An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Transition Year Programme Evaluation
Sandford Park School
Ranelagh, Dublin 6
Roll Number 60640C
Date of inspection: 24 January 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 programme in Sandford Park School, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. 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, the co-ordinator, 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 team at the end of the evaluation period.
The TY programme was first introduced into Sandford Park School in 1989. Two class groups follow the programme in the current year. The aims of the TY programme promote the school’s mission of preparing students to be responsible citizens, to think creatively, to reason critically and to communicate effectively. The current TY plan states that TY in Sandford Park School is a programme “designed to empower our students to become more effective learners”. Evidence available in the course of the evaluation confirms that the TY programme at Sandford Park School is true to its aims.
1.1 Whole school support
The TY programme in Sandford Park School is built around a range of learning experiences including academic, personal, vocational, social and cultural experiences. Evidence gathered in the course of the evaluation shows that the school has successfully integrated all of these experiences for students into its current TY programme.
A whole-school approach to the implementation of TY has been firmly established and led by senior management. This is commendable practice and is in accordance with Transition Year Programmes Guidelines for Schools. The small TY core team consists of the TY co-ordinator, the guidance counsellor and the principal. TY form teachers are part of the larger TY planning team. Team members have good contact with TY class groups through various subjects, modules and activities. Twenty-three teaching staff members are well deployed across the programme, offering students a variety of very beneficial learning experiences. Teachers’ diverse skills and talents are very effectively utilised to offer students innovative learning experiences. Morale among the teaching team was observed to be very high in the course of the evaluation. The staff is well informed regarding the programme with frequent TY co-ordinator input into staff meetings. Recent in-service courses have been attended by the co-ordinator.
TY class groups are mostly mixed ability. Students are well challenged to meet their potential and are supported by the whole school community in doing so. Students in need of extra support are well catered for by the school. Student needs, including any special educational needs, are identified and communicated to staff. Students with additional needs are well supported in TY. The four TY students who have learning support have exemptions from Irish. Students are supported in research, project activity and completion of assignments at this time.
Successes and achievements of TY students are celebrated and affirmed in many ways by the whole school community. Awareness of these achievements is promoted particularly through the school website, the TY newsletter and various displays of students’ work in the school. In addition, the TY celebration night formally acknowledges these achievements.
Specialist rooms including the library and computer room are well utilised by TY students. Information and communication technology (ICT) is used effectively in organising the programme and in the implementation and delivery of the programme to students. The school has upgraded various aspects of its ICT infrastructure in recent years. This investment further supports various elements of TY in the school. Most classrooms are teacher based, which has the advantage of lessons taking place in a subject relevant environment. This is commended.
Various subject departments maintain relevant TY resource materials. However, some materials and resources are suitable for use by more than one subject department and may be suitable for cross-curricular work. Therefore, it is recommended that a central storage area for relevant TY resources be developed in the school. In addition, consideration should be given to formulating an inventory of resources which should be distributed to all teachers in the school. This would further develop the whole school approach and help to enhance the cross-curricular dimensions of TY in accordance with TY guidelines.
The TY resource folder, which is maintained by the co-ordinator, contains much useful documentation pertaining to TY in the school including recent TY newsletters, assessment and evaluation material, details of school events and TY activities. This is commended.
On enrolment to the programme, parents agree to the payment of a contribution to cover expenses for most activities. Evidence was provided to show that these funds are spent appropriately across a wide range of activities.
1.3 Student selection
The TY programme at Sandford Park School is compulsory for all students entering the school. Students and parents are given accurate and appropriate information regarding the programme. A TY orientation meeting for parents and third-year students takes place in April to prepare them for the programme. However, the school enrolment policy makes no reference to a six-year cycle incorporating TY as a compulsory programme for all students. Therefore, it is recommended that the school enrolment policy be reviewed and updated accordingly.
1.4 Home, school and community links
There is ongoing contact and communication with parents regarding the TY programme. The well-produced TY newsletter keeps parents informed of TY activities and celebrates the many student successes. Parents are frequently invited to attend school events such as the TY celebration evening in May. An annual parent-teacher meeting takes place. It is recommended that the school gives consideration to having TY students present at such meetings. This would further emphasise the school’s aim of enabling students to take responsibility for their own learning.
All TY students take part in voluntary community care work. Students visit residents in a local sheltered accommodation unit for senior citizens. Students also work with children in a special national school in activities such as music and sport. Many TY students undertake the Gaisce challenge which involves voluntary community work as a key component. Through the Young Social Innovators module, community work is also promoted. The school is commended for its involvement in these very worthwhile activities, as they develop vital aspects of their successful TY programme.
