An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Programme Evaluation

Leaving Certificate Applied

REPORT

 

Nagle Rice Secondary School

Doneraile, County Cork

Roll Number: 62210K

 

 

Date of inspection: 30 April 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evaluation of the leaving certificate applied 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 LEAVING CERTIFICATE APPLIED PROGRAMME

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

This report has been written following an evaluation of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme in Nagle Rice Secondary School. It presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for the further development of the programme in the school. During the evaluation, the inspector held meetings with the school principal, a core group of teachers and with a small group of students. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector liaised extensively with the programme co-ordinator and visited classrooms to observe teaching and learning. The inspector provided oral feedback to teachers on lessons observed. The inspector also examined studentsí work and reviewed relevant documentation pertaining to the programme, as well as teachersí written preparation. The outcomes of the evaluation were discussed with the school principal, the programme co-ordinator and the core team following the evaluation.

 

Nagle Rice Secondary School provides a broad post-primary education in a co-educational context for the young people of Doneraile and the surrounding areas. The school has provided LCA since 1996.

 

 

1. Quality of programme organisation

 

1.1 Whole school support

 

Senior management shares a detailed understanding of the underlying principles of LCA, an extensive theoretical and practical knowledge of its structure and implementation and provides effective overall leadership for the implementation of the programme. The principal appropriately delegates responsibility to the LCA co-ordinator and the core planning team with whom she maintains very effective ongoing communication in relation to planning and implementation.

 

LCA is an integral part of the life and curriculum of the school. The co-ordinating team maintains communication with the whole staff in relation to the programme by means of the LCA notice board in the staff room, by regular discussion and the sharing of information at staff meetings and very effectively in an informal setting through one-to-one contact with individual teachers. All staff members are supportive of the programme and the positive part it has played in meeting the educational needs of many students since its inception. Teachers who are not on the LCA team support students of the programme, often by facilitating them in the completion of key assignments and tasks by answering surveys and questionnaires. The programme is integrated with the pastoral structure of the school and students of LCA share a year head with other students in their respective year groups.

 

The programme is promoted in the school and it is seen favourably by students and teachers. While there is no formally structured induction process for new teachers joining the LCA team, it is commended that the co-ordinating team works closely with these teachers to explain the outline and structure of the programme and arranges for them to liaise with teachers with appropriate expertise in relation to teaching the course involved and other subject-specific matters. It is recommended that the procedures and content of the induction process be formalised by inclusion in the LCA programme plan.

 

1.2 Resources

 

Teachers are assigned to teach LCA having first expressed an interest in being involved. Teachers who wish to be involved are facilitated. Most teachers have taught on the programme at some time and this supports understanding of LCA within the school and the position it holds as an integral part of the curriculum. Systematic procedures are in place for the organisation of work experience. While the co-ordinator takes overall charge of this aspect of the programme, students are made responsible for the organisation of their own placements with the appropriate guidance of parents and school. Students are visited in the workplace by the co-ordinator to assess how they are progressing and to provide any support that may be needed.

 

The time allocated to each course is consistent with the requirements of the programme and the arrangement of lesson time is appropriate to the needs of the respective subjects. Double and triple period lessons are provided for the vocational specialisms, Craft and Design and Hotel Catering and Tourism, facilitating completion of practical work. While the time allocated to four Science elective modules is adequate, it is commended that two periods per week are also allocated to Horticulture in fifth year. Modules from the Agriculture and Horticulture course are studied during these two periods. It is recommended that these modules be counted with the elective modules. Lessons in all courses are well spread across the teaching week. The instruction time provided for students is in excess of twenty-eight hours per week in line with the requirements of circular letter M29/95.

