An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme
Abbey Community College
Ferrybank, County Waterford
Roll Number: 76082H
Date of inspection: 6 November 2008
This report has been written following an evaluation of the LCVP in Abbey Community College, Ferrybank, Co Waterford. 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 and the programme coordinator at the end of the evaluation.
Abbey Community College, founded in September 2000, is a co-educational post-primary school with a current enrolment of 625 students: 318 girls and 307 boys. The college offers a range of programmes to its cohort of students: the Junior Certificate; the Transition Year programme (TY); the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme; the established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). The college draws its student intake from the immediate locality in Ferrybank, as well as from surrounding primary schools in the South Kilkenny and Waterford areas. The school has offered the LCVP since its establishment and there is a good uptake of the programme. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
1.1 Whole school support
Senior management has a good knowledge of the requirements of LCVP and of the implementation of the programme in the college. Senior management’s deployment of appropriate teaching staff to the programme facilitates effective delivery of the programme and ensures that LCVP students have access to the necessary specialist expertise. The LCVP team includes teachers of Business, English, French and Spanish, the guidance service, as well as the teachers of the Vocational Subject Groupings (VSGs). Teachers of the programme are encouraged by senior management to avail of appropriate continuous professional development and school management is commended for facilitating attendance at available in-service. The inclusion of the LCVP on the college curriculum also contributes to the fulfilling of the school’s educational philosophy.
At present, there are two LCVP class groups in both fifth year and sixth year, with approximately a third of the student cohort participating in the programme. In the current year, of the total cohort of approximately one-hundred students in fifth year, there are thirty-one students participating in LCVP and out of one-hundred and thirteen students in sixth year, there are thirty-five students participating in the programme. Senior management is proactive in striving to build on this number and plans are in place to increase the uptake further to two groups of twenty students per year. A strength of the programme in the college is the awareness and appreciation demonstrated by both students, parents and teaching staff of the value of the LCVP in developing students’ learning and skills.
Time allocated to the delivery of the Link Modules syllabus is more than satisfactory with three single periods allocated to the Link Modules in fifth year and one single period and a double period allocated in sixth year. The concurrent timetabling of the two groups in each year facilitates the introduction of new and recommended methodologies for the programme, such as team teaching. This is praiseworthy. While not observed at the time of the evaluation, teachers reported using team teaching when practising examination strategies which is commendable. Timetabling of Link Modules class periods also allows for regular access to information and communication technology (ICT) facilities, an integral requirement of the programme.
For those students not pursuing a modern Leaving Certificate language, a single period has been allocated to the language module which currently takes place at lunchtime or after school. While the amount of time and the modular content are in line with programme requirements, the timing is not a satisfactory arrangement. This was acknowledged in the course of the evaluation by senior management, by the language teachers and by students, and recorded by senior management as the least effective aspect of programme delivery. Provision of the LCVP language module should be accommodated within school time and this needs to be addressed. A review of timetabling arrangements for the language module is therefore recommended for coming years.
1.3 Student selection and support
All students who have the required Vocational Subject Groupings (VSGs) are encouraged to consider participation in LCVP. The VSGs are chosen both from the specialist and services groupings and this explains the reasonably balanced ratio of male to female participation. While students who are studying five higher-level subjects feel they can benefit from the additional subject of the Link Modules, those students who are pursuing six or more higher-level subjects are less willing to take on the additional work involved in LCVP. Nevertheless, all students are actively encouraged to consider participation in the programme. Students are advised of the benefits of following the programme and are given comprehensive and timely support in decision making. This is commendable. While the target student group encompasses in principle the full range of abilities, certain timetabling constraints preclude some students from participation in the programme. For example, since 2007, an additional higher-level Mathematics period has been timetabled concurrently with one of the Links Modules periods. Such restrictions should be addressed by school management in the interest of openness of access to the programme.
The reasons cited by students themselves for opting for the LCVP included: the possibility of gaining extra Central Applications Office (CAO) points; the involvement in projects and team work; the focus on careers investigations and on work experience. Students particularly valued the vocational dimension of the programme which enhanced their learning and they mentioned the ways in which skills acquired in the course of the programme helped them with their other subjects. These skills included report writing, presentation and interview skills and organisational skills. Students and teachers also highlighted the opportunities afforded them to acquire ICT skills, particularly students who had not opted for TY.
1.4 Home, school and community links
Parents are fully briefed on senior cycle options for students and the programmes are presented at information evenings for all parents and students. In this way, both parents and students are made aware of the nature, purpose and benefits of LCVP. The options night is followed by an 'options week' in March which allows ample opportunity for students to explore possibilities and to seek further advice. There is regular and frequent contact between the school and parents through the usual mechanisms. The inclusion by the college of the student voice and the views of parents in the ongoing review and evaluation of the LCVP is commended. A strengthening of parental involvement is also planned.
