An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme Evaluation
St. Brendanís Community School
Birr, County Offaly
Roll Number: 91491L
Date of inspection: 25 October 2007
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 St. Brendanís Community School as part of a whole-school evaluation. 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 studentsí work and reviewed relevant documentation pertaining to the programme, as well as teachersí written preparation. The outcomes of the evaluation were discussed with the school principal, the programme coordinator and members of the core teaching team following the evaluation.
1.1 Whole-school support
The LCVP has been offered to students in St. Brendanís since 1994. The school requires that all students who are studying the appropriate qualifying vocational subject groupings (VSGs) follow the programme. Students of the programme do not have a separate identity, but are part of normal Leaving Certificate classes. They come together as a distinct group only for Link Module lessons. Link Module classes are allocated two single periods each week in both fifth year and sixth year. This time is used also to provide for career guidance. As this time allocation is less than is stated in the syllabus guidelines, it is recommended that the Link Module timetable be reviewed.
Responsibility for implementing the LCVP rests with a coordinator and a team of Link Module teachers. There has been a new coordinator in place since the beginning of the current school year, assisted, for the present, by the former coordinator. This is good practice. Two guidance counsellors, one of whom is full time in the school, are part of the LCVP teaching team. In addition, French and German teachers teach a modern European language module to students who are not taking a language for the Leaving Certificate. The commendable practice of other teachers assisting occasionally with specific inputs, for example helping students with aspects of their portfolios, interviewing students and helping with career investigations, is also evident. The programme coordinator also assists with aspects of the LCVP implementation, for example by assisting with arrangements for studentsí work experience.
The good practice of minimizing changes on the LCVP teaching team is carried out in order to maximise development of teacher skills and expertise and to provide continuity. Management is very supportive of professional development and has facilitated teachers to attend relevant in-service. Where it has not been possible for all teachers to attend training days, those who do attend report back to the other teachers at formal LCVP team meetings. This is good practice. There is a good awareness of the programme in the school and the former LCVP coordinator did much to highlight the programme. There is also cross-curricular input from other subject areas.
Link Module classes are mostly held in classrooms. However, all students have access to the schoolís information and communication technology (ICT) facilities for at least one class period every two weeks. A lecture theatre-style demonstration room is also used to bring large groups of students together, on occasion, when a visiting speaker is making a presentation or, for example, when it is deemed useful to have all students together for an audio-visual presentation.
While there is not a specific budget allocated for LCVP activities, funding is generously provided by management on a needs basis, at the request of the coordinator and following discussion. Students may be asked to contribute towards the cost of transport for visits out. Extra teaching hours accruing from the programme are deployed to help keep class sizes as small as possible and to provide working time for the coordinator.
1.3 Student selection
A meeting of the parents of third-year and TY students is held every year at which information on the programme and subject choices open to the students are presented. Parents are made aware of the nature and purpose of the LCVP at this meeting. The LCVP coordinator and the guidance counsellor assist students with both their choice of programmes and of subjects. †
While there are no specific target students, all students taking the appropriate VSGs are required to follow the programme in St. Brendanís. There is some evidence that a number of students choose subjects to ensure they qualify for the LCVP. Equally, concern was expressed, by both teachers and students, with regard to the fact that some students may not wish to follow the LCVP but were required to do so. It is recommended that this policy be kept under review.
Class groups for Link Module classes in fifth and sixth year are evenly mixed, as far as possible, between students who have come directly from third year and those who have completed the Transition Year programme (TY). An appropriate gender balance is also maintained.
1.4 Home, school and community links
Parents are fully briefed on senior cycle options for students and are involved in the process of subject and programme selection. Parent-tutor meetings, and parent-teacher meetings in the case of state examination classes, are used to inform parents of studentsí progress. Additional contact with parents is as frequent and as detailed as circumstances dictate. The school operates an open-door policy for parents wishing to make contact to discuss any aspect of their childrenís education. Parents may also be contacted by letter, on occasion, for specific LCVP-related purposes such as work experience arrangements and visits out.
St. Brendanís Community School has developed excellent links with a number of outside community, voluntary and educational agencies and businesses. A number of local businesses and employers are of great assistance to the school in providing both work experience placements for students and expert speakers for visits in. The value of such support in recognised and the school has expressed its appreciation to these agencies and businesses.
