An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme
Mullingar, Co. Westmeath
Roll Number: 63270K
Date of inspection: 21 January 2010
EVALUATION OF THE LEAVING CERTIFICATE VOCATIONAL PROGRAMME (LCVP)
This report has been written following an evaluation of the LCVP in Coláiste Mhuire, Mullingar. 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 visited classrooms to observe teaching and learning. The inspector examined students’ work and reviewed relevant documentation pertaining to the programme, as well as teachers’ written preparation. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
1.1 Whole school support
The LCVP has been on the curriculum of Coláiste Mhuire since 1994. At present there are two class groups in fifth year and one in sixth year following the programme. LCVP students are fully integrated into their year groups and only come together as discrete groups for link module classes and LCVP-specific activities.
Implementation of the programme is overseen by a team consisting of the principal and deputy principal, the guidance counsellor, a teacher of French and the two link modules teachers, one of whom is the LCVP co-ordinator. This implementation team meets informally on two occasions each school year. The members of the LCVP team are enthusiastic and committed to both improving the implementation of the LCVP in the school and to meeting the needs of their students. A good level of communication, collegiality and mutual support among the LCVP team members was clearly apparent in the course of the evaluation.
The school has had a good degree of success in teaching the link modules aspect of the programme as a discrete entity. However, it is through a whole-school approach, with an emphasis on the LCVP as a programme, that outcomes for students are maximized. Awareness of the LCVP among teachers generally is only fair, however, and while the vocational subject grouping (VSG) teachers are aware of LCVP students in their classrooms, there is limited implementation of the LCVP as an integrated cross-curricular programme. It is recommended that the LCVP team works towards raising awareness, at whole-school level, of the nature of the LCVP as an integrated programme. The use of LCVP-specific notice boards in the staffroom, announcing upcoming LCVP events and the provision, by management, of opportunities for the LCVP co-ordinator and team to brief teaching staff regarding the aims and objectives of the LCVP and the centrality of cross-curricular work to the success of the LCVP, are all means by which awareness may be raised. This will facilitate the exploration, with all subject teachers, of the links between their subjects and the link modules curriculum. Subject teachers can then be encouraged to emphasise these elements of their subjects with students, while link module teachers can use these links as the basis for the various programme-related activities that students carry out.
It is worth noting that the website of the LCVP support service at http://www.lcvp.slss.ie/ contains much useful information and advice and regular checking of this site will help to keep teachers and students up to date with recent developments in addition to providing a variety of useful resources.
The programme is ably managed by the LCVP co-ordinator who has twelve years experience in this role. The co-ordinator works closely with the other link module teacher and the guidance counsellor. This core team meets frequently, on an ongoing basis, to manage the day-to-day affairs of the programme in addition to meeting formally on three occasions each year. It is recommended that an agenda be prepared in advance of these meetings and that minutes be kept, in keeping with best practice, in order that decisions made and responsibilities assigned are recorded.
The co-ordinator, who is a teacher of business subjects, and who is also a qualified guidance counsellor and the holder of a higher degree in computers in education, is ideally placed to manage the LCVP. LCVP co-ordination duties are carried out as part of the larger Programme Co-ordinator post, which is also linked to the school’s Transition Year programme. The co-ordinator, with the support of school management, has availed of appropriate in-service training over a number of years.
The second link modules teacher, who has been involved in the LCVP for a relatively short period of time, is a teacher of Science and consequently brings a diversity of knowledge and experience to implementing the LCVP. It is recommended that appropriate in-service training be sought for this teacher to augment the extensive support provided by the co-ordinator.
Link module classes, which are allocated a double period each week in both fifth year and sixth year, are timetabled against Physical Education (PE). This time allocation is slightly below syllabus guidelines and it is recommended that a means of increasing the fifth-year allocation be examined. In addition, it is recommended that the timetabling of link module lessons against PE be re-examined in order to provide students with access to both, subject to the availability of resources.
