An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme
Árdscoil na Trionóide
Athy, Co. Kildare
Roll Number: 68077S
Date of inspection: 24 February 2009
EVALUATION OF THE LEAVING CERTIFICATE VOCATIONAL PROGRAMME (LCVP)
This report has been written following an evaluation of the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) in Árdscoil na Trionóide. 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 programme co-ordinator and the core team following the evaluation.
Ardscoil na Tríonóide is a Catholic voluntary secondary school resulting from the amalgamation of Scoil Eoin Christian Brothers Secondary School and Scoil Mhuire Mercy Secondary School in September 2007. The school is under the trusteeship of CEIST (Catholic Education – an Irish Schools Trust). Prior to the amalgamation, the LCVP had been on the curriculum of Scoil Mhuire, but was not available to students of Scoil Eoin. It is now offered to all qualified students.
1.1 Whole school support
Students participating in the LCVP in Árdscoil na Trionóide do not have a separate identity, as fifth-year and sixth-year LCVP students are integrated with their peers for all subjects. They come together as a distinct group only for Link Module (LM) lessons.
Those teachers currently teaching LM classes are relatively new to the programme. Commendably, teachers formerly involved in the LCVP have provided support and assistance to their colleagues and school management has been pro-active in facilitating continuing professional development through attendance at relevant in-service provision, and engagement with the LCVP support service. This is laudable. In addition, a new co-ordinator, with extensive experience of school development planning, was appointed from the beginning of the school year. The work of this LCVP team to implement a credible programme is praiseworthy. The team is now engaged in long-term planning for a more comprehensive and integrated programme in future and for an anticipated increase in the number of students taking the programme.
Guidance provision for LCVP students is the same as for all other Leaving Certificate students. There is no specific direct class contact with the guidance counsellors as part of the LCVP curriculum. It is recommended that greater formal timetabled involvement of the guidance department be planned for and implemented, as this programme is vocational in nature and involves such activities as preparing curriculum vitae, carrying out a career investigation, and participating in work experience. The option of including one of the school’s guidance counsellors on the core LCVP team should also be explored. Such inclusion would considerably enhance the ability of the team to provide appropriate opportunities and support to students.
All students currently following the LCVP are studying a modern European language (MEL) for their Leaving Certificate, as has been required by the school to date. It is proposed to provide a language module in future, as the enrolment process for the LCVP is opened up and the number of students following the programme increases.
School management has expressed support for the programme and this is acknowledged and appreciated by the LCVP core team. The excellent support provided by the LCVP support service and the quality and appropriateness of in-service provision has been recognised by the school.
Responsibility for managing and implementing the LCVP currently rests with a core team consisting of the LCVP co-ordinator, who also holds the post of programme co-ordinator, and the two teachers of the Link Modules. The members of this team are teachers of English, Business and Home Economics and are consequently well qualified in the core topics and methodologies appropriate to the LCVP. This is a positive feature of provision. It is recommended that, in future years, the co-ordinator also has direct class contact with LCVP students and, ideally, teaches part of the programme. The LCVP co-ordinator and teachers are highly commended for their enthusiasm and hard work, and their willingness to try new approaches and methodologies to effectively meet the needs of their students.
LM classes are allocated one double period each week in both fifth year and sixth year. This time allocation is slightly below syllabus guidelines and it is recommended that a means of increasing the fifth-year allocation be examined. Currently, LM lessons are timetabled against Physical Education (PE). This has caused access issues in both areas as students are required to choose between them. It is recommended that the timetabling of LM classes, in future, be carried out as a part of a more integrated whole-school approach to subject provision at senior cycle level. To facilitate this approach, it is recommended that whole-staff awareness of the LCVP be raised and that the position of the LCVP as an integrated programme, rather than as an add-on to the traditional Leaving Certificate, be emphasised.
Link Module classes are held both in classrooms and in the information and communications technology (ICT) room. This has the advantage of allowing students to use computer facilities and the internet as required. An appropriate display of LCVP-related material was evident on the wall in a corner of the ICT room. A number of students have previously followed the transition year (TY) programme and are well versed in the use of ICT equipment. Access to computers is also facilitated outside of school hours and students are permitted to do some computer-based work at home. As a matter of equity, it is important to ensure that all LCVP students have adequate and timely ICT access, in order to prepare items for their portfolios.
