An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme
Deansrath Community College
Clondalkin, Dublin 22
Roll Number: 70040H
Date of inspection: 21 October 2008
This report has been written following an evaluation of the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) in Deansrath Community College. 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 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 LCVP team following the evaluation.
Deansrath Community College, a college of Co. Dublin Vocational Education Committee, opened on its present site in 1986. The location of the school is a designated disadvantaged area. The school currently caters for in excess of 350 second-level students in addition to a large number of further education students. Students can avail of the Junior Certificate programme or the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) at junior cycle and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and Leaving Certificate (LC) programme at senior cycle. The LCVP, which is relatively new in Deansrath Community College, has been available to students since 2003.
1.1 Whole school support
Fifth-year and sixth-year LCVP students are integrated with their peers for all Leaving Certificate subjects. They come together as a distinct group only for Link Module lessons. However, in the course of the evaluation, both staff and students demonstrated a very good level of awareness of the distinctiveness of the programme and the value of participating in it.
Link Module classes are allocated three periods each week. In fifth year, this is in the form of a triple class, occupying all of Tuesday afternoon. Sixth years are allocated a double class each Monday and a single class on Fridays. This generous time allocation is slightly above syllabus guidelines. It is suggested that it be reviewed in order to facilitate a more even spread of class contact over the school week for both year groups. The timetabling of Link Module classes against information and communication technology (ICT) and physical education (PE) classes should be reconsidered also as it may discourage some students from following the LCVP.
Responsibility for implementing the LCVP rests with a co-ordinator, the guidance counsellor and a teacher of Business Studies. Commendably, the co-ordinator teaches Link Module classes. The Business Studies teacher has also taken Link Module classes and although, due to circumstances, is not doing so in the current year, still remains an integral part of the LCVP team.
The role of LCVP co-ordinator is part of a post of responsibility and the co-ordinator has been in place since 2003, when the school introduced the LCVP. Members of the team have experience as teachers of Business Studies and consequently have knowledge of enterprise education. The LCVP co-ordinator and teachers are to be commended for their team approach and their willingness to try new approaches and methodologies to effectively meet the needs of their students.
Management has been very supportive of professional development and has facilitated the co-ordinator to attend relevant in-service. The school has recognized the excellent support provided by the LCVP support service and the quality and appropriateness of in-service provision.
Vocational subject group (VSG) teachers, and other teachers, are aware of the LCVP. Examples of cross-curricular input include the guidance counsellor assisting students in carrying out the career investigations module; ICT teachers assisting with enterprise projects; and Art and Home Economics teachers providing specific support, expertise and facilities for enterprise activities. The school’s programme co-ordinator has an advisory role in relation to work experience arrangements. This cross-curricular work is laudable and teachers are commended for their work. It is recommended that the awareness of the LCVP, and its objectives, be increased among the teaching staff in general. This will make teachers more aware of the LCVP students in their classes and facilitate greater cross-curricular involvement.
Link Module classes may be held in a classroom, which is equipped with an interactive whiteboard, in an ordinary classroom, or in a computer room, as appropriate. This has the advantage of allowing students to use computer facilities and the internet, as required. It is suggested that a specific room be allocated to Link Module classes, for the sake of continuity, and that, subject to the availability of resources, this room be one in which an interactive whiteboard be available. This arrangement will also facilitate the display of LCVP-related material on the walls of the room, thereby creating an ideal learning environment for LCVP students.
While there is not a specific budget allocated to the LCVP, funding is generously provided by management on a needs basis, at the request of the co-ordinator and in consultation with the LCVP team. Students are not required to contribute towards the cost of transport for visits to outside locations. Extra teaching hours accruing from the programme are deployed so as to provide for the necessary co-ordination time required. These provisions are indicative of the positive attitude of school management towards the LCVP.
ICT access for students of the programme is primarily during Link Module class time, when classes are held in the computer room. Many students attend evening study in the school, when access is also available. Occasionally, access is available at lunchtime, subject to a teacher being available to supervise the computer room. Extra classes during mid-term have also been made available to facilitate students in completing their portfolios. In addition, a number of students have access to a computer at home.