A small number of students do not study a modern European language to Leaving Certificate level. These students follow a school-based module in French, in order to meet the LCVP qualification requirements. They are withdrawn from Religion class and are provided with one class in French each week for a period of six weeks. Arrangements for this module should be reviewed and provision extended to comply with the terms of the relevant annual LCVP Department of Education and Science circular, most recently circular 0013/2009.
Link module lessons are generally conducted in one of the school’s two computer rooms. This has the advantage of allowing students to use computer facilities and the internet as required. It is recommended that appropriate LCVP-related material be displayed on the walls of these rooms to create a stimulating and print-rich environment.
While there is not a specific budget allocated to LCVP activities, funding is provided by management on a needs basis, at the request of the co-ordinator and in consultation with the principal. Students contribute towards the cost of transport for visits to out-of-school locations.
Extra teaching hours accruing from the programme are deployed to support the provision of planning and co-ordination time.
LCVP students receive curriculum support from the guidance counsellor during the course of their studies. This is commendable. However, this support is not timetabled and it is suggested that a more structured arrangement be introduced to provide more formal and structured support for LCVP students for curriculum vitae preparation, carrying out career investigations, preparing for work experience and other relevant areas as determined by the school’s LCVP curriculum.
1.3 Student selection and support
There is a good level of awareness of the LCVP among students. In keeping with the wide range of subjects provided by the school, access to the LCVP is facilitated through a variety of subject combinations, with the sciences being prominent among these. LCVP is a popular choice among students entering senior cycle and a significant proportion of those who qualify for inclusion by satisfying the VSG criteria and language requirements choose to follow the programme.
The guidance provided for students is appropriate to their needs and those with additional educational needs are appropriately supported and encouraged to participate. Learning support is available to all students and is not provided specifically to LCVP students, other than as a right, based on their needs and entitlements. The support given is not LCVP specific, but student specific.
It was stated during the evaluation that those students who have followed the school’s Transition Year (TY) programme are more mature, better capable of self-directed learning and in a better position to gain from the LCVP due to their enhanced computer skills and their having taken part in work experience.
1.4 Home-school links
Third-year students in Coláiste Mhuire, and their parents, are given accurate and timely information regarding available senior cycle programmes in order that they may make informed programme and subject choices. A meeting of the parents of third-year students is held every year at which information about the programme and subject choices available to their children is presented. A comprehensive senior cycle options information booklet, in which senior cycle programmes and subjects available in the school are detailed, is produced annually and a copy is provided to students and their parents. The senior management team, subject teachers and the guidance counsellor are also involved in providing information and support, and students and their parents are advised of the benefits of following the LCVP by the co-ordinator during this process.
Parents are also required to sign-off on students' final programme and subject choices.
Parent-teacher meetings are used in the normal manner to inform parents of students' progress. Additional contact is as regular and frequent as circumstance demands. An open-door policy is operated by the school and parents are encouraged to contact the school if required. Parents are also contacted by letter to inform them of specific LCVP-related events and activities, for example work experience placements and visits out of school.
Coláiste Mhuire has developed links with a number of outside community and voluntary enterprises and businesses, including Westmeath County Enterprise Board, the local branch of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the local GAA. The value of the support provided by these groups is acknowledged by the school. These links are used to source guest speakers, for case studies of local enterprise, to provide opportunities for visits out of the school and to provide support and information in relation to careers and enterprise in general. A number of local businesses and employers are of great assistance to the school in providing work experience placement opportunities for students. The LCVP team is commended for its efforts to establish and maintain the variety of quality links with the local community.
The LCVP core team is commended for its preparation of a subject department plan for the LCVP and link modules. The content of this plan includes reference to the aims of the programme, details of student access and grouping arrangements, health and safety arrangements, homework and assessment procedures and information on teacher in-career development. A two-year schedule for the delivery of course content, the completion of activities and the preparation, by students, of portfolio items is also included in the plan.