While there is no specific budget allocated to LCVP activities, funding is provided by management on a needs basis, at the request of the co-ordinator and in consultation with the LCVP team. Students are required to make a small contribution towards the cost of transport for visits to outside locations. Extra teaching hours accruing from the programme are deployed to provide co-ordination time, to support the provision of ICT and to facilitate the provision of a wide range of subjects at senior cycle.
1.3 Student selection and support
A meeting of the parents of third-year students is held every year at which information about the programme and subject choices available to their children is presented. Parents are made aware of the nature and purpose of the LCVP at this meeting. The advantages of the LCVP are also highlighted to students during subject-choice briefings in third year. Students select their preferred subjects in the first instance and, subsequently, the LCVP co-ordinator and the guidance counsellor approach those who satisfy the vocational subject grouping (VSG) requirements to offer them a place on the programme.
In recent times, access to the programme was confined to students who were taking a MEL to Leaving Certificate. This constraint is to be removed, as part of a move to open up entry to the programme to all students who wish to take part, subject to their having the required VSGs. This move to a more open enrolment is a very positive step in the provision of services to students and it is highly commended.
Learning support is available to all students. It is not provided specifically to LCVP students, other than as a right, based on their needs and entitlements. The support given is not LCVP specific, but student specific. A range of interventions and supports are being provided currently, in line with the specific needs of the students concerned.
The LCVP is seen by the school as a natural follow-on from the TY programme. It was stated during the evaluation that those students who have followed the TY programme are more mature, better capable of self-directed learning and in a better position to gain from the LCVP due to their enhanced computer skills and their having taken part in work experience.
1.4 Home-school links
Parents are fully briefed by the guidance department on the range of senior cycle options available to students and are involved in the process of programme and subject selection. Parent-teacher meetings are used in the usual manner to inform parents of students’ progress. Additional contact with parents is as frequent and as detailed as circumstances require, particularly in relation to the monitoring of students’ progress and the timely completion of portfolio items. The school operates an open-door policy for parents wishing to make contact to discuss any aspect of their children’s education. Parents are also contacted by letter, on occasion, for specific LCVP-related purposes such as work experience arrangements and visits out of the school.
Árdscoil na Trionóide has developed good links with a number of outside community and voluntary enterprises and businesses. The co-ordinator is presently in the process of expanding these links, in order to provide a broader range of experiences for students and to cater for an expanded LCVP cohort. A number of local businesses and employers are of great assistance to the school in providing work experience placements for students and also in providing expert speakers. Such links are used to source guest speakers on enterprise-related topics, for case studies of local enterprise, to provide opportunities for site visits and for general support and information in relation to careers and enterprise in general. The LCVP team is highly commended for its efforts to make and sustain such a variety of quality links with the local community.
Although the LCVP co-ordinator meets with the LM teachers, as necessary, and records of these meetings are kept, meetings of the full core team have not taken place. It is recommended that management facilitate such meetings, in order to provide time for comprehensive planning and to manage the events and activities that form a central part of the proposed extended implementation of the LCVP. These meetings will also provide opportunities for teachers to share good practice. Good, detailed written plans for teaching the LM curriculum have been prepared and implemented, separately, by the sixth-year and fifth-year teachers. The co-ordinator has assisted in the preparation of the fifth-year plan and this has resulted in a comprehensive set of documents. All concerned are commended for their work. It is recommended that these plans are now evaluated, in the light of teachers’ experience, and an integrated two-year plan for the implementation of the programme be drawn up. This work should be part of a whole-school approach to planning for the LCVP and should be carried out in tandem with the aforementioned whole-school approach to subject provision at senior cycle level. This will also facilitate the integration of the LCVP into the whole-school plan.
Due to the fact that not all students study a MEL to Junior Certificate level, a module in a MEL will have to be provided in order for these students to meet the programme requirements, should the number of students following the LCVP increase as anticipated. The provision of a module in a modern European language will have to be planned for, both in curricular terms and also in terms of where it will fit into the timetable. It is suggested that the school consult with the LCVP support service for advice and to source examples of good practice in other schools for consideration.