 

Studentsí use of information and communication technology (ICT) in LCA takes place in the computer room. Access to the computer room for three periods per week in fifth year provides for the completion of the introduction to information and communication technology course. In sixth year students are also timetabled for three periods per week to facilitate the completion of key assignments and tasks. In addition to this time teachers may request ICT access on timetabling request forms. While this provision is adequate, it does not facilitate more effective integration of ICT into learning and teaching. The redeployment of some existing computers into LCA classrooms is recommended to provide students with access to ICT within the full range of lessons. Such access to a computer with a link to the internet would provide students with an additional means of sourcing information within lessons and this should be integrated into teaching approaches to encourage independence and collaboration among the students. Dedicated LCA classrooms facilitate the realisation of such learning environments. It is recommended that management examine the feasibility of providing LCA classrooms.

 

Although ICT is used by the co-ordinating team and course teachers to produce planning documentation, resources are not available outside of the computer room or school office to facilitate this. It is recommended that a computer and printer be deployed in the LCA office to facilitate work on the further development of programme planning documentation and teaching materials. It is recommended that the co-ordinating team develop a policy for increased use of ICT for teaching and learning across the LCA curriculum and set targets for the implementation of this policy.

 

All members of the programme team are informed of available CPD and requests to attend are facilitated. Links are maintained between the co-ordinating team and outside LCA supports including attendance at co-ordinatorsí meetings. Whole-staff CPD has been provided in collaboration with SLSS. Management recognises and facilitates involvement by an appreciable number of teachers in monitoring and examining a range of LCA tasks and coursework as a valuable support to the development of the team, analogous to CPD. Practice in relation to CPD provision for LCA is good. Information gained by means of teachersí involvement in CPD and other LCA-related activities is shared with the programme team, often informally. It is recommended that procedures for the dissemination of information gained through individual CPD be further clarified and included in the LCA plan together with a record of CPD attended.

 

1.3 Student selection and support

 

An integrated whole-school approach is taken in identifying students for whom LCA is the most suitable programme option. Students apply for inclusion in the programme. Studentsí decision-making receives considered support from the guidance, learning support, pastoral care and LCA co-ordinating teams. Care is taken through junior cycle to determine the strengths, particular learning styles and educational needs of each student and this understanding is brought to bear on the guidance and support offered. Students are given accurate and appropriate information regarding the programme. Students are targeted for inclusion in LCA on an individual basis and the criteria in use are clear, appropriate and successful. The targeted students are availing of the programme. It is recommended that the criteria in use for selection of LCA students be included in the programme plan.

 

The whole-school aspect of guidance is fully developed within the implementation of the programme. The co-ordinating team and the team of LCA teachers actively discharge their roles regarding the care of the students. Close links are maintained between the learning-support department and the LCA team. It is good practice that one member of the LCA co-ordinating team is also a member of the learning support team. This provides a valuable link. It is recommended that this arrangement be formalised by inclusion in the LCA plan. Appropriate provision is made for the additional educational needs of individual LCA students. The preparation of a student profile as part of the planning process for such support, seen in the course of the evaluation, is commended. Support is often directed towards the studentsí completion of tasks and key assignments. This is good practice. Awareness of the importance of developing studentsí literacy permeates teaching throughout the programme and in the completion of key assignments and tasks such as the personal reflection task. The co-ordinating team and the learning-support team should collaborate on further developing specific approaches to support literacy in the classroom across the range of LCA courses. The results of this collaboration should be included in the programme plan.

 

1.4 Home-school links

 

LCA has a clear profile within the wider school community and home-school links are well maintained. Parents are initially introduced to LCA at the open night prior to their childrenís enrolment in the school, and are given ample information at the third-year parentsí meeting following acceptance on the programme. Involvement of parents throughout the application process for the programme provides opportunities for discussion and clarification of its structure and guiding principles. Contact with parents is maintained throughout the year in relation to aspects of the programme such as work experience and attendance. The Home-School Liaison teacher visits studentsí homes, particularly when attendance becomes an issue. Parents regularly make contact by telephone and this is encouraged by the school. An open approach supports a good level of informal contact with parents. More formal contact is maintained through annual parent-teacher meetings, the sending home of session results, and form letters including early indications of the risk of credits being lost due to bad attendance or failure to complete work. Parents are invited to take part in the celebration of annual awards which includes specific recognition of the broad achievements of LCA students.

