An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Leaving Certificate Applied Programme Evaluation
Dromcollogher County Limerick
Roll Number: 71850B
Date of inspection: 10 March 2008
The Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme is part of the expanded senior cycle provision designed to cater for the diversity of students’ needs. Its fundamental goal is to prepare students for the transition from education to adult and working life, and to develop students’ literacy and numeracy skills. The underlying principle of the programme is the personal, social, vocational and educational development of students. In addition, students are afforded the opportunity to enhance their self-esteem, and to develop their communication and decision-making skills. Cross-curricular integration is central to the structure of the programme and to the students’ learning experiences. Assessment of students’ ongoing progress is a significant element of the programme and is facilitated through satisfactory completion of modules and students’ tasks. Final external examinations complete the assessment process.
This report has been written following an evaluation of the LCA in Hazelwood College, Dromcollogher. 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 number of teachers and with a small group of students. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector liaised extensively with the LCA 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 deputy principal and the programme co-ordinator following the evaluation. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
The current building opened its doors to students for the first time in September 2002. In senior cycle, students can avail of the Transition Year (TY) programme and can choose one of three Leaving Certificate programmes, the established Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme and the LCA programme. Hazelwood College took part in the piloting of LCA, following on from its participation in the Senior Certificate programme. The LCA is a popular option with students, the uptake being generally good.
1.1 Whole school support
Senior management has a good knowledge of the programme. It is evident from discussion with a number of teachers that the morale among the teaching team is high. Teachers not teaching LCA are made aware of the programme through discussion at staff meetings. This is good practice.
The school has appointed a programme co-ordinator under the terms of circular letter PPT19/02. However, the assigned duties do not relate to programme co-ordination; they are in the area of technical support. While acknowledging the workload involved in providing technical support, the circular letter states that the assigned duties should relate to programme co-ordination. It is strongly recommended that the assigned duties be rectified so as to reflect the terms of the circular letter.
The understanding of both the whole school and the outside community of LCA and the promotion of the programme is facilitated through, for example, the school’s newsletters, the annual yearbook and the awards ceremony. This is laudable. Given the nature of LCA, consideration could be given to the delivery of a whole-staff presentation to further develop teachers’ understanding of the different elements and aspects of LCA.
Significantly, teachers of LCA are facilitated in availing of continuing professional development (CPD). Teachers new to the programme receive information from the co-ordinator and other teachers experienced in teaching LCA. This commendable practice could be enhanced by putting a formal induction programme in place that would be held at the beginning of each year.
Staff members are appropriately assigned to teach the programme. A large team of teachers is involved in the delivery of LCA, thus broadening the expertise of staff. Information and communication technologies (ICT) are used effectively in organising the programme.
Financial support for the purchase of resources is provided on a needs basis in consultation with senior management. Students can avail of a significant level of ICT resources, including four computer rooms, a digital camera, a video camera and scanners. The support of management in providing this level of equipment is commended.
1.3 Student selection
The school operates an open policy with regard to student uptake of programmes for Leaving Certificate. Third-year students are given accurate and appropriate information regarding LCA and are informed of the benefits of taking the programme. All students are interviewed by the guidance counsellor and undertake differential aptitude (DAT) tests. Advice is given before students and their parents make the final selection of Leaving Certificate programme. This level of support around programme choice is commended. It is suggested that specific criteria for selection of programmes that are in line with the objectives of the LCA programme be developed in order to assist in identification of target students.
1.4 Home, school and community links
Parents are made aware of the nature and purpose of all senior cycle programmes, including LCA through the information night for parents of third-year students, when a presentation is made by the co-ordinator. In addition parents receive an information brochure and may meet by appointment the deputy principal who is also a guidance counsellor. Parents are thus involved in decisions made with regard to programme selection. Furthermore, information regarding pertinent aspects of school activities is circulated via the school newsletter, and the school prospectus also contains information about the LCA. In addition, communication with home is maintained by means of school reports and there is ongoing contact between the co-ordinator and parents. This level of communication is applauded.
The home-school-community liaison teacher plays an important role in developing and maintaining links with students’ families. It is understood that a visit is undertaken to the homes of new students. In addition, it was stated that the Student Support Service Team has developed close links with the local clergy, doctors, psychotherapist and other support agencies’ personnel who provide assistance as required.
This fostering of contacts with outside agencies, support groups and employers is commended.
1.5 Supports for students
There is an effective student induction programme in place. The co-ordinator has sessions with students at the beginning of fifth year in order to enhance their understanding of LCA. Particular emphasis is placed on ensuring that students have a clear understanding of the assessment criteria, including the pre-requisite for ninety percent attendance and completion of key assignments. In addition students participate in a trip to an outdoor education centre to assist in the development of class spirit and teamwork skills. This level of support is commended.