At present, the LCVP does not have a sufficiently high profile among VSG and other teachers to facilitate comprehensive cross-curricular work. It is recommended that the LCVP co-ordinator plan towards raising the profile of the programme among staff in general so that the level of cross-curricular input can be increased to cover a greater range of subjects and teachers. This can be done through the use of LCVP-specific notice boards in the staffroom, through announcements regarding upcoming LCVP events and through the provision, by management, of time for the LCVP team to address staff meetings.
While it is intended to hold an annual review of the LCVP and its implementation, it is recommended that specific procedures and success criteria be developed to facilitate this review. These should be based on clear and realistic objectives for student attainment and for the implementation of the programme. The views of all relevant parties, including parents and students, should be sought and included in the review. The outcomes of this review and evaluation should then feed back into the planning process, with the ultimate aim of improving provision for students.
The recently appointed LCVP co-ordinator has a very thorough knowledge of the programme and has been very effective in examining existing provision. Steps have already been taken to improve and revitalise the implementation of the programme. The co-ordinator has brought about an improvement in the level of communication and co-operation between members of the LCVP team and has raised the awareness of senior management regarding issues which impact on the successful implementation of the programme. In addition, a list of requirements for further improvement has been prepared and submitted to senior management for consideration. Included among these requirements are proposals to reorganise work experience procedures, to develop an employers’ database, to develop a database of community and other local organisations, and proposals regarding more efficient and comprehensive in-school arrangements to support the expansion of the programme. The co-ordinator is highly commended for this important and timely work.
The school fully complies with the terms of Department of Education and Science circulars regarding the programme. Students qualify to follow the LCVP through a variety of VSG combinations. Combinations involving Home Economics, Business and Biology are the most common. A balanced programme of activities and learning opportunities is provided for students. All core and optional portfolio items are addressed as part of the curriculum and students, with the assistance of teachers, choose which two optional items to present for examination. Portfolio items are mostly prepared in school, under the supervision of the LM teachers, and are stored in the school.
Cross-curricular work is an important aspect of the implementation of the programme and, at present, input comes mainly from the LM teachers in their role as VSG teachers. Examples of cross-curricular input include teachers of Business contributing to enterprise education; and English teachers assisting with report writing. The guidance department has also provided assistance to students with career investigations and work experience. This is good practice and teachers are commended for their work.
Students participate in work experience as part of the programme. At present, this is carried out outside of term time, usually in fifth year during the February mid-term break or at Easter. Students are encouraged to seek work experience in the career area of their choice and are generally expected to organise their own placements, subject to the approval of the school. They are provided with necessary assistance in cases of difficulty. Preparation of students for work experience is very thorough, and this is commendable. Students carry out a career investigation and prepare curriculum vitae in advance, and topics such as health and safety in the workplace, workers rights and acceptable workplace behaviour are covered in class. This is good practice.
When making initial contact, students are provided with a letter from the school that indicates to the prospective employers the official nature of the contact and informs them of the insurance arrangements. During the period of the work experience, the LCVP co-ordinator visits the workplaces to check on the progress of the students. Employers are requested to submit a report on the student they have employed, following the work experience. This is good practice.
Students carry out a range of activities as part of their programme of study. Examples of such activities include the planning and running of an activity day for first-year students, planning and managing visits of guest speakers to the classroom and visiting local enterprises. As well as providing students with opportunities for teamwork and with hands-on experience, these activities are the basis of the various reports and documents for the students’ portfolios. This is very much in keeping with the ethos of the LCVP. It is assumed that, in carrying out these activities, students also cover much of the theoretical content of the course. Appropriate active student-centered teaching and learning methodologies are deployed in teaching the LM classes. There is a focus on practical skills and a hands-on approach is used. Teamwork skills are also an important part of the approach taken. This is good practice.
3.1 Planning and preparation
Section 2.1 of this report commented on long-term planning issues pertaining to LCVP. In the lessons observed, there was evidence of excellent short-term planning also. Lesson content was in line with planning documents and a detailed lesson plan was presented for each lesson observed. Teachers were familiar with the subject matter of lessons and there was a theme running through each lesson. Appropriate resource material had been prepared in advance. This preparation contributed to the quality of learning and is praiseworthy. Lessons observed were competently taught.
