An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Transition Year Programme Evaluation
Saint Vincent’s CBS
Glasnevin, Dublin 11
Roll Number: 60400F
Date of inspection: 8 April 2008
The Transition Year (TY) programme is a one year programme for students who have completed the Junior Certificate. The TY provides a bridge to enable them to make the transition from the more dependant type of learning associated with the Junior Certificate to the more independent learning environment of the senior cycle. The programme promotes the personal, social, vocational and educational development of students and prepares them for their role as autonomous, participative and responsible members of society. Transition Year fosters academic achievement as students prepare for a Leaving Certificate programme, further study and adult and working life. It encourages the development of a wide range of transferable critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills.
This report has been written following an evaluation of the TY in St Vincent’s Christian Brothers School, Glasnevin, Dublin. 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 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 programme co-ordinator and members of the core/teaching team at the end of the evaluation period.
St Vincent’s CBS is a voluntary secondary school with an enrolment of 295 boys. The school offers a range of curriculum programmes including the Junior Certificate (JC), the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), the Transition Year Programme (TY), the Leaving Certificate (LC) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). The Transition Year programme has been offered in St Vincent’s since 1996.
1.1 Whole school support
The TY programme in St Vincent’s CBS promotes the school’s mission statement of providing students “with a comprehensive and rounded education”. The school has also developed its own specific aims for the TY programme in its TY policy. According to this policy, it is the school’s aim to provide opportunities for personal and social development, to encourage students to develop a positive approach to learning and to take responsibility for their decision making. Further stated aims in the TY policy include providing students with experience of the world of work and promoting a cross-curricular approach to teaching and learning. It is commendable that the school has developed a comprehensive TY policy with detailed aims of the school’s TY programme. This is evidence of the school’s interest in and commitment to the programme.
The senior management team is supportive of the TY programme in the school. The deputy-principal is a former TY co-ordinator and has significant expertise in all matters relating to TY. The management authorities of the school are supportive in relation to funding TY activities. This is praiseworthy. There is a whole-school approach to TY. Evidence of this is the engagement of the majority of the TY teaching team with the provision of co-curricular trips or activities for TY students. The staff who organize and accompany students on such trips are to be commended for their dedication to the programme. Other members of staff who remain in the school while such trips take place provide cover for colleagues who are accompanying the students. Their generosity and support for these activities is to be commended. The trips and co-curricular activities provide very valuable educational experiences for the students and enrich the overall TY programme.
The TY co-ordinator is new to the role this year, and has availed of the training for new co-ordinators provided by the Transition Year Curriculum Support Service (TYCSS). It is commendable that senior management supported the co-ordinator to avail of this training. However, in interaction with other members of the TY teaching team it was clear that there had been limited engagement with in-service training provided by the TYCSS. It is recommended that all members of staff be encouraged and facilitated to avail of continuous professional development as offered by the TYCSS. In addition, it is suggested that staff consult the website at http://ty.slss.ie where detailed up-to-date information is available about all issues pertaining to TY.
The TY core team and other teachers of TY whose lessons were observed as part of the evaluation displayed a real commitment to the programme. This is commendable and to be encouraged. Meetings of staff who teach TY are held and minutes of these meetings are kept. This is good practice. To develop a whole-school approach to TY, it is important that TY is discussed at whole-staff meetings. The minutes of the most recent whole-staff meeting suggest that this is not the case. It is recommended that the TY co-ordinator be given dedicated time at whole-staff meetings to update all staff on issues pertaining to TY. Teachers who are new to the school and the programme are inducted by the co-ordinator. To build on this good practice, it is recommended that this induction programme be formalised, documented and included in the TY written programme.
The majority of the teaching staff is involved in teaching students in the TY programme. Members of staff are appropriately assigned to teach TY. Generally, those who are interested and committed to TY are assigned to the programme. It is suggested that, as part of an annual review of TY, members of the teaching staff be consulted with regard to their interest in teaching in TY. This will help to develop and maintain a whole-school approach to the programme.
