An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Transition Year Programme Evaluation
Pobalscoil na Tríonóide
Youghal, County Cork
Roll Number: 91513S
Date of inspection: 7 May 2009
EVALUATION OF THE TRANSITION YEAR PROGRAMME
This report has been written following an evaluation of the Transition Year (TY) programme in Pobalscoil na Tríonóide. 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 and with a small group of students. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector liaised extensively with the programme co-ordinator 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 deputy principal and the programme co-ordinator at the end of the evaluation period.
Pobalscoil na Tríonóide, a co-educational community school, first opened its doors to students in September 2006 following the amalgamation of three local post-primary schools in Youghal, County Cork. These schools were Coláiste Éoin, Christian Brothers’ Secondary School and Loreto Convent Secondary School. Pobalscoil na Tríonóide has a current enrolment of 895 students and offers Junior Certificate, the TY programme, the Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. The TY programme is offered as an option in senior cycle and caters for eighty-six students in the current year. The school also contains an Irish-language medium education unit (aonaid lán-ghaeilge) catering for one class group in each year. The students from this unit experience the TY programme through the medium of Irish. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
1.1 Whole-school support
The TY programme receives significant support from school management in Pobailscoil na Tríonóide. The principal and deputy principal are committed to the programme and actively support its organisation and delivery. Management is equally aware of the value of the programme in terms of the educational, social and personal development of the students. The programme is appropriately organised and has a significant profile among students and their parents. A TY co-ordinator and an assistant co-ordinator have been appointed to plan and manage the day-to-day running of the programme and there is significant cohesion and communication between the co-ordination team and school management. In the three years since the establishment of the school it is clear that there has been significant review and reflection based on practice and on the outcomes for students in the programme. This process of review and reflection, focusing on both students’ and school needs, is very commendable and reflects wider processes in the school as systems and procedures are embedded in practice.
The programme is well resourced in the school. Parents make a contribution to the programme and the annual voluntary contribution that is requested from students in all year groups is deducted from this amount and used to support whole-school funding. The remaining funds are used to resource a range of TY activities and programmes. The use of these funds is carefully managed and recorded by the co-ordinator and school management.
It is the policy of school management to assign teachers to class groups across all year groups where possible. This has resulted in the timetabling of up to eighteen teachers for each of the four TY class groups. While this policy is laudable at whole-school level it has some implications for the TY programme in such a large school. It has created a very large teaching team, without the development of a core team for the programme. This has implications for programme organisation, communication and the further development of teaching strategies appropriate to TY. A core team of teachers including the co-ordinator, a member of the guidance team and a number of key subject and module teachers would act as an identifiable group who could work to develop and sustain the identity of the programme as a very significant transition between junior cycle and the two-year Leaving Certificate programmes. It is recommended that school management, through timetabling and teacher allocation, create a core TY team that can work to sustain and further develop the high quality programme that is currently in evidence.
1.3 Student selection and support
Student selection and support for the programme is well managed. Transition year is an optional programme and is open to all third-year students. A full range of information is provided to students and their parents in advance of all options for senior cycle and students are well supported in the choice process. The guidance team, together with the programme co-ordinator, provides the appropriate information to students who are considering the TY option. Entry to the programme is also supported by the high-profile and visible presence of TY activities in the school.
Students apply for entry to the programme following an information evening for parents and presentations to students in preparation for their transition from junior cycle into senior cycle. A clear set of criteria is used to select students. In some cases students are interviewed and an appropriate set of questions and a marking scheme has been devised to manage this process. In the three years of the programme in the school, the places available have been closely matched by student demand. There are four mixed-ability class groups in the programme at present. Three of these groups are created from the re-mixing of applicants from the pre-existing third-year class groups. A further class group is created for students who wish to pursue the programme through the medium of Irish. This group is also supplemented by students who may wish to improve their standard of Irish but who were not part of the aonaid lán-ghaeilge in junior cycle. The level of reorganisation and mixing of students to create a cohesive student group within the programme each year is commendable.
Support for students during the programme is led by the TY co-ordinator who has class contact time with each of the class groups. The co-ordinator also acts as the year head for the students and works with the class tutors in the whole-school student-support system. Issues of student achievement, discipline and care are managed within this system. This structure effectively links the need for flexibility in the organisation of the TY programme with the necessary formality of student management at whole-school level.
1.4 Home-school links
Home-school interactions are of good quality throughout the programme. Parents are fully and appropriately informed of all TY activities. A class period on the timetable dedicated to the co-ordination of programme activities is a very effective means of communication with students. The student journal and school newsletter are also important aspects of the communication between school and home. Out-of-school activities in the current year, including a visit to Berlin and to an outdoor-education centre, are supported by detailed correspondence between the co-ordinator and the parents. Parent-teacher meetings are also organised, as is an awards and celebration night towards the end of the programme during which many aspects of students’ achievements in the programme are displayed. This level of communication and home-school contact is very effective in highlighting the good work that is taking place in the programme.