Valuable contacts are fostered and maintained with neighbouring schools. For example, a network of local schools meets annually to plan the timing of the work experience in the locality. This meeting is attended by the Programme coordinator. The LCVP coordinator liaises with schools encountered in LCVP cluster meetings on matters relating to the implementation of the programme. This is good practice. Appropriate contacts are also fostered and maintained with outside agencies, support groups and employers. One of the main advantages of running the programme in the school, as articulated in the course of the evaluation, has been the raising of the profile of the school through student involvement in work placements in the local community.
A current written plan is in place for the programme. The LCVP planning folder has all the elements of good planning and gives an overview of the programme and the elements which are integral to the programme, as well as outlining how it is customised for the college’s own student cohort. The plan outlines the syllabus, the aims of the Link Modules and the planning for their delivery. Where the plan mentions the activities to be engaged in by students, these are listed and exemplified. The teaching methodologies are also recorded, giving an insight into the richness of the learning experiences and the extent of the skills development offered to students. The purpose and objectives outlined in the planning documentation for the language module are appropriate and student-centred. The plan explains the concept of the VSGs, whereby the focus is on developing vocational skills and exploring career options in the specialist or services groupings. In this context, cross-curricular planning needs to be addressed in the LCVP plan. The inclusion of strategies to develop awareness among the teachers of the VSGs of their potential contribution to enhancing the vocational dimension of student learning within their subjects is recommended.
The core team for LCVP has a period where they are not timetabled for class contact and this facilitates regular meetings to plan, monitor and evaluate the programme. Minutes of core team meetings record ongoing evaluation and review. In April of each school year, a review of the programme is conducted by the core team. The outcomes of the review are relayed to school management prior to discussion on uptake and timetabling for the coming year. Students’ reflections are also taken into account by the team. This is excellent practice. Analysis of school attainment data in State Examinations also forms part of the review. There is evidence that programme evaluation and review has had an effect on the planning and delivery of the programme.
Exemplary work has been achieved in the creation and maintenance of a database of work experience and work-shadowing placements and contacts for the school, which has been built up over the years by the Programme coordinator. There is a long established suite of documentation relating to the organisation of work experience prepared to a high standard, including pre-printed labels, stamped addressed envelopes and employer reporting templates. There is appropriate provision for health and safety requirements in the planning process in relation to work experience and visits out. The quality of the administration and organisation is highly commended.
LCVP coordination is undertaken by a Business teacher who is also the Links Modules teacher and who has been newly appointed to the position in the current school year. This position is not assigned as a post of responsibility, but has a time allocation for the completion of associated duties. The coordination of the LCVP involves engagement in an extensive number of activities. These include a range of administrational, educational and organisational duties; co-ordination of student portfolio work; liaising with external agencies and the wider school community; contributing to information nights for parents; coordinating team planning for LCVP and attending regional meetings for coordinators. At the time of the evaluation, the coordination role was being developed and attendance at specific in-service in LCVP has assisted the coordinator in achieving this. The coordinator is supported in the role by school management, by the core team, by members of staff previously involved in LCVP, by the guidance service, by the programme coordinator and by the team approach adopted and encouraged by school management.
Overall responsibility for the coordination of work experience across the three programmes, TY, LCVP and LCA has been assigned to the Programme coordinator. This includes organising work experience placements and associated administration for all students in all the programmes. It is of benefit to the school and to efficient delivery of an effective work experience and work shadowing programme that one person oversees the work experience provision across all the programmes.
The success of the learning outcomes was in evidence in many aspects of the programme: in student attainment in the State Examinations; in the reports of the work experience journals examined; and in the quality of the work presented in student portfolios. The “My Own Place” items were excellently researched and presented. Visits in and out to enterprises and businesses form an integral component of the programme and were found to be particularly interesting and useful by students. The career investigations undertaken and recorded were also of high quality.
Teamwork and co-operation are characteristics of the LCVP team. Preparation for work is an excellent example of how different members of the teaching team contribute to the fulfilling of programme objectives. Students are prepared for completing a diary of work experience through their Link Modules lessons and through career guidance. The guidance service is a very valuable resource for students in conducting their career investigation, in the organisation and delivery of mock interviews and in providing advice to students on career orientation. The Programme coordinator endeavours to ensure that the work placement is career-oriented for the particular student and that the experience dovetails with the preparation for work lesson content and the career investigation conducted. This would not be possible without effective team work and communication, and commitment to the individual student, all of which were in evidence in the LCVP team.