 

 2. Quality of programme planning and co-ordination

 

2.1 Planning

 

Planning for LCA has been central to the success of the programme in the school. A two-year plan is devised at the outset for each LCA class and this includes planning for courses, tasks and electives. The co-ordinating team is at present drafting a policy on work experience which it is presenting to the Transition Year planning team with a view to agreeing a joint policy. Collaboration in this work is commended. It is intended to present the policy to the board of management for adoption following the usual cycle of policy development. It is recommended that the policy be included in the written LCA plan. It is further recommended that the programme team continue to develop the LCA plan to include areas such as criteria for student selection, provision for the additional educational needs of students, communication with parents, teaching and learning in LCA, literacy support, cross-curricular integration, student assessment and programme evaluation and review. The aim in developing the plan should be to reflect the good practice already being adopted in the school. The plan may be revised in response to programme reviews as these occur. The LCA plan should be adopted by the board of management and integrated into the school plan.

 

The LCA core planning team meets once a week to plan, monitor and evaluate the programme. This very effective team is composed of three members who rotate as co-ordinators, the deputy principal and a teacher who is also a member of the schoolís special tuition team, the planning team for additional-educational-needs provision. This core team is representative of a range of different elements of the programme and benefits from the extensive LCA experience of its membership. The planning structure is very effective in meeting the needs of the students, the LCA programme and the school.

 

Effective planning takes place to ensure that the cross-curricular aspects of LCA are facilitated. Task areas are identified at meetings of the LCA core planning team at the beginning of the year and the necessary cross-curricular integration is discussed with the teachers who are anchoring the tasks. Appropriate collaboration takes place among the teachers anchoring tasks and other LCA teachers.

 

While the success of the programme is reviewed by the LCA co-ordinating team at the end of each year, it has been formally reviewed on two occasions, most recently two years ago. The last formal review, facilitated by the co-ordinating team, involved all members of the teaching team. In addition, the outcomes of a research project on the teachersí perceptions of LCA, undertaken as a component of a Master in Education course, were presented to the staff at that time. This good practice provided opportunities for the programme team and the whole staff to reflect on the success of LCA in the school. It is recommended, to build further on this good practice and to strengthen the collaborative approach, that a process of scheduled formal evaluation of the programme be developed in line with the suggestions of the Second Level Support Service (SLSS), http://lca.slss.ie/resources/c/154/evaluation LCA.ppt . Such an evaluation process should involve each of the interested parties, including parents, teachers and students, and its outcomes should be presented to the board of management and the whole-school community.

 

Variation of subject specialisms and elective modules in response to studentsí interest is indicative of the positive effect of evaluation and review on the planning and delivery of the programme. Offering Horticulture in the current year to test its suitability as a vocational specialism is evidence that planning is active and reflective. The provision of science elective modules in response to the needs of students who wish to enter courses of further study for which Science is a requirement also shows that LCA planning is commendably responsive to changes in the curricular needs of students. The outcomes of ongoing evaluation carried out by the core planning team feed into review of the programme. This is good practice. LCA has had a range of positive effects on the school. Studentsí attendance and retention have improved in many cases and they express a sense of belonging and appreciation in relation to LCA.

 

2.2 Co-ordination

 

The organisation of the programme in the school provides for separate co-ordinators for the two LCA classes. These co-ordinators work very closely together as part of the core planning team and with a third co-ordinator, also a member of the core planning team, who takes responsibility for an LCA class in rotation. This arrangement has much to commend it, providing for collaboration and continuity and ensuring that each class is taught for an appreciable number of periods by at least one of the co-ordinating team. It is, however, recommended that every effort be made to ensure that the co-ordinator of a specific class group be timetabled for an appreciable number of periods with that class.

