An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Programme Evaluation

Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme

REPORT

 

Athlone Community College

Retreat Road, Athlone, Co. Westmeath

Roll Number: 71410T

 

Date of inspection: 23 April 2009

 

 

 

 

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 LCVP

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

This report has been written following an evaluation of the LCVP in Athlone 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 inspectors 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 inspectors liaised extensively with the programme co-ordinator and visited classrooms to observe teaching and learning. The inspectors provided oral feedback to teachers on lessons observed. The inspectors 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 co-ordinator and 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.

  

 

1.          Quality of programme organisation

 

1.1        Whole school support

Fifth-year and sixth-year LCVP students in Athlone Community College are integrated into their respective year groups and come together as a distinct group only for link modules, guidance, information and communications technology (ICT), physical education (PE) and for modern European language module lessons. Although well integrated, these students demonstrated a high level of awareness and appreciation of the benefits of participating in the LCVP during the course of the evaluation.

 

The senior management team is very supportive of the LCVP and this is acknowledged by the core teaching team. Support provided includes encouragement and facilitation of participation in relevant continuing professional development (CPD) courses, and visits to the school by members of the LCVP support service. Engagement of teachers in the CPD process is valued highly by the school because it develops reflective teachers who engage in effective self-evaluation and has been identified by the school as one of the key factors leading to raised standards of teaching on the programme.

 

Responsibility for implementing LCVP rests with the senior management team, the LCVP co-ordinator and the core teaching team, which comprises five additional teachers. Members of the core team have very good working relationships and their work is characterised by co-operation and collaboration. Link module teachers are from a variety of subject backgrounds and consequently bring a diversity of knowledge and experience to the LCVP team. Awareness of LCVP among teachers generally is fair while vocational subject groupings (VSG) teachers are aware of LCVP students in their classrooms. The co-ordinator and core team are enthusiastic and hard-working and committed to both improving the implementation of the LCVP in the school and to meeting the needs of their students. 

 

The school operates a formal induction process for new LCVP teachers and support is provided by former programme teachers for the inductees. The CPD needs of new teachers are identified in conjunction with the LCVP co-ordinator and appropriate CPD is then provided.

   

1.2        Resources

The school has allocated an office to the LCVP co-ordinator and this is appropriately equipped. All Link Module lessons are held in two specific classrooms where LCVP materials are displayed. These rooms are well equipped with audio-visual equipment and one room is fitted with an interactive whiteboard. The two rooms provide positive and stimulating learning environments for LCVP students. The school's computer rooms may also be accessed for the benefit of LCVP students. The school's sixth-year notice board also contains a LCVP section and this is used to keep students informed of relevant issues and activities.

 

Funding for the provision of additional resources for LCVP may be accessed, when required, by requesting it through the senior management team. This system is reported to operate effectively in the school. In the current year, for example, funding for the provision of a digital camera has been requested by the LCVP teachers and supplied by the senior management.

 

Teachers are appropriately assigned to teach the programme. However, the co-ordinator is not currently timetabled for either of the LCVP year groups. It is recommended that, in keeping with best practice, the co-ordinator should have direct class contact with LCVP students and should teach a section of the course. The addition of the co-ordinator to the LCVP teaching team will increase flexibility regarding the future timetabling of Link Module lessons.

 

Link Module classes, which receive a weekly double class period allocation, are timetabled in a three-way loop with ICT and PE for fifth-year students and against PE for sixth years. It is recommended that this situation be reviewed in order to facilitate the possibility of students following the LCVP and also attending PE classes, subject to the availability of resources, and the provision of an extra period for Link Module classes in fifth year.

 

LCVP students receive curriculum support from a career guidance counsellor during the course of the year. However, this support is not timetabled or regular. It is recommended that a more structured arrangement be introduced to provide more formal and structured support for LCVP students for curriculum vitae preparation, carrying out career investigations, in preparing for work experience and other relevant areas as determined by the school’s LCVP curriculum.

 

Access to ICT for LCVP students can be difficult at times, as the school's computer rooms are also in demand for the schools Leaving Certificate Applied and Post-Leaving Certificate programmes. Commendably, the school has made arrangements to permit student access after school hours on three afternoons each week. It is planned that specific timetabled access for LCVP students will be put in place in the coming year due to expansion of the school’s ICT infrastructure.

  

1.3        Student selection and support

Students in Athlone Community College are given accurate and appropriate information regarding available senior cycle programmes in order that they may make informed programme and subject choices. A very comprehensive information booklet, in which senior cycle programmes and subjects available in the school are detailed, is produced annually and is used to support students and their parents when programme and subject choices are being made. The senior management team, subject teachers and guidance counsellors are also involved in providing information and support, and students are advised of the benefits of following the LCVP by the co-ordinator during this process.