The school has developed links with the group of third-level education institutions in Limerick and students visit their combined open day each year. Excellent links are also maintained with Offaly Enterprise Board; Birr Credit Union; FŃS; the local branch of Allied Irish Banks; Loughnane and Co.; Grant Engineering (Ireland) Ltd.; and a number of other local hotel and catering, auctioneering and agri-businesses. Such links are used to source speakers on enterprise-related topics, to provide opportunities for visits out and for general support and information in the areas of mini-companies and careers. Opportunities such as the recent national ploughing championship event, held in Co. Offaly, are also made use of to benefit LCVP students. The school is highly commended for its efforts to make and sustain such a variety of quality links with the local community.
1.5 Supports for students
Learning support is available to all students but is not provided specifically to LCVP students, other than as a right, based on their needs and entitlements. These students would receive assistance in any case and would not get extra support on account of being LCVP students. The support given is not LCVP specific, but student specific. There are no qualifying students in the current LCVP cohort.
The former coordinator was in place for seven years and had built up a high level of expertise in both planning and implementing the various elements of the LCVP. This coordinator is assisting the newly appointed coordinator for the current year to ensure a smooth and seamless transition. The new coordinator, who holds an assistant principal post, was appointed to carry out the LCVP coordination duties at the beginning of the current school year. This coordinator has worked hard to ensure the continued successful implementation of the programme. The new LCVP coordinator has taught Link Module classes in the past and is currently timetabled to take some fifth-year Link Module classes. This good practice should be continued.
The time required for coordination varies with the level of activity taking place. For example, more time is required when activities such as visits out or work experience are being managed. A comprehensive list of coordinator duties, along with a schedule for completing these duties, was presented in the form of a coordinator planning document. Reference is made in the duties listed to areas such as setting up classes, arranging LCVP team meetings and arranging specific events over the course of the two years of the programme. This list of duties is closely associated with the planning documents presented and referred to in section 2.2 of this report.
The LCVP coordinator liaises with the principal in making arrangements for the Link Module classes. The need to allow for access to both career guidance and ICT is a major consideration when timetabling arrangements are being made. The requirement of blocking Link Module lesson periods and, of making appropriate arrangements for students who are not participating in the LCVP, limits flexibility. The coordinator liaises with outside agencies to organise speakers and other events. Staff is kept informed of LCVP events and issues by means of a notice board in the staff room.
The ICT teachers facilitate the students in carrying out research and preparing items for their portfolios, through teaching ICT skills. It has been noted that students who progress from TY into the LCVP are better skilled in the use of computers and consequently are better able to take advantage of their time in the ICT room. The VSG teachers are not involved directly in the implementation of the LCVP curriculum although, on occasion and for specific reasons, they provide assistance.
There are occasional information sessions for all teachers at staff meetings, generally in the form of short inputs on upcoming LCVP events. The coordinator and the teaching team keep records in relation to student attendance and progress along with records of communications with parents and employers, reports, minutes of team meetings, information leaflets for student induction and materials developed by the LCVP team. This is good practice.
For the most part, students organise their own work placements. The LCVP coordinator and guidance counsellors provide assistance and advice as necessary. Preparation of students for work experience is very thorough and this is commendable. Students carry out a career investigation and prepare a curriculum vitae (CV) in advance. Work experience will be completed during the second term for the current fifth-year cohort. Every effort is made to match studentsí placements with their desired career options.
When making initial contact, students are provided with a letter from the school to indicate to prospective employers the official nature of the contact. Prospective employers are also given details of the insurance cover provided for students. Students are required to complete work sheets during their working week. These work sheets form the basis of the work experience diaries that students later complete for their portfolios. This is good practice. Employers are requested to submit a report, on the student they have employed, to the school following the work experience. This is also good practice. Although many students are visited in their workplaces, it has not been possible to visit all of them due to the distances involved in some instances. It is recommended that this issue be reviewed and that arrangements be put in place to ensure that all students receive a visit in all but the most exceptional circumstances.
In addition to the detailed and comprehensive coordinator planning document referred to in section 2.1 above, a scheme of work was presented. This scheme is part of a comprehensive LCVP planning folder maintained by the coordinator. This folder outlines the school context in which the LCVP is implemented and has detailed information in relation to a number of areas of importance, including housekeeping arrangements; descriptions of the two modules of the LCVP; information on relevant cross-curricular links; lists of employers and their contact numbers; records of LCVP team meetings; copies of a variety of handouts and worksheets for students; copies of form letters and other documents in relation to work experience; a student induction pack; and a list of† outside agencies who can provide speakers. The compilation and maintenance of this planning folder is an excellent example of the type of detailed planning that all subject departments should carry out and it serves as a good example to all.
