An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme Evaluation
Johnstown, County Kilkenny
Roll Number: 70600T
Date of inspection: 29 April 2008
evaluation of leaving certificate vocational programme
Coláiste Mhuire, Johnstown, Co. Kilkenny
The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) is an intervention designed to enhance the vocational dimension of the Leaving Certificate (established). The LCVP combines the academic strengths of the Leaving Certificate (established) with a new and dynamic focus on self-directed learning, innovation and enterprise. The primary goal of the LCVP is to prepare young people for adult life by ensuring that they are educated in the broadest sense, with an ability to cope and thrive in an environment of rapid change. Participants in the programme are encouraged to develop skills and competencies fundamental to both academic and vocational success.
This report has been written following an evaluation of the LCVP in Coláiste Mhuire, Johnstown. 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 extensively with the LCVP programme coordinator 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 LCVP programme coordinator, the programme coordinator and members of the core teaching team at the end of the evaluation period.
The LCVP has been offered in the school since 1998 and each year two class groups are formed. Of the total school enrolment of 412 students, about 50% of the Leaving Certificate cohort pursues the LCVP, with a balanced ratio of male to female participation. As a programme designed to enhance the vocational dimension of the Leaving Certificate, participants in the LCVP are encouraged to develop skills and competencies fundamental to both vocational and academic success. In this way, the inclusion of the LCVP on the curriculum contributes to the fulfilling of the mission statement of the college. The benefit of the skills acquired in the course of participation in the programme was evident in the quality of students’ portfolio work, and in, for example, their reporting on projects for the Leaving Certificate. Students have also benefited from the additional points achieved through the LCVP in accessing their desired further study options.
1.1 Whole school support
It was evident in the course of the evaluation that senior management has ensured the successful implementation of the programme through the effective deployment of teachers to the LCVP. There is a core team of teachers involved in implementing the programme which includes the teachers of Business, the teachers of the Vocational Subject Groupings (VSGs), modern language teachers and the guidance service, as well as the contribution of the LCVP coordinator and the year head for fifth year. LCVP coordination has been assigned as an area of responsibility designated to an assistant principal’s post, which is undertaken by a business teacher who is also the Link Modules teacher. This ensures that provision for LCVP is firmly embedded in the specialist environment of Business which impacts positively on the quality of the programme. The team remains fairly consistent from year to year with variations due to student numbers, VSGs chosen and time-tabling. All members of staff are fully aware of the programme and the activities taking place. Staff members make their expertise available for the betterment of the programme.
The LCVP coordinator has been facilitated in attending available in-service in LCVP. As reported by teachers, the continuous professional development (CPD) engaged in under the LCVP banner has been excellent and equipped teachers with the skills required to implement the programme effectively. School management is commended for facilitating attendance of teachers at available in-service.
The extra teaching allocation for LCVP is channeled into the senior cycle options, thus providing a wider variety and choice of options. This enhances the educational service the college can offer to its cohort of students and is therefore of benefit to senior cycle students overall, which is praiseworthy. LCVP students form part of the mainstream established Leaving Certificate groups and come together as a distinct group for Link Modules lessons and associated activities only. The necessity to block lesson periods to facilitate group activities and for access to information and communication technology (ICT) are the main determinants of the timetable for the Links Modules class periods. These factors have been taken into account by school management in devising the timetable. However, because of timetabling arrangements, LCVP students currently do not receive Physical Education (PE) lessons. This should be addressed by senior management and the timetabling of the Links Modules should be reviewed for future years.
In relation to the fulfillment of programme requirements, senior management ensures the recommended time allocation to the Link Modules. Link Modules classes are currently allocated three single periods in fifth year and two single periods in sixth year. Up to recently, French has been part of the core curriculum, whereas now, while French is offered to all students, there are an increasing number of students who do not learn a modern language. In line with LCVP guidelines, those students not doing Leaving Certificate French have one period of ab initio French per week over two years. The students who pursue a school-based language module are withdrawn for that one period from Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) in the current year.
Funds are provided for LCVP on a needs basis. There is a school minibus which facilitates transport when LCVP activities are being organised. The effective integration of a white board, data projector, computers and worksheets was observed in the delivery of the Links Modules.
1.3 Student selection
If a student chooses Business as a subject for Leaving Certificate and has the relevant requirements for a VSG, the student is selected to participate in the LCVP programme. In this way, student choice of subjects determines student eligibility for selection for the programme. The fact that all LCVP students take Business also facilitates the inclusion of a number of VSGs, with the result that a good mix of both male and female students is availing of the programme. The question of all students pursuing LCVP was explored with the principal and the LCVP team at the time of the evaluation. The most pressing constraints articulated by senior management were available classroom space and staffing. Nevertheless, in the context of available resources and in the context of the board of management’s decisions in relation to the deployment of those resources, senior management should consider broadening the access to LCVP.
The LCVP team articulated the view that the programme would benefit all students, as it improves their ICT skills, their communication and organisational skills. The reasons cited by students themselves for opting for the LCVP included: the possibility of gaining extra points; the fact that the programme is task oriented and involves continuous assessment; the involvement in projects and enterprise activities outside of school; the focus on careers investigations and work experience.
