Department of Education and Science
Borris Vocational School
Borris, County Carlow
Roll Number: 70400L
Date of inspection: 28 November 2008
Evaluation of the Transition year programme
This report has been written following an evaluation of the Transition Year (TY) programme in Borris Vocational 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 coordinator 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 deputy principal and the programme coordinator at the end of the evaluation period.
Borris Vocational School has offered the TY programme for fourteen years. The TY programme is optional and in the current year two class groups follow the programme. The number of students choosing TY varies between thirty and fifty percent of the third year student cohort. The TY programme promotes the school’s mission of developing self confidence and responsibility and it is designed to encourage each student to reach their full potential. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
1.1 Whole school support
Whole-school support for TY is very good with senior management and the whole teaching staff playing an active part in the development and planning of the programme. Consultation with the whole school community is effective and ongoing. Minutes of staff meetings provide evidence of the extent of the information giving process and the strength of the consultative process in the school. The majority of teachers are involved in teaching the programme and the good deployment of staff to the various subjects is commended. Teachers’ skills are well utilised in designing and implementing the TY programme.
The pursuit of continuing professional development (CPD) is well supported by senior management and some TY teachers have availed of the opportunity to upskill themselves and have utilised these skills in the planning and implementation of the TY programme. For example, teachers of TY have participated in inservice for Mathematics in TY and for the implementation of the Gaisce programme. Induction of teachers to TY is effective and senior members of staff are very supportive of staff members who are new to TY.
Student achievement in TY is celebrated and affirmed by the whole school community at the TY presentation evening. Students, parents and staff attend this event. A portfolio of personalised certificates in courses completed such as First Aid, Gaisce and GAA Coaching are presented to each student together with the Department certificate and the school certificate which is graded. Students display their year’s work on this occasion and the support from the various subject departments in the school to make this occasion a success is commended. Students also display the products of their mini-companies at the Christmas bazaar.
The school corridors are enhanced with photographic displays of TY student success and achievement in many events. To further promote TY to students and to create awareness of competitions and activities pertaining to TY, it is recommended that a TY student notice board be put in place. It is acknowledged that a student notice board was in place prior to the development of the new school.
Classrooms are teacher based and teachers have created a stimulating learning environment with subject relevant posters and students’ work on display. Likewise, the subject specialist rooms are vibrant and maintained to high standard with evidence of student project work on display. The school has very good information and communication technology (ICT) facilities with a well stocked computer room and a multi-media language room. Computers, complete with internet access, are available in every classroom and are generally well utilised in the delivery of lessons. Data projectors are available for use and have been installed in many specialist rooms and in some general classrooms. TY students were observed to make good use of these resources during the evaluation. Subject-specific resources are stored in various subject departments. To further develop a cross-curricular approach to learning in TY and to increase teachers’ awareness of specialist materials, it is recommended that a comprehensive inventory of resources should be drawn up and made available to all staff.
The TY grant is used appropriately to subsidise trips, to provide classroom resources and generally to support students. There is no annual TY student contribution. Parents are made aware of additional expenditure for participation in optional parts of the programme. Activities outside the classroom are seen as a vital element of the TY programme. These include a road safety day in Kilkenny, a visit to the National Ploughing Championship, an overnight stay at the Dunmore East Adventure Centre and the planned European trip to Strasbourg. Many facilitators visit the school to provide vital workshops. These include input from the Rape Crisis Centre, the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) enterprise pilot programme and a dance workshop. These activities are a commendable part of TY provision.
1.3 Student selection and support
Third-year parents are sent a copy of the TY programme booklet and are invited to a senior subject and programme information evening in May of each year. Third year students are well supported in making their choice between the TY programme or year one of the Leaving Certificate programme. The majority of students who apply for TY are accepted onto the programme.
Each TY student and parent is required to sign a TY contract of learning on admission to the programme. This is commended. At the outset of the academic year students participate in a number of induction events.
Key skills are developed through the wide range of TY activities. Activities are created which foster a positive and meaningful learning experience for the full range of abilities. The majority of TY classes are mixed ability with the exception of some core subjects. In the context of the mixed-ability setting, it is recommended that planning for differentiation to cater for additional needs in TY be included in the TY plan.
Guidance in TY is well planned. Students receive a timetabled lesson of guidance each week and are supported in their choice of subjects and in their future career focus. Career projects are fostered and trips are organised to third level institutions. Study skills are fostered, students are introduced to the world of work and mental health issues are discussed. It is suggested that a student logbook of activities be maintained to aid recall and to promote reflective practice in TY. The logbook may form part of the end-of-year portfolio.
