An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Programme Evaluation

Leaving Certificate Applied

REPORT

 

Eureka Secondary School

Kells, County Meath

Roll Number: 64410F

 

Date of inspection: 23 September 2008

 

 

 

 

Evaluation of the leaving certificate applied

Introduction

Quality of programme organisation

Quality of programme planning and coordination

Quality of learning and teaching

Programme evaluation and outcomes

Summary of strengths and recommendations for further development

 

 

 

 

EVALUATION OF THE leaving certificate applied

 

 

Introduction

 

This report has been written following an evaluation of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) in Eureka Secondary School, carried out 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, a core group of teachers and with a small group of students. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector liaised 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 and the programme co-ordinator at the end of the evaluation period.

 

Eureka Secondary School is a Catholic all-girls school under the trusteeship of CEIST - Catholic Education, an Irish Schoolsí Trust. There are currently 689 students attending the school. The school has offered LCA to senior cycle students since 1997. Currently there are six students in year one of the LCA (LCA 1) and ten students in year two (LCA 2). Other programmes offered to senior cycle students include the established Leaving Certificate, the Transition Year programme and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme.

 

 

1 Quality of programme organisation

 

1.1 Whole school support

 

LCA is well supported in Eureka Secondary School. Management strives to retain the LCA programme in the school despite low numbers choosing the programme in recent years. In 2004 a co-ordinator was appointed to co-ordinate both the LCA and Transition Year programmes. The current co-ordinator who was appointed in 2004 has been timetabled to teach the programme this year. This is good practice as the regular class contact is important in developing and maintaining the co-ordinatorís relationship with students. It is recommended that the LCA co-ordinator should always be timetabled for class contact with each year group in the LCA.

 

The teachers of LCA met with at the time of the evaluation spoke enthusiastically of their involvement in LCA and in particular of the educational benefits of the programme in Eureka Secondary School. Members of the teaching team are to be commended for their genuine commitment to LCA. Some teachers have been on the team for a number of years. Staff members assigned to teach the programme are either nominated from their subject departments on a rotating basis or they nominate themselves. Teachers of the programme are encouraged to avail of appropriate professional development and have attended various in-service programmes.

 

A core planning team exists for LCA which consists of the principal, deputy principal, LCA co-ordinator, learning-support co-ordinator and the class tutor. It is recommended that the school reviews the constitution of this core team so that it includes a representative from each of the following areas: social education, vocational specialism, vocational preparation and guidance (VPG) and learning support. The co-ordinator could then report back to senior management, provide them with minutes of the meetings and if necessary, a member of the senior management team could attend meetings.

 

The programme is discussed at whole-staff meetings as necessary. In instances where students taking the LCA have special educational needs, these needs are communicated to the staff by members of the special educational needs team. This is good practice. As part of an induction programme, teachers who are new to the school are briefed about the LCA programme. To complement this, it is recommended that at the initial LCA meeting at the start of the school year, the co-ordinator should remind all teachers of LCA of the underlying principles of LCA and of the teaching and learning methodologies appropriate to LCA.

 

1.2 Resources

 

The programme is suitably timetabled in the school. It is good practice that management discusses the choice of modules and electives with the co-ordinator, the students and the teaching team as part of its annual planning process. As a result, a good variety of modules and electives is provided for students. Students have good access to information and communication technology (ICT) and they are encouraged to use ICT in their presentation of work. Additional resources to support teaching are provided as appropriate and there is a system in place whereby applications are made through the LCA co-ordinator. Currently, there is no base classroom for LCA. A base classroom was available in the past but due to restrictions on accommodation, it could not be provided this year. Some posters of LCA work are displayed in the class tutor room; however, there is no focal point where LCA notices, studentsí project work and tasks can be displayed. Resources specific to LCA have to be stored by individual subject teachers. This places restrictions on the sharing of resources. To overcome these difficulties, it is recommended that management explores the possibility of re-establishing a base classroom for LCA.

 

1.3 Student selection and support

 

Students are given appropriate information regarding the LCA programme and are well supported in their decision making around senior cycle options. The LCA co-ordinator visits all third-year classes to inform them about the programme. The guidance counsellor meets with all students on an individual basis to assist them in their decision making. An open evening is organised for parents which provides them with information on choices available to students entering the senior cycle. There is good collaboration between the co-ordinator, the special educational needs department, the guidance counsellor and teachers of third year students in order to ensure that each student is appropriately placed in a senior cycle programme.