3.2 Learning and teaching
In the lessons observed, there was a disciplined atmosphere that supported an effective learning environment. Rapport with students was very good and this is to be commended. Teaching was carried out with enthusiasm and a professional and business-like approach to work was evident. Good progress was made during lessons, which were well structured and well paced. The teacher directed the learning but drew from the students’ own existing knowledge and experience and, as a result, there was excellent student engagement and two-way interaction. There was an appropriate emphasis on subject-specific language. The activities observed included cataloguing and exploring the various voluntary and other enterprises in the locality. Students were attentive, interested and anxious to participate in the learning process. They demonstrated a positive attitude towards their work and their behaviour was excellent at all times.
The methodologies adopted included questioning of students, discussion, use of handouts, and extensive use of ICT. Good use was made of the classroom whiteboard to highlight keywords. These methodologies were ideally suited to the students and to lesson content, and engaged the learners as active participants throughout the lessons. There was a good balance between teacher-led and student-centred phases in the lessons.
There was evidence of differentiation in the manner in which lessons were conducted, and students were given opportunities to achieve according to their abilities. A high expectation for students’ achievement was apparent and an atmosphere of affirmation and support of their efforts was evident at all times. Students were challenged by lesson content and responded well. Continuity from previous lessons was good and new information was well linked to previous learning. Lessons had a clear focus. This is excellent practice.
Effective feedback on their work was given to students during the course of the lesson. This was facilitated by the level of teacher circulation that was observed. Commendably, students were given a brief outline of the section of the course to be taught over the coming weeks. It is recommended that this be complemented by giving students the lesson objectives at the start of each lesson, and re-visiting them at the close of the lesson in order to review learning, in order to provide a context for the content of the lesson and to enhance students’ learning.
Formative assessment of students is carried out on a continuous basis by questioning in class, through correction of homework and portfolio work, and also through the level of teacher movement and observation of students during class that was noted by the inspector. When a draft portfolio item is presented, it is corrected and returned to the student for follow up. This process is repeated until a final agreed version is reached. There may be a number of drafts completed before a final version is accepted. In this manner, portfolio preparation is carried out under the direct supervision of teachers. This is excellent practice.
Students are provided with copies of the specific learning outcomes of the Link Modules. This gives them an opportunity to monitor their own progress in relation to the aims, objectives and outcomes of the programme on an ongoing basis. This is an excellent approach and it gives a sense of purpose and direction to classroom work. It is recommended that students also be given a copy of the portfolio marking scheme to assist them in their work. Marking schemes for past examination papers should also be useful to students as part of their preparation for the Link Modules written examinations.
Students displayed a good level of knowledge, understanding and skills during the lessons observed and when questioned by the inspector. Good learning was apparent from students’ responses to teachers’ questions during class and from student inputs during the lessons.
Formal assessment of students’ progress is by means of written Christmas and summer examinations for fifth-year students. Sixth-year students sit a formal examination at Christmas and also a mock examination, based on the written paper of the Link Modules examination, in the spring. Progress reports are sent to students’ homes following the Christmas and summer examinations for fifth-year students. Sixth-year students receive reports at Christmas and following mock examinations. In addition, students are assessed on the basis of occasional class tests and their portfolios. This is good practice.
Students stated that following the programme helps them to do better in school, gives them opportunities to participate in group work and to learn teamwork skills, assists them with career choices and gives them the opportunity to achieve more points in the Leaving Certificate. The extra exposure to ICT, the research skills gained, and opportunities provided through work experience, have all been stated as effective aspects of the programme. The skill of report writing was singled out as a particularly useful one for students moving on to third-level education.
The quality of record keeping by teachers, and by the co-ordinator is good. Records are kept of coursework items being worked on or completed, attendance, homework, syllabus material covered and assessment. Consent forms for the activities carried out by students and records in relation to work experience are also kept. Using the recorded information, a profile of each student can be built up and used as evidence when giving advice to students or when communicating with parents.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Good links are maintained with local voluntary and community enterprises and with local businesses.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
Published, January 2010