An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Programme Evaluation Transition Year

REPORT

 

Coláiste Chilliain

Bóthar Nangor, Cluain Dolcáin, Baile Átha Cliath 22

Roll Number: 70100W

 

Date of inspection: 27 March 2009

 

 

 

 

Evaluation of the transition year programme

Introduction

Quality of programme organisation

Quality of programme planning and co-ordination

Quality of learning and teaching

Summary of strengths and recommendations for further development

 

 

 

 

EVALUATION OF THE TRANSITION YEAR PROGRAMME

 

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.

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

This report has been written following an evaluation of Transition Year (TY) in Coláiste Chilliain. 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 acting principal and the programme co-ordinator at the end of the evaluation period.

 

The TY programme was introduced in Coláiste Chilliain in 1983. TY is a compulsory programme in the school and currently there are fifty-two students divided into three mixed-ability groupings following the programme.

 

 

1. Quality of programme organisation

 

1.1 Whole-school support

The Principal is a strong advocate of the programme and in particular the multi-disciplinary nature of TY in Coláiste Chilliain, which relies on a high level of co-operation amongst teaching staff, a characteristic of the school’s tradition.

 

The delivery of the programme is supported by management in the structures provided in the timetable and in the allocation of time for TY planning. The majority of staff members are involved in the delivery of the programme and TY issues are included at whole-staff meetings.

 

1.2 Resources

In general staff are appropriately assigned to teach the programme. The TY co-ordinator has a dedicated office equipped with a telephone, computer, printer and broadband access. It is recommended that a list of TY resources developed by the SLSS be compiled and included in the TY written programme. Subject-specific resources and materials available from the TY support services should be acquired and distributed to subject departments. As a bank of TY resources is developed an inventory could be drawn up and stored in the staff room so that all staff are aware of and can readily access materials to support and enhance all areas of study in the TY programme.

 

Information and communication technology (ICT) is used effectively in organising and reviewing the programme. The computer room was utilised during computer lessons and during the career guidance lesson. Good ICT facilities are also available in the art room. It is recommended that the possibilities of installing a ceiling-mounted data projector in the computer room be explored to ensure that computer skills can be modelled centrally thus encouraging all students to engage with computer tasks during the computer lessons. Most classrooms are teacher based which has the advantage of lessons taking place in subject-relevant environments. Print and image-rich environments were observed in the majority of lessons evaluated, in particular in Metalwork and Irish. Specialist rooms also had specific procedures and rules for health and safety displayed clearly. These practices are highly commended.

 

A contribution of €200 is paid by students to cover the expenses for the majority of TY activities. Every effort is made to keep the costs incurred by the variety of calendar events provided in the programme to a minimum. Some activities, including a foreign tour, do necessitate the collection of further monies, however parents or guardians are made aware of such expense well in advance and tour monies are collected in instalments.

 

1.3 Student selection and support

TY is a compulsory programme and although the school has always offered a six year programme, the compulsory nature of TY is not clearly communicated in the school’s admission policy. It is recommended that this be reviewed. Students are provided with information on TY in term three of the Junior Certificate year. An information evening is organised by the TY co-ordinator for the parents of TY students at this time also. Inputs from the co-ordinator and the principal provide comprehensive information for parents in supporting the successful participation of their sons or daughters in the year. Parents are also provided with an information leaflet on the national aims of TY and the benefits of the programme for students. This dissemination of information is highly commendable.

 

Students do not undergo an induction programme at the beginning of the TY year. It is recommended that this be reviewed and that an induction programme be developed in line with the supports available on the TY section of the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) website at www.slss.ie to allow for the effective transfer into the programme. The theory of multiple intelligence, Honey and Mumford’s survey of learning styles, the identification of student learning objectives for the year as well as learning contracts based on this information and analysis could form part of this induction programme.

 

Each TY group is provided with one class of timetabled guidance per week. The guidance programme includes the Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) in March of the TY year coinciding with student’s subject choice for Leaving Certificate. It is recommended that the DATs be conducted earlier in the year to allow the outcomes of the DATs to inform student choices during work experience. There is no timetabled class for the preparation of students for work placements or to facilitate the necessary debriefing after the work experience period. This preparation and review is conducted during guidance and supported by English lessons. It is recommended that an extra guidance or work placement class be included for TY students to ensure that students derive the maximum benefits from this central aspect of the TY. The ‘Be Real Game’ developed by the TY support service is recommended for consideration as part of the TY Guidance programme. Feedback from TY students in the course of the evaluation indicated that they were happy to be following the programme, and articulated the many strengths of the programme. It was reported that the current cohort of TY students does not include students with additional educational needs.