In order to build on planning work already completed, it is recommended that the schedule be revised and broken down into increments of work to be delivered in each specified term for the duration of the course. Appropriate time allowances and scheduling should be put in place for the completion of portfolio items and the range of activities and other tasks that are required of students. An integrated approach to the teaching of the two link modules should be adopted and it is recommended that the module My Own Place be used to support this approach, as described on pages 29, 40 and 42 of the LCVP programme statement. It is also recommended that further thought be given to planning for and implementing the cross-curricular aspects of the LCVP, as outlined in the programme statement, pages 56, 61 and 64.
While the content of the French module is appropriate to the requirements of the LCVP and to the students who are following it, additional appropriate material and activities will need to be added as the module is extended to the required one lesson per week for two years, or equivalent.
Evaluation as a part of the cycle of planning has been underused to date. It is recommended that a formal annual review of the LCVP and its implementation be conducted and that specific procedures and success criteria, against which improvement can be measured, are developed to facilitate this review. These should be based on clear and realistic objectives for student attainment and for the implementation of the programme. The views of all stakeholders should be sought and included in the review. In keeping with good practice, an analysis of the results obtained by LCVP students in the state examinations and a comparison with national averages, should inform this review. The outcomes of this review should then feed back into the planning process, with the ultimate aim of improving provision and outcomes for students.
The LCVP co-ordinator has a very thorough knowledge of the programme. The activities and duties associated with the co-ordinator’s post include implementation of course guidelines, promoting the LCVP among parents and students, monitoring subject options and the eligibility of students, monitoring ongoing issues and activities, planning, administration of the work experience programme, arranging visits to out-of-school sites, arranging for speakers to address LCVP students, supporting the guidance counsellor in the provision of career guidance to LCVP students, and mentoring and supporting teachers new to the programme. The co-ordinator also liaises with senior management in dealing with LCVP-related issues. In line with best practice, the co-ordinator teaches the link modules.
In keeping with the above recommended emphasis on the LCVP as a whole-school programme, it is recommended that the co-ordinator maintains a lead role in carrying out functions such as promoting the LCVP and disseminating relevant information to team members and other teaching staff, promoting cross-curricular links and facilitating programme review and ongoing development. The co-ordinator’s role is described in full on page 60 of the LCVP syllabus document.
A broad programme of activities and learning opportunities is provided for LCVP students. All core portfolio items are addressed as part of the curriculum. Two optional items, a diary of work experience and a recorded interview, are also covered.
Theory and practice are well integrated in the manner in which the LCVP is implemented. The LCVP team is commended for its commitment to this approach, which is very much in keeping with the ethos of the programme. Classroom work is focused on covering the theoretical aspects of the syllabus, along with carrying out the variety of activities that lead to the preparation of the portfolio items. Appropriate LCVP-specific guidance support is provided. The guidance counsellor liaises with the link module teachers when specific sections of the course, such as preparing a curriculum vitae and carrying out a career investigation, are being covered and also when preparing to visit the Higher Options exhibition. This is good practice.
Each cohort of students is given an opportunity to manage the arrangements for a visiting speaker and for a visit to an out-of-school site. It is recommended that consideration be given to expanding the number of both visitors to the classroom and visits to enterprises and out-of-school sites, and the range of topics addressed by such visits, in order to give students as broad a range of experiences and learning opportunities as possible.
Portfolio items are prepared in school, under the supervision of the link module teachers and students store their work on the school’s ICT system. This facilitates teachers and students in correcting and amending these portfolio items. Documents are printed out when portfolios are finally assembled prior to the link module examination. This is good practice.
There has been an increasing emphasis on Preparation for the World of Work in recent times. It is recommended that Enterprise Education be afforded greater prominence and that students be given an opportunity to carry out at least one enterprise activity. Examples of such an activity include planning and running an activity afternoon for first-year students or a careers seminar for third-year students. As with My Own Place, such activities provide students with opportunities for teamwork and with hands-on experience, with additional material for writing reports and provide choice when selecting material for their portfolios. In preparing for and carrying out these activities, students also cover the theoretical content of their course. This is very much in keeping with the ethos of the LCVP.