The scheme of work in the planning folder outlines, on a two-monthly basis, the work to be done with each class, in both fifth year and sixth year. There are frequent references to the modules, units and specific learning outcomes of the LCVP syllabus document. The scheme lists the portfolio items that are prepared during each part of the school year and also when the more theoretical aspects of the course are addressed. The scheme is well thought out and is an excellent blueprint for the implementation of the LCVP over the two years of the programme. As presented to the inspector, it refers to the 2006/07 school year specifically and is being used as a template for activities for the current year. It is recommended that the scheme be updated to represent the current school year. Additionally, some issues, such as teaching methodologies and assessment, are only mentioned briefly and others, such as resources, homework, progress reports and record keeping, are not addressed in the plan. It is recommended that these issues be given more detailed consideration.
There are at least three formal meetings held by the LCVP team each year. A written agenda is prepared in advance of these meetings and minutes are kept. This is good practice. Teachers also meet informally and frequently to discuss issues or solve problems, as required.
Students qualify to follow the LCVP through a variety of VSG combinations. Frequently used combinations of subjects include Home Economics, Biology and Business Studies. All core portfolio items are addressed as part of the curriculum. In general, two optional items, a diary of work experience and a videotaped interview, are also addressed within class. It is recommended that items, which have been completed by students, for inclusion in portfolios be stored in the school.
Specific classroom input comes from the Link Module teachers, including the career guidance counsellors, and modern European language teachers. VSG teachers are aware of the presence of LCVP students in their classes but may not know who they are.
French and German classes are provided for students who are not following the Leaving Certificate course in a modern European language. There is a focus on generating interest in France or Germany and the culture of the country along with learning vocabulary for simple everyday situations. This is good practice. These classes are currently held during lunchtime, on one day per week, for the two years of the programme. While this arrangement meets the requirement of one class period per year over two years or equivalent, there are also difficulties for students. It is recommended that these classes be brought within the normal school day, in order to improve access.
In keeping with the ethos of the LCVP, speakers from a variety of organizations visit the school to speak to students. Examples of such organizations include FŃS, the local Credit Union, West Offaly Partnership, Offaly Enterprise Board and a variety of local businesses. Enterprise activities are also a feature of the programme, for example, designing, making and selling calendars, cards and Yule Logs for the Christmas market; running a careers exhibition; and running a coffee morning to raise funds for the local hospice.
It is assumed in the LCVP plan that, in the preparation of the portfolio items, students also cover much of the theoretical content of the course. Time is also allowed in sixth year to cover any remaining theory and to prepare for the written examination. This is good practice.
3.1 Planning and preparation for teaching
Section 2.2 of this report commented on long-term planning issues pertaining to LCVP Link Module lessons. In the lessons observed, there was evidence of short term planning also. Teachers were familiar with the subject matter of every lesson, there was a theme running through each lesson and the necessary resource material had been prepared in advance. No specific lesson plans were presented, but all lessons observed were competently taught and were obviously prepared.
3.2 Teaching and learning
In all lessons observed, there was a disciplined atmosphere. Rapport with students was very good and this is to be commended. Teachers were enthusiastic, warm, patient and considerate of students. Their approach to their work was professional and business-like and a good learning environment was evident in all lessons observed. Good progress was made in all lessons. The level of two-way communication in classrooms was relevant to the task at hand. Lesson content was in line with planning documents.
Students were attentive, interested and anxious to participate in the learning process. They demonstrated a positive attitude towards the Link Modules as evidenced by the level of engagement and interest observed. Students displayed a good level of knowledge, understanding and skills. Student behavior was excellent at all times.
One of the lessons visited was held in a lecture theatre-style demonstration room. All students from the year group were brought together to view a short video designed to explore and emphasise the importance of business planning. Although over sixty students were in attendance, the lesson was well managed by the teachers present and a number of key learning events were successfully incorporated into the lesson. All students were given a worksheet to complete during the course of the video and there was a short break during the lesson to facilitate students filling in the worksheet. The reference to the specific learning outcomes of the LCVP syllabus document in the worksheet is praiseworthy as it helps students to monitor their own learning progress and can be motivating. The necessity of giving clear instructions, and of ensuring all students hear them, at the beginning of the class is emphasised. This lesson was followed up, in another lesson subsequently observed, when students were asked to examine and discuss further the issues that had emerged in relation to planning in the video. This is commendable practice.