1.4 Home, school and community links
Parents are invited to the school for information meetings and celebratory events. Parents are supportive of the programme and are kept well informed of TY activities and events. Letters inform parents of forthcoming events and meetings, while school newsletters celebrate student success in the many TY activities. The planned school newsletter and year book will also develop stronger links with parents and the wider community. It is recommended that a school website be developed so that these links can be further developed and strengthened and so that an ever wider community can partake in celebrating in the work of the school and the successes of all its students including TY. As a means of strengthening the link with parents, it is recommended that consideration be given to the provision of a parent-teacher meeting with the TY student present. This would provide the opportunity for parents, students and teachers to discuss student progress and also to critically explore the value of the programme.
The work experience programme develops students’ experiential learning and is a vital part of the school’s TY programme provision. Currently, students partake in work experience for one week in October and two weeks in early May. Students are well prepared for work experience through class contact with the coordinator by means of a timetabled class period each week. Work experience is organised by the TY coordinator and TY class teacher and is well supported by senior management and the guidance service. Students are encouraged to find their own job placements, following which employers receive a student profile form and necessary insurance forms. It is commendable that students receive a visit from the coordinator or class teacher during their work placement. A comprehensive report form is returned from the employer, the vast majority of which state very positive student outcomes. Students evaluate their work experience and are encouraged to discuss their experiences in class. This is highly commended. Evidence was provided in the course of the evaluation to conclude that students gained in confidence, maturity and life skills as a result of work experience. The school has developed a detailed policy for work experience. This is highly commended.
Students actively participate in their local community through many TY projects including the design and painting of an outdoor mural for the local community playgroup. A group of TY students visit the local nursing home at Christmas to provide entertainment. The school has carried out some preliminary work in investigating the expansion of the social justice aspect of TY and for this it is commended. Since this type of activity plays a vital part in fulfilling key aims of TY, such as developing a sense of social awareness, it is recommended that the school gives consideration to the organisation of a week’s community service for each TY student in lieu of work experience.
The school has good planning procedures in place. Planning documentation is comprehensive. The current TY written plan is for the most part in line with Department guidelines. However, the plan needs to be restructured in line with Department guidelines on writing the TY programme. In addition, a common template should be used to detail each subject in the programme. Some subject plans are in need of updating to reflect current practice and many require additional strengthening in the assessment, evaluation and cross-curricular sections. In preparation for this work, it is recommended that consideration be given to convening inservice on updating the written programme. The information booklet for parents is also in need of updating to reflect the current TY programme for 2008/2009.
The core team meets formally on two to three occasions per year to assist the coordinator in planning, organising and evaluating the programme. Minutes of core team meetings provide evidence of the issues discussed. In addition, there is regular informal contact between core team members and with the whole TY teaching staff.
TY coordination duties include the planning and organisation of the programme. This work includes the organisation of work experience, promoting TY to third years, facilitating the parents’ information evening and preparing term reports and end of year certification. The coordinator is also TY year head and undertakes extensive year head and class teacher duties. All of these duties are carried out very effectively, with energy and dedication. The coordinator holds an assistant principal post with a time allowance of four hours for the administration of TY and year head duties.
The school’s TY curriculum consists of the vast majority of subjects which the school offers for Leaving Certificate with many of these subjects on the core TY curriculum. Many subject departments and individual teachers have made considerable efforts to include alternative material to that on the Leaving Certificate course within these subjects and evidence was provided in the course of the evaluation to show that the TY curriculum is taught in an innovative way in line with Department guidelines. However, while the subject sampling layer of TY is well catered for on the curriculum, in the interests of balance, there is a need to include modules within the curriculum in order to diversify students’ experiences. The emphasis should be on skills development rather than on knowledge and content. In addition, some activities currently on offer to students could be included within these timetabled modules and this would enable further streamlining of the TY timetable.
The core subjects offer continuity from junior cycle, while subject sampling supports students in their choice of subjects for the Leaving Certificate. Students’ entrepreneurial skills are fostered by timetabled provision of Mini Company and this subject also fosters strong links with Carlow Enterprise Board. It is very commendable that Borris Vocational School has been chosen as a pilot school for the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) Level 3 Management Module. Students’ personal and social needs are well catered for in the SPHE module with visits provided from outside agencies including the Rape Crisis Centre and the Order of Malta. On evaluation, the school decided to discontinue its provision of the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) and has now introduced computer modules from the Commercial Examining Board of Ireland. This provided a cost-effective alternative module for the school.
Work experience provides a vocational element to the programme. Many out-of-school activities play a key part in students’ active learning experiences and the support and encouragement given to students to participate in out-of-school activities and competitions is highly commended. Many cross curricular links have been identified within many subjects, in line with Department TY guidelines.