There are appropriate supports in place for students with special educational needs. Commendably, relevant information regarding these students is disseminated to the LCA teaching team at the beginning of each year. Significantly, three learning-support teachers form part of the team. Individual education plans have been devised for all students with special educational needs in co-operation with parents. It is understood that these are regularly reviewed and new targets are set. This is good practice. Support is also provided to students in the form of withdrawal classes for those students who are exempt from Irish. This is laudable.
One important element of student support is the Student Support Service Team (SSST) that in senior cycle comprises the deputy principal, the home-school-community liaison teacher, the LCA co-ordinator and the year heads. Commendably, a significant number of teachers have undergone a three-day training course under the auspices of County Limerick Vocational Education Committee and the Health Services Executive (HSE) in order to facilitate the running of this programme in the school. Both senior and junior SSST teams meet separately each week and discuss issues pertaining to specific students. Records are kept of these meetings. Necessary information is conveyed to relevant teachers. This is praiseworthy.
The co-ordinator has a good knowledge of the programme and its implementation. Effective communication is maintained with school management and students. Formal co-ordinating structures are in place and are operating successfully, the co-ordinator meeting the class tutors, guidance counsellor and home-school-community liaison teacher on an ongoing basis. Office and ICT facilities are available so that co-ordination duties can be carried out effectively and management has allocated time each week to facilitate effective co-ordination.
LCA co-ordination is a post of responsibility in the school and the duties are wide ranging and include administration, planning, communication and supporting teachers and students. A methodical approach is implemented in the administration and organisation of the records of attendance, and for the storage of key assignments. All other records pertaining to LCA are also retained by the co-ordinator. This level of organisation is commended.
A specific notice board is maintained in the corridor to disseminate LCA information to teachers and students. The year planner that is updated as necessary is displayed on the board. In addition, the Hazelwood College year books contain articles written by LCA students. Furthermore, during the course of the evaluation, information regarding ‘Jo Soaps and Company Limited’ was given to the general student body through the school intercom system and written notices. These strategies to disseminate information to students are commended. During the evaluation it was suggested that consideration could be given to placing a programme-specific notice board in the staff room to assist in information dissemination. During the feedback session the inspector was informed that this board had been put in place. This is commended.
The LCA co-ordinator has timetabled contact with the LCA class groups, thus facilitating the development of a good rapport with the students, as was evident in the lesson observed.
LCA programme planning is an integral part of the work of the co-ordinator, management and the teaching team. The co-ordinator retains a comprehensive planning folder that includes the mission statement, information on students with additional needs, induction leaflets for students and teachers, correspondence, minutes of meetings and the daily planner for the year. This is good practice. The co-ordinator also maintains the credit record sheets for each module.
Planning and monitoring of LCA is facilitated by regular meetings of personnel involved in LCA. These include team meetings occur a number of times a year. In addition, the co-ordinator meets individual teachers including the guidance counsellor, the teacher of health education and personal reflection, and the class tutors on a very regular basis. Minutes of meetings are kept and actions are recorded. This is praiseworthy. It is good to note that cross-curricular planning also takes place. This level of communication and collaboration that exists in planning for the successful implementation of the programme is highly commended.
The LCA curriculum is broad and the needs, interests and abilities of students are prioritised in curricular design and implementation. For example, students can choose between Hotel and Catering, and Graphics and Construction, and between Engineering, and Information and Communication Technology. This provision of choice in the vocational specialisms is good practice. It was stated that German was provided as the foreign language as until recent times all students had studied French for Junior Certificate. Thus German is provided as an ab initio language for all students. This is laudable.
It was stated that particular consideration is taken of students’ interests in practical subjects when curriculum decisions are taken. This is laudable. Taking cognisance of this, during the inspection it was recommended that the school explore the possibility of introducing one or two elective modules from other areas of the curriculum to further broaden students’ learning experiences. During the feedback session the inspector was informed that it was planned to incorporate two modules of Science in next year’s programme. This pro-activity is commended.
The school complies with guidelines with regard to time allocation for almost all subject modules and practical work is facilitated through the provision of double lessons. However, the provision within the curriculum for students to develop their ICT skills is below that recommended for the Introduction to Information and Communication Technology module. This is particularly a concern with regard to those students who do not study the ICT vocational specialism. Currently, the time allocated for the teaching of the four elective modules in Religion is equivalent to that required for completion of two modules. During the feedback session, the inspector was informed that this latter issue has been resolved for next year’s timetable with the introduction of Science. This is commended. It is recommended that the timetabling issue with regard to the module, Introduction of Information and Communication Technology be also addressed in future timetabling.