 

2.3 Curriculum

 

The school complies fully with the Departmentís guidelines regarding the programme. The curriculum is balanced and the needs, interests and abilities of the students availing of the programme are prioritised in its design and implementation within the constraints of the resources available including teacher resources. Formal guidance is provided for LCA students by the guidance counsellor in line with the requirements of the programme and the vocational preparation and guidance course.

 

 

3. Quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1 Planning and preparation

 

Planning for each of the courses presented in the programme follows the respective module descriptors and the programme as taught reflects the stated objectives of LCA. The course teachers understand clearly the programme objectives and their planning seeks to satisfy the key underlying principles of LCA. Teachers recognise the need to adopt student-centred approaches emphasising active learning, team work and personal and social development and such approaches to teaching LCA are universally accepted and embraced by teachers in their planning. Course plans are commonly reviewed and tailored to suit the abilities and interests of students. This is good practice. The quality of planning is high. It is recommended that individual course plans be included in the LCA plan, with particular attention being paid to areas of cross-curricular integration.

 

Planning for lessons observed was of a high standard. In all cases changes of activities were planned to maintain studentsí interest and involvement. Teaching resources, materials and equipment were assembled and prepared in advance. The variety of resources provided effective support of teaching and learning. ICT had been employed to produce word-processed materials. It is recommended that this use of ICT be increased and expanded to provide students with tangible materials with which to work wherever possible, including in a pair-work setting where students could work from prepared sheets and record their partnerís responses. The use of the overhead projector was observed on one occasion and charts and posters were used effectively in a number of lessons. The further use of projected images, by means of the overhead projector or data projector, should be planned for and developed to add further variety and interest to lessons.†

 

3.2 Learning and teaching

 

Lessons observed were coherently structured. Aims were clarified at the outset and the expected outcomes were shared with the students. Lessons were appropriately paced to suit the needs of the students and the teachers maintained close contact with the progress of each student varying the pace as appropriate. Lessons had well-structured endings which included students completing a sheet or questionnaire on the lesson content in a number of lessons, and the completion of a crossword puzzle in one case. Such good practice provided very good reinforcement of lesson content.

 

The range of teaching methodologies placed due emphasis on active learning, a key principle of LCA. Each of the lessons included elements of collaborative work by students, in pairs or small groups as appropriate. When engaged in this work students showed enthusiasm and purpose and co-operated successfully. In a number of cases it is recommended that pair and group work be more carefully structured to focus students on the development and improvement of specific skills. Assigning a particular role to a student, perhaps to gather information from a customer over the telephone where the partner student plays the role of the customer, is an effective device that can be modified to suit many learning situations. A prepared questionnaire would in this case allow the student to practise literacy skills by filling in the answers given. It is recommended that the programme team investigate the most effective ways to structure pair and group work to gain the most advantage for learning and include the outcomes in the LCA plan.

 

Students displayed appropriate knowledge and understanding of the material being studied when questioned by their teachers, and in their own questions. When engaged in conversation by the inspector, students showed engagement with the subject being discussed and displayed interest, curiosity and willingness to explore and learn. This, together with the studentsí general attainment, showed that learning of a high standard was taking place within the given context. Studentsí work had been completed to a high standard and showed that appropriate skills and competencies had been achieved by the students concerned. Students were affirmed and encouraged throughout while being appropriately challenged by the teaching and learning activities employed. The atmosphere created in lessons was positive and conducive to learning. Interactions among the teachers and students and among the students themselves were respectful, without undue formality but predominantly focused on the learning objectives. Very effective learning was supported and achieved.

 

In the absence of dedicated LCA rooms, lessons are taught in a range of classrooms, often in the teachersí base rooms. The classrooms visited were bright and well maintained usually with sufficient furniture for a class size in the region of thirty students. The LCA students commonly sat along the periphery at one side of the classrooms, the class dispersed and many students were further from the white board or screen than they needed to be. Teachers responded by moving closer to the centre of the group and this tended to lessen the effect but not to compensate fully. It is recommended that teachers adopt strategies to encourage students to sit in a more compact group at the beginning of lessons, perhaps by reorganising a small number of tables near the front and getting students to sit around them as at a meeting. This would provide a defined physical focus for the lesson and would further strengthen studentsí involvement.