1.4 Home, school and community links
At key stages of transfer, students and parents are presented and fully briefed on subject options, so that students can then make informed choices. The programme coordinator gives an overview of senior cycle options, including LCVP, at briefing meetings with parents. In this way, parents are well informed regarding choice of subjects and consequently programmes. Parents are also closely linked with the organisation of the work shadowing opportunities, and both school staff and parents sometimes draw on their personal contacts to find appropriate work placements or shadowing opportunities for students. Past students are also drawn upon for work experience possibilities. The good practice of the registering of all employers who provide work experience placements to students and requiring the completion of forms for Garda clearance for working with children is commended.
One of the main benefits of running the programme to the school is in the links with local industries and businesses. The maintaining and fostering of links with local business, industries and community is one of the key responsibilities of those teachers with coordination roles. The programme coordinator has an overarching responsibility for work-experience or work shadowing for Transition Year (TY), LCVP and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). Over the last few years, the school’s contact with Glanbia, which provides work site visits for all students, has progressed to a structured formal School’s Business Partnership. This is a commendable development. Students of Coláiste Mhuire, including LCVP students, have also benefited from involvement in the Success Skills@ Work programme which was introduced four years ago to develop interpersonal, work and life skills. The Success Skills@ Work programme provides students with an insight into life after school.
1.5 Supports for students
The LCVP group is mixed ability. Initially, subject areas where support is required for individual students are identified through liaison with subject teachers, through liaison with the learning support personnel and through liaison with the guidance service. The curriculum is then adapted to meet the needs of students with additional educational needs.
The coordination of the LCVP involves engagement in an extensive number of activities. These include a range of administrational, educational and organisational duties; organising and monitoring work shadowing; organising local and Kilkenny site visits; arranging transport, organising portfolio work and making arrangements for the Link Modules examination requirements. Examination of coordination records and planning documentation shows the efficiency and effectiveness with which the LCVP is coordinated. The time allocation from the assistant principal’s post assists in the execution of the range of coordination activities.
Records kept by the coordinator include local site visits contacts, work shadow contacts, internal and state examination LCVP results, portfolio items and records of team meetings. The provision of a base classroom to the LCVP coordinator facilitates the storage of materials and student work. However, although a base classroom is made available, it is frequently utilised by other class groups and access to records required by the LCVP coordinator is restricted at these times. While the principal or deputy-principal office is available for access to computers, fax and email, the provision of an LCVP work station for the central storing of resources and records should be considered by school management. This would facilitate wider and immediate access by members of the LCVP core team to programme documentation.
The coordinator attended in-service on taking up the post and when changes in the LCVP syllabus were introduced. CPD has provided an enhanced understanding of the programme, strategies and methodologies for the teaching of the Links Modules, including ideas for cross-curricular links and enterprise activities. The benefits accrued from the in-service have contributed not only to the quality of the planning documentation but also to the delivery of programme content which was evident in the lessons observed in the course of the evaluation. The focus of in-service being pursued currently by the coordinator is quality assurance and evaluation which is a praiseworthy objective.
There are formal meetings of the LCVP core team facilitated by school management three times a year. The first initial meeting of the LCVP core team is facilitated and attended by senior management. This is good practice. There is a written agenda and minutes are kept of these meetings. Review of the programme forms part of this. The LCVP team also liaises informally as the need arises and their way of working together is characterised by cooperation and teamwork.
The two Link Modules subject plans are outlined in terms of content, methodologies, resources and cross-curricular links. There is a school year planner to record planning for visits-in and visits-out and attendance at career days. Planning documentation also includes a database for site visits and work-shadowing opportunities. The planning documentation examined was thorough, comprehensive and included the main elements of good planning for programme implementation. The inclusion of learner outcomes in the LCVP planning documentation would reinforce the objective of students taking responsibility for their own learning and would reflect more explicitly the sharing of these learning objectives with students, as observed during lesson visits.
Attendance and attainment of individual class groups is also carefully recorded and monitored in programme documentation. The purpose and objectives outlined in the planning documentation for the language module are particularly commendable. The teachers of the subjects in the VSGs chosen by LCVP students also contribute to planning and delivery of key aspects of the programme. Planning also includes linking with the learning support team to ensure meeting the needs of all students.
Cross-curricular planning requires liaison with a number of subject teachers and departments: the English department in relation to report-writing or improving writing skills; the Geography and History departments in relation to My Own Place investigation; links with the ICT department in relation to word-processing. In preparing students for LCVP activities, the guidance service has a considerable input into the area of Career Investigation. As well as having general guidance classes with all fifth years, the guidance service also takes the LCVP students on an individual basis. The preparation for work shadowing is conducted for individuals or small groups.
