealt with early on in the school year. Throughout the year, personal, vocational and educational guidance is available to the students on an individual basis. The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATS) are administered to the students in the course of the year to help inform them about their abilities and talents. While the guidance programme for TY clearly provides very good support for students, it is recommended that consideration be given to timetabling one class period per week for the TY class, if resources permit. The written guidance plan was made available at the time of the inspection. It is recommended that this plan be developed to include student learning outcomes, specific time frames for the delivery of the guidance programme, and activities that students will be engaged in to ensure the development of their knowledge regarding subject choice and career options. It is also recommended that links to the students’ practical experience of the world of work be documented in the guidance plan and that the use of ICT as a teaching and learning tool in educational and vocational guidance be exemplified.

 

There is very good support for students in TY. The care for students was evidenced not only by structures which are in place in the school but also in interactions between teachers and students. Teachers are clearly most committed to the welfare of their students. An example of this dedication is the staff initiative to hold a Christmas dinner for those TY students who are asylum seekers and living without their families in Ireland. Members of staff give generously of their time to organize this event. Such care for students is to be very highly commended.

 

Students with additional needs are well supported in the TY programme. Where required, English as an additional language (EAL) support is provided. Students with special educational needs are also well supported, as additional teaching resources may be deployed to help these students. Staff and management are to be commended for encouraging and using a team-teaching approach, as opposed to withdrawing students from the mainstream class, to provide extra help.

 

The induction programme for students at the beginning of TY is good. Students take part in an outdoor pursuits programme which builds self confidence and develops team skills. This is effective and students themselves reported how much they benefited from the formal induction. To build on the good practice, it is recommended that the publication Student Induction in Transition Year: A Guide for Co-ordinators, which is available from the aforementioned website of the second level support service, be used to extend the existing induction programme.

 

1.4        Home-school links

 There are very good links between the school and the students’ parents. Prior to entry to TY, parents of third-year students are invited to the school to receive information regarding the best senior cycle options for their children. When necessary, letters containing comprehensive information regarding trips or activities in TY are sent to parents to keep them informed about such matters. Parents are also invited to attend TY events in the school.  A parent-teacher meeting is held for parents of the students in TY. Parents are provided with meaningful feedback on their children’s progress. This year, parents made a suggestion regarding the curriculum content and work experience for TY students. This suggestion was taken on board by the management and staff in the school. This exemplifies the partnership approach of the school with parents and is most laudable.

 

 

2.          Quality of programme planning and coordination

 

2.1        Planning

 A written plan for the TY programme in Margaret Aylward Community College was made available in the course of the evaluation. This plan begins with the school’s mission statement and relevant policies pertaining to student admission, attendance and special educational needs. The plan contains details of the curriculum content to be covered in the various modules and subjects in TY. The documentation regarding work experience contained in the plan is very good. It is recommended that the TY programme be developed further, using the suggestions regarding procedures for review as outlined in the Department of Education and Science publication Writing the Transition Year Programme. Given that the student cohort in TY in the school comprises students of many different nationalities, it is recommended that the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) publication Intercultural Education in the Post-Primary School: guidelines for schools be used when the plan for TY is being reviewed.

 

The plans for individual subjects and modules contained, in the main, information on curriculum content to be covered. To build on the existing good work that has been done, it is recommended that desired specific learning outcomes be stated in terms of what the students will be able, or expected, to do at the end of a unit of learning. This could usefully be done in conjunction with section 2.3 of the brochure Writing the Transition Year Programme. It is also recommended that these plans state how the subject or module will be evaluated from the point of view of content and methodologies. This should be done in conjunction with section 2.10 of the aforementioned brochure.

 

There was good evidence of a cross-curricular dimension to the plans, in the context of the integration of ICT into certain subjects. This is very good practice and to be commended. An excellent example of cross-curricular planning is the development of the ‘baby care’ programme which encompasses aspects of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Biology.  As cross-curricular links are part of the core philosophy of TY, it is recommended that further work be done in this area. Subject departments could work together to establish interdisciplinary areas of study. Further information on this should be accessed in the Department of Education and Science document Transition Year Programme Guidelines for Schools which is available at www.slss.ie.

 

The student cohort in the school includes students with additional educational needs and it is important that the plans for the subjects and modules reflect this. It is recommended that the plans include information on differentiation and the different methodologies which will be used and are suitable for the mixed-ability nature of the classes.

 

There is no official TY core team in place. However the key personnel who are very involved in the delivery of the TY programme meet together very frequently, mainly on an informal basis. These teachers work very well together and ensure the smooth running of the programme. When resources permit, it is suggested that the formation of a formal core team for TY be considered.

 

An essential part of the planning process is review. The TY programme is reviewed informally by the school management and staff. It is recommended that a formal review take place at the end of the TY programme. Very good materials for conducting such a formal review are available at www.slss.ie.