 

1.4               Home-school links

Good communication channels have been developed with parents and outside agencies. The programme co-ordinator provides parents with comprehensive information and advice on the programme. A calendar of events is made available to students. It is recommended that, on completion of a draft list of calendar events, this information would issue to homes to ensure optimal support from parents in encouraging participation by students in events organised during the year. In the case of student non-attendance at specific calendar events, a note to homes to inform parents or guardians of such absences should be explored. In order to further increase the awareness of the importance of full attendance and participation amongst all school partners, it is recommended that an attendance award be included in the honours at the end of the school year. Parents or guardians are welcome and encouraged to attend and assist with TY activities. There is a formal parent-teacher meeting once a year. The school is commended for its effective and successful communication with the parent body.

 

Many links have been fostered between Coláiste Chilliain and the community. TY students undertake one week of voluntary work in the community each October as part of the TY programme. Students take up placements in hospitals, charity shops and care centres. It is a tribute to the school and the students that this voluntary work forms an integral part of TY each year and this greatly assists in living out the TY philosophy.

 

The school has built up many links with employers in the community and these are further strengthened through liaison by the TY co-ordinator and other members of staff prior to, during and post work placements. This practice is highly commended.

 

 

2. Quality of programme planning and co-ordination

 

2.1 Planning

An up-to-date written plan is in place for the delivery of the programme for the current year. This plan contains an introduction and the organisational details of the programme as well as the subject and modular plans. It was reported that further documents including evaluative instruments have been developed. It is recommended that all documentation pertinent to TY be collated in line with the format and suggestions outlined in the brochure Writing the Transition Year Programme. A number of copies of this programme should then be made available as a reference document in the staff room. This resource will provide for the sharing of good planning practices across departments as well as the development of more meaningful cross-circular links.

 

Teachers and subject departments had prepared a written plan for each subject and module evaluated. The subject and modular plans reviewed were at different stages of development. Many of these plans included good outlines of aims, objectives, learning outcomes, teaching and learning strategies, content, resources, criteria for assessment and assessment procedures, interdisciplinary links and evaluation. It is recommended that the aims of all plans should seek to contribute to fulfilling the three national aims of TY set out in the guidelines; this is already the case in a small number of the plans reviewed. The objectives set out in the Irish plan should be reviewed and articulated in terms of higher language learning outcomes more suitable to the immersion context of the school. Some plans need further input especially in the area of methodology, links with other subjects and evaluation criteria. Very good work was observed in aspects of individual subject and modular plans. Best practice was evident in aspects of Metalwork, English, French, Music, PE, Communications, Religion, Home Economics and German. A number of recommendations are offered regarding subject planning. Firstly, the content of some subject plans includes much material from the established Leaving Certificate syllabus. It is recommended that this be reviewed in line with the guidelines Transition Year Programme, Guidelines for Schools and that the opportunity to devise a more school-specific curriculum be explored within departments. In the case of Mathematics, separate plans were written for higher and ordinary level. It is recommended that common plans be developed for all subjects in keeping with the mixed ability tradition of the school and the ethos of TY. Two classes per week are provided for Computer Studies which culminates in students completing an examination. However participation rates in this examination over the last two years is extremely low. A review of the computer module is advised to ensure that there is greater alignment between the number of class periods available and the course of study necessary to prepare all students for the examination.

 

A formal core team is not in place for the programme. However, the TY co-ordinator and the TY year head meet frequently on an informal basis to discuss TY related issues. A review committee was established in 2003. A comprehensive student evaluation and detailed analysis of the programme was conducted at this time and the findings were presented to the whole staff. Changes that have been made to the programme as a result of this review include the addition of subjects, modules and calendar events. Plans are in place to carry out a similar review and evaluation of the TY cohort at the end of this school year. It is recommended that the evaluation be broadened to include teachers, parents, employers and community representatives in voluntary organisations. On this occasion, it is recommended that the results of this broader-based evaluation form the basis of a strategic plan for TY over short, medium and long-term timeframes. A core team compromising the TY co-ordinator and rotating members of the TY teaching team should then be established to implement the plan. In this way identified improvements for the programme will be carried out in a systematic and sustained way. It is also recommended that the programme plan be integrated into the school plan.

