An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Kiltimagh County Mayo
evaluation of the lca
This report has been written following an evaluation of the Leaving Certificate Applied programme in St Louis Community School. 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 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 and the programme co-ordinator following the evaluation.
St Louis Community School was founded in 1897, is a co-educational institution and provides post-primary education for students in Kiltimagh and the surrounding hinterland. The school provides a very broad education and offers all possible programmes: the Junior Certificate, the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), the Transition Year (TY) programme, the established Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Leaving Certificate Applied programme (LCA). The LCA programme is well established in the school and is on the curriculum since 1996. The board of management 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 programme as offered is in keeping with the schoolís mission statement. The principal has a good knowledge of the implementation of the programme. Members of the teaching team met with during the evaluation were interested and enthusiastic in providing a good learning experience for the students and sought to meet their needs. Teachers of the programme are encouraged and facilitated in attending continuing professional development (CPD) courses. The teaching team and parents have received input from the Second Level Support Service (SLSS). This is praiseworthy. Teachers should continue to share teaching and learning methodologies on returning from CPD. This could be done at team meetings. Given the regular change in composition of the teaching team, a formal induction programme for teachers new to the programme needs to be put in place in the school. This should be led by the LCA co-ordinator. This induction programme would be in addition to the support provided by the comprehensive LCA booklet that has been devised by the school and that outlines LCA policies and procedures. The work done in this regard is commended.
Communication with the whole staff is facilitated by means of the LCA notice board in the staff room. Building on this good practice it is recommended that the co-ordinator provides short updates at all staff meetings to further develop the awareness of the whole staff of current LCA matters. The knowledge of the whole teaching staff of the LCA programme could be enhanced further through the delivery of a presentation at the first staff meeting of the year every alternate year. This presentation could comprise the main elements of LCA and effective teaching and learning strategies.
A large team of teachers are involved in the delivery of the programme, thus broadening the expertise of the staff. Staff is appropriately assigned to teach LCA in the main. The extra teaching hours accruing from the programme are deployed in supporting the implementation of LCA.
Almost all elements of the programme are appropriately timetabled. The time allocation for Social Education and the Arts modules is below that recommended. Management should ensure that this is addressed in future timetabling. Teachers are commended on their co-operation, collaboration and efforts in endeavouring to ensure that the effects of the shortfall of time allocated to Social Education are reduced. Students have good access to information and communication technologies (ICT).
Student numbers and resulting teacher allocation from the Department of Education and Science has necessitated the amalgamation of fifth-year and sixth-year LCA class groups for a number of subjects. If amalgamation is deemed necessary, careful consideration should continue to be given to what decisions are made concerning the subjects that are to be taught in this manner. Management should persist in taking cognisance of issues such as module sequencing, cross-curricular integration and the importance of class and group discussion, when considering the subjects which are to be jointly taught. Some subjects may lend themselves more easily to this approach.
Despite the reported constraints on the schoolís accommodation, there is a room assigned to the LCA programme in the school. This is commended as it provides an opportunity to celebrate studentsí work by displaying elements on the walls. This public affirmation of studentsí achievements is laudable.
1.3 Student selection and support
The school operates a clear application process for entry into LCA. Students are given accurate and appropriate information and are advised of the benefits of following the programme. Students and their parents are given comprehensive and timely support in their decision making by the LCA co-ordinator, the subject teachers and the guidance counsellor. This is commended. Building on this good support, consideration could be given to the inclusion of an induction programme for students on entering the LCA programme. This would assist students in successfully transferring from Junior Certificate or Transition Year to LCA. Information on a range of activities that could comprise an induction programme can be obtained from the LCA support service web site, http://lca.slss.ie/support.html.
There is good provision for students with special educational needs who opt for the LCA programme. The special educational needs co-ordinator liaises with subject teachers in putting appropriate supports in place for students. At all times, cognisance is taken of the need to enhance the social development of the students. This is commended. It was observed that special needs assistants effectively assisted students as they worked in the lessons. This is praiseworthy.