The co-ordinator has access to the school’s office and to administration staff for the purposes of organizing aspects of TY. The co-ordinator does not have access to a computer in the school, which is a disadvantage. It is recommended that, resources permitting, this situation be remedied. The co-ordinator does not have an office, as facilities in the school do not currently allow for this. At present there are very few dedicated TY resources in the school. It is recommended that TY resources be acquired from the TY curriculum-support service. It is recommended that according as the resources for TY grow in the school they be kept in a central storage area and accessible to all TY teachers. An inventory of resources should be made and filed in the TY programme so that all members of staff are aware of the resources available to them. It is recommended that all members of the TY teaching team make themselves familiar with the above website which contains a lot of useful materials for TY.
There is no dedicated TY budget. Funds are made available upon request by teachers to the TY co-ordinator. Frequently these funds are provided by the school to pay for a bus to transport TY students to different venues. Parents usually pay for certain activities. The Department of Education and Science TY capitation grant is used effectively to support TY events, and is also being used to provide information and communications technology (ICT). Students taking the TY programme have very good access to computers. This is highly commendable. It is recommended, in so far as possible, that the TY calendar events are planned at the beginning of the year so that effective budgeting can take place, and that parents know well in advance what the cost of activities will be and can therefore budget accordingly.
TY students are classroom based. Ideally, it is preferable that teachers be classroom based, as this facilitates creating print-rich environments in classroom that are appropriate to their subject areas, and also allows for the storage of subject-related materials. It was noted that there was no television (TV) or DVD player in the TY base classroom, although this equipment is available on request through a booking system. However, until teacher-based classrooms can be assigned and as resources permit, a TV and DVD should be made available in the TY classrooms.
1.3 Student selection
The TY programme is compulsory in St Vincent’s CBS for all students who wish to progress to the Leaving Certificate. Each year a small number of students who wish to take the LCA programme do not do TY. In the current year, a total of 41 students are enrolled in TY. The class groupings are reformed after the Junior Certificate. These students are divided into two class groups alphabetically. This ensures that students have the opportunity to form new work and friendship groups. This is good practice. Generally the classes in TY are mixed ability for modular and some optional subjects. This is commendable. In the case of most of the core subjects a system of streaming or banding operates. It is recommended that, in so far as possible, all subject departments adhere to the mixed-ability ethos when forming class groupings in TY.
1.4 Home, school and community links
Students are informed about the TY programme when they are in third year. The guidance counsellor and teachers provide students with information about the programme and associated activities. An information evening is held in the school to inform parents about the programme and to answer any queries they may have. This is effective practice. The school has developed a booklet for parents, which was presented as part of the documentation for the inspection. This booklet is now out of date and contains references to subject sampling in areas such as environmental studies, drama and Spanish which are not currently part of the TY programme. It is recommended that an up-to-date brochure outlining the current provision in the TY programme in the school be developed for parents. It is suggested that students have an input into such a brochure. Prospective TY students are asked to fill out an application form and sign a contract of learning. This is to be commended as it instils in the students a level of expectation for and commitment to the programme.
There are effective lines of communication between the school and parents. Letters are sent to parents informing them of upcoming trips or activities. Reports of students’ progress are sent home at Christmas, Easter and in the summer. A parent-teacher meeting is held for parents of TY students. It was stated in the course of the evaluation that the holding of this parent-teacher meeting is under review as the attendance of parents is quite low. It was noted that this meeting was held at lunch time, which may be a very inconvenient time for parents to attend. In line with the Department circular M58/04, it is recommended that the time of this meeting be changed in the hope that attendance at the parent-teacher meeting will improve.
The students’ journal is used as a mechanism to communicate with parents. A number of these journals were viewed in the course of the evaluation. The comments written in journals related mainly to students’ misbehaviour or omissions regarding homework. While it is important for the school to communicate this information to parents, it is recommended that, on occasion and when appropriate, positive comments be written as well. This is particularly appropriate in TY where students’ effort and participation are an essential part of the programme and should be acknowledged.