Students are introduced to the world of work by undertaking two separate weeks of work experience. Experiential learning is developed through observing work practices and undertaking tasks in an adult working environment. Students in Sandford Park School are generally responsible for finding their own placements. Each student has the opportunity to take differential aptitude tests (DATs), the outcome of which can both encourage and inform students to research specific career areas. This is highly commended. Students are strongly supported in preparation for work experience during the Social and Personal Development module. The employer is kept well informed of the school’s expectations of students during the work placement. Further communication with the employer is carried out as necessary. Work experience is very effectively organised and supported by the guidance service, the TY co-ordinator and senior management. Students evaluate their work experience through an assignment which is monitored by the school guidance service. This is commendable practice.
1.5 Supports for students
There is an effective student induction programme in place. At the TY induction seminar at the end of August, students are presented with a specially prepared booklet containing useful and relevant information and students are introduced to the various aims of the programme. Students are made aware of how the school will implement these aims through the organisation of TY, the subjects and module choices, and are also made aware of the importance of assessment and self-evaluation. Students are encouraged to identify and set specific academic and other challenges for the year ahead. This is highly commended. Goal setting is an appropriate skill to develop in TY and fulfils some of the broad aims of TY.
Guidance in TY is well planned and the TY guidance programme forms an important part of the school guidance plan. This programme links to the Social and Personal Development module. Guidance provision for TY includes subject choice and vocational development. Students complete two interest inventories which point students towards suitable third-level programmes and career choices. TY students attend a collaborative careers’ fair and can opt to take part in a medical careers’ workshop. Through the many subjects and modules on offer in Sandford Park School, students’ vocational development is strengthened.
The TY co-ordinator has a thorough knowledge of the programme. The co-ordinator holds the post of programme co-ordinator in the school which carries a time allowance of two hours for TY co-ordination duties. Co-ordination activities include: organisation of day-to-day TY activities; mentoring students; organising the TY calendar; liaising with staff; organisation of class groupings; publication of the TY newsletter each term; updating the TY notice board and overseeing the TY portfolio completion. These duties are carried out very effectively. It is commendable that the co-ordinator has ongoing class contact with TY class groups.
Communication and consultation with the whole-school community including staff, parents and senior management is effective. Very good resources and facilities are made available to support efficient co-ordination.
TY core team meetings take place on a regular basis. Meetings are minuted. The core team provides vital support to the co-ordinator in managing the TY programme in the school. In addition, a TY planning team is in place incorporating the TY form teachers. It may be useful to amalgamate these teams into an expanded TY core team.
A current written TY plan is in place and is comprehensive. The plan outlines many aspects of the programme including the aims, structure, assessment, methodology, course outlines, timetables and evaluation procedures. This is commended. However, some subject and module material needs updating. Therefore, it is recommended that this section of the plan be revisited with a view to updating relevant subjects and modules to reflect current practice in the 2007/2008 academic year. It is recommended that in-service be pursued in the area of writing the TY programme. Reference should also be made to Writing the Transition Year Programme and to the second level support service (SLSS) website, slss.ie for further assistance. A common template should be used. It is essential that the written programme reflects the taught programme, and that details of all subjects and modules be included in the written plan. Some subject plans do not address key aspects of TY including evaluation, links with other subjects, resources and teaching and learning strategies. It is recommended that these important aspects be included and that each subject and module be written up by the subject department as a collaborative document.
The school endeavours to incorporate personal, vocational, recreational, social and academic programmes into the TY curriculum and has been successful in this regard, as evidenced in the course of the evaluation. Active learning, group and team work are promoted and have been successfully incorporated in many key aspects of the programme. The curriculum is divided into core subjects and options.
Students’ personal and social needs are developed through participation in many activities including An Gaisce, Young Social Innovators, BT Young Scientists competition and the Form and Fusion Competition. Their vocational needs are looked after through the work experience programme. Culture and recreation are promoted through drama, debating, the science club, art, and choir and through the many sporting activities. Academic needs are fostered through the many subjects and modules on offer; subjects are sampled and students indicated in the course of the evaluation that they were better prepared to choose subjects for senior cycle having experienced TY.
Irish, English, Mathematics, Business, Science, French, History, Geography, Physical Education and IT (ECDL) are taken by all students for the entire year. Students can choose between German, Design and Music and follow this course for the entire year. In addition, students can choose Architectural Studies for the entire year or opt for two half-yearly modules, one in Russian and the other in Digital Photography. Where feasible, some subject modules should be designed to cater for both students who have no prior experience of the subject as well as those students who will have benefited from their junior cycle experience. This will help to improve accessibility to all subject modules for all TY students regardless of whether they have taken that subject at junior cycle. This would also have the effect of further enhancing the aims of TY in the school. All students are given ten-week modules in Japanese, Film Studies, Social and Personal Development, Judo, Martial Arts and Rock Climbing. Half-yearly modules are offered in Art and Drama. A play is produced as part of the drama module. The school is commended for the broad curriculum on offer in TY.