 

Teachers with ideas for new modules are encouraged and ideas are facilitated at an annual curriculum planning meeting between the principal and each individual member of staff. This practice is highly commended. It was reported that subject departments update their TY programmes annually. However, only some have specific evaluation procedures identified in planning documentation. It is recommended that all departments develop such strategies.

 

2.2 Co-ordination

The post of TY co-ordinator has a time allowance of forty minutes. The co-ordinator also has one timetabled period per week with the TY students for the planning of activities and dissemination of information. The TY co-ordinator also teaches English and Physical Education (PE) to TY students. Further contact with all TY students is achieved through regular informal contact and class visits. The role of the co-ordinator is clearly delineated and includes a wide range of duties. The brief of the co-ordinator is such that many co-ordination tasks are carried out during non-timetabled periods. The commitment and dedication of the co-ordinator is highly commended. It is recommended, as part of the review of in-school management structures, that efforts are made to secure further time for the co-ordinator to support the co-ordination of the programme.

 

Communication with senior management is regular and effective. Formal and informal communication takes place with the TY teaching team and this is further supported by the maintenance of a TY notice board in the staff room. The TY newsletter produced by the transition-year support team of the SLSS, should be posted regularly on this board so that all staff members are kept up to date on TY resources and events. It is recommended that consideration be given to the provision of a dedicated TY student notice board that is centrally located and updated on an ongoing basis.

 

The previous co-ordinator of TY availed of in-service provided by the SLSS on appointment. Despite efforts by the present co-ordinator to procure a place on in-service for TY, she had not succeeded in doing so at the time of evaluation. It is recommended that this be reviewed and that definite arrangements be put in place to ensure that the co-ordinator and other members of the TY teaching team avail of training on a sustained basis. It is also recommended that teachers new to the programme are provided with an induction to the programme, so that experience gained in teaching TY within departments is not lost in a change of personnel. It is further recommended that a TY whole-staff day be facilitated when the recommended strategic plan for TY is drawn up.

 

2.3 Curriculum

The programme curriculum is broad and offers students a diverse range of learning opportunities. The four key layers normally present in a TY timetable, core, subject sampling, modular components and calendar events, are present in some format in the programme. The core subjects taken by all TY students include Irish, English, Mathematics, French or German, Computers, Religion, Physical Education (PE), Guidance and the musical. It is strongly advised that curricular planning in some core subjects be mindful of maintaining a balance between the remediation and compensatory principles underlying TY and encroachment on the Leaving Certificate syllabuses. The guidelines stipulate that material from the established Leaving Certificate when included in TY must be done in an innovative way. This should therefore be reflected in planning for methodologies employed in planning documentation and in work covered in copybooks reviewed. The planned review of the TY programme should take cognisance of this recommendation in particular. From an analysis of the written programme and lesson observations, it is clear that the mission and ethos of TY underpin many areas of study in the curriculum. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all areas of study. The subject sampling is accommodated within the modular layer which consists of ten weekly modules in Spanish, Metalwork, Woodwork, Film Studies, Traditional Music, Fáilte Ireland Course, Music, Science, Communication and Mini Company. It is recommended that the time allocated to the modular layer of the programme be reviewed to allow for a more balanced provision in sampling all of the subjects offered in the established Leaving Certificate. It is also recommended that consideration be given to the appropriate renaming of subjects and modules to reflect the different subject matter offered instead of using the names of the established Leaving Certificate subjects. This initiative may also encourage the further establishment of cross-curricular links. Varied calendar events, timetabled generally for Tuesday afternoons, complement the provision in the other three layers. These include a good blend of local and national components which commendably foster personal, cultural, historical, civic and social awareness and the development of student skills beyond the classroom. This is in keeping with the TY ethos.

 

Community work and work experience is an integral part of the TY curriculum and occur over a week in October and a two-week block in term two respectively. There is a good level of communication with community representatives and employers prior to, during and after student placements. Students themselves, supported by parents, the TY co-ordinator, the guidance counsellor and other members of the teaching staff, arrange their placements. This endeavour to ensure students gain maximum benefits from their placements is lauded. In order to further enhance learning opportunities for students from work placements, it is recommended that the two-week block in term two be split into two separate weeks in term one and term two. In this way the debriefing session after the first week placement, appraising the benefits accrued and difficulties encountered, can be used to inform approaches on the second work placement. As previously mentioned the DATs testing should occur at least before the second work placement and adequate time should be provided on the timetable for the preparation for and reflection on work placements.

