An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Leaving Certificate Applied
Terence MacSwiney Community College
Roll Number: 71123Q
Date of inspection: 27 November 2008
This report has been written following an evaluation of Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) in Terence MacSwiney Community 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 extensively with the 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 programme coordinator and members of the core team following the evaluation. 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.
The programmes available at post-primary level in the school are the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), the established Leaving Certificate and the LCA. The LCA has been in the school since 1997 and has proved to be central in achieving the twin aims of providing senior cycle education suitable to the needs, abilities and interests of a major section of students and retaining these students for the two years of senior cycle.
1.1 Whole school support
The LCA programme is very well supported by the whole school and its central importance in the achievement of the school’s mission is fully acknowledged. The principal has detailed knowledge of the aims, organisation and implementation of the programme and sees this programme as indispensable in meeting the educational needs of a section of the school’s enrolment. The principal takes an active part in the support of the programme and is fully cognisant of related issues such as attendance, student attitude and behaviour, and school retention. Morale is high within the LCA team as it plays a part in achieving positive student response throughout the school.
The programme benefits from very effective support from the guidance, pastoral and additional educational needs staff. There is close collaboration between class teachers, year head and LCA course teachers. This support and collaboration ensures that LCA students’ needs, including special educational needs, are identified to staff in a timely and efficient manner. The school is commended for its student-centred approach in providing all necessary supports for students, from enrolment to completion of senior cycle. LCA forms an integrated part of this very effective support continuum.
The staff, about half of whom are directly involved in teaching the programme, is united behind the full development and success of the programme, given its suitability and effectiveness in meeting the students’ needs. The LCA is fully integrated into the organisation and life of the school and it is discussed as appropriate at meetings of management, pastoral care and behaviour-support teams and general staff. The extent to which the programme is integrated into the school structure, LCA students have a year head in common with other classes, for example, enhances its profile and supports whole-staff awareness. Integration also facilitates communication with the whole staff regarding implementation. In addition to meetings and regular informal contact, which is at the heart of the staff’s well-developed sense of team spirit, communication is supported by memoranda and notice boards. The LCA notice board in the staff room provides a two-way link between the coordinator and the wider staff.
The integrated whole-school approach to continuing professional development (CPD) is commended. Teachers are informed of all opportunities for CPD by the coordinator and are encouraged to take part. The school values staff involvement in CPD and also notes the added enhancement of LCA through supports provided for JCSP.
The LCA team welcomes and supports new teachers of the programme. The coordinator and the year head make themselves available to support these teachers in facing the challenge. A good start has been made in compiling an induction pack for new teachers, which will be developed further for next year. Providing teachers new to LCA with opportunities to work with experienced colleagues, perhaps in a team-teaching context, would provide for the modelling and discussion of successful teaching strategies and methodologies. Such an approach to induction, it is suggested, could further enhance the effectiveness, cohesiveness and collegiality of the LCA team.
Teachers are assigned to teach LCA courses within their particular areas of expertise. The provision of appropriate vocational specialisms and electives, made possible due to the diverse skills of the staff, is commended. Team members are positive about their involvement in LCA and this enhances the delivery of the programme.
The timetable generally meets the minimum requirements of LCA regarding the time allocated to courses. However, it is unacceptable that the students are not being provided with the required twenty-eight hours per week of instruction time that is the minimum for all students under the terms of circular letter M29/95. Both LCA 1 and LCA 2 are timetabled for twenty-three hours and fifty minutes, noting that the timetable does not reflect the customary morning break of ten minutes. There is a shortfall of four hours and ten minutes in the instruction time provided for LCA students. This situation must be rectified as soon as possible.
Three periods are allocated to Vocational Preparation and Guidance (VPG) in each year of LCA. This should be increased to a minimum of four periods in LCA1. Best practice is to provide these periods on separate days and it is urged, wherever possible, that separate periods on the same day be avoided in any course. It is further recommended that time be added to provide for preparation and de-briefing in the four work-experience modules, which cannot be adequately accommodated within the minimum allocation for the other VPG modules.
The role of programme coordination is resourced effectively with a well-lit, well-furnished office space, including phone access, a computer with printer, email and internet access and a photocopier. Appropriate help is provided with administration. Information and communication technology (ICT) is used effectively in organising the programme.