1.3 Student selection and support
Parents of third-year students are made aware of the nature and purpose of the LCVP when the subject and programme choices available to their children are presented. The guidance counsellor is also available should parents wish to discuss issues with regard to programme and subject choices. The advantages of the LCVP are also highlighted to students during subject-choice briefings in third year. There is evidence that some students deliberately choose their subjects so as to ensure they qualify to follow the LCVP. In most cases, however, students choose their preferred subjects in the first instance. Subsequently, the LCVP co-ordinator and guidance counsellor approach those who satisfy the VSG requirement and who are also taking French to Leaving Certificate. It is reported that most students accept the offer to avail of the programme.
Consideration should be given to increasing the number of students taking the LCVP. To this end, a review of timetabling arrangements should be carried out. In addition, it is recommended that the criteria for admission to the programme be expanded to permit students who are not taking French to follow the LCVP and that, consequently, a module in a modern European language be provided for them. Further information is available in Department of Education and Science circular 0022/2008.
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. Language support is also provided, as appropriate, for those students for whom English is a second language.
1.4 Home, school and community links
Parents are fully briefed on senior cycle options for students and are involved in the process of 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. Parents are also contacted by letter, on occasion, for specific LCVP-related purposes such as work experience arrangements and visits out of the school.
Deansrath Community College has developed excellent links with a number of outside community and voluntary enterprises and businesses. The value of the support provided by these enterprises is acknowledged and the school has expressed its appreciation to these agencies and businesses. A number of local businesses and employers are of great assistance to the school in providing both work experience placements for students and expert speakers. Such links are used to source speakers on enterprise-related topics, for case studies of local enterprise, to provide opportunities for site visits and for support and information in relation to careers and enterprise in general. In the case of one local pharmaceutical and healthcare products manufacturer, company staff also provide interview preparation assistance to students. The LCVP team is highly commended for its efforts to make and sustain such a variety of quality links with the local community.
Two formal meetings of the core LCVP team take place each year, one in September for planning purposes, for reviewing the previous year, and to discuss issues such as Leaving Certificate results, and resources. The second meeting is held to discuss and manage LCVP events and enterprise activities and is held at an appropriate time in advance of such activities. An agenda is circulated in advance of these meetings and minutes are recorded. This is good practice. Informal meetings take place to discuss ongoing issues, to monitor student progress, to plan lessons and activities, to prepare for events such as visits to enterprises and visitors to the classroom, and to manage general housekeeping arrangements. The co-ordinator keeps staff informed of LCVP events, on an ongoing basis, through staff-room announcements, notices on the notice boards and brief inputs at staff meetings when relevant.
The LCVP co-ordinator maintains programme folders which contain all relevant programme documentation. These folders are an excellent resource for the LCVP team as they contain very detailed information on the implementation of the LCVP. The following documents are indicative: aims and objectives of the LCVP; reference to business links; legislation; reference to special education needs; information on the LCVP portfolio items, syllabus content and the specific learning outcomes of the LCVP; communications with parents and others; case study guidelines; information on health and safety issues in the LCVP; and information in relation to contacts with the LCVP support service. The LCVP team are highly commended, in particular, for the very detailed Link Module lesson plans that have been prepared for the two years of the programme, which is evidence of the hard work being done to implement the LCVP to the highest standard possible in Deansrath Community College. It is suggested that this work be further developed by allocating a specific amount of time to each section of the programme, thus ensuring that all work is covered in a timely manner.
It is recommended that management further facilitate this extensive planning through the provision of time during school development or other planning days, from time-to-time, to raise awareness among the teaching staff in general of the LCVP and the ongoing work in this programme. It is suggested that such an opportunity be used to highlight the importance of cross-curricular links in the LCVP, and to facilitate the sharing of the good planning practices observed in this evaluation, with other subject areas. In addition, in order to increase the level of cross-curricular work in the students VSGs, it is suggested that opportunities be provided for the LCVP team to meet with the VSG teachers to plan and co-ordinate relevant inputs.
The present co-ordinator was appointed in 2003, when the LCVP was first made available to students. The LCVP co-ordinator has a thorough knowledge of the programme and its implementation. Formal programme co-ordination structures are in place and are operating effectively. The co-ordinator is given four hours of co-ordination time each week and has worked hard to ensure the successful implementation of the programme, in particular by supporting the strong team approach. This is praiseworthy. The co-ordinator does not have a written job description as the post has developed over time. In keeping with best practice, it is recommended that such a written description be prepared and agreed with school management.