Links between St Vincent’s and the community are good. TY students undertake four week’s work experience in two blocks of two weeks. Many of these placements are in the local and wider community. It was stated that work placements can sometimes be difficult to obtain, and that students rely frequently on family members to provide placements. Some newcomer students have had great difficulty securing work placements, and it was reported that one newcomer student did not succeed in carrying out work experience as a result. It is recommended that the school review the work experience programme and investigate the possibility of building up new contacts with companies and employers who will supply placements for students. This would ensure that all students have access to work experience. In addition, it is recommended that an aspect of community care be included in the TY programme. This will help TY students to develop social awareness which should be an integral part of the school’s TY programme.
Links with the community are also developed through activities and trips. For example a study visit for TY students was organized to the nearby Botanic Gardens and also to Mountjoy Prison. This is very good practice as it creates an awareness and appreciation among students of their local environment, and is also not resource intensive from a financial point of view.
Links with neighbouring educational institutions are strong. TY students engage in a paired-reading programme with primary pupils. This forms part of their social education programme and is most laudable. Further links were created with a nearby third-level institution where the students took part in a week long course in web design. Students expressed great enthusiasm for this course. Creating links with third level is to be highly commended.
1.5 Support for students
Guidance is timetabled for all TY students. This is good practice. Students are well prepared for work experience and those who experienced difficulty while on work placement received appropriate support from the school. This is commendable.
Students in both TY class groupings come from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. It was noted that these students were not in receipt of English language support, although they clearly would have benefited from such support. It is recommended that resources permitting ways be sought in TY to provide English language support. It was noted that while other students study Gaeilge, newcomer students are not timetabled for any alternative subject. This issue should be immediately addressed.
In the course of the two-day inspection, significant numbers of TY students were absent. It was noted that roll call did not take place in many of the lessons observed. Students who had been missing on the previous day did not present notes of explanation to teachers. It is recommended that a roll call always take place at the beginning of lessons and that notes from students who were absent be sought.
A new co-ordinator of the TY programme was appointed at the beginning of the current academic year. It is commendable that the management authorities have linked the co-ordination role to a special duties post, thus acknowledging the importance of co-ordinating the programme. The immediate predecessor to this role is no longer on the staff, so an official handover was not possible. Other members of staff however, who were involved previously in the co-ordination of TY have been helpful and supportive to the present co-ordinator. This is praiseworthy.
A written job description for the post of TY co-ordinator has not yet been established. It is recommended that the co-ordinator's duties be made available in written form as soon as possible. The co-ordinator’s main duties presently comprise liaising with staff and students particularly regarding modular activities and events organised specifically for the TY students. The programme co-ordinator maintains very good and on going communication with TY teachers. For example, when material relevant to individual subject departments is received this is immediately disseminated to relevant staff. This is good practice. Information about TY is given to staff at meetings and is also placed on a general notice board in the staffroom. If space permits in the staffroom, it is recommended that a dedicated notice board for TY staff be provided.
The co-ordinator maintains some records in relation to TY, for example student details, minutes of meetings and details relating to TY calendar events. At present, records relating to work experience are maintained by the guidance counsellor. It is recommended, that copies of these also be maintained by the TY co-ordinator. It is also recommended that a filing system be created, and that all TY documents be filed and kept on record by the co-ordinator.
The co-ordinator is scheduled to teach both TY class groups and therefore has regular contact with the students. This is in line with best practice. There is a TY notice board in the main corridor on the ground floor of the school. At the time of the evaluation, the main display on the notice board comprised photographs of a TY trip which took place on 2005. The students involved in this trip have now left the school. It is strongly recommended that this notice board be maintained with up-to-date materials relevant to the current cohort of TY students. A notice board that is used to provide information regarding forthcoming events, displays students’ work and photographs relating to TY trips is a very effective way of raising the profile of TY in the school.
A written plan is in place for the TY programme. This TY plan comprises the TY school policy, subject plans for each subject or module taught in the programme, and some additional relevant information. It is recommended that the programme be developed to encompass the format and suggestions outlined in the brochure; Writing the Transition Year Programme. This would essentially mean writing an introduction to the TY programme (Part 1) and documenting the organisational details (Part 3). Part 2 is already documented in the form of the subject plans. It is recommended that, when the written programme has been completed according to the guidelines, a number of copies be made available in the staffroom.