The computer room is timetabled for the Introduction to ICT course and is also available on request for other lessons. There are computer facilities in the school library for students’ use outside of class time and these are used by students for tasks, often supported by staff of Le Chéile, the school completion project (SCP). Additional ICT facilities can be made available as required in the adjoining further education section of the school campus. While general provision for ICT use is commended, to increase the use of such resources in learning and teaching, it is recommended that a small number of computers with the usual peripheral equipment be redeployed within the school for use in all LCA lessons. This would facilitate the use of equipment such as data projectors, which could add significantly to the variety and interest of students’ learning experience. This would be best achieved in dedicated LCA rooms. The use of dedicated base classrooms for LCA would also support further use of visual displays and materials to reinforce learning. Students’ literacy would be more easily supported by the display of key-word lists and learning centres. Integration across the LCA curriculum, a basic principal of the programme, would be further facilitated. It is recommended, in the particular case of LCA, that the feasibility of providing LCA base classrooms be examined. Allocating base rooms to the LCA classes would also provide more effectively for storing teaching resources, particularly those that are shared by teachers.
1.3 Student selection and support
The organisation of both the LCA and JCSP programmes, and the support of the associated student cohort are admirable in the whole-school context. Very good tracking of students’ progress through the school is facilitated, providing timely identification of students for whom the LCA is most suitable. The criteria used for selection of students are clear to the LCA, the guidance and the special-educational-needs teams. It is recommended that these criteria be included in the developing LCA written plan. It is reported in the school that, until now, students were selected for inclusion in JCSP on entering the school and that many of these students subsequently continued on to LCA, although not automatically. It is envisaged that, from the current student intake, all junior cycle students will follow JCSP. The inclusion of students in JCSP should not be automatic but rather it should be a targeted response to the educational needs of individual students. Criteria for inclusion in JCSP need to be clearly stated and openly accessible. When all students in a year cohort meet the entrance criteria, then their inclusion in the JCSP is the preferred option. Given the status of JCSP, the need for clear criteria for selecting LCA students is also pressing, both for ensuring the educational welfare of individual students and for maintaining the focus of the programme. Management and the LCA team report that the targeted students are availing of and benefiting from LCA. This is supported by the students, who were very positive about their involvement in the programme, and by the outcomes.
Students are given full and accurate information and guidance to support their choice of programme. The high profile of LCA in the school and in the wider community helps in informing students. Students report that friends and relations who have followed LCA have been influential for them when making programme choices. The guidance counsellor circulates information on LCA and thus students are already aware of the programme when they are interviewed individually by the year head in third year, prior to choosing programmes. Occasionally, when a student is uncertain about choosing LCA, individual support is provided by the guidance counsellor, appropriate to the student’s needs. Care is taken throughout to ensure that students do not feel under any pressure to opt for LCA. They are made aware that there is some flexibility to move to established LC later if they wish.
The transfer of students from junior cycle to LCA is fully integrated into the life of the school and a wide range of supports ensures a smooth transition. In addition to the LCA teaching team, staff of Le Chéile and Ógra Chorcaí, who have built up a support relationship with the students through junior cycle, also play a part in their transition.
Provision for the additional educational needs of LCA and all students in the school is very good and the learning-support team is commended for this, together with the wider LCA team. The learning-support team has a well-developed student-centred philosophy which extends fully to LCA. Learning support is seen as a core activity of the school. This is particularly commendable given the high proportion of students who require additional educational support. It is commended that one member of the learning-support team has been assigned to coordinate support for students from the Traveller community. Student mentoring around the completion of tasks and key assignments, in collaboration with University College Cork, is a valuable addition to support for students. The development of team teaching and the deployment of special needs assistants as intended are very positive aspects of LCA in the school.
LCA has very well-developed links with the JCSP in the school and support through junior and senior cycle is integrated and continuous. The LCA team encourages students to gradually become more self directed. The LCA team is careful to minimise potential setbacks for students on entering the programme from the highly supported JCSP environment.
1.4 Home-school links
Students do not apply formally for inclusion in the programme. It is urged that the school move to further developing procedures towards fully engaging students and their parents in a process of decision making regarding programme choice. Such a process should involve the dissemination of appropriate information to parents and, with the support of the school, their engagement with their sons and daughters in choosing the programme most suitable for the particular student. While it is realised that such procedures will need careful nurturing if they are to become established in the school, there is a great deal to be gained by their development. Parents are encouraged to contact the school as regularly as needed and it is commended that frequent contact is maintained, in particular by means of the home-school-community liaison (HSCL) service.