 

Awareness of LCVP among students in the school is high and it was evident during the evaluation that some students proactively target participation in LCVP because of the benefits associated with its completion. In keeping with the wide range of subjects provided by the school, access to the LCVP is facilitated through a variety of subject combinations. LCVP is a popular choice among students entering senior cycle and those who qualify for registration by satisfying the VSG criteria and language requirements generally participate in the programme, with very few exceptions. The guidance provided for students is appropriate to their needs and those with additional educational needs, for whom English is an additional language, and those from minority groupings are appropriately supported and encouraged to participate.

 

1.4        Home-school links

Parents are made aware of the nature and purpose of the LCVP when they are informed, by the guidance counsellors at an annual information evening, of the range of senior cycle options available to students in the school. Parents are also involved in the programme and subject selection process and have the opportunity to meet with the guidance counsellors individually to discuss or clarify any issues. Parents are also required to sign-off on students' final programme and subject choices. Parent-teacher meetings are used in the normal manner to inform parents of students' progress and additional contact is as regular and frequent as circumstance demands. An open-door policy is operated by the school and parents are encouraged to contact the school if required. Parents are also contacted by letter to inform them of specific LCVP-related events and activities, for example when making arrangements for work experience placements and visits out of school. 

 

Athlone Community College has developed good links with a number of outside community and voluntary enterprises and businesses. The value of the support provided by these is acknowledged and expressed by the school. A number of local businesses and employers are of great assistance to the school in providing work experience placement opportunities for students. These links are used to source guest speakers, for case studies of local enterprise, to provide opportunities for visits out of the school and to provide support and information in relation to careers and enterprise in general. The LCVP team is commended for its efforts to establish and maintain the variety of quality links with the local community.

 

 

2.          Quality of programme planning and coordination

 

2.1        Planning

The LCVP core team meets formally on a number of occasions each year, three times to date in the current school year. An agenda prepared for these meetings and minutes are recorded. As it has proven difficult on occasion to find time to hold these meetings, when all the members of the core team are available, it is suggested that management take steps to facilitate these meetings where possible. These meetings are mainly used for the purpose of planning and review. Frequent informal meetings also take place to manage ongoing issues and events, such as visits to enterprises and visitors to the classroom, planning lessons and activities, organising recorded interviews,  and managing general housekeeping arrangements.

 

The LCVP co-ordinator maintains a number of folders that contain all relevant programme documentation. These folders are an excellent resource for the LCVP team as they contain very detailed information on the implementation of the LCVP, and on the students currently enrolled in the programme. The following documents are indicative: a guide to good implementation of the LCVP; assessment details; co-ordinator duties; class lists; student induction material; work experience details, including a work experience policy, various forms used to maintain contact with parents and employers, insurance details and employers’ report forms; list of guest speakers; minutes of LCVP team meetings; cross-curricular links; appropriate methodologies; and sets of common curricular resources. In order to facilitate accessibility, it is recommended that a storage area, accessible to all, be located for these shared resources.

 

Good planning work has been carried out by the LCVP team and a schedule for the delivery of course content over the two years of the programme has been prepared. Individual teachers have prepared their own plans based on this schedule, some of which are excellent in the level of detail provided, and have also compiled extensive banks of individual resources in order to support their teaching of the programme content. Individual teachers also maintain folders of resources and other relevant information. The LCVP team are highly commended for their planning work and for their efforts in compiling their extensive resources.

 

A number of cross-curricular links have been identified in LCVP planning documentation. In addition to this planning work, and in order to highlight the position of the LCVP as an integrated programme rather than merely as a subject, it is recommended that further thought be given to planning for and implementing the cross-curricular aspects of the LCVP, as outlined in the syllabus document, pages 56, 61 and 64. This work will be facilitated by the raising of general awareness of the LCVP among staff. This can be done through the use of LCVP-specific notice boards in the staffroom, through announcements regarding upcoming LCVP events and through the provision, by management, of opportunities for the LCVP co-ordinator and team to brief teaching staff regarding LCVP aims and objectives and the centrality of cross-curricular work to the success of the LCVP.

 

Evaluation as a part of the cycle of planning has been underused to date. It is recommended that a formal annual review of the LCVP and its implementation be conducted and that that specific procedures and success criteria be developed to facilitate this review. These should be based on clear and realistic objectives for student attainment and for the implementation of the programme. The views of all stakeholders should be sought and included in the review. In keeping with good practice, an analysis of the results obtained by LCVP students in the state examinations and a comparison with national averages, should inform this review. Such an analysis should also encourage discussion of LCVP-specific issues, and act as a means of sharing good practice. The outcomes of this review should then feed back into the planning process, with the ultimate aim of improving provision for students.