As a programme designed to enhance the vocational dimension of the established Leaving Certificate, participants in the LCVP develop skills and competencies fundamental to both vocational and academic success. Central to the development of such skills is student involvement in enterprise activities. As the TY programme in the college offers a substantial module in mini-companies, the main enterprise activity for LCVP students has focused on the production of the annual school yearbook. Subject departments have contributed assistance to the students in this undertaking. Another enterprise activity organised by LCVP students is the organisation of the Christmas Concert, an undertaking which requires logistical and organisational skills. Working in teams and the associated development of team work skills were highlighted by the students as a success of the programme for them. Nevertheless, LCVP students should carry out a range of enterprise activities as part of their programme of study. An important aspect of the programme is the creation of cross-curricular links and such enterprise activity should allow students to make links between their VSG subjects and the skills they are developing.
The main VSG combinations chosen by students in Abbey Community College include four main categories: Engineering and Construction or Design and Communication Graphics (DCG); Construction and Business; Art and Business; Art and Home Economics. These subjects would readily lend themselves to the preparation of products for enterprise activities. It is recommended that the core team now focus on the development of cross-curricular links and interdisciplinary activities, thereby heightening students’ awareness of the links between the vocational subject grouping subjects and their enterprise activities.
The content of the language modules examined and discussed at the time of the evaluation was appropriate and designed to engage students’ interest and participation. The language teachers reported that those students who pursue the LCVP language module dislike the fact that they have to study a language without a final certificate being awarded. The college is encouraged to explore the possibility of the provision of certification in the form of a Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) foundation or level one course in the modern language chosen. This would address the concern of senior management, students and teachers, as well as providing students with a foundation certificate in a language, on which they can build through further study, if desired.
3.1 Planning and preparation
The quality of the teaching observed demonstrated the benefit derived from teachers attending specific in-service for LCVP, ranging from enhanced knowledge and skills, exposure to new teaching methodologies and ideas through liaison and networking with other schools and teachers. The lessons observed indicated thorough planning and preparation. The reinforcement of the learning was evident through the different phases in the lessons. ICT was used effectively in the preparation of teaching and learning materials and all handouts prepared were interlinked. Planning for the integration of methodologies into teaching and learning, including the use of ICT, was effective. One lesson observed was held in the multi-media room. Although some technical difficulties were encountered initially, there was good use of the data projector and students keyed in information individually onto their computers. Planning and preparation also provided for differentiated approaches to teaching and learning in accordance with the range of students’ abilities, needs and interests.
3.2 Learning and teaching
There was good delivery of content of the Link Modules observed in the course of the evaluation. Lesson objectives and lesson content were appropriate and student-centred learning activities formed part of the lessons observed. The good practice of the teachers sharing the learning objectives of the lessons with the students from the outset was observed. Students’ attention was drawn to the specific learning outcomes which would be achieved over the series of lessons. The sharing of the objective of the particular lesson with the students ensured clarity of direction and good attention on the part of students. The content of the lessons observed clearly prepared students for the homework assigned and the follow-on activities which would form the content of the next lesson. This provided a cohesion to student learning and encouraged student engagement and application.
Lessons were well structured. However, on occasions, providing students with too much support impeded the pace of the lesson. One lesson opened with questioning of the students and students responded well. Questioning was inclusive of the range of student abilities present. In another lesson observed, the clarity of presentation was commendable, with good use made of a diagram and the board. Having sought student views on the topic in question, students were presented with a very useful definition which had been prepared on a handout. The students’ own experience of school life and the school environment were skillfully drawn upon to explain legislation and regulations pertaining to the work place.
There was a good range of activities and tasks assigned to students in the course of lessons. The drawing on students’ own work experience and career investigation was appropriate, skillful and an example of very good practice. Teachers also created links with the VSGs being studied by the students. Teachers circulated to support individual students when they were working individually and in pairs. Also commendable was the way in which teachers organised the pairs so that a student studying Business was paired with one who did not. This strategy promoted peer support and cooperative learning. The checking of the attainment of learning objectives on an ongoing basis is commendable. Teachers have begun the process of promoting learner autonomy by providing students with checklists to monitor their own progress. It is recommended that teachers consolidate their use of active learning strategies. Students demonstrated their readiness for the integration of further active learning methodologies.
An effective learning strategy for students, observed in one lesson, was the appropriate focus on action verbs which were key to the instructions and regulations. The focus on language as well as content and on the most appropriate use of terminology was commendable. Students were constantly questioned and challenged to come up with their own definitions of enterprise terms. There was excellent rapport between students and teachers and a positive learning atmosphere was created and sustained. Students were attentive, applied themselves to tasks and were cooperative. The behaviour, attitude and participation of the students of Abbey Community College as experienced at the time of the evaluation are a credit to the management and organisational structures of the school.