Although the school and the LCA team always welcome parents’ involvement, there is reluctance on the part of some parents to engage with the school. It is urged that further positive steps to encourage increased involvement by parents be identified and included in the LCA plan. Such positive steps should include increased opportunities for parents to participate in LCA events.
The LCA coordinator and core team, together with school management, foster and maintain links with employers and the Junior Achievement programme. The school has developed partnerships with a range of businesses, including a local radio station and a bank from which representatives have come to address the students who have benefited greatly from these contacts. Links are also fostered and maintained with a range of support agencies including the SCP, Ógra Chorcaí and the Knocknaheeny/Hollyhill Justice Project. Commendably, these support agencies have been very effectively harnessed by the school in the interests of the LCA students who benefit greatly from their input.
Management and staff share a very clear and well-developed understanding of the LCA plan which is being further documented at present. It is recommended that the work of documenting the LCA plan continue under the direction of the coordinator and the core team with the appropriate involvement of the whole LCA team.
Regular programme planning meetings are attended by the coordinator, the two LCA class teachers, the fifth-year head and the principal. This group constitutes the de facto LCA core team. It is recommended that a little more formality be brought to the work of the core team regarding its central role, including the development of the LCA plan document. The coordinator maintains accurate and effective records of core-team and whole-team LCA meetings. This attention to record keeping is commended as a valuable support to the further development of the programme.
Cross-curricular planning is undertaken collaboratively by teachers of LCA courses to meet the demands of the relevant course descriptors, including arrangements for student tasks. It is recommended that the outcomes of planning for cross-curricular course elements be included in appropriate detail, including review arrangements, in the LCA plan.
Planning for meeting the additional educational needs of LCA students is integrated with planning for the additional educational needs of students in general and there is close and beneficial contact between the LCA team and the education-support team regarding this planning. Planning for the LCA programme is integrated with planning in the school in general and the needs of the programme are represented by the programme coordinator at management meetings where whole-school planning is discussed. It is recommended that the LCA plan document be ratified by the board of management on its completion and included as part of the school plan. Each year, the outcomes of informal LCA evaluation have informed a review of the programme. It is commended that this review process will be strengthened by an extra degree of formality currently being brought to it and involving structured inputs from staff, LCA teachers, parents and students. Definite plans are in place to this end.
LCA is impacting very positively on the school in general. This is seen in the improvement of students’ attitudes and behaviour which was remarked upon by many teachers in the course of the programme evaluation. The whole school and, in the present context, the LCA team, are commended for their part in bringing about this improvement.
The school’s programme coordinator, appointed under the terms of Department of Education and Science (DES) circular letter PPT19/02, coordinates LCA and JCSP. While the formal co-ordinating structures in place for LCA are effective and benefit from the detailed knowledge and experience of the programme coordinator, it is noted that the coordinator is timetabled for just one period per week of LCA teaching. There are also class teachers for LCA, one for each class. It is recommended that the LCA coordinator be assigned to teach each class. If this is not possible, consideration should be given to the possibility of another teacher, who would teach a course to each class, taking on responsibility for coordination of LCA in collaboration with the overall programme coordinator.
The programme is well resourced with a dedicated office space incorporating the normal facilities, including a computer. While the coordinator’s office is used to store some materials, in general resources are stored in the teachers’ base classrooms. It is recommended that key assignments and tasks be formally recorded and stored centrally on completion or at the end of each session.
There is a notice board in the staff room reserved for LCA, which provides an effective means of day-to-day communication between the coordinator, LCA team members and with the wider staff. The whole staff is kept informed of LCA matters formally at staff meetings while, less formally, the programme coordinator maintains very good communications with the whole staff, management and students throughout the year regarding the programme.
The LCA curriculum provided complies fully with DES requirements, is broad and balanced and meets the needs of the students. Within the constraint of teacher availability, it is commended that the needs, interests and abilities of students are decisive in the design and delivery of the curriculum, the planning and implementation of which successfully seeks to address the particular needs of the cohort of students which it serves. Both female and male students are catered for in terms of the vocational specialisms and elective courses provided. This provides for students’ full and willing access and participation regardless of gender. Work experience is organised in two-week blocks and this provides a minimum disruption of school time through the rest of the year. While work experience is an integral part of LCA in the school, it is recommended that additional time be provided and set aside within Vocational Preparation and Guidance to further facilitate the preparation and de-briefing of students. Guidance is timetabled in line with the requirements of the programme.