 

While a commendable focus on improving studentsí literacy permeates all lessons and work on key assignments and tasks, this should be further supported by using visual reinforcement by means of key-word lists and displays of new terminology on the walls of classrooms. This approach should be adopted in all subjects. The use of dedicated LCA classrooms would further facilitate the development of a word-rich learning environment in a subject-integrated setting where words encountered in one subject context and displayed for reinforcement of learning are available in lessons across the curriculum.††

 

Modes of behaviour in the classrooms visited had in some instances been formally negotiated at the beginning of the year when rewards for good class behaviour were also set. This approach is commended. In all cases the norms of good behaviour were fully accepted and adhered to by the students. Discipline was intrinsic to the studentsí normal behaviour, did not need to be enforced but was sensitively maintained.

 

3.3 Assessment

 

Key assignments are generally completed by students in a timely manner and are stored by course teachers until the end of the session when they are transferred to the care of the co-ordinator. Course teachers maintain records of attendance at their lessons and provide evidence of attendance and completion of the required key assignments at the end of each session. Recording and storage of assessment materials, including key assignments and tasks, is systematic and in line with good practice. An appropriate range of assessment modes was used in the course of the lessons observed including carefully framed questioning by the teachers. Questions were varied to suit ability and predominantly directed to individual students in a sensitive manner. Studentsí responses to questions influenced the direction of lessons in many cases and added to the atmosphere of collaboration and co-operation. In practical lessons and at times when students worked co-operatively in groups, teachers moved around the class often giving individual feedback that supported assessment for learning. Students were presented with opportunities to reflect on their own work and to evaluate outcomes against planned objectives. This is good practice. The quality of the studentsí work was in line with the high expectations of their teachers and the learning outcomes were appropriate to the ability levels of the students.†

 

Teachersí accurate and complete records of achievement and attendance are shared meaningfully with parents at parent-teacher meetings. Teachers evaluate their teaching strategies on an ongoing basis and modify them based on the outcomes of assessment.

 

 

4. Summary of strengths and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

                     LCA as an integral part of the life and curriculum of the school is promoted and is seen favourably by students and teachers, all of whom expressed a wish to be involved before being assigned to teach the programme.

                     All members of the programme team are informed and facilitated with regard to CPD and whole-staff CPD has been provided in collaboration with SLSS.

                     Students are given accurate and appropriate information regarding the programme and the target students are availing of it.

                     Close links are maintained between the learning support department and the LCA team and awareness of the importance of developing studentsí literacy permeates teaching throughout the programme.

                     The planning structure is very effective in identifying and meeting the needs of the students, and the outcomes of ongoing evaluation feed into review of the programme.

                     Planning for each of the courses and for lessons is of a high standard and the programme as taught reflects the stated objectives of LCA.

                     Lessons are coherently structured and the range of teaching methodologies places due emphasis on active learning, a key principle of LCA.

                     Discipline is intrinsic to the studentsí normal behaviour, does not usually need to be enforced but is sensitively maintained.

                     Students are presented with opportunities to reflect on their own work and evaluate outcomes against planned objectives.

 

 

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

 

                     Management should examine the feasibility of providing dedicated LCA classrooms with one or two existing computers redeployed into them.

                     The co-ordinating team should develop a policy for increased use of ICT for teaching and learning across the LCA curriculum and set targets for the implementation of this policy.

                     The written LCA plan should be further expanded to include areas such as criteria for student selection, providing for additional educational needs of students, communication with parents, teaching and learning in LCA, literacy support, cross-curricular integration, student assessment and programme evaluation and review.

                     A process of scheduled formal evaluation of the programme should be developed in line with the suggestions of SLSS.

 

 

 

 

Published, April †2010