The school complies well with Department guidelines regarding programme provision and the TY curriculum is in the main broad and balanced. The needs, interests and abilities of students are prioritised. There is appropriate provision within the curriculum for students to develop their ICT skills. However, an extra time allocation to European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) may be useful so that more students may be able to complete the full cohort of assignments. The teaching of some core subjects needs further attention in an effort to introduce an innovative approach in line with TY guidelines. It is recommended that specially produced resources be sourced for this purpose. Reference should be made to the website of the SLSS, slss.ie.
3.1 Planning and preparation for teaching
Planning for lessons was good. Short term planning and preparation were well established, with materials and resources ready in advance of lessons observed. Materials for practical activities were well organised and considerable advance preparation had taken place. A written yearly plan was available for the majority of subjects evaluated. ICT presentations were well delivered with some very innovative use of ICT in lessons as a consequence of good planning. Handouts and worksheets had been prepared in advance of many lessons visited. Students’ learning was enhanced through well thought out advance planning. This is commendable.
3.2 Teaching and learning
A variety of subjects was observed during the course of the inspection: Music, Business, History, Personal Development, Film Studies, Mathematics, Science, French and Information Technology.
Motivation was high with students enjoying the learning experience in most lessons observed. A good atmosphere for learning was created with a sense of enjoyment and enthusiasm which enhanced the student learning experience. Appropriate links were established with students’ everyday experiences. This is commended. Students were frequently affirmed and encouraged for their efforts and contributions.
Many lessons were conducted in subject-specialist classrooms. This enhanced the learning experience for students. However, a conventional seating arrangement may not be the most suitable for all lessons and alternative arrangements, for example students sitting in a circle during class discussions, should be considered for some subjects. Therefore it is recommended that teachers explore alternative classroom management arrangements as necessary to enhance learning and to explore what works best for their particular subject material and for the particular student group. This change may also lead to enhanced participation by students. In some lessons, group work would have enhanced student collaboration, motivation and concentration. On another occasion, a pre-prepared worksheet may have focused learning in some instances and would have led to greater student participation.
Good differentiated practice was observed in some lessons. There was an example where students were each working at their own pace while progressing through the ECDL programme. Some were consolidating their learning, others were learning new modules while yet more were taking online examinations. This is very good practice and is commended. This is an example of innovative learning practices in line with Transition Year Programmes, Guidelines for Schools.
Some lessons observed focused on student research and development. When such activities are planned, it is important that students are made aware of the specific learning outcome of the lesson in advance. Learning outcomes were outlined clearly to students at the outset of many lessons. There was clear emphasis on active learning in line with school TY aims. For example during a lesson on scientific problem solving students were very active in planning, implementing and evaluating their open-ended investigations. Each group diligently pursued their chosen investigation and demonstrated a good depth of knowledge on their chosen topic. They enjoyed this self-directed learning experience. This is highly commended.
Students carried out many practical tasks in the course of the evaluation which gave students the opportunity to work collaboratively. Students were very well supported in this task and completed many assignments to a very high standard. For example, students worked successfully and enthusiastically on a music composition using ICT during a music lesson visited. They demonstrated a good level of expertise in using the software. A small group were simultaneously learning how to use a mixing desk to record their rock music composition. Therefore, students were exposed to different aspects of the same subject in appropriate settings. This is highly commended.
Students’ skills were enhanced during many lessons observed. Analytical skills were developed by students during a Film Studies lesson visited. The opening credits and scene of a movie were analysed with audio visual aids and a well designed worksheet. Judgement skills were taught and developed during a History lesson visited where students were asked to decide on the qualities that made a good army general, having discussed and compared army generals in operation during the American Civil War.
The range of methodologies enhanced the student learning experience. The whiteboard was used as an aid to focus learning, to highlight key words and as an aid to set assignments. Questioning was used very effectively in many lessons to recall material, to motivate and to challenge students to participate and reach their potential. The quality of students’ understanding was reflected not only in their ability to ask appropriate questions but also in their ability to answer fully the range of questions posed. Evidence was provided in the course of the evaluation to indicate that students’ understanding of material was of a high quality.