1.4 Home, school and community links
Parents are made aware of the nature and purpose of the LCA programme. The co-ordinator gives a presentation to the parents at an information evening. This is good practice. Parents are informed of and involved in the programme selection by students for senior cycle.
There is good communication between home and school, thus facilitating parents in receiving meaningful feedback on studentsí progress. Communication is fostered via twice-yearly reports, telephone calls and the annual parent-teacher meetings. In addition the home-school-community liaison teacher communicates with parents as necessary. Parents receive updates on the credits obtained by students. This is good practice. It is suggested that an information night be held for the parents of the LCA students in September of fifth year to consolidate the various elements of the programme, including the necessity of achieving 90% attendance and the completion of key assignments to obtain credits. In addition, the concept and challenges of work experience could be discussed, and advice could be given on the approach that could be adopted to secure work placement. It would also provide parents with the opportunity to clarify any concerns.
The LCA is successful at creating links with outside agencies, employers and the local community. This has been achieved through work experience, student tasks and key assignments. Significantly, the task that involved the mini company, D.R. Ltd., and the organisation of a soccer blitz for LCA students in local schools facilitated the enhancement of the studentsí social and personal development and teamwork in conjunction with the development of their organisational skills. This is commended. These forms of activities assist in developing a sense of belonging with the local community, in line with the principles of the LCA programme.
Commendably, the co-ordinator has developed an LCA written plan to support the effective organisation and implementation of LCA. This contains LCA policies and procedures and course planners for each module. A number of the module plans set out monthly timeframes for the different aspects of the module, a strategy that is commended and that should be utilised across all modules. The module plans should be further developed to include the resources used and teaching and learning strategies. In addition, in instances when the class groups for fifth-year LCA and sixth-year LCA are taught together, the module plans should include the parallel work that is completed with each group.
The LCA teaching team has had two meetings this year that were minuted. This is good practice. The minutes of meetings should be retained from year to year in order to build up a profile of LCA in the school. These would also be a record of decisions made. During the evaluation it was stated that at the initial meeting of the school year many teachers were unable to attend as other subject meetings were concurrently timetabled. It is recommended that the LCA teaching team meeting be timetabled in such a manner that all teachers could attend. This is important as strategies to facilitate cross-curricular work could be discussed and the whole team could have input into planning the LCA calendar for the session.
Consideration should be given to the establishment of an LCA core team that would consist of three or four teachers including the co-ordinator who could meet regularly to plan, monitor and evaluate the programme. This team would provide a valuable support to the co-ordinator and subject teachers.
Planning for the learning needs of students with special educational needs is an integral part of the programme. This is commended. In addition to withdrawal consideration should be given to alternative modes of support such as team teaching.
There is evidence of significant cross-curricular work in some subject areas. For example the engineering and ICT teachers team-teach for one period each week when students are using a computer aided design software package to design the pieces they plan to make in their engineering lessons. The guidance counsellor discusses with the students the characteristics that are suitable for the different roles in the mini company. This supports students in their choice of role in the company. This successful cross-curricular integration is highly commended. Building on this good practice it is recommended that all teachers plan for effective cross-curricular integration. This becomes particularly important if a teacher, for example starts on the session two module before the end of January to give adequate time to engage with the second module and be ready for the task examining in May. In this instance the teachers of English and Communication, Mathematical Applications and the Vocational Preparation Task need to be consulted in the planning.
Not withstanding that at the time of the evaluation the LCA co-ordinator had only been very recently appointed, she illustrated a very good knowledge of the programme and its implementation. As the appointment was made mid-year, co-ordination time was not allocated. Management should ensure in future timetabling that this matter is addressed. It is recommended that the co-ordinator attend all co-ordination in-service training.