 

2.2        Coordination

The present co-ordinator was appointed less than three years ago and the duties associated with the position are related to a post of responsibility. The specific duties in relation to the LCVP are specified in the schedule of duties for the post, as set out by school management, and comprise the following: implementation of course guidelines; liaising with principal, enterprise and ICT teachers; monitoring ongoing issues and activities; organizing teacher attendance at in-service days; setting dates for the completion of projects; monitoring subject options and the eligibility of students; liaising with employers regarding work experience; and monitoring recorded interviews to ensure compliance with State Examinations Commission requirements.

 

The work of the co-ordinator has been of a more supervisory nature rather than one of direct co-ordination to date. However, the co-ordinator has been growing in knowledge and experience of the LCVP since being appointed and is now in a position to take a more central role in managing and implementing the LCVP in the school. In addition to the above-listed functions, this enhanced role will involve taking a lead role in the planning process and carrying out functions such as promoting the LCVP and disseminating relevant information to team members and others, convening team meetings, promoting cross-curricular links, establishing and maintaining links with outside agencies, organising student work experience, liaising with school management and assisting in evaluating the programme. The co-ordinators role is described in full on page 60 of the LCVP syllabus document.

 

A very good level of communication, collegiality and mutual support among the LCVP team members was clearly apparent in the course of the evaluation. Such good communication is of great importance in facilitating effective co-ordination and it is commended.

 

2.3        Curriculum

The school fully complies with the terms of Department of Education and Science circulars regarding the programme. A broad programme of activities and learning opportunities is provided for LCVP students. All core portfolio items are addressed as part of the curriculum. Two optional items, a diary of work experience and a recorded interview, are also covered. The module “My Own Place” is taught but is not used as the basis for preparing a report.

 

Theory and practice are well integrated in the manner in which the LCVP is implemented. The LCVP team is commended for its commitment to this approach, which is very much in keeping with the ethos of the programme. Classroom work is focused on covering the theoretical aspects of the syllabus, along with carrying out the variety of activities that lead to the preparation of the portfolio items. A number of visiting speakers address students each year and students are given an opportunity to visit an enterprise. It is recommended that students be given an opportunity to carry out at least one enterprise activity. In addition to providing them with opportunities for teamwork and with hands-on experience, such an activity can provide students with additional material for reports and documents for their portfolios. In carrying out such activities, students also cover the theoretical content of their course.

 

Portfolio items are mostly prepared in school, under the supervision of the Link Module teachers and, in most cases, students store their work on memory keys. This facilitates teachers and students in correcting and amending these portfolio items. Documents are printed out when portfolios are finally assembled for the Link Module examination.

 

Students participate in work experience as part of the LCVP. They each carry out a career investigation and compile a curriculum vitae in advance and topics such as job-seeking skills, industrial relations and conflict in the workplace are taught in preparation. This is good practice. The work experience placement takes place in fifth year, during the February mid-term break. Employers are contacted in advance and provided with copies of insurance details. They are encouraged to complete work experience reports on students at the end of the working period. During the period of the work experience, a sample of the workplaces are contacted to monitor students and to liaise with employers. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to cover all workplaces to ensure that adequate support is provided for all students and employers.

 

A significant number of students are not taking a modern European language to Leaving Certificate level and, hence, are following a school-developed language module, in order to comply with LCVP requirements. This module is allocated one period each week for two years and certification is provided for students on completion of the module. This is good practice.

 

 

3.          Quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1        Planning and preparation

Section 2.1 of this report referred to the long-term planning related to the implementation of the LCVP in the school. The work undertaken in lessons during the evaluation was in keeping with planning documents and reflected very good short-term planning in line with the requirements of the programme. Teachers displayed a mastery of the topics dealt with during lessons and their planning and preparation provided for differentiated approaches to teaching and learning in accordance with the range of students’ abilities, needs and interests. Teachers' effective planning and preparation for lessons contributed significantly to the quality of students' learning.

 

3.2        Learning and teaching

Very good learning and teaching was observed during the course of the evaluation. Lessons were well structured and took account of the range of students’ abilities. Lesson aims and objectives were outlined clearly at the outset and were appropriate for class groups and the time of year. Lesson activities were sequenced and paced appropriately and classroom activities and tasks were timed in some instances. All lessons featured appropriate levels of teacher and student input.