The subject plans are written using the common format similar to that provided in Writing the Transition Year Programme. This in itself is good practice. The subject plans outline the aims, objectives, content and means of assessment. Some of the plans identify the skills that learners will develop in the course of lessons, for example, learners will be able to identify, describe, interpret and design. This is exemplary practice. It is recommended that all plans be developed to include the stated learning outcomes in this manner. In the plans, reference is made to how the subject or module will be evaluated. Frequently, reference is made to students’ inputs and questionnaires in the evaluation of subjects and modules. This is very effective practice and to be highly commended. In a minority of subjects, evaluation is taken to mean student assessment rather than student evaluation of what has been learned. It is recommended that these plans be revisited and a form of student evaluation be included.
The majority of plans refer to cross-curricular links with other subjects or modules. However, most plans do not specify exactly how or what links with other subject areas might be developed. The development of an interdisciplinary approach should be a key element of a TY programme. It is recommended that subject departments work together to develop and specify how exactly these cross-curricular links can be developed concretely. To assist this work it is suggested, that the co-ordinator and the TY teaching team consider taking a theme for a short period of time and developing cross-curricular links in all subject areas related to a chosen theme.
A TY core team is in place to support the co-ordinator. The core team engages in the planning process for TY. The core team comprises the TY coordinator and the class tutors, one of whom is also the guidance counsellor. The core team meets formally four times a year. These meetings are minuted and records are kept. This is very good practice and to be highly commended. From the minutes it is clear that the main business of these meetings involves short-term planning for up and coming events. It is recommended that the TY core team take some time to engage in long-term planning as well.
The school strives to provide a broad curriculum in TY. In designing the curriculum for the programme good efforts are made to adhere to the principles underlying TY. Four layers normally form the TY curriculum, namely: core, modular, optional and calendar. In St Vincent’s all four layers are present. Irish, English, Mathematics, French, Business, Physical Education (PE), Religious Education (RE), Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Guidance are the core subjects in the TY curriculum. Art, Music, Science, History and Geography are provided as taster subjects to the students. It is highly commendable that students who did not have the opportunity to study some of these subjects in junior cycle can take them up in TY. The students themselves expressed great satisfaction with these opportunities. First aid, web design and music workshops are examples of some of the calendar events. Given the wealth of expertise among members of the teaching team it is recommended that ways be sought to introduce more variety into the TY curriculum. It is recommended that modules in areas of learning that are outside the usual subject areas typically found in the Junior or Leaving Certificate programmes be developed. The addition of such modules would broaden substantially the curriculum and enrich the TY programme significantly.
Copies of the presentation made to parents of third-year students regarding senior cycle options, including TY, were made available in the course of the evaluation. In this presentation it is stated that the school’s TY programme in Mathematics, French, English and Irish will be part of a three-year Leaving Certificate programme. While it was evident from classroom observation and from review of planning documentation that the principles of TY are being adhered to, the department circulars M31/93, M47/93, M1/00 and the Transition Year Programme Guidelines for schools all clearly state that a TY programme is not part of a Leaving Certificate programme. It is recommended that the presentation for parents be reviewed for the subjects referred to.
Work experience forms part of the curriculum in TY. One period for Guidance per week is timetabled. Students receive information about work experience and are prepared for the world of work. Students have two blocks of work experience for two weeks in the course of TY. This is commendable. Social education is core in the TY curriculum. In interaction with TY students, it was evident that they were gaining great benefit from this aspect of the curriculum. Students spoke very highly of the lessons and in particular referred to their enjoyment of the methodologies uses such as group and pair work. In previous years participation in the Young Social Innovators (YSI) project was a key element in the TY programme. The school experienced great success in this project and won the national competition. This year efforts were made to engage the TY students in the YSI project. However due to time constraints their involvement in this project did not progress. It is recommended that, given the wealth of expertise on the staff, and the great success the school has experienced in the past, efforts be made to see how participation in this very worthwhile project can be reinvigorated. This would enhance the social education aspect of the TY curriculum.
ICT forms an integral part of the curriculum in TY. Students have seven discreet lessons per week in computer studies. In addition students have access to ICT resources in the school to do research and ICT forms part of the teaching and learning of certain subjects and modules. The emphasis on the development of ICT skills for the students is highly commendable. Students themselves, in the course of interview, signalled this as one of the key strengths of the TY curriculum.