The role of the co-ordinator is clearly outlined in the LCA planning documentation. This is very good practice. The programme co-ordinator maintains good communication with management and students. From the time of her appointment the co-ordinator has met all LCA students on a one-to-one basis to discuss their progress and other matters pertaining to LCA. This is commended. The co-ordinator does not currently teach LCA. It is recommended that in the future the co-ordinator would teach at least one subject to each year group. This would assist in the development of the relationship between the co-ordinator and the students and would more easily facilitate ongoing communication. In order to enhance communication with the LCA students and to promote the LCA activities and the studentsí achievements among the general student population, it is recommended that an LCA student notice board be set up.
It was reported that resources are available so that co-ordination duties can be carried out effectively. The central storage area for LCA should be further developed in order to contain common teaching resources in addition to studentsí key assignments.
In almost all instances the school complies with the guidelines regarding the implementation of the programme. Management recognises the areas that need to be addressed. The curriculum is broad and balanced and endeavours to meet studentsí needs and interests. Students reported that they liked the subjects with large elements of practical work such as Engineering and Hotel, Catering and Tourism. The school should explore the introduction of elective modules that would take cognisance of studentsí expressed interests in practical work. These elective modules could include Science and other vocational specialisms that have a significant practical component.
Work experience is an integral part of the programme and is organised by the vocational preparation and guidance teacher. The school operates the good practice of changing studentsí work placements for each work experience module. This ensures that students gain experience in a range of work placements and assists them ultimately in their choice of future career. Guidance is appropriately timetabled.
The curriculum is student centred. The school is encouraged to continue developing the curriculum, taking cognisance of the development of the key underlying principles of the programme.
3.1 Planning and preparation
The taught programme reflects the written plans for the subject modules. In one instance a full session is dedicated to the completion of a student task. This is not good practice. In all instances, it is recommended that the time allocated to the subject modules be utilised to enhance studentsí knowledge and skills in the subject area and that the task be interwoven into the lessons at appropriate times. In cases where the task is incorporated into a subject module, a clear plan for completion of the task should be written into the subject plan.
ICT was used effectively in the preparation of teaching and learning materials. An example of these resources included the geometric shapes that were used as an anchor to develop lesson content in Mathematics. Planning for lessons was good. Handouts, posters and other props effectively supported the teaching and learning process.
3.2 Learning and teaching
Lessons were structured in almost all instances and a range of teaching methodologies was employed. Students worked independently with individual support from the teachers in the social education and agriculture and horticulture lessons. In lessons where the aims and objectives were clearly outlined at the outset, students had a clear understanding of the work to be completed within the timeframe of the lesson. This good practice should be employed in all lessons. Where they were employed, clear explanations helped make the subject tangible.
Active learning was a feature of the lessons observed. Students were engaged through the employment of a range of short activities in the lessons. These included whole-class discussion, questioning, student written assignments and practical activities. Studentsí use of cards to construct various geometrical shapes successfully supported studentsí learning. The prototypes of various toys in the vocational preparation and guidance lesson were very effective props.
The use of written assignments assisted in consolidating and reinforcing studentsí literacy, an important feature in the LCA programme. Other strategies to enhance studentsí literacy included the display of key words in the engineering lesson and the review of key words during the initial minutes of the mathematics lesson. Building on this good practice, it is recommended in lesson planning that time be factored in for the recapitulation of the lesson content, with particular attention paid to the consolidation of the key words for the topic. In addition it is recommended that as students learn key words, they be retained on the board for the duration of the lesson to assist in consolidation. Furthermore studentsí use of dictionaries should be promoted in all lessons and students should develop their own word banks. It was reported that one of the long-term plans for LCA in St Louis Community School is the development of an LCA key word record. This is laudable.
The development of studentsí oral communication was seamlessly integrated into the English, mathematics, and vocational preparation and guidance lessons, a practice that is commended because enhancement of communication skills is a key principle of the programme. The strategy of students reporting back on their research for the mini company was very successful in developing lesson content and supporting studentsí learning.