Students participate in work experience as part of the LCVP. Students are encouraged to seek work experience in the career area of their choice and are generally expected to organise their own placements, subject to the approval of the school. They are provided with necessary assistance in cases of difficulty. Preparation of students for work experience is very thorough, and this is commendable. They each carry out a career investigation and prepare a curriculum vitae in advance and topics such as job-seeking skills, health and safety in the workplace and procedures for recording and reporting on their experiences are covered during lessons.
When making initial contact, students are provided with a letter from the school that indicates the official nature of the contact to prospective employers. Once employers have confirmed to the school that they are offering a placement to a student, they are provided with details of the insurance arrangements. The work experience placement takes place in fifth year, immediately prior to the February mid-term break. This timing facilitates members of the LCVP team to visit as many workplaces as possible in order to monitor student progress. Following the work experience, employers are requested to submit a report on the student they have employed. This is good practice.
3.1 Planning and preparation
Section 2.1 of this report referred to long-term planning related to the implementation of the LCVP in the school. The work undertaken in lessons during the evaluation was in keeping with planning documents and reflected good short-term planning, in line with the requirements of the programme. Teachers displayed a mastery of the topics dealt with during lessons and their methodologies provided for differentiated approaches to teaching and learning in accordance with the range of students’ abilities, needs and interests. Appropriate resource material had been prepared in advance. Teachers' planning and preparation for lessons contributed significantly to the quality of students' learning.
3.2 Learning and teaching
Lessons were well-paced, lively and student centred and good progress was made in all instances. Lesson structure was generally good. However, teachers are encouraged to share the learning objectives of the lesson with students at the beginning of class in order to provide a context for the content of the lesson. These objectives should then be re-visited at the close of the lesson in order to review and enhance learning.
The topics taught in the classes visited included job-seeking skills and PowerPoint skills along with the preparation and organisation of information for the recorded interview. The subject matter of each lesson built on work that had already been completed. Appropriate and topic-specific language was well used throughout the lessons observed. The effective practice of giving feedback to students on their work during the course of the lesson was evident.
A disciplined atmosphere was apparent in all the lessons observed and this supported an effective learning environment. Teachers’ approach to their work was professional and business-like. A very good level of two-way interaction was evident in all classes visited. A high expectation for students’ achievement was apparent and an atmosphere of affirmation and support of their efforts was evident. Classroom management was effective at all times and there was a good rapport between teachers and students.
Active-learning methodologies, appropriate to the LCVP, were used to engage students. These methodologies included student writing, questioning, use of handouts and discussion. Extensive use was made of ICT, both by teachers as a teaching tool and by students in preparing items for their portfolios. In one lesson observed, two recordings of students being interviewed were shown, using a laptop computer and a data projector. A discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of each student’s performance followed, which served to highlight the good interview practices that students should aim to achieve. This is effective practice.
Students were well challenged by their teachers and they responded positively. Their ability to respond was supported by a good level of individual attention, facilitated by a high level of teacher circulation during the lessons. There was evidence of differentiation in the manner in which lessons were conducted and students were given opportunities to achieve according to their abilities. They engaged well in the lessons and good learning was evident from their responses in class.
Homework appropriate to the lesson was given in all instances. This homework was designed to reinforce learning and to give students an opportunity to put their learning into practice.
Formative assessment of students is carried out on an ongoing basis by questioning in class, through correction of homework and portfolio work, and also through the level of teacher movement and observation of students during class that was noted by the inspector. Students displayed a good level of knowledge, understanding and skills during the lessons observed and when questioned by the inspector. Good learning was apparent from students’ responses to teachers’ questions during class and from student inputs during the lessons. However, it was difficult to assess the students’ degree of improvement and progression over time. It is recommended that all students are encouraged to maintain a folder of class materials and completed exercises for the duration of the course. This will help them to monitor their own progress as well as providing a valuable store of information for review and revision purposes.