3.1 Planning and preparation for teaching
Long term planning for subjects was generally good. Evidence from lesson observation indicated that lessons were well planned in advance. Materials, handouts and other resources for use in the course of lessons had been well prepared. Planning for the use of ICT resources was particularly commendable. In some lessons, the content and activities were planned with a focus on intended learning outcomes. This is very good practice. It is recommended that all short-term planning be informed by focussing on desired learning outcomes for students. This will be beneficial to teaching and learning as there will be clarity surrounding what it is exactly that the learner should be able to do at the end of a lesson. In order to progress this type of planning, section 2.4 of Writing the Transition Year Programme should be consulted.
3.2 Teaching and learning
In the course of the evaluation, lessons encompassing a wide range of subjects including core and optional were observed. The quality of teaching and learning was good. The pace of most lessons was good and students progressed readily from one activity to the next. This approach facilitates student learning and is to be commended. Lesson content in the majority of lessons was designed with the interests and needs of students in mind. In many lessons, the aims and objectives were clearly stated at the outset. This is good practice and should be extended to all lessons.
A good variety of teaching methods was observed across lessons. Best practice was observed where teachers gave short clear inputs and then required students to carry out an activity. This allowed teachers to circulate, and individual students were given the assistance they needed to complete the activity. This level of differentiation is commendable and is particularly suitable to a mixed-ability setting.
In other lessons teachers’ questions were used very effectively to elicit students’ existing knowledge. Information was then collated on the board to remind students of key issues and definitions. This worked well. New information was presented to learners in an accessible manner, which enabled the students to build successfully on prior learning. In a minority of lessons, inputs lasted too long and were not interspersed with student activities. This lead to situations where students became somewhat disengaged. It is recommended that active teaching methodologies be used in all lessons. This change would enhance the learning process considerably.
The effective use of pair and group work was noted in the course of lesson observation. However, this was confined to the minority of lessons. It is recommended that activities be designed to encourage students to work together in pairs and in groups. Students derive a lot of benefit from co-operative learning, and this should become a required part of the teaching methodology for the TY programme.
In some lessons observed, students were engaged in independent research using the ICT facilities in the school. This is effective practice, as students are set the task of finding out knowledge for themselves. In engaging with students it was clear that they derived benefit and enjoyment from such learning. In some cases, students had accessed significant amounts of information from websites in order to complete project work. In some instances, it was noted that students had transferred entire pages of information directly from the internet to their projects. This practice has limited educational value. It is recommended, that when doing such projects, students be given advice on how best to synthesise the information that they access. In some of the lessons observed, students were given time to engage in self-reflection. A dedicated form was supplied for this purpose, and students were asked to fill out specific questions designed to make them think about the learning which had taken place. This is most effective practice and to be highly commended.
The most obvious examples of cross-curricular activities witnessed in lesson observation pertained to the integration of ICT with other subjects. Students held files on school computers in all subject areas. There was evidence that students were using ICT as a tool for learning across the curriculum. This is highly commended. To build on this good practice it is recommended that other cross-curricular dimensions be developed to enhance learning as referred to previously in section 2.2.
The classroom atmosphere in all lessons observed was positive and conducive to learning. The nature of student-teacher interactions was positive. Teachers had high expectations of the learners and were encouraging of the students’ efforts. Classroom management was effective and discipline was maintained at all times. This is commendable.
A variety of assessment methods are employed in TY. These comprise oral questioning in class, written assignments and project work. Students are given more formal assessments at Christmas and in the summer. Reports are sent home arsing from these formal assessments. An additional report is sent to parents at Easter. This comprises student self-assessment as well as teachers’ assessment of students’ learning. Incorporating student self-assessment in a formal report in this manner is very good practice and central to the ethos of the programme.
Student journals were viewed in the course of the evaluation. It was noted that students had not recorded homework in these journals. In some cases “no homework” was written beside subjects. In the majority of cases nothing was entered into the journal. It is vital that homework be assigned as it reinforces the learning that has taken place in lessons. It is recommended that all teachers involved in teaching TY insist that students record homework. Students’ journals should be monitored to see that they are recording all homework and assignments appropriately.