All students participate in a work-shadowing placement of two days related to their career aspiration. When the career direction has been identified or chosen, the placement is found through a combined effort involving many contacts. Collaboratively between the links modules teacher, the guidance service and the student, two suitable work-shadowing placements are determined. In advance of the work experience, a skills audit is conducted by the guidance service and the Career Investigation is initiated. Career directions websites and college courses are researched and questions for prospective work shadowing are prepared. Students are both encouraged and facilitated in attending higher options seminars, such as FAS opportunities, Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), University of Limerick (UL) and Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT). Such attention to thorough preparation is commended. Preparation for the work-shadowing opportunities has resulted in more focused and realistic career investigations. On completion of the work placement, telephone contact is made once again with the employer, and a verbal report is received by the school. It is praiseworthy that the verbal reports from employers are recorded by the coordinator and given to the individual students concerned. This ensures a written record of the quality of work-shadowing completion.
Students carry out a range of enterprise activities as part of their programme of study. LCVP students are required to carry out research, costing and design of products and are supported in this work by their VSG teachers or links modules teachers. One example of an enterprise was the making of stands for pot plants, which involved cross-curricular work which is an integral part of the school’s LCVP. Working in teams, and the associated development of team work skills, was highlighted by the students as a success of the programme for them.
The curriculum for the school-based language module is task-based with the emphasis on skills development and with an equal focus on language and culture. Language teachers try to make the content of the module both motivating and interactive. The inclusion of a folder of completion is also commendable.
3.1 Planning and preparation for teaching
In the lessons observed, appropriate materials and resources were prepared in advance and the themes and activities observed were in line with programme objectives. Lessons observed showed good development of examination strategies appropriate to the time of the evaluation.
3.2 Teaching and learning
One lesson opened with the examination of a case study in pairs to identify possible areas for questioning. All students were engaged and attentive, and students applied themselves to the task, discussed it quietly and posed intermittent questions to the teacher. This followed with the gathering of ideas onto the whiteboard. The recording of student responses to the task could have been equally or more effectively completed electronically via the data projector, thus saving the valuable material for another occasion or indeed for the follow-on lesson. While students then conducted a SWOT analysis, the teacher circulated and interacted and supported students individually and in pairs. The inclusion of references to local area reports was commendable. The contributions of students demonstrated a good ability and level of preparation for the examination. There was effective sharing of the objective of the lesson with students.
A further lesson observed involved the use of ICT in presenting the task on the data projector and students working individually on computers. The pre-activity of reviewing a guide to form filling ensured accuracy of presentation as well as reflection on content. Students were active and engaged throughout and demonstrated enjoyment of the on-line form-filling exercise. The simulation of a real-life activity was effective. Lesson content was appropriate and tailored to individual students needs.
Students, as observed, showed confidence in interaction with teachers and peers and also with the inspector. Active, learner-centred methodologies were employed in the delivery of the Link Modules. Group and pair work were used. Students were being encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning. The inclusion of student learning outcomes in planning documentation would also help in this regard.
Students and student work demonstrated enhanced ICT, communication and report-writing skills. Teachers of the VSGs reported on the ability and improved competence of the LCVP students in, for example, writing up their design project for Construction and Engineering, and in presenting summaries and reports electronically. This refers also to the quality of the visual layout and high standard of finish on the report.
The LCVP coordinator has established the practice of analysing and monitoring the outcomes of certificate examination results. There has been and continues to be a high level of attainment in the State Examinations Commission (SEC) assessment of the Link Modules with a number of distinctions and merits being awarded to students in Coláiste Mhuire. County Kilkenny VEC also conducts an analysis of certificate examination results and a certain amount of destination tracking in relation to past students. Formative assessment of students is carried out on a continuous basis by questioning in class, through correction of homework and portfolio work, and also through the excellent level of teacher movement and observation of students during class that was noted by the inspector. When a draft of a portfolio item is presented, errors for correction are identified and returned to the student for follow up.
Communication with parents regarding student progress is thorough. Regular parent-teacher meetings help to monitor and track student achievement and progress. The holding of mock examinations in the Link Modules is commendable.
4.1 Programme evaluation and review
The coordinator, together with the LCVP team, principal and deputy principal, monitors and reviews the programme annually. Items identified for attention have been addressed and improvements implemented. For example, an issue which arose in the past has been the demands for work experience across the programmes available in the school. The issue has been addressed and the work experience element of LCVP is now catered for in the form of work-shadowing opportunities for students. The LCVP coordinator has also surveyed past students on the attainment of programme objectives.
4.2 Attainment of programme objectives
The most effective aspects of the programme, as identified by the LCVP coordinator are the skills developed by students: ICT skills, presentation skills, interview skills and interpersonal skills. The enterprise activities, the work experience and the links with the community have been particularly effective in developing such skills. The most effective aspects and achievements of the programme highlighted by the LCVP students themselves include: ICT, communication and writing skills; building on student self-esteem; focused career choice; interaction with teachers and the attainment of an additional subject. Students have gained courses in college as a result of their achievement in LCVP.
Significant in the student work examined was the extent to which each student was encouraged to individualise their work on a particular portfolio item. In this way, each student had succeeded in putting their own individual stamp on their work and this contributed to the authenticity of the work. The standard of student portfolios examined was very high.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
Published February 2009