The school assesses a number of key aspects of student involvement in TY including knowledge, skills, analysis, problem solving, creativity and quality of work. Students are assessed through assignment of written homework and class tests in academic subjects, project work and written examinations. Self-assessment is a key component of TY at Sandford Park School. All TY students meet the co-ordinator over the year to discuss their involvement and level of participation in the programme. Reports are sent home on five occasions throughout the year. Reporting to parents is comprehensive with students being assessed on skills achievement and application in each subject and module, together with a written comment. Each student is given a very comprehensive ‘end-of-year review’ document containing reviews from the form teacher, co-ordinator and each subject teacher together with their TY certification grade. This comprehensive level of student assessment is very good practice and is highly commended.
Students are allocated a list of TY assignments at the beginning of the year. Parents are also made aware of this list and the importance of students completing the tasks assigned in each subject and module. The assignments are placed in a portfolio which is assessed at the end of the year. It is recommended that a portfolio interview forms part of this end of year assessment. In addition, consideration should be given to students maintaining an electronic portfolio with, for example, photographs of activities undertaken during TY.
A TY celebration event takes place in May and celebrates the achievements of TY students. Students display their most innovative work at this important event. In addition, a TY awards night takes place in September of the following academic year. TY certificates are graded with distinction, merit or pass and the entire staff has an input into this process. Individualised extra-curricular certificates are also issued to students.
4.1 Programme evaluation and review
The TY programme is evaluated annually. Questionnaires have been devised for students and teachers of the programme. Parents can comment on the programme and provide feedback formally at the TY parent-teacher meeting and informally at TY events. The introduction of a student TY logbook, in which students reflect on their experiences, would further enhance the ongoing evaluation process. The results of the evaluation are used to remodel the programme. Evidence was provided in the course of the evaluation to confirm that changes have been implemented in the current programme due to the school’s internal evaluation process. This is commended. Physical Education was introduced as a core subject in TY due to student and teacher requests. There was a demand for more activity-based programmes and in response rock climbing was introduced. Russian and Japanese were introduced in response to parental suggestions regarding enhanced language provision. The school is commended for maintaining a vibrant, dynamic and evolving TY programme.
4.2 Attainment of programme objectives
Feedback from TY students in the course of the evaluation indicated that they were very happy to be following the TY programme in the school. Students highlighted the many strengths of the programme. They indicated that it was an enjoyable year of activity with opportunities to develop their skills and maturity. Students also highlighted exposure to new subjects as a positive feature of the programme. They particularly enjoyed the many social and recreational aspects of TY including drama, sporting activities, voluntary activities, community work, work experience and the Gaisce challenge. They indicated that they would like more input into the choice of modular subjects in TY. They reported enhanced relationships with teachers and a more relaxed and interesting mode of learning including self-directed learning. This is highly commended.
School management reported the main benefits of TY as developing a sense of maturity, an awareness of social, political, health and environmental issues and skills and attainment levels. The development of students’ confidence and self-esteem was seen as a highlight of TY. Sandford Park School fulfils its TY programme objectives very well. The various elements of the TY programme come together to consolidate a holistic student experience. The varied and broad curriculum appeals to the multitude of student intelligences. Confidence and maturity are promoted through the student experience of adult and working like.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The TY programme in the school is built around a range of learning experiences including academic, personal, vocational, social and cultural experiences. Active learning, group and team work are promoted.
· A whole school approach to the conduct and implementation of TY has been firmly established. Communication and consultation with the whole school community is effective.
· Teachers’ diverse skills and talents are very well utilised to offer students innovative learning experiences. Morale among the teaching team is high.
· Co-ordination duties are carried out very effectively. Very good resources and facilities are made available to support effective co-ordination.
· Students’ learning was enhanced through well thought out advance planning. A good atmosphere for learning was created with a sense of enjoyment and enthusiasm which enhanced the student learning experience. Appropriate links were established with students’ everyday experiences.
· Self-assessment is a key component of TY.
· Reporting to parents is comprehensive.
· The TY programme is evaluated annually. Evidence was provided in the course of the evaluation to confirm that changes have been implemented in the current programme due to evaluation.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
· Inservice should be pursued in the area of writing the TY programme.
· A central storage area for relevant TY resources should be developed and consideration should be given to formulating an inventory of resources for whole school distribution.
· The school enrolment policy should be reviewed and updated to include reference to a six-year cycle, where TY is a compulsory programme for all students.
· The curriculum section of the TY plan should be revisited by each subject department with a view to updating each subject and module to reflect current practice in the current academic year.
· Consideration should be given to amalgamating the core and planning teams into an expanded core team. The creation of an assistant co-ordinator post from this team is recommended.
· The teaching of some core subjects needs further attention in an effort to introduce an innovative approach in line with TY guidelines.
· Consideration should be given to the inclusion of a portfolio interview as part of students’ end of year assessment. A student requirement to maintain a logbook would further enhance the ongoing evaluation.
Published September 2008