Timetabling of personal reflection is good practice as it facilitates the development of personal and social skills in keeping with the underlying principles of the programme.
The pre-requisite of timetabling the guidance counsellor for Guidance is adhered to. This assists in preparing students for work experience and investigating future careers. Visits to career exhibitions and speakers from Post-Leaving Certificate courses also provide students with information that helps students with decisions regarding their future career paths. This is good practice.
Work experience is an integral part of the curriculum and is organised as a block release for each module. While acknowledging that contact is made with the employers by telephone and letter, and that the school has a good relationship with the employers, consideration should be given to visiting students in their workplace where possible.
An extensive list of out-of-school activities enhances in-school teaching and learning and assists students in preparing for life after school. These include communication with FÁS and a one-day personal development course that incorporates preparation of a curriculum vita, training in interview techniques and grooming. In addition, speakers from CURA, the HSE and the local gardaí provide students with an insight into aspects of life and social issues. This is good practice. Furthermore school tours, including those for the combined Transition Year and LCA groups afford supplementary enhancement of students’ learning experiences. This is commended.
3.1 Planning and preparation for teaching
Individual teachers’ plans for many of the modules were examined during the course of the evaluation. Some were session plans, with the individual units outlined. Other plans were more comprehensive and included monthly or weekly plans with the learning objectives and teaching methodologies outlined. In addition, the resources to be employed were listed for the different topics and timeframes were included. This level of planning is applauded. It is recommended that all module plans be further developed to include learning objectives, teaching methodologies and timeframes. Copies of these module plans should be incorporated into the LCA planning folder to provide a more complete programme plan.
It is noted that as an introduction to LCA, one of the module plans incorporates the explanation of the elements of LCA, the terminology and the importance of attendance in order to enhance students’ understanding of the programme. This is good practice.
In almost all instances, planning for lessons was very good and included student handouts, equipment, supports for students’ activities and electronic resources. In addition there was evidence of written plans for these lessons. In one lesson, the lesson plan included an alternative teaching strategy if the internet was inaccessible. This is excellent.
3.2 Teaching and learning
Effective teaching and learning was observed in lessons that were planned well. Lessons observed were well structured and the pace was appropriate in almost all cases. Care should be taken to ensure that time for recapitulation is factored into all lessons, as was observed in almost all instances.
A range of teaching strategies was employed in the lessons observed. These included class discussion, questioning, teacher explanation, group work and short written activities. Role-play was successfully used in the hotel and catering lesson, the drama lesson and the English and Communication lesson. Almost all lessons were student-centred and in the main students actively participated. Where a lesson was textbook-based and involved much teacher discourse, a number of students became disengaged as the lesson progressed. To maintain students’ interest and encourage their active participation, it is recommended that brief student activities be interspersed with teacher explanation throughout the lesson.
Effective questioning to named students was employed to evaluate students’ prior learning and in some instances to reinforce recently learnt subject matter. It was also successfully used to draw on students’ previous knowledge of a topic and to aid the introduction of and subsequent broadening of that topic. This is commended. Differentiated questions were used, for example, in the hotel and catering lesson and students were supported in developing their answers, thus providing for the learning needs of all students. This is commended.
The board was effectively used to highlight the significant points in many lessons. ICT was successfully employed in the German lesson in listening and reading exercises and included a short video clip, thus enhancing students’ knowledge and engagement. This is praiseworthy.
There was evidence that students’ learning was anchored in their everyday life experiences, thus making topics tangible and relevant. Links were also made with previous learning, a practice that is praiseworthy. For example, in the lesson on Islam, students were referred back to lessons on comparative religions and references were appropriately made to the mosque in Limerick and the television programme No Frontiers that was based in Dubai. In the hotel and catering lesson, the students’ visit to the catering sections of both a hotel and a hospital was effectively used to discuss quality and quantity in terms of preparing and serving meals and led to a successful discussion on the requirements and arrangements for the meal the students planned to serve to a number of teachers. This is good practice.
Development of students’ literacy was facilitated in the lessons observed. In one instance, students were asked to underline the main points in a handout, while in another lesson a mind map was placed on the board illustrating the key points. Students also completed short written activities. To further enhance students’ literacy, it is suggested that students build up a bank of key words in all subject areas and a daily diary of new words be compiled. It is understood that class sets of English dictionaries are available in the school. A number of these should be at hand in all lessons and students should be encouraged to use them as necessary.
In keeping with the underlying principles of LCA, students were afforded the opportunity to enhance their personal and social development and vocational education. Prompt cards were effectively used as pairs of students performed an interviewer and interviewee role-play in the drama lesson. On completing the exercise, students were then asked to reflect on their performances and this was followed by class discussion on personal skills and qualities. This is commended.