When a draft portfolio item has been prepared, it is reviewed by the teacher and returned to the student for follow up. This process is repeated until a final agreed standard is achieved. A number of drafts may be completed before a final version is accepted. In this manner, portfolio preparation is carried out under the direct supervision of teachers. This is excellent practice. In order to assist students in preparing high quality drafts of portfolio items, it is strongly recommended that they are provided with a copy of the portfolio marking scheme during their induction into the LCVP. In addition, it is recommended that students are encouraged to adhere strictly to time schedules for the preparation and finalisation of their portfolio items in order to spread their workload over a suitable period of time and avoid a build-up of unfinished work towards the end of their studies.
Fifth-year students are assessed at the end on the school year on the basis of their portfolios and a mark, accompanied by comment on their progress, in included in their summer report. They are assessed again in sixth year by means of a mock examination in February and once again a mark and progress report are included in the ensuing report. It is recommended that formal, written, link module assessments are carried out more frequently, in line with assessments in all other subjects at senior cycle in the school, that is during November, February and May in fifth year and November and February in sixth year and that assessment results and a relevant comment or progress report are included in all reports sent to students’ homes. In order to improve students’ competence in answering written questions, it is also recommended that students are regularly given relevant examination-style questions with complementary marking schemes, to assist students in assessing and marking their answers. In addition to familiarising students with the style of the questions in the written examination, this procedure will also encourage them to work towards a high standard of answering.
In discussion with the inspector, students were very positive regarding the LCVP and their participation in it. They stated that following the programme helps them to do better in school, gives them an opportunity to partake in a different type of learning than is normal in other subjects, assists them with career choices and gives them the opportunity to achieve more points in the Leaving Certificate. The extra exposure to ICT, the research skills gained and opportunities provided through work experience were all stated to be effective aspects of the programme.
The co-ordinator keeps records of students’ attendance and of their subject groupings. Consent forms for the activities carried out by students and records in relation to work experience are also kept. It is recommended that such detailed records as are necessary to build up a complete profile of each student are kept in order to inform students and their parents regarding progress and career options.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The programme is managed and implemented by a hard working core team. Members of the team have very good working relationships and their work is characterised by co-operation and collaboration.
· Good support for the implementation of the programme is provided by school management. Teachers’ expertise has been appropriately deployed to support the programme.
· Third-year students and their parents are given accurate and timely information regarding available senior cycle programmes in order that they may make informed programme and subject choices.
· Good links are maintained with local voluntary and community enterprises and with local businesses.
· Planning has been carried out to ensure timely completion of the two link modules.
· Appropriate active teaching and learning methodologies are used to teach the link modules.
· Students demonstrated a high level of awareness and appreciation of the benefits of participating in the programme.
· The LCVP has had a positive impact on the school and its students.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the timetabling of link module lessons against PE be re-examined and that provision for the French language module be extended to comply with the terms of the relevant annual LCVP Department of Education and Science circular.
· It is recommended that a whole-school approach be adopted to the implementation of the LCVP as an integrated programme, with greater emphasis on the cross-curricular aspects of the programme and the integration of the VSGs into teaching and learning activities.
· It is recommended that the time schedules in the link modules curriculum plan be tightened up to define the elements of the course to be delivered in each term for the duration of the course.
· It is recommended that students are provided with a copy of the portfolio marking scheme and the specific learning outcomes of the link modules and that students are given the opportunity to work on examination-style questions on an ongoing basis.
· It is recommended that a broader range of activities, including an enterprise activity, be carried out and that consideration be given to covering the My Own Place module in class.
· It is recommended that assessment and reporting procedures for the link modules are carried out in line with those of all other subjects at senior cycle in the school.
· It is recommended that a formal annual review of the LCVP and its implementation be conducted and that specific procedures and success criteria be developed to facilitate this review. The outcomes of this review should then feed back into the planning process, with the ultimate aim of improving provision and outcomes for students.
Published, May 2010