1.4 Home, school and community links

 

Good links are maintained with the home through parent-teacher meetings, an annual open night, phone calls, written feedback in studentsí diaries, letters home and the school newsletter. When students have had the opportunity to settle into the programme in October, the co-ordinator provides a letter to parents which provides some information on the modules, the electives, tasks and the method used for the award of credits. There is scope to make this a more personal experience for LCA parents by holding an information evening to clarify any aspects of the programme. Parents are encouraged to contact the school throughout the year, if desired. Good links are maintained with outside agencies such as St Maryís special school in Navan and the local day-care centre and nursing home in Kells.

 

 

2 Quality of programme planning and coordination

 

2.1 Planning

 

A range of detailed planning documentation was made available during the evaluation. This included an LCA policy, LCA 1 and LCA 2 timetables, aims of LCA, information on induction, credit records, templates of letters to parents and information on work experience. It is recommended that the planning documents already developed be compiled into one overall plan for LCA. There is scope to include a calendar of events, criteria for selection of students and an individual student profile.

 

Planning documentation observed contained schemes of work. Best practice was observed where these contained learning objectives linked to appropriate methodologies and methods of assessment. A timeframe should also be added to the schemes of work. These schemes should then be included in the overall plan for LCA. An electronic retrieval system, the development of which was understood to be under consideration, would permit the storage of all LCA planning documentation and its ready availability to all members of the LCA teaching team.

 

The LCA core team meets three times per year and minutes of these meetings were available. A meeting is held at the beginning of the year to plan and co-ordinate the programme. Cross-curricular planning also takes place at this meeting. The areas in which tasks are to be anchored are decided and it is good practice that this is rotated among the course areas. The LCA core team has met regularly and an LCA programme overview has been developed. Input is provided from teachers within the teaching team with regard to timetabling issues and future development of specific courses. The formation of a core planning team of LCA teachers, as recommended earlier, would advance the development of short-term, medium-term and long-term goals for the LCA programme.†

 

2.2 Coordination

 

The co-ordinator has a good knowledge of the programme and maintains regular communication with school management, teachers and students through formal and informal meetings, announcements in the staff room and input at staff meetings. It is recommended that a senior cycle notice board be provided on one of the corridors in order to further facilitate communication with students, to promote the LCA and to affirm LCA studentsí achievements. The duties of the co-ordinator includes collaborating with members of the teaching team, liaising with students, parents and outside agencies as well as co-ordinating the planning of the LCA programme and reviewing it on an ongoing basis.

 

2.3 Curriculum

 

The LCA curriculum provided is broad and balanced. The vocational specialisms taken by students in LCA 1 include Information Technology, and Craft and Design. The LCA 2 students take Information Technology, and Hotel Catering and Tourism (HCT). It is good practice that the specialisms are reviewed annually to take account of studentsí interests, teacher availability and student feedback.

 

Elective modules in LCA 1 include Hair and Beauty and Music. Those in LCA 2 are Religious Education (RE) and Hair and Beauty. The Hair and Beauty course is provided by a past student of the LCA programme in the school. The modern language provided is Spanish.

 

The LCA co-ordinator provides new students with an outline of the programme through an induction presentation at the start of the year. This induction presentation has significant potential to shape the perceptions of the LCA programme in the minds of the students and to help to develop an environment receptive to active methodologies and to the taking on of learner responsibility. It is recommended that the current programme for student induction be reviewed to ensure this potential is fully utilised. Further information on student induction and a draft resource pack can be accessed on the website of the LCA Support Service (http://lca.slss.ie).

 

Work experience is an integral part of the curriculum. Both LCA 1 and LCA 2 students carry out their work experience on a Wednesday. Preparation for work occurs through subjects such as English and Communications, Social Education and Vocational Preparation and Guidance. In all instances, students obtain their own work placements. This shows a commendable level of autonomy. Contact with employers during the work experience is maintained mostly by telephone and in a few instances by visiting the workplace. This contact is carried out by the LCA co-ordinator and VPG teacher who also carries out follow-up in classtime afterwards.

 

 

3 Quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1               Planning and preparation

 

Overall long-term planning for LCA is referred to in section 2.1. Planning for the lessons observed was in line with the overall schemes of work for the subjects visited. While differentiated approaches to teaching and learning were observed in all lessons visited, these good practices should also be included explicitly in the subject planning documentation. A good range of teacher-generated resources was observed in many of the subject areas visited. These included worksheets, word banks and word searches. Where employed, ICT was used effectively in the preparation of teaching and learning materials.

 

3.2 Learning and teaching

 

There was good short-term planning and preparation for the lessons observed. The advance preparation of a number of additional resources facilitated effective student learning. Some very good practice was evident in instances where the design of the worksheets and visual aids used in lessons was carefully planned to accommodate a range of studentsí learning styles. There was evidence to suggest that this practice could be extended further.