A range of assessment modes is regularly used to assess students’ competence and progress. On entry to the school, student profiles are drawn up on the basis of entrance assessment and primary school reports. Student examination results are entered on the computer system and printouts are analysed and benchmarked against the available student ability profiles. Performance is reported back to students on an individual basis by year heads. Senior management also visits classes after each set of examinations to speak to class groups in a general way regarding progress. This system is thorough and learner-focused and ensures ongoing and systematic monitoring of student progress in all subjects and programmes.
Student portfolio work, and the quality of the work, is closely monitored. Appropriate care is taken regarding the retention of student portfolios. The LCVP coordinator also has responsibility for retaining a number of important records in relation to the programme for the current year groups and in relation to the participating students. These include such documents as student enrolment forms, class lists, learning support student records, VSG timetables, as well as planning files and records of visits in and visits out. Details and dates for the completion of portfolio items are also carefully recorded and checklists are provided for students. Guidelines regarding students with additional educational needs are given by the core team to individual teachers in relation to class work. Potential work experience locations are closely examined and, where necessary, particular advice is given to the employer regarding specific student needs. This is good practice. The Programme coordinator also retains a work experience file on every student.
Some of the indicators of the successful implementation of the programme include: the increased uptake of the programme in recent years; the successful attainment of students in the Links Modules examination and in completion of the programme; the positive profile of the programme in the school and the profile of the school in the community as a result of activities and participation in the programme. Students articulated their appreciation of the additional dimension the LCVP provided to their education; the vocational dimension, the work experience, the organisational skills and the reporting and presentation skills developed in the course of programme participation.
The skills which the programme develops in students are all the more necessary in preparing students for the world of further study and work. Participation of teachers in the programme has contributed to the broadening of the range of methodologies deployed by teachers which enriches not only the learning in LCVP and associated subjects but also their teaching in other subject areas. School management is proactive in planning for broadening access to the programme and expanding the uptake up to forty students per year group or up to fifty percent of the total student cohort. The success of the programme, as articulated by the principal, is attributable to good teaching, the allocation of the additional time and resources to the programme and the access which students have to ICT. The college is encouraged to conduct destination tracking of former LCVP students to formally record the success of the learning outcomes for students in later study and career paths.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation
§ Senior management’s deployment of appropriate teaching staff to the programme facilitates its effective delivery and ensures that LCVP students have access to the
necessary specialist expertise.
§ Time allocated to the delivery of the Link Modules syllabus is more than satisfactory and the concurrent timetabling of the two groups in each year facilitates the introduction
of new and recommended methodologies for the programme.
§ All students are actively encouraged to consider participation in the programme. Students are advised of the benefits of following the programme and are given comprehensive
and timely support in decision making.
§ Appropriate contacts are fostered and maintained with neighbouring schools, outside agencies, support groups and employers.
§ The LCVP planning folder has all the elements of good planning and gives an overview of the programme and the elements which are integral to the programme.
§ School management facilitates regular meetings to plan, monitor and evaluate the programme. The inclusion of the student voice and the views of parents in the ongoing
review and evaluation of the LCVP is commended.
§ Exemplary work has been achieved in the creation and maintenance of a database of work experience and work-shadowing placements and contacts for the school.
§ There was good delivery of lesson content of the Link Modules observed in the course of the evaluation.
§ There was a good range of activities and tasks assigned to students in the course of lessons. Students demonstrated their readiness for the integration of further active
§ A strength of the programme in the college is the awareness and appreciation demonstrated by both students, parents and staff of the value of the LCVP in developing
students’ learning and skills.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
§ Provision of the LCVP language module should be accommodated within school time. A review of timetabling arrangements for the language module is therefore
recommended for coming years.
§ While the target student group encompasses, in principle, the full range of abilities, certain timetabling constraints preclude some students from participation in the
programme. Such restrictions should be addressed by school management in the interest of openness of access to the programme.
§ Cross-curricular planning should be addressed in the LCVP plan.
§ Development of cross-curricular links and interdisciplinary activities through enterprise activities is recommended. LCVP students should carry out a range of
enterprise activities as part of their programme of study.
§ The college is encouraged to explore the possibility of the provision of certification in the form of a Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) foundation
or level one course in the modern language chosen.
§ The promotion of student responsibility for their own learning is recommended through the greater use of active learning methodologies.
§ The college should conduct destination tracking of former LCVP students to formally record the success of the learning outcomes for students in later study and career paths.
Published November 2009