An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

Programme Evaluation

REPORT

 

Tarbert Comprehensive School

Tarbert, County Kerry

Roll Number: 81006S

 

Date of inspection: 18 April 2008

 

 

 

 

 Evaluation of LCA

 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 lca

 

The Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme is part of the expanded senior cycle provision designed to cater for the diversity of studentsí needs. Its fundamental goal is to prepare students for the transition from education to the adult and working life, and to develop studentsí literacy and numeracy skills. The underlying principle of the programme is the personal, social, vocational and educational development of students. In addition, students are afforded the opportunity to enhance their self-esteem, and to develop their communication and decision-making skills. Cross-curricular integration is central to the structure of the programme and to the studentsí learning experiences. Assessment of studentsí ongoing progress is a significant element of the programme and is facilitated through satisfactory completion of modules and student tasks. Final external examinations complete the assessment process. The board of management was given the opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix to this report.

 

 Introduction

 

This report has been written following an evaluation of the LCA in Tarbert Comprehensive 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 coordinator 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 coordinator and members of the core team of teachers following the evaluation.

 

Since 1973 Tarbert Comprehensive School has provided for the educational needs of the diversity of second-level students in an extensive area of North Kerry and adjoining West Limerick. The school values the inclusiveness of its approach and in addition to LCA has provided the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) for students in two year cohorts in recent years. This programme is not currently being provided. The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) is provided for a majority of senior cycle students. The Transition Year Programme (TY) has been provided in the school in the past and, while not being provided at the time of the evaluation, is planned for the coming year. This renewed broadening of programme choice is commended. The origins of the school lie in an amalgamation of three schools, a secondary school and a vocational school in Glin, County Limerick and a secondary school in Tarbert.

 

 

1 quality of programme Organisation

 

1.1 Whole school support

 

Tarbert Comprehensive School values the LCA highly and in keeping with this provides full support for the programme. The principalís knowledge of the programme is comprehensive and detailed, deepened by personal experience of its coordination. The principal is committed to the aims of the LCA and to meeting the individual needs of the students. The LCA co-ordinator is dedicated to achieving the aims of the programme and fully conversant with the principles and organisational requirements that underlie its success. Regular communication between the principal and the LCA co-ordinator and team provides a very effective channel for support of the programme. The co-ordinator is allocated time to perform the duties of co-ordination.

 

The teachers of LCA share a dedication to the achievement of the aims of the programme and collaborate to that end. Due in large part to this healthy team approach and to the team membersí affirmation of their success, morale is high both among the programme team and the students of LCA. The whole school is kept aware of the work of LCA and the progress being made in meeting its aims, often by discussion at staff meetings where the opportunity is taken to raise its profile. It is relatively easy to maintain the whole-staff awareness of the programme given that almost one third of the teaching staff are involved in teaching the programme. This is valuable. To further enhance very good practice in maintaining whole-staff awareness of LCA, and to ensure that no opportunities are missed to underline its central position in providing for the diversity of studentsí educational needs, it is recommended that LCA should appear on the agenda for each staff meeting. Reporting to staff should wherever possible be positive and affirming of the progress being made towards the achievement of the programme aims.

 

The teaching team is appreciative of opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD) and are informed of appropriate sessions by the programme co-ordinator. Teachers are facilitated by management to attend these sessions in line with best practice. It is commended that teachers who attend such CPD sessions are encouraged to place copies of notes and other materials in the LCA file in the staffroom for the benefit of other team members. It is recommended, where possible, that presentations by the returning teacher to the LCA team be facilitated and arranged, perhaps at regular team meetings. Teachers new to the programme are supported by the programme co-ordinator. It is commendable that in cases of planned temporary replacement of a subject teacher, contact with the permanent teacher is provided for continuity.

 

1.2 Resources

 

The original LCA team consisted entirely of volunteers, an indication of whole-staff commitment. Subsequent recruitment of teachers, in response to the needs of the programme, begins with advance consultation between the principal and the teacher concerned. This commendable approach to staffing supports healthy team morale. LCA is taught by an experienced and skilled team.

 

The different elements of the programme are timetabled appropriately. Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is used effectively for the recording of meetings and for the development of materials such as the LCA plan and teaching resources. LCA students have access to the ICT room and to the learning support room which houses, additionally, four personal computers (PCs). Access by students to these resources is assured through regular consultation between teachers. Students are fully facilitated in the use of ICT for the completion of student tasks and key assignments.

 

Requests for the purchase of resources come usually from meetings of the programme team. While a formal budget is not administered by the programme co-ordinator or team, the LCA is well resourced. However, there are advantages to the programme co-ordinator and core team having more active, direct involvement in budgeting. It is recommended that such funds as are available should be known to the co-ordinator who, together with the core team, should have a greater role in planning for the acquisition of resources.

 

Rooms in the school are generally allocated as base rooms for teachers. Thus the LCA class moves from room to room for lessons. A small storage area is provided centrally in which shared programme resources and materials, including records of evidence of key assignments and student tasks, are kept. While this store room is adequate in itself for this purpose, access can be difficult, passing through other rooms. There is no storage area to which students have access. The provision of base classrooms for LCA, ideally with a store adjacent to them, would facilitate the development of a more effective learning environment facilitating the most favourable teaching approaches. Studentsí work in different courses could be more easily and effectively integrated in such a setting. Learning materials in the areas of literacy and numeracy could be displayed and readily available in many more lessons. It is recommended that management examine the viability of providing base rooms for LCA.

 

1.3 Student selection

 

The programme is appropriately targeted at students who are likely to benefit most, specifically those at risk of early school leaving and those who gain most from the teaching approaches adopted in the programme. While the target students generally avail of the programme, the absence of a fifth-year group is noted. However, it is reported that sufficient students have opted for the programme for next year and this is welcomed by management and the LCA team. It is commended that the programme is to continue in the coming fifth year and the commitment of the staff to this is acknowledged as is its similar commitment to the provision of TY.