In many instances appropriate links were made with existing understanding and studentsí previous experiences. Very good cross-curricular links were evident in the vocational preparation and guidance lesson, a strategy that should be employed to a greater extent across the programme. In lessons where students are working on their tasks, they should write down their own objectives for the lesson and revisit them at the end of the lesson in order to ascertain their progress.
One of the underlying principles of LCA is to facilitate the personal and social development of the students. This was illustrated by the studentsí confidence and abilities in communicating with their teachers, other students and the inspector during the course of the evaluation.
Students displayed good ability in using ICT. On examination of key assignments, there was evidence of studentsí well-developed abilities in the use of word-processing, the insertion of photographs and the use of PowerPoint. This is praiseworthy. During the practical lesson in Engineering, students worked very well and displayed good understanding of the processes. There was good evidence of learning in all lessons as students were generally confident and capable of answering questions put to them during the course of the visit. Overall, studentsí written work and the presentation of key assignments were of a good standard.
Teacher affirmation and encouragement were very much in evidence. Very good teacher-student rapport was shown in the level of attentiveness, interest and co-operation seen in lessons. Students were comfortable asking questions and a clear and fair code of behaviour was very much in evidence in all lessons observed.
A range of assessment modes is utilised in order to determine studentsí progress and achievement. These include key assignments and tasks, in addition to written work and questioning in class. There was some evidence of regular monitoring and annotating of studentsí work. This good practice of monitoring studentsí work should be appropriately employed in all subject areas. Consideration could be given to the employment of comment only marking and other Assessment for Learning (AFL) strategies. Further information on AfL can be obtained at www.ncca.ie. Studentsí learning outcomes were appropriate to their ability levels in the main.
The organisation of studentsí key assignments was very good in some instances. Strategies used in Hotel, Catering and Tourism assisted students in monitoring the completion of their work. It is suggested that these methods be utilised across the programme where appropriate. Key assignments are currently centrally stored in the main. This is good practice as it assists in building up a profile of studentsí progress over the two years. It is recommended that students complete the key assignment sheet in each module as they finish the key assignments. This would help students in monitoring their own progress.
Studentsí attendance was systematically recorded by teachers. Records of studentsí absences are also maintained by school. A system is in place for the satisfactory completion of modules and the awarding of credits. It is recommended that these procedures be included in the LCA plan.
Information on studentsí achievements and progress is communicated to parents by means of the annual parent-teacher meeting, the twice-yearly reports, and the studentsí journal. Telephone contact is undertaken on a needs basis. This is good practice.
It was reported that teachers conducted an informal review of the curriculum offered within the LCA programme. This resulted in a change being made on the planning and delivery of the programme. Different vocational specialisms and arts modules were subsequently offered. This is good practice. Consideration should be given to conducting the evaluation more formally by means of surveying and involving all participants, including parents.
Record keeping is good. The new base room for LCA has provided the opportunity for the central storage of key assignments and common teaching resources. Studentsí attendance levels were generally good. The school maintains data on the progression of students on completing LCA. It was reported that the guidance counsellor undertakes this task. This is good practice.
In the main studentsí literacy and numeracy showed improvement as a result of participating in the programme. Studentsí key assignments and other written work provided evidence of this improvement. Students showed a sense of belonging and pride in LCA and in the main they communicated in a confident manner during the evaluation. Students advance to achieve in State examinations. A number of tasks and key assignments provided students with the opportunity to develop independent learning, organisational and self-management skills. This is commended.
The school endeavours to develop cross-curricular links. The plan states ďstudents should be provided with the opportunity to develop the ability to link together different modules and tasks.Ē Cross-curricular planning is happening in a minority of instances. This is commended. To enhance the delivery of effective cross-curricular integration all teachers should plan for it in a formal manner.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
Published April 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1:† Observations on the content of the inspection report
Fair and satisfactory
Area 2:†† Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the†† inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The school will endeavour to implement all recommendations Ė some may be difficult in light of education cutbacks.