 

2.2        Coordination

 At the time of the evaluation there was no TY co-ordinator in place. The tutor for the TY class group, in conjunction with the senior management team, took responsibility for the smooth running of the TY programme. If resources permit, it is recommended that a TY co-ordinator be put in place. In the event of this happening, it is suggested that a list of duties of TY co-ordinator be established.

 

The TY programme in the school is very well co-ordinated. It is acknowledged that the TY class tutor has voluntarily taken on many of the tasks associated with the co-ordination of the programme, which are outside the remit of class tutor duties. This level of dedication and commitment to the programme is most highly commended.

 

The TY class tutor has regular class contact with the TY students and this enables very good communication with the students. The class tutor maintains good records in relation to TY students. While the work of TY students is displayed in the school there is not a dedicated TY notice board. If resources permit, it would be useful to install such a notice board so that notices regarding activities may be put on display.

 

2.3        Curriculum

 Curriculum provision in TY is very good. Every effort is made to ensure that it is broad and balanced. In designing the curriculum for the programme, the principles underlying TY are adhered to. From analysis of the written programme and lesson observation, it is clear that the mission and ethos of TY underpin the curriculum. This is very good practice. The four layers that normally form the TY curriculum, namely core, modular, optional and calendar were all present. One of the hallmarks of the TY curriculum in Margaret Aylward Community College is that it is flexible in nature and is newly designed each year, depending on the interests and previous experience of the student cohort. This is most praiseworthy.

 

Gaeilge, Mathematics, English, French and ICT are the core subjects in the TY curriculum. Students are given the opportunity to sample cookery and there are modules in History, Horticulture, Personal Development, Technology, Leisure and Recreation, Art and Music. It was noted in the course of the evaluation that some TY students are placed in a higher-level fifth-year Mathematics class. The reason for this is to enable TY students to pursue the higher-level Mathematics course for the Leaving Certificate examination. As the Department of Education and Science guidelines are very clear on the amount of Leaving Certificate material that can be covered in TY, it is recommended that this practice be reviewed.

 

Students in TY work in a nursing home one afternoon per week, which essentially means that community work and work experience are merged into one. Students themselves reported that they found this beneficial and had learned a lot from the experience. It was evident from discussion with the students that this experience has enabled them to develop both personally and socially. This is most praiseworthy. It is recommended that attendance at work experience be monitored more closely than it is at the moment, in order to ensure immediate awareness by the school in the event of a TY student not showing up for work experience as required. Other forms of work experience were being considered by staff and management at the time of the evaluation. It is recommended that the school proceed with establishing a programme of work experience which would provide TY students with a diverse range of work placements and would thus provide a broad experience for students. In the event of such a programme of work experience being established, it is recommended that all students be given equal opportunity to avail of work placements.

 

Social and personal education forms part of the TY curriculum. Through the module on leisure and recreation, students in TY get the opportunity to go mountaineering, take part in dance workshops, do aromatherapy and learn about stress management. The TY students are involved in fundraising for charity. The school usually participates in the Young Social Innovators competition. Personnel who run the School Completion Programme (SCP) have taken responsibility for the delivery of this element of the curriculum and this year students in TY are studying the theme of drugs. These elements of the curriculum are to be commended as they reflect the ethos of the TY programme and contribute to enriching the experiences for the students.

 

Business education takes the form of a minicompany in the TY programme. Students have set up a minicompany which involves running a shop at break time. In the course of the evaluation, students were observed working in the shop and it was evident that it was a very good project. Students are involved in all aspects of running this business and each student gets an opportunity to take part. The students receive very good support from their teachers to run this company. This is most laudable. A module on banking is studied under the auspices of junior achievement. It is recommended that, resources permitting, some formal element of business studies be incorporated into the TY curriculum. This would support the very practical element of the minicompany project.

 

 

3.          Quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1        Planning and preparation

 Long-term planning for subjects and modules has been referred to in section 2.1 above. In the course of lesson observation, it was clear that the majority of lessons were well planned. Materials, handouts and other resources for use in the course of lessons had been well prepared. Planning for effective teaching methodologies was also evident in the majority of cases. In planning for individual lessons, it is recommended that the mixed-ability nature of the student cohort always be taken into account. In this light, planning for differentiation should take place. In planning for group work, very good practice was observed where students were assigned to groups by the teacher who ensured that groups comprised students of different nationalities. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all lessons, as opposed to letting students form their own groups. Where teachers design groups in advance, it allows for greater integration of students and means that new friendships and working partnerships can be formed. It also allows for students of different abilities to work together.