The development of students’ oral communication skills was also facilitated through a range of active learning strategies. This is good practice.
Students’ understanding of the working world was observed in the English and Communication lesson. All students participated in a role-play of a board meeting of Jo Soaps and Company Limited. Students’ roles included the chair and secretary of the board, and the managers of a number of departments within the company including advertising, sales, finance, quality control and production. All departmental managers provided an up-to-date report to the board. This provision for students’ active involvement is highly commended. In addition, this lesson demonstrated an outstanding example of cross-curricular integration, linking directly with the next lesson. Following the ‘board meeting’, students took part in the vocational preparation and education lesson, where members of the different departments of the company were observed to be completing their specific tasks in readiness for the soap sale that was imminent. This cross-curricular linkage is excellent.
Hazelwood College provides a relaxed, warm environment, in which students feel secure and confident and that supports students’ learning. A good and in many instances excellent teacher-student rapport was shown in the level of attentiveness, enthusiasm 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. Students were observed to share their views readily in many lessons and contributed confidently. This is highly commended.
There was good evidence of learning as students were generally confident and capable of answering questions put to them during the course of the visit. In addition, overall, students’ written work and the presentation of key assignments were of a good standard. It was noted that students were competent in using various software packages to generate graphics, bar charts, pie charts and reports and this is commended. Given the level of students’ skills in ICT, it is suggested that ICT be utilised to a greater extent in completing written activities such as key assignments.
Oral assessments were integrated into all the lessons observed, with teachers assessing students’ understanding through questioning. These questions and answers were seen to have a formative function in that there was further discussion or explanation of a point where students had not initially grasped it. Writing in class also assisted in gauging the level of comprehension.
The custom of setting pre State examinations is commended as it provides students with the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the format of the Leaving Certificate Applied examination papers, in addition to assessing their knowledge and understanding in a formal setting.
Components of assessment in LCA also include key assignments and student tasks. All students’ progress is monitored through the completion of the key assignments associated with particular modules. Students carried out a range of activities including completion of surveys, compilation of bar charts and collages and written assignments. In Engineering students were afforded the opportunity to further develop their practical skills through construction of models. It is recommended that the tape recordings of students’ key assignments be retained in conjunction with their written work.
Tasks are either completed on an individual basis or in groups. Students created reports that incorporated aspects of planning, execution and evaluation of the tasks. Much of the work involved in these tasks was completed during class time under the direction and supervision of a teacher. Examples of tasks included the development of a story book and CD for children called Learning is Fun, a book and CD, German for Beginners and a book and DVD, The Hazelwood Singers. The work involved in all tasks is applauded. Where appropriate, the learning support teachers gave support to students. The close monitoring of all tasks is good practice.
Students completed practical achievement tasks in a range of areas. The school provided out-of-class opportunities for students to utilise their interest in music and a number of students learned instruments such as the bodhrán and the bones. The opportunity to develop leadership and team-building skills was availed of by one student who coached a first-year hurling team. Another student focused on personal development as the stated aim of the task was “to overcome my fear of horses by grooming and walking them”. The encouragement of students in developing these skills is commended.
4.1 Programme evaluation and review
Recordkeeping within LCA is of a high standard and is comprehensive. It is understood that the LCA curriculum is evaluated through discussion between management and teachers each year. There is evidence that the review has had an effect on the planning and delivery of the programme. For example, elective modules such as Hair and Beauty were discontinued following input from students. This is good practice. Consideration should be given to conducting the evaluation more formally by means of surveying and involving all participants, including parents.
4.2 Attainment of programme objectives
Students’ attendance levels are generally good, as is evident in their attendance records and the credits obtained to date. It was reported that the programme requirement to adhere to the ninety percent student attendance rule for satisfactory completion of modules was observed in line with Circular Letter S23/06, cognisance being taken of certified absence by the school and satisfactory completion of key assignments. The home-school-community liaison teacher has the responsibility for recording and monitoring attendance for all students in the school. Close communication is maintained with the LCA co-ordinator in this regard, thus ensuring that investigation can be immediately undertaken if a student’s absence causes concern.
It is clear that student tasks and key assignments facilitated the development of skills such as decision-making, initiative, and responsibility. The development of proficiency in teamwork and organisation was evident in events such as Jo Soaps and Company Limited and the production and serving of a meal for a group of teachers.
The school maintains data on the progression of students from LCA. School documentation indicated that specific students completed courses in hairdressing, farm management, professional cookery and agricultural mechanics. This is commended as it provides successful examples of career paths taken by LCA students.
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, October 2008