 

Teachers employed a range of teaching methodologies to address lesson topics and this included establishing links with students' previous knowledge, existing understanding and everyday experiences. Appropriate terminology was defined and topic-specific language was well used throughout the lessons observed. Strategies employed by teachers included directed and global questioning, including the use of higher order questions, SWOT analyses, brainstorming activities, role play, group work, use of the whiteboard and of ICT, use of the overhead projector for presentation and summarising, the development of mind-maps, classroom and homework tasks and activities, class and group discussions, the discussion of examination techniques, and peer evaluation.

 

Teachers used a variety of resources and assessment materials effectively during lessons. This included textbooks, books of examination questions, and handout materials. Students' learning was also effectively supported by the extensive use of teacher-developed transparencies for the overhead projector and material for use with the interactive whiteboard. 

 

Students were generally enthusiastic and purposeful in their work on classroom tasks. The quality of their understanding was reflected in their ability to answer and ask appropriate questions during lessons and they responded knowledgably, confidently and well to teachers' questions. They also demonstrated their skills and competencies by applying their learning appropriately to the completion of classroom and homework tasks. Teaching and learning activities challenged students across the range of abilities present in the mixed-ability class groups and there was an emphasis on the quality of students' learning throughout lessons observed.

 

Classroom management of students, activities, resources and available time was effective. Discipline was sensitively maintained during lessons observed and classroom rules had been agreed among teachers and students. Teachers appropriately affirmed students for their efforts.

 

The interpersonal relations in the classroom reflected very good teacher-student rapport and the teachers generated enthusiasm for the topics being studied. This ensured that students engaged with lesson activities and received appropriate guidance and affirmation. Teachers' expectations of students were high, while remaining commensurate with their abilities and learning styles.

 

3.3        Assessment

Appropriate arrangements are in place for the formal assessment of LCVP students. Fifth-year students sit formal house examinations twice yearly and sixth-year students also sit a mock examination, which includes a video-based section. As there are a number of class groups in each year, it is recommended that, where possible, common assessments be administered in order to get a more objective assessment of students’ progress.

 

A range of modes is regularly used to assess the development of students’ competence and their ongoing progress during lessons. Students’ work is regularly monitored and they receive constructive, developmental written and oral feedback. Student learning outcomes are used to determine individual learning needs. Teaching strategies are evaluated and modified based on the outcomes of formal summative and continuing formative in-house assessments. There is systematic recording of students’ attendance and progress and parents receive regular, meaningful feedback on student progress.

 

Outcomes in the state examinations have been very encouraging in recent years and a significant proportion of students from Athlone Community College have used their LCVP result as part of their Central Applications Office application for a place in a third-level institution.

 

 

4.          Summary of strengths and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         The LCVP is implemented by a dedicated and hard working team of teachers. Members of the team have very good working relationships and their work is characterised by co-operation and collaboration.

 

·         Students demonstrated a high level of awareness and appreciation of the benefits of participating in the programme.

 

·         School management provides good support for the implementation of the programme.

 

·         Good links are maintained with local voluntary and community enterprises and with local businesses.

 

·         Good planning is being carried out to support the implementation of the programme.

 

·         Appropriate, student-centred, active teaching and learning methodologies are used to teach the Link Modules.

 

·         The LCVP has had a positive impact on the school and its students.

 

 

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

 

·         It is recommended that the co-ordinator take a more central role in managing and implementing the LCVP in the school. It is also recommended that, in keeping with best practice, the co-ordinator should have direct class contact with LCVP students and should teach a section of the course.

 

·         It is recommended that timetabling arrangements be reviewed, subject to the availability of resources, in order to facilitate the possibility of students following the LCVP and also attending PE classes, and the provision of an extra period for Link Module classes in fifth year. In addition, it is recommended that a more structured arrangement be introduced to allow timetabled access for LCVP students to a guidance counsellor for specific elements of the Link Modules course.

 

·         In order to highlight the position of the LCVP as an integrated programme, it is recommended that further thought be given to planning for and implementing the cross-curricular aspects of the LCVP.

 

·         It is recommended that a formal annual review of the LCVP and its implementation be conducted and that specific procedures and success criteria be developed to facilitate this review.

 

·         It is recommended that all LCVP students be given an opportunity to carry out at least one enterprise activity.

 

·         It is recommended that contact be made with all workplaces during the course of work experience to ensure that adequate support is provided for all students and employers.

 

·         It is recommended that, where possible, common assessments be used in in-house examinations in order to get a more objective assessment of students’ progress.

 

 

 

Published, November 2009