A variety of well-chosen active methodologies were observed in use. Both individual and group tasks were used at different stages of the lessons observed. There was a good balance between student-centered and teacher-led phases in these lessons. These methodologies observed included student writing, teacher explanations, oral questioning of students and also use of the overhead projector. Students were well challenged by the teachersí use of questions and were appropriately affirmed for their efforts. It is important to remember that directing questions to individual named students for a response is a very useful means of encouraging all students to engage actively in a lesson and the inclusion of higher-order questions encourages students to think at a deeper level, to analyse information as well as recall it.
Students were kept busy and actively engaged at all times. Continuity from previous lessons was good and new information was well linked to previous learning. Teacher movement among the students, assisting, examining and encouraging, was evident in the lessons observed. Teachers were always encouraging and positive in correcting students with appropriate interventions. This is praiseworthy. Homework given was appropriate to the lesson content. It is suggested that this homework be more integrated into the body of the lesson rather than being given at the end when student concentration is beginning to fall off.
It is also recommended that students are made aware of the objectives of the lesson at the outset of each class period. Students may work better if they are more informed about where a lesson is leading. This can be motivating and informative as well as giving a sense of purpose and direction to classroom work. These lesson objectives should be clear, concise and achievable. They can encourage a degree of self-assessment by students within the class and help individuals to monitor their own progress.
Formative assessment of studentsí work is carried out on a continuous basis by questioning in class, through correction of homework and portfolio work, and 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, it is corrected and returned to the student for follow up. It is recommended that the final draft of each item for studentsí portfolios be stored in the school.
Assessment of studentsí progress at Christmas and summer is by means of the examination of work completed for the studentsí portfolios.† Sixth-year students also sit a mock examination based on the written paper of the Link Modules examination.
Christmas and summer reports are used to inform parents of studentsí progress. Some Link Module teachers enter a comment and grade on these reports, some a comment only. It is recommended that a consistent approach to the level of detail and information provided on reports be agreed and implemented. A report is also issued following mock examinations for final year students.
The quality of record keeping by teachers was variable. Best practice was seen where records were kept, in the teacherís own diary, of coursework items being worked on or completed, along with attendance records, behaviour and homework records, and assessment records. It is recommended that all teachers keep full records relating to student performance. The recorded information can be used to build up a profile of each student and can form the basis of very useful evidence in communicating student progress to parents and in advising both students and parents on what level of examination paper to choose in the Leaving Certificate examination.
4.1 Programme evaluation and review
The implementation of the LCVP is reviewed by means of a team meeting towards the end of the school year. However, there are no specific review or success criteria. An analysis of all Leaving Certificate results is carried out each year and, in the case of the LCVP, this is also used as a barometer of the successful implementation of the programme. It is recommended that the current review be formalised and that specific procedures and success criteria be developed to facilitate this review.
The school feels that the VSG requirement artificially restricts the availability of the programme to students and that, ideally, it should be available to all students. Both staff and students have expressed satisfaction with the programme. The guidance value of the LCVP, the extra ICT exposure and work experience that students get have been listed as effective aspects of the programme. The recorded interview is of great assistance to students preparing for oral examinations as part of the Leaving Certificate. In addition, the increased level of teacher cooperation due to the implementation of greater cross-curricular links has been noted as a positive feature of the programme for both teachers and students. At present, the future of the LCVP in the school appears secure.
4.2 Attainment of programme objectives
Changes have taken place in the school as a result of the LCVP. The school has benefited by having improved links with the local community and with industry and an increased level of cross-curricular activity. The school reports that it is now in a position to give students a wider variety of skills. The exercise of having to prepare a portfolio of coursework is, of itself, of major benefit to students. It is felt that the LCVP is an asset to the school and its students.
The programme is popular with those students interviewed by the inspector and while some students report that following the programme can result in more work, most feel that the benefits outweigh the difficulties. Most students say that following the programme will help them to do better in school and give them an opportunity to get more CAO points
Following discussion with management, teachers and students in St. Brendanís Community School, and following examination of all aspects of the programme and its implementation in the school, is can be said that most of the aims of the LCVP are being met.
The vocational potential of Leaving Certificate subjects is being realised as the school is conscious of the cross-curricular nature of the programme. The other aims are also being largely addressed by the manner of implementation of the programme and teachers and most students are very positive regarding the programme.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
∑ It is recommended that the classes in the modern European language modules be brought within the normal school day.
∑ It is recommended that the policy of mandatory participation in the LCVP by all qualified students be kept under review.
∑ It is recommended that arrangements be put in place to ensure that a teacher visits all students while on work experience, in all but the most exceptional circumstances.
∑ It is recommended that specific procedures and success criteria be developed to facilitate review of the implementation of the LCVP.
Published September 2008