Planning for the TY programme is well advanced and is of good quality. A programme plan is in place and this clearly maps out all aspects of the programme. This plan reflects the guidelines for TY planning and provides a clear insight into the aims and operation of the programme in the school. While the TY programme is just three years in existence in the school, there is clear evidence of reflection and review in the planning process. A number of changes have been introduced as the programme has developed and further changes are planned. These changes have been triggered by school management and the programme co-ordinator, but are also based on the views of teachers and on evaluation sheets provided by students on completion of the programme. Recent changes have been introduced in the range of assessment modes used in the programme and in the number of out-of school activities. New subjects have been added to the curriculum and others have been maintained or curtailed based on practice and feedback from students. The outcome of this ongoing review has resulted in the development of a more effective programme, operating within the demands and limitations of other school activities. Such demands include timetabling, staff deployment and the extent of out-of-class or out-of-school activity that can be facilitated. This process of discussion and reflection in the planning of the programme is very effective and has resulted in programme improvement. The inclusion of the voices of students and teachers in this planning process is also commended and encouraged.
Subject planning within the programme is also ongoing but lacks depth in some subject areas. While subject plans are based on a common template, some subject and modular areas require a deeper focus on the learning outcomes to be achieved by students. Clearly planned learning outcomes should inform classroom practice and planning for lessons. Equally, subject planning in the programme should focus on linkages that exist between subjects and the complementary activities that are taking place in these subjects. It is recommended therefore, that subject planning for the programme in the future should focus on the learning outcomes for particular subject areas to ensure that classroom practice and students’ learning is informed by good planning. This could be achieved over time by the use of two strategies. The recommended development of a core team for the programme could focus on learning outcomes as a programme planning priority. Subject-department planning across the whole school could also ensure that a detailed plan for the subject in TY is developed as whole-school subject planning progresses and is reviewed.
The co-ordination of the programme is excellent. Both the co-ordinator and the assistant co-ordinator have a high level of visibility in the day-to-day operation of the programme. Both are also timetabled within the programme, which further increases opportunities to engage with the students and to foresee and address issues and difficulties as they develop. A well-equipped TY office is provided and a notice board dedicated to TY provides information to students. The school’s ‘e- portal’ intranet system provides a platform for the sharing of information with teachers. The creation of these co-ordinating structures by school management is highly commended.
Relationships with students in the programme are based on mutual respect and courtesy. The co-ordinator operates an open-door policy in relation to students and places responsibility for engagement, participation and learning within the programme firmly with the students. The outcome of this very effective co-ordination is a very good TY programme that offers significant and varied challenges and opportunities to students. Students are constantly encouraged to fully engage with the programme. The evident success of the programme and the very good outcomes for the students is due largely to the dedication and professionalism of the co-ordination team.
Students are offered a very high quality educational experience by the TY curriculum. This curriculum is grounded in the guidelines for TY programmes. Students continue with their learning in Gaeilge, English, Mathematics, French or German, Religious Education and Physical Education. Geography and History also form part of the core group of subjects for the programme. A First Aid course is now taken by all students as part of their core studies. The inclusion of First Aid as a core area of study is one of the visible outcomes of the student-evaluation process.
Students are also offered half-year modular courses in a range of curricular subjects to inform subject choice for Leaving Certificate. These are offered to all students and are compulsory. This provides an extensive range of modules including subjects as diverse as Home Economics, Construction Studies and Economics. The valuable experience of engaging with these subjects not only informs subject choice, but also provides a wide educational experience and can help to address any gender stereotyping that could influence uptake of particular subjects. Guidance is also timetabled and this links very effectively with the students’ work experience in the programme. Guidance is focused on educational guidance in preparation for subject choice and related career paths, and on career guidance linking directly to work experience.
A third layer in the curriculum gives students access to a complementary programme including a course to achieve the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL), a mini-company project, Archaeology, multi-media and the opportunity to achieve the bronze level in the Gaisce President’s award scheme. The challenge to achieve this award is significant in the programme in that it presents students with self-directed challenges in the areas of personal, social and community development. The curriculum is also complemented by a number of high-profile activities including social and community projects, fundraising activities for local charities, a visit to Berlin and a week-long residential outdoor-pursuits programme.
The provision of a module in Archaeology and in multi-media is particularly noteworthy and very appropriate to the spirit and methodology of the programme. The archaeology module is based on excavation techniques on a site in the school grounds into which artefacts, including pots, pieces of flint and a demonstration plastic human skeleton, have been buried. The students excavate the finds and make detailed records which simulate the working environment on an authentic archaeological dig. This combines with a wider study of local historical and archaeological sites. The multi-media module utilises the school’s impressive information and communication technology (ICT) facilities to engage students in creating animations, digital-video production and the editing and screening of good-quality short films. Both modules exemplify a TY curriculum that is focused on the opportunities presented by the skills and enthusiasm of teachers and that is firmly grounded in providing high-quality educational experiences for students.