3.1 Planning and preparation
The LCA programme as delivered in the school is in line with the written course descriptors. The liaison between LCA teachers and the learning-support team is a very effective component of planning for the needs of the students.
Planning for the use of differentiated approaches to teaching and learning was evident in the lessons observed and the team is affirmed for this good practice. It is recommended that the LCA team members continue to share their expertise regarding strategies and teaching methodologies that prove most successful, particularly with regard to the use of active methodologies in more challenging classroom situations.
There was evidence of careful planning in the use of suitable teaching resources in the lessons observed. The use of resources from the real world, including the very effective use of holiday brochures in a mathematical applications lesson, is commended. ICT was used effectively in the preparation of teaching materials for most classes. It is recommended that the LCA team investigate the further enhancement of ICT use in teaching, including the use of data projector and computer, with a view to providing even greater variety in the materials presented to the students.
3.2 Learning and teaching
In the lessons observed, students were generally enthusiastic and purposeful and always cooperative. The quality of students’ understanding and knowledge was good and this was generally reflected in their ability to engage with the particular topic, and to ask and answer questions. The development of students’ social skills and their growing sense of learning to learn are strong features of LCA in the school.
Lessons took place in a positive, stimulating and structured environment. Teachers’ expectations of students were consistent with them reaching their potential. Classroom management was effective and discipline was sensitively maintained. Students were regularly affirmed and encouraged in their efforts and contributions.
Assessment modes regularly used include recording of key-assignment completion, involving students in a degree of self-assessment, and less formal assessment for learning within lessons. Students’ work is regularly monitored and they receive constructive feedback from their teachers. Records of evidence of the completion of key assignments are maintained by the course teachers until after the appeals deadline. While there is effective and comprehensive record keeping within the programme, it is recommended that the LCA team decide on a standard practice regarding submission, recording and storage of key assignments. LCA Tasks are completed at a standard appropriate to the ability levels of the student, and these, together with the outcomes of all the student’s work, are used to determine individual learning needs.
There is close monitoring and systematic recording of students’ attendance, in line with the particular requirements of LCA. While there may be some cause for concern in the case of a number of students in one class, there is some confidence in the school that the minimum attendance levels will be maintained. The monitoring of attendance is integrated into very effective whole-school procedures. Timely warnings are issued in the case of absence, including its impact on the award of credits. The school keeps up-to-date records on student-retention levels which show consistent improvement.
Students’ progress is recorded systematically by teachers and these records are shared and discussed with the learning-support department. This use of assessment to inform and determine the learning needs of individuals and groups of students is commended. Students’ literacy and numeracy show improvement as a result of their participation in the programme. Literacy in particular is very low amongst students entering the school in first year and the improvements through JCSP and LCA are commended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Management and staff are united in their commitment to the full development and success of the programme and in their belief in its suitability and effectiveness in meeting the needs of their students.
· The transfer of students from junior cycle to LCA is fully integrated into the life of the school and a wide range of supports are brought to bear on ensuring a smooth transition.
· The success of the learning-support team and the whole LCA team in providing for the additional educational needs of LCA students is commended.
· There is a well-developed plan for LCA in the school that has benefited from the experience of the programme team as LCA has been developed in the school and it is urged that work
on its documentation continue with the involvement of the whole LCA team.
· The coordinator has detailed knowledge and experience of LCA and its implementation, and maintains very good communications with the whole staff, management and students regarding the programme.
· Within the constraint of teacher availability, the needs, interests and abilities of students are decisive in the design and implementation of the broad and balanced curriculum.
· A high quality of learning and teaching, most particularly in the areas of social skills development and the students’ growing sense of learning to learn, is a feature of the LCA in the school.
· While the programme is evaluated each year, it is commended that plans are in place to bring more formality to this evaluation from the current year, involving staff, LCA teachers,
parents and students in the process.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
· All students, including LCA students, must be provided with the required minimum of twenty-eight hours per week of instruction.
· The school and the LCA team welcome parents’ involvement and it is urged that positive steps for increased involvement by parents be identified and included in the LCA plan.
· It is recommended that key assignments and tasks be stored centrally on completion, at the end of each session.
· It is recommended that the LCA coordinator be assigned to teach each of the LCA classes.
· It is recommended that LCA groups be provided with base classrooms, incorporating a level of ICT which would allow for and encourage its use in all lessons.
· It is recommended that the LCA team continue to share their experiences regarding strategies and teaching methodologies that prove most successful, particularly with regard to the use
of active methodologies in more challenging classroom situations.
Published, November 2009