Project work is used extensively in TY. Some projects of a very high standard were viewed in the course of the evaluation. Students work individually and in groups on different projects. To enhance the existing good practice it is recommended that more emphasis be placed on the assessment of oral and presentation skills in the course of TY. In languages, it is recommended that students be assessed in oral skills. In other subject areas, where students have completed projects, it is recommended that they make oral presentations based on these projects. This will ensure the development of these very important skills.
Students are encouraged to engage in self-assessment throughout the year and are asked to fill out a student log which comprises questions relating to pieces of work that they will include in their portfolios. These questions require students to reflect on how they produced a certain piece of work, what they learned about themselves, what they liked doing and what knowledge they have acquired. In the student log the learners are asked to rate themselves in areas such as: skills development, time management and presentation of work. It was noted that this student log is used on a wide scale across all subject areas. Encouraging students to engage in self-assessment in this manner is very effective and to be highly commended.
At the end of the year a TY graduation and celebration event is held. Students’ work and portfolios are displayed and students are awarded certificates for completing various aspects of the programme. Students also receive an overall TY certificate to acknowledge their successful completion of the programme. The use of certificates to validate student performance is commendable. Consideration could be given to providing certificates in the languages taught on the programme, namely Gaeilge and French, for recognition of completion of tasks related to these subjects.
4.1 Programme evaluation and review
The TY programme is not evaluated on an annual basis. This is not effective practice as review is an essential mechanism to inform future planning. It is recommended that a formal review take place on an annual basis. It is recommended that a partnership approach be adopted and that the views of parents, students and staff be sought in the course of the annual review. Formal structures need to be put in place to carry out the process of review. When these structures are in place the relevant information should be included in the introduction to the written programme. Individual subject plans are reviewed each year in the context of subject department meetings. This is good practice and to be commended.
4.2 Attainment of programme objectives
The TY programme strives to and succeeds in upholding the mission statement of the TY as set out in the document Transition Year Programmes: Guidelines for Schools (Department of Education and Science:1995). The programme benefits students in many ways. Most strikingly the benefits are obvious in the area of personal and vocational development. Management, staff and students all acknowledged that students’ maturity is one of the main outcomes of the TY programme. The students develop a sense of self-confidence. This is developed through the opportunities provided for students in the course of work-experience. In order to fulfil all areas of the TY programme, it is recommended that increased interdisciplinary learning opportunities be provided.
A key strength of the programme is that students stated they were more confident in making subject choices for the Leaving Certificate. This is a very positive outcome. Teacher-student relationships are enhanced through the programme in particular as so many teachers organize activities outside of the school environment.
The students and staff are to be commended for the TY programme and for the success in attaining many of the programme objectives.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is good whole-school support for the TY programme in St Vincent’s CBS.
· Communication between the school and the parents of TY students is effective.
· Links between St Vincent’s and the community are very good.
· Co-ordination of the TY programme is good and a TY core team is in place to support the co-ordination of the programme.
· The TY curriculum is broad and balanced. The integration of ICT into the TY curriculum is one of the key strengths of the programme.
· The quality of teaching and learning was good. The classroom atmosphere in all of the lessons observed was positive and conducive to learning.
· The TY programme is successful in attaining the majority of the programme’s objectives. Students in the programme benefit academically, personally and vocationally.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
· The TY programme should be developed to encompass the format and suggestions outlined in the brochure, Writing the Transition Year Programme.
· The development of an interdisciplinary approach should be a key element of a TY programme. It is recommended that subject departments work together to develop and specify how exactly these cross-curricular links can constructively be developed.
· All TY subject plans should be developed to include stated learning outcomes. The means by which the subjects or modules are to be evaluated should also be exemplified in the subject plans.
· All teachers involved in teaching TY should insist that students record homework. Students’ journals should be monitored to see that they are recording all homework and assignments appropriately.
· A formal review should take place on an annual basis. This formal review will be essential in informing the ongoing planning of the TY programme in the school.
Published November 2008