3.1 Planning and preparation
Planning and preparation for the lessons observed was very good. Teachers had carefully planned for the delivery of their lessons within their overall plan for the subject or module. Resources were used very effectively and included visual stimulus materials, student presentations and ICT. In almost all lessons, students were engaged by these resources and by the planned learning. In the majority of lessons, very good practice was observed as clear tasks had been planned and the students were engaged actively in their achievement. A clear structure in relation to individual projects should always be planned to ensure that all students in lessons engage and succeed in these tasks. Most students responded positively as independent learners in well-planned lessons. As outlined in 2.1 above, future subject planning and preparation for individual units of work should focus on the learning outcomes for students. These learning outcomes should then inform appropriate teaching methodologies and assessment strategies.
3.2 Learning and teaching
The quality of teaching and learning is very good in the TY programme. Lessons were well structured and the students were engaged by the active methodologies in evidence. Teaching approaches stressed active engagement and participation and clearly reflected strategies appropriate to the TY programme. Students were engaged in the completion of tasks in most lessons and these tasks and activities were central to the delivery of the planned unit of work.
The methodologies observed contained very limited direct teacher input but focused the students on mainly independent and collaborative learning, facilitated by the teachers. Excellent examples of project work, group work and individual engagement in learning was observed in lessons. Students had gathered very impressive portfolios of work and achievements as evidenced in the range of projects, reports and reflections contained in the individual portfolio boxes examined during the evaluation.
The very effective learning in evidence in the lessons observed relates to the knowledge, understanding and skills arising from the subjects and modules presented. It is also clear that the range of experiences in the programme has resulted in learning in terms of confidence building, self-esteem and interpersonal skills in the students. The students are articulate and assertive and are clearly able and willing to reflect and evaluate on their experiences within the programme.
Arising from the very good support for the programme, the effective planning and the excellent co-ordination, students demonstrate very positive attitudes towards their experience of TY and to their personal achievements and learning in the programme. Teachers have high expectations of their students and the challenges presented within the various elements of the programme are appropriate to the mixed-ability nature of the class groups. Teacher-student rapport and the classroom atmosphere in all cases was warm and affirming within a very positive and supportive learning environment.
The assessment of students’ progress and learning in the programme is very well organised and is effective. Assessment processes are central to the programme and have been the subject of ongoing review. Students receive appropriate homework based on individual tasks or projects relating to subjects or modules. Students are also required to compile a portfolio of their achievements that is assessed on completion of the programme. Individual assessments and certificates of achievements are also acquired through the completion of the ECDL course, the First Aid course and the bronze-level Gaisce award. All project reports, assignments and items representing various achievements are placed in the portfolio box as a record of work completed.
Formal assessments are carried out on two occasions during the year. Students take formal examinations and reports on the outcomes are sent to parents. These formal assessments and the reports to parents are also supported by a parent-teacher meeting and an opportunity to meet with the co-ordinator to discuss individual progress in the programme. The outcomes of these formal assessments are then combined with an assessment of the students’ achievement in the programme as evidenced in their portfolio. Students present their portfolio in an individual interview towards the end of the school year and discuss their achievements in the programme. The quality of the portfolio, combined with the outcomes of the formal assessments and a grade for participation, is used to provide each student with an assessment level on completion of the programme. Students are presented with certificates graded at the levels of distinction, merit or pass at an awards ceremony. This ceremony, to which parents are invited, celebrates the achievements of the students and includes inputs of music, film, individual performances and the display of project work. This ceremony is used to complete the comprehensive and planned programme of work for TY students in the school.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The school offers a very good quality TY programme to students.
· The TY programme receives significant support from school management and is well resourced.
· Planning for the programme is well advanced and is of good quality.
· The co-ordination of the programme is excellent.
· The educational experience offered to students by the TY curriculum is of a very high quality.
· The quality of teaching and learning in the programme is very good.
· The assessment of students’ progress and learning is very well organised and is effective.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
· School management should create a core TY team that can work to sustain and further develop the high-quality programme that is currently in evidence.
· Planning for the programme should focus on learning outcomes for particular subject areas to ensure that classroom practice and students’ learning is informed by good planning.
Published, December 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management of Pobalscoil na Tríonóide welcomes the Report following an inspection of the Transition Year Programme in the School.
We note the many strengths identified in the report with specific reference to the very good quality T.Y. programme offered to students, the support from school management and resources allocated, the good quality planning for T.Y., the excellent co-ordination, the very high quality experience offered to students, the quality of teaching and learning and assessment of student progress.
The Board compliments all members of the school community for their great work with the T.Y. Programme.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
Following the Inspection/report, a core planning team has been put in place to further develop the schools high-quality T.Y. programme.
Greater focus will be placed on learning outcomes for particular subject areas as part of the planning for the programme.