The duties of the co-ordinator include: leading the LCVP team in planning, implementing and co-ordinating the programme; convening and chairing team meetings and recording minutes; promoting the LCVP and disseminating relevant information to team members and others; communicating with parents; establishing and maintaining links with outside agencies and businesses; organising student work experience; keeping records and student files; liaising with the LCVP support service and with school management. The LCVP co-ordinator is actively assisted by the other members of the LCVP team.
The LCVP co-ordinator, with the assistance of the guidance counsellor, takes an active role in organising work experience for students. The school’s programme co-ordinator fulfils an advisory role in relation to, for example, insurance provision. Students are encouraged to seek work experience in the career area of their choice. Preparation of students for work experience is very thorough, and this is commendable. Students carry out a career investigation and prepare curriculum vitae and letters of application in advance, and topics such as employment law and insurance are covered in Link Module lessons. This is good practice. The LCVP co-ordinator provides employers with introductory letters and with details of the insurance arrangements. During the week of the work experience, usually in February of fifth year, members of the LCVP team do not visit the workplaces. However, contact is maintained by telephone. It is suggested that this practice be changed and that workplaces are visited, in order to check on the progress of the students and to deal with any issues that may arise. Employers are requested to submit a written report on the student they have employed, following the work experience.
Students qualify to follow the LCVP through a number of different VSG combinations. Combinations that include Biology are the most common. In addition to taking seven subjects to Leaving Certificate level, a balanced programme of activities and learning opportunities is provided for LCVP students. All core portfolio items are addressed as part of the curriculum. Two optional items, a diary of work experience and a recorded interview, are also addressed within class. Portfolio items are prepared, mostly in school, under the supervision of the co-ordinator and are stored in the school.
At present, specific classroom input comes from the LCVP co-ordinator and the guidance counsellor. There is a focus on practical skills and a hands-on approach is used. Teamwork skills are also an important part of the approach used.
Classroom instruction and activities are focused, in a balanced manner, on covering the theoretical aspects of the syllabus along with preparing students for the enterprise activities they will carry out, leading to the preparation of the portfolio items. This is a very coherent approach, where theory and practice are well integrated. The LCVP team are commended for their commitment to this approach, which is very much in line with the ethos of the programme. VSG teachers are aware of the presence of LCVP students in their classes. However, it is recommended that students are encouraged to identify and explore links between their VSGs and the various themes they are studying in the course of their work.
Students carry out a range of enterprise activities as part of their programme of study. Examples of such activities include planning and running a fashion show; carrying out a variety of fundraising activities for charities, including cake sales and non-uniform days; planning and managing visits by guest speakers to the classroom; and visiting local enterprises. As well as providing students with opportunities for teamwork and with hands-on experience of engaging in enterprising activities, these activities are the basis of the various reports and documents for the students’ portfolios. This good practice is very much in keeping with the ethos of the LCVP.
The school’s guidance counselor, in keeping with best practice, gives individual guidance to students in relation to their work experience and other relevant issues, and assists with the career investigation module.
It was noted, during the evaluation, that some students have insufficient ICT skills to allow them to progress at a satisfactory rate during the initial stages of the programme. It is suggested that this problem may be overcome, to some extent, by holding a short, intensive word processing and file management course for these students at the beginning of fifth year.
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. Teachers were familiar with the subject matter of every lesson, there was a theme running through each lesson. Necessary resource material had been prepared in advance. This preparation contributed to the quality of learning and is praiseworthy. All lessons observed were competently taught.
3.2 Learning and teaching
In all 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. Teachers were warm, patient and considerate to students. Their approach to their work was professional and business-like. Good progress was made in all lessons. Lessons were well structured. The teachers directed the learning but drew from the students’ own experiences and, as a result, there was good student engagement and two-way interaction. Care should be taken to draw out more reticent students and to encourage them to participate in classroom activities. Lesson content was in line with planning documents and there was an appropriate emphasis on subject-specific language. The activities observed in the lessons observed included an examination and analysis of community and voluntary enterprises.
Students were attentive, interested and anxious to participate in the learning process. They demonstrated a positive attitude towards their work as evidenced by the level of engagement and interest observed. Student behaviour was excellent at all times.
The teachers taught with enthusiasm and generated an atmosphere that was both caring and challenging. There was clear evidence of differentiation in the manner in which lessons were conducted and students were given an opportunity to achieve according to their abilities. This is excellent practice. The teachers have high expectations of their students; they support them very well to meet these expectations and are very affirming of their efforts.