 

Instruction was clear and concise and the aims of the lessons were outlined at the outset. A range of active learning methodologies was observed. These included class discussion, writing, practical activities, pair work, oral work including spelling, reading aloud and the pronunciation of subject-specific terminology. The variation in methodologies used served to engage studentsí interest and keep them focused. In some of the lessons, pair work and group work were used effectively to promote student engagement. It is recommended that these practices be extended. Students also reported pair work as being one of their favourite methodologies. Teachers moved around the classroom, checking learning and affirming students as well as providing assistance where necessary. Good use was also made of a variety of resources such as the smart board, data projector, worksheets, textbooks, whiteboard, tape measures and magazines to support the content of the lessons. In one lesson, a good structured approach was observed where the teacher demonstrated one example of the activity to students before asking them to carry it out on their own and then, results were discussed and recorded on a table on the smart board at the front of the room. This hands-on activity was seen to encourage student participation, motivation and enjoyment.

 

In all lessons visited the classroom atmosphere was positive. A good rapport existed between students and their teacher as well as between the students themselves. Students were co-operative. They showed good understanding of the topics and this was reflected in their ability to ask and answer questions. This was particularly evident in one lesson where, following an introduction and plenary session to discuss the topic, students were asked to work in pairs to form a collage depicting the topic. Students worked enthusiastically, discussing their work with their partners, and with the teacher as she moved around the groups. At the conclusion of the lesson, each pair was asked to make a short presentation to the rest of the class explaining the collage they had created. This work was then displayed on the classroom wall. The availability of a base classroom would provide the ideal space for student work of this nature to be displayed.

 

A range of abilities was present in the classes observed. In one Irish lesson the abilities ranged from beginner to those who had reached Junior Certificate level. This presented a significant challenge to the teacher and the worksheets used during the lesson were adapted to suit the differing abilities and learning styles of those present. In many lessons visited, teachers made every effort to differentiate the lesson content to make it accessible to all students. Cross-curricular links were referred to in some lessons. One effective example of this was seen in a religious education lesson where the results of a questionnaire were discussed in a mathematical applications class.

 

A number of methodologies were used to support and improve literacy and numeracy in the lessons observed. These included building on studentsí strengths, creating a profile of studentsí literacy and numeracy needs, varying the teaching methodologies, incorporating written and oral tasks into the lesson on a regular basis, extra emphasis on subject-specific terminology, using concrete and manipulative materials and relating the lesson to studentsí life experiences. These are all examples of good practice and should be extended to all lessons. Special-needs assistants were present in a number of lessons visited and assisted students in an unobtrusive manner. Their positive effect in facilitating students to access learning was noted by many of the teachers visited.

 

Good use of questioning was observed in all lessons visited. Questions ranged from short recall questions to more probing higher-order questions. In the majority of instances, questions were directed at named students. Correct answers were affirmed and incorrect ones were clarified. Where chorus answering occurred, this was discouraged immediately. Many teachers made effective use of questioning to initiate discussions.

 

3.3 Assessment

 

Teachers maintain good records of student achievement and attendance. There is systematic recording of attendance throughout the LCA programme. It was reported that attendance is good and that most students progress to take the final certificate examinations.

 

Student progress is assessed through the Christmas and summer in-house examinations, mock examinations, key assignments and tasks as well as a range of other in-class assessments. Studentsí progress is relayed to parents via reports issued at the same time as those for the rest of the school.

 

A range of tasks, key assignments and student notebooks was observed during the evaluation. These showed evidence of checking and monitoring by the teachers. In order to monitor student progression effectively it is important that teachers ensure that students are being continually challenged by the nature of the tasks set. Each teacher maintains detailed records of studentsí completion of key assignments and teachers should be mindful that key assignments and tasks should be retained by the teacher until the appeal process conducted by the State Examinations Commission is fully completed. The provision of a base classroom would give increased storage area for student tasks and assignments.

 

 

4 Programme evaluation and outcomes

 

A review of the programme takes place at the final LCA team meeting at the end of each school year. The outcomes of the discussions at this meeting are noted and feed into the programme for the following year. This is good practice. It is recommended that this review be formalised and extended to include students and their parents. Materials to guide the review process are available on the website of the support service (http://lca.slss.ie).

 

Student representatives met with during the evaluation praised the LCA programme. They reported a gain in useful life experience and they informed the inspector of their plans for future progression to colleges of further education and training. Students noted the work experience as being of particular benefit in helping them make a more informed career choice.

 

 

5 Summary of strengths and recommendations for further development

 

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 May 2009