 

3.2        Learning and teaching

 In the course of the evaluation, lessons in a range of subjects including core and modular were observed. Lesson content was appropriate to the interests of the students. The pace of most lessons was very good and students progressed readily from one activity to the next. This facilitated student learning and is to be commended. In one instance, students finished the assigned tasks quickly and were not given further tasks. It is recommended that the pacing of lessons be considered in advance. It is recommended that, where students complete tasks more quickly than anticipated, other material should be made available to the students to ensure the learning outcomes are achieved and students are suitably challenged.

 

A variety of good teaching methods was observed across lessons. In a lesson observed, students were learning to use a new software package. In the course of the lesson, students had been given specific tasks to enable them to become familiar with the new software package. While students were working independently, the teacher circulated and gave individual attention to students. This is effective practice and allows for a differentiated approach to students’ needs. In addition it was noted that students who had completed tasks more quickly than others offered help to fellow students. This is most commendable as it encourages good cooperation within the TY class group.

Good quality learning took place in many of the lessons observed. Group and pair work was facilitated effectively in some lessons. In a lesson observed, students worked in groups. Each group within the class had a different task to complete. Instructions were very clear and students worked well together. It was clear, from interaction with students about the tasks, that effective learning was taking place.

In some practical lessons observed, short teacher input and demonstrations were followed by students carrying out activities. In these lessons students carried out practical tasks very well while teachers circulated to monitor progress and provide constructive feedback to students. This good practice should be extended to all practical lessons.

Classroom management in all lessons was very good. Students remained on task and discipline was very good. This is commendable. The classroom atmosphere in all lessons observed was very good. Students were encouraged to contribute to the lesson. Students’ contributions were praised and affirmed. The nature of student-teacher interactions was positive. This is good practice and created a positive environment in which learning could take place.

 

3.3               Assessment

 A variety of effective assessment methods are employed in the course of TY. Many subject areas require students to complete project work. In the lessons observed students were actively seeking information and working independently on a variety of projects. Students and teachers are to be commended for the work that is involved in these projects. It is suggested that specific guidelines be given to the students regarding research skills for project work. All TY students are required to keep a log of their activities. This is effective as it encourages reflective learning.

 

Homework was assigned in some of the lessons observed and is seen as an integral part of assessment in TY. A sample of copybooks was viewed at the time of the inspection. In some cases students had completed good work and received formative feedback from teachers. This is effective practice. It was noted that generally students do not follow up on errors they have made. It is recommended that the principles of Assessment for Learning be adopted across all subject departments. Further information on AfL can be found on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie. In certain subjects students are encouraged to assess aspects of their own learning. This is most effective practice and should be extended to all subjects as it encourages reflective learning.

Formal assessments for TY students in English, Mathematics, History and French take place at Christmas and in the summer. In other subjects students receive a grade based on the terms work. Reports are sent home to parents twice a year. TY is formally certified and students are presented with a certificate of participation in the programme. The school TY certificates are awarded in three categories, namely distinction, merit and pass. Students may also receive other certificates for participation or achievement in certain courses. Certificates are presented at a dedicated TY awards ceremony at the end of the year and students’ families are invited to attend this ceremony. This is to be commended.

 

 

4.  summary of strengths and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·   There is very good whole-school support for the TY programme in Margaret Aylward Community College.

·   Resources are used very well to support the implementation of the programme in the school.

·   The TY programme is optional for students in the school. Members of staff go to great trouble to encourage students to avail of the programme.

   Students who will benefit the most from TY are specifically targeted and encouraged to follow the TY programme.

·   There is very good support for students in TY. The care for students was evidenced not only by structures which are in place in the school, but also in

   interaction with staff who are clearly most committed to the welfare of their students.

·   There are very good links between the school and the students’ parents.

·   The TY programme is very well co-ordinated and it is acknowledged that the TY class tutor has voluntarily taken on many of the tasks associated with

   the co-ordination of the programme which are outside the remit of class tutor duties.

·   The TY curriculum as designed by the school is broad and balanced. Great care is taken to ensure that the curriculum is flexible and meets the needs

   of the individual student cohort.

·   Good quality learning took place in many of the lessons observed.

·   A variety of effective assessment methods are employed in the course of TY.

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:

 

·     It is recommended that all staff consult the website of the TY support service at www.slss.ie and avail of the very useful resources on this website.

·     It is recommended that the criteria for suitability for participation in TY be formally documented and then reviewed from time to time. This will bring

    greater clarity to the process of student selection.

·     It is recommended that all short-term planning be informed by an analysis and statement of desired learning outcomes for students.

·     It is recommended that more opportunities for interdisciplinary activities be exemplified in the individual subject and modular plans. In these plans, it

    should also be stated how the subject or module will be evaluated from the point of view of content and methodologies.

·     In planning for group work, it is recommended that teachers design groups in advance in order to allow for greater integration of students.

·     It is recommended that the principles of Assessment for Learning be adopted across all subject departments.

 

 

 

 

Published, November 2009