The methodologies adopted were ideally suited to the class group 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. Both individual and group tasks were used as appropriate. Excellent examples were evident of innovative approaches to teaching. Students made use of the interactive whiteboard and ICT facilities in the classroom and presented slide shows to their peers, giving details of the enterprises they had researched. Following each presentation, students filled in a short questionnaire based on the content of the presentation. An efficient and well-run formal meeting was also held, during the lesson, at which arrangements were discussed for an upcoming visit by a speaker from FÁS. This meeting was chaired by a student and another fulfilled the role of secretary. This approach made the coursework more immediately relevant to the students and encouraged them to look at the local business environment in a more critical and analytical way, in addition to providing them with an opportunity to take part in a formal meeting. The teacher is to be highly commended for such use of active and innovative methodologies and the students are commended also for the manner of their participation in class.
Students were challenged by lesson content and responded well. Appropriate reference was made to the specific learning outcomes of the programme which were relevant to the work at hand, to the written examination and to the students’ portfolios. Continuity from previous lessons was excellent and new information was well linked to previous learning. Homework given was appropriate to the lesson content, was designed to reinforce the lesson, to consolidate learning and as a preparation for the next lesson. It is suggested that the methodology of outlining the lesson objectives at the start of the lesson, and re-visiting them at the close of the lesson in order to review learning, should be used so as to provide a context for the content of the lesson and to consolidate students’ learning.
Formative assessment of students is carried out on a continuous basis by questioning in class, through correction of homework and portfolio work, through analysis of classroom activities on an ongoing basis, and also through the teacher circulation and observation of students during lessons that was noted by the inspector. When a draft of a 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 good practice.
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. The practice of highlighting the relevant specific learning outcomes during class gives students an opportunity to monitor their own progress in relation to the aims, objectives and outcomes of the programme on an ongoing basis. This approach gives a sense of purpose and direction to classroom work.
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 also assessed on the basis of occasional class tests, the LCVP folders they maintain and their portfolios. This is good practice.
The quality of record keeping by teachers is good. Records are kept of coursework items being worked on or completed, attendance, homework, syllabus material covered and assessments. Notices to parents in relation to 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 implementation of the LCVP is continuously monitored in relation to what is and what is not working well and good practice is shared. Leaving Certificate results are monitored each year and, in the case of the LCVP, this is used as one measure of the successful implementation of the programme. It is recommended that an annual, formal review of the programme and its implementation be put in place. The programme should be reviewed in terms of its stated objectives and specific procedures and success criteria should be developed to facilitate this formal review. The views of all relevant parties, including parents and students, should be sought and included in the review.
At present, outcomes in the Leaving Certificate examination have not reflected the hard work carried out in planning and implementing the programme. It is recommended that a more focused approach to the formal assessment of the Link Modules be taken as part of the teaching and learning process in order to improve outcomes and to build upon the excellent work being carried out in the classroom. This approach should include making the portfolio marking scheme available to students, thus enabling them to proof their work against the required state examination criteria. Greater use of the available solutions and marking schemes for past papers of the Link Module written examination will also help to improve student outcomes. It is recommended that students be provided with these marking schemes as part of their preparation for the Link Modules written examinations.
Both staff and students have expressed satisfaction with the LCVP. Very good progress has been made in the relatively short time that the LCVP has been in the school, and a high degree of expertise has been built up. Students say that following the programme helps them to do better in school, gives them access to good group work and teamwork skills, assists them with career choices and give them the opportunity to achieve more points in the Leaving Certificate. The quality of Guidance provided by the LCVP; the extra exposure to ICT; the research and teamwork skills gained by students; learning the skill of report writing; and opportunities provided through work experience have all been listed as effective aspects of the programme. It is felt that the LCVP is an asset to the school and its students. At present, the future of the LCVP in the school appears secure.
Following discussion with management, teachers and students in Deansrath Community College, and following examination of all aspects of the programme and its implementation in the school, it can be stated that the aims of the LCVP are largely being met by the manner in which the programme is being implemented. Some work still needs to be done to realise the full vocational potential of Leaving Certificate subjects and to achieve the cross-curricular aims of the programme. All other aims are largely being achieved and both students and teachers are very positive regarding the programme.
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, November 2009