 

Opportunities for students to develop their ICT skills are provided within the two timetabled computer classes, detailed above. Students reported on the integration of ICT across other subjects such as Guidance, Technical Graphics, English, Mini Company, Science and Music. It is recommended that the further integration of ICT be explored to support teaching and learning in all subject areas. In order to assist in implementing this recommendation, it would be beneficial to survey the teaching staff so that their ICT training needs could be identified and met.

 

Students felt that the TY programme had provided them with opportunities to become more mature, confident, responsible, helpful and respectful individuals. Students commented on their increased understanding of their surrounding community and life outside school in general. Other positive benefits articulated by students included being better prepared for Leaving Certificate subjects and being in a position to make better subject choices from experiences gained during work placements and subjects sampled. Students also felt that they had developed better relationships with teachers as a result of their participation in TY.

 

 

3. Quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1 Planning and preparation

There was a very good level of short-term planning in the majority of lessons observed during the evaluation. These lessons were characterised by a sequenced structure, a purposeful pace and an appropriate number of learning objectives tailored to meet the needs of the students and in keeping with the length of the lesson periods. A small number of lessons lacked specific learning targets and lesson material was not differentiated to ensure that all students were purposefully engaged in the learning activities. It is recommended that all teachers engage in short-term planning and in particular, differentiate lesson content, so as to provide opportunities for achievement in learning across the continuum of abilities.

 

A very good level of short-term preparation was also in evidence in the majority of classes observed. Worksheets and handouts were distributed in some lessons and had been well prepared in advance. Tape extracts were ready to use. Practical equipment was prepared in a very orderly way and procedures for health and safety were keenly observed. The practical lesson observed concluded with students replacing the equipment and seating in the ordered manner they had found them. These practices are commended. Other lessons relied on photocopied material which had not been adapted to suit the needs of the group and did not facilitate ease of access of the material required for students to complete the lesson task. It is recommended that this be reviewed.

 

3.2               Learning and teaching

In the course of the evaluation, lessons in a range of core, sampling and modular subjects were observed. In general, students were in a subject-relevant and visually-stimulating learning environment during lessons. This is commended.

 

Very good teaching methods where teacher led instruction did not dominate were employed in some lessons during the evaluation. Best practice in lessons of a practical nature was observed where skills were modelled centrally and students individually or in mixed ability pairs completed the required tasks. Many opportunities for self-directed learning and peer-learning were created during the metalwork lesson. Very good attention was given to the needs of individual students by the teacher who circulated among the students attending to the gaps in student knowledge. All students were engaged with the learning activity and achieved at various levels across the range of their abilities. Such an approach could be purposefully employed in other subject areas where the central demonstration of targeted skills suits the lesson content. Very good organisational skills for equipment storage and preparation were a characteristic of this practical lesson.

 

Commendably the thematic integrated language skills approach was employed during language lessons and the target language was the language of interaction in all language lessons evaluated. In one language lesson opportunities were provided for students to practice receptive and productive oral skills, to carry out a focused listening exercise using a prepared worksheet and to complete a writing exercise on the same theme. Very good pre-skill work was conducted for all skills and the whiteboard was used effectively to present new vocabulary, to record answers and to highlight grammatical structures. This good practice is commended as it visually reinforces vocabulary encountered orally. The teacher also attended well to the individual needs of students during skills’ practice. It is recommended that this focused, structured and synthesised approach to language teaching be extended across language departments.

 

The inter-disciplinary opportunities for learning provided in the school’s very well co-ordinated musical module are highly commended. Of particular note is the manner in which the teachers have devolved ownership of the making of props and costumes as well as well as the marketing campaign for the show to the students. This is commendable as it nurtures their resourcefulness and ensures that the production is very much that of the students. This approach reflects the core philosophy of the school in many ways and one of the central tenets of the TY programme and is highly commended.

 

The vast majority of teachers managed their classes effectively. There was a supportive and affirming learning atmosphere in their classes. The teachers showed a good knowledge of the interests of the students in their care which enhanced the teaching and learning. Students’ contributions were affirmed in a positive manner and their participation in lessons was encouraged. The students were enthusiastic, purposeful and co-operative in their work. In almost all cases they were engaged in the lesson and demonstrated the ability to apply their learning. In one case the classroom was not prepared for the delivery of the lesson. It is recommended that furniture is appropriately stored from a health and safety point of view and to allow for the optimal inclusion of all students in classes. 