3.1 Planning and preparation
There was a good level of advance planning for the majority of lessons evaluated. A written yearly plan was available for most subjects evaluated in the course of the inspection. Therefore, it is recommended that all subject departments develop a current yearly plan in line with Department requirements. ICT materials, handouts, materials, worksheets and practical equipment were ready in advance of most lessons. Active learning strategies contributed to the overall success of lesson delivery in the majority of cases.
3.2 Learning and teaching
A very good student-teacher and student-student rapport existed in all lessons evaluated and this reinforced a positive learning environment. Students were affirmed in their work and responded positively and with enthusiasm. Students were valued as individuals and enjoyed the variety of learning experiences. Short, clear teacher inputs were effective at focusing students’ attention on key concepts, tasks and assignments. Core subjects were taught in an innovative way. Awareness of TY aims led to good quality teaching and meaningful student learning.
Participation levels were high in lessons where activity-based learning was promoted and where subjects and modules were taught in an innovative way. In one lesson visited, for example, students were set a group work task to develop a mathematics game. The accuracy of the game was tested with a trial run during the lesson and it was clear that students enjoyed this innovative learning experience within a core subject. This is excellent practice. It is recommended that activity-based learning and the practice of setting students sufficiently challenging tasks be extended to all subjects in TY.
Student’s personal development was well catered for in the course of the evaluation. In one lesson visited, students recalled, analysed and discussed the life skills programme recently presented in the school by the South Leinster Rape Crisis and Counselling Centre. Students worked in groups and were set the task of recording the key points from their experiences in the counselling sessions, with one student appointed to present the findings to the class. This methodology is highly commended. Participation levels in this exercise were very high with a very frank and focused discussion in each group.
Specialist rooms and resources were well utilised by TY students. In one lesson evaluated, students developed their word processing skills. Short clear teacher inputs ensured the class remained focused on the task. Students developed their skills in constructing tables and all successfully completed this task in the time available. The school sports hall was well utilised by students participating in an international world record breaking attempt to assemble the most people singing together in the ‘Big Sing’. Those participating raised funds for charity in advance of this event.
Methodologies were varied and contributed to enjoyment of lessons by students. The board was used to focus key on words and ideas, to set out learning objectives and to aid recall during lesson plenary sessions. It is recommended that the good practice of setting out learning objectives be extended to all subjects. There was scope for the increased and appropriate use of information and communication technology (ICT) in some lessons. Worksheets were distributed in some lessons and consolidated and focused the student learning process. It is recommended that this practice be extended and that learning be further consolidated through newspaper articles or websites relevant to the particular lesson. Further use of project work and student presentation tasks would progress TY aims and would promote active learning in line with Department guidelines. Aspects of good citizenship were promoted during a lesson which focused on road safety. Awareness of road safety was heightened in this important aspect of TY provision.
Critical thinking skills were developed in some lessons, probing questions were posed and appropriate challenges were set as a homework or research task. Evidence was provided in the course of the evaluation to indicate that students’ understanding and application of material learned was of a high quality.
There is continuous assessment by subject teachers with criteria used including student effort, participation and application to homework. Student progress reports are maintained and reports are issued on three occasions during the year with a Christmas assessment report sent to parents. Consideration should also be given to the provision of a summer assessment report for parents. The yearly assessment reports are analysed by the coordinator in the determination of the overall grading of the students’ end-of-year school certificates. These certificates are graded in terms of excellence, merit or participation. Parents are encouraged to maintain contact with the school on an ongoing basis to monitor their own child’s progress. In addition there is contact with parents through the student journal.
Students maintain a TY folder which contains assignments for all subjects and this work forms part of individual subject assessment. However, it is recommended that a portfolio interview forms part of students’ overall end of year assessment. For example, students may be allowed choose what they consider to be some of their best work for this interview and interview criteria and marking should be clearly set out. This would strengthen self assessment within the TY programme. In addition, consideration should be given to students maintaining an electronic portfolio with, for example, photographs of activities undertaken during TY.
School evaluation of the TY programme involves consultation with the teaching staff, senior management and to some extent, students and parents. It is recommended that the evaluation process be strengthened by promoting the student and parent input process. The TY programme evaluation is a regular item on the agenda of staff meetings. Teachers are requested to evaluate their courses. Students should also have a role in the evaluation of the programme and students should be involved in the evaluation of subjects. The results of the evaluation are used to remodel the programme, for example the content of the Mathematics curriculum was modified and new design elements were added to Technology. This is commended.
The TY programme at Borris Vocational School fulfils the aims of TY and adheres in the main to Department guidelines. Key skills in line with senior cycle education are developed in TY and these include communicating, working with others, being personally effective, critical and creative thinking and information processing. Student involvement, commitment and participation in the programme are set at a high level with students being enabled to develop their maturity and confidence towards becoming independent adults.
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 June 2009