 

In line with the remediation principle underpinning TY, it is important that the programme content bridge the gap between junior cycle and senior cycle curricular provision appropriately. This requires balancing the consolidation of previous learning with new material that will provide a flavour of the skills and knowledge to be developed at senior cycle. To this end it is recommended that some core and sampling subjects be reviewed.

 

3.3 Assessment

The school has commendably developed an in-house accreditation system for TY students. Students are awarded a balanced number of credits across subjects, modules and other TY specific activities. Credits are awarded according to agreed criteria which include the level of ongoing work and participation, project work completed on time and satisfactory attendance and punctuality. It is recommended that students are made aware of these criteria from the outset of TY. Activities such as completion of an events diary, and reporting on work experience and community work are included in the credits awarded to students. Reports on student performance and progress issue to homes at Christmas and at the end of the school year. The report template employed by the school for TY is the same as that used for other year groups. It is recommended that this be reviewed to reflect the criteria for assessment, as well as the number of credits gained across the different learning activities in the TY programme. It is recommended that there is greater alignment between the content covered in the different areas of study, the assessment procedures used as well as the number of credits to be gained, similar to the approach employed in the English plan.

 

Two formative assessment instruments have been organically developed as part of the TY programme and include an ‘Improvement File’, which is a log of improvements made in learning across the subjects and an ‘Events Diary’ which documents students’ views of events in which they have participated. Both of these initiatives are highly commendable. However their learning value is not realised as few subject and modular plans include reference to their use. It is recommended that planning for assessment incorporate both the Improvement File and the Events Diary where relevant. In this way over-reliance on summative assessment techniques, which characterises some areas of study, will be redressed. The clear detail provided in the English, Metalwork and German plans on the criteria for assessment, in line with the TY merit system, should be used as a template for other subjects and modules. Although homework is included in planning for assessment in many of the subject and modular plans, it was noted in the course of the evaluation that the majority of students are not recording homework in their journals. It is recommended that students record homework during lessons when it is assigned. The journal could also be used to record other assignments and project deadlines. A review of school policy in relation to homework and other assignments could be included as part of the TY review planned for the end of the year.

 

In the case of the languages, other than English, taught on the programme it is recommended that European Language Portfolio, be used as a common tool for the learning and teaching of the three languages. Information in this regard is provided at www.coe.int/portfolio.

 

An annual parent-teacher meeting is organised for the TY group of students. It is recommended that students should also attend this meeting in the interest of promoting negotiated learning, a central tenet of the TY philosophy.

 

Parents support TY events and attend the awards ceremony and talent show where student achievement is celebrated by the entire school community. TY certificates are graded with distinction or merit, based on the credit system. Students also receive separate certification in some of the modules and activities completed during the year including kayaking, Fáilte Ireland Course and Metalwork.

 

 

4. Summary of strengths and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         There is a good level of whole-school support for the TY programme.

·         Effective and successful lines of communication have been established with parents before and during TY and there are very good links with the

      community.

·         A very good standard of subject planning exists in some programmes of study for TY.

·         The many areas of study in the broad curriculum offered and the calendar events organised reflect the TY philosophy.

·         The students benefit in numerous positive ways from their participation in the programme.

·         The role of the co-ordinator is clearly delineated and a wide range of duties is discharged in a committed and dedicated manner.

·         Very good short-term planning and preparation characterised the majority of lessons evaluated.

·         Effective methodologies for learning and teaching were employed in the majority of lessons.

·         Good in-house procedures have been developed for both summative and formative assessment.

 

As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:

 

·         Support from the SLSS should be sought on a sustained basis in terms of in-service, resources and materials specific to TY.

·         It is recommended that the compulsory nature of TY is clearly communicated in the school’s admission policy.

·         The intended review of TY should form the basis for a strategic plan. A core team should be put in place to guide the implementation of this plan.

      Such strategic planning will require evaluation and review on a yearly basis.

·         It is recommended that subject plans be reviewed in line with the recommendations made in the main body of the report.

·         It is recommended that the importance of the work experience component of TY should be supported in the following ways: by earlier DATs

      testing; two separate weeks for work placements; and timetabled work experience preparation and debriefing class.

·         A review of assessment in TY is recommended to ensure that effective use is made of both formative and summative techniques in realising the  

      aims of TY in terms of student learning. 

 

 

 

 

Published, March 2010