 

Students receive accurate and appropriate information regarding the programme. An open night is provided towards the end of third year at which the structure, aims and organisation of the programme are presented to students and their parents. Comprehensive advice and counselling regarding programme choice for senior cycle are provided to groups and individually as is appropriate.

 

1.4 Home, school and community links

 

Parents are fully informed of the aims, structure and organisation of the programme. While the full range of programmes is presented when their children enter first year, the main means of providing detailed information on LCA is the open night for parents of students preparing to enter senior cycle. All aspects of the programme are presented to parents on that occasion.

 

Continuing contact with parents is by means of parent-teacher meetings, reports of session results and correspondence relating to activities such as work experience, trips and visits. In addition, the programme coordinator contacts parents by phone as needed and parents are encouraged to contact the coordinator to discuss any aspect of their childrenís progress. The programme team is aware of the support that is available through the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) and maintains effective contact with the national coordinator for LCA. Appropriate contacts are fostered and maintained by the school with local employers who provide opportunities for studentsí work experience.

 

1.5 Supports for students

 

LCA student induction is provided on the first day of session one. Formal induction helps students to become familiar with the programme and also to commence the process of working together as a team. In order to further enhance the formal induction process, it is recommended that sufficient time should be allocated to facilitate a structured, active induction programme in line with that suggested in the draft document Student Induction, A Resource for Teachers and Students, http://lca.slss.ie.

 

The close contact between the learning support team and the LCA programme is commended. The learning support team meets once per week and is active and engaged with the needs of all students including those in LCA. While there are no resource teaching hours timetabled to LCA students at present, it is recommended that the possibility of team teaching be explored, specifically when a student who has been allocated resource time declines one-to-one teaching. The provision of support for learning in this way should always be considered given its advantages for the whole group of students including the student who is in direct receipt of a resource allocation.

 

It is commended that the whole programme teaching team is aware of the importance of enhancing the studentsí literacy and numeracy skills and that this is a focus of its teaching. The detailed planning and implementation of measures for literacy development in English and Communications are particularly commended and the levels of achievement in literacy are good. Further enhancement of the measures taken to improve literacy and numeracy is always worthwhile. It is recommended that the LCA team as a whole plan for the incorporation of specific measures to ensure the development of the literacy and numeracy skills across the curriculum, in consultation with the learning support department and being mindful of achievements in English and Communications. The result of this planning should be incorporated into the LCA plan.

 

A student mentoring arrangement provides opportunities for students to be mentored by teachers. This is suitably flexible to meet the needs of specific students and is a valuable support. Guidance is provided appropriate to the needs of the students.

 

 

2 quality of programme planning and coordination

 

2.1 Co-ordination

 

The LCA programme co-ordinator, an assistant principal, has a comprehensive knowledge of the programme, has been co-ordinator for five years and is also year head to LCA. The role of LCA co-ordinator in the school includes the full range of functions relating to the programme including the facilitation of meetings, the arrangement of mock examinations, arrangements for visitors in the school and external visits by the students, the organisation and facilitation of Student Tasks, tracking and recording attendance and coordinating the completion of modules and key assignments in each course.   

 

The success of LCA in Tarbert and its continued acceptance as a central and valuable part of the curriculum of the school depends, among other things, on its visibility and positive profile. It is good, in this context, that a dedicated notice board is provided in a central area of the school to provide for the display of LCA information for staff and students. The effectiveness of such a display is greatly enhanced when it is regularly updated. Every effort should be made to keep the information on the LCA notice board current and interesting and the help of the LCA students themselves should be enlisted to help achieve this.

 

The LCA co-ordinator is closely identified with the programme and maintains very effective communication with management, the LCA team, the wider staff, students and parents. In addition to the regular inputs at staff meetings, notices of events involving LCA are displayed on the main staff notice board. Together with the principal and the guidance staff, the LCA co-ordinator provides parents with comprehensive information and advice regarding the programme. This information is mainly provided at meetings following the open nights when the parents of new LCA students are invited to meet the principal and the co-ordinator to discuss the programme. Communication regarding the programme is generally good.

 

Support by the school for co-ordination of the programme is consistent and effective. Resources and facilities available to support the role of co-ordinator include an office, a computer with printer and email and internet access. Administrative, phone and photocopying facilities are available in the school office.

 

Currently, the LCA co-ordinator is not timetabled to teach the LCA class, apart from one period per week for Student Task facilitation. This is not ideal. However, appointment of individual programme co-ordinators for LCA and TY is imminent. It is planned that the new coordinators will work with the schoolís overall coordinator of programmes and will be timetabled to teach students of the respective programmes, in line with best practice. The energetic interest of the staff and management in developing the arrangements for programme co-ordination is commended.

 

2.2 Planning

 

The written LCA plan includes a mission statement for the programme, its aims, notes on teaching approaches and methodologies and notes on assessment and evaluation. Further planning documentation deals with attendance and work experience. The plan also includes the composite outcome of the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis undertaken by the LCA team. This analysis provides a valuable focus for the team and has great potential to further inform programme planning. The plan is a very good foundation for further development which should include the expansion of the points listed in the sections on methodologies and assessment and evaluation. It is also recommended that the programme plan include a calendar of events and details of visits and other activities that are planned. It is urged that the LCA plan be integrated into the school plan.

 

There is general staff awareness of a core LCA team. However this core team is not clearly defined although it includes the learning support teacher, the social education teacher, the chaplain, the IT teacher, the class teacher, the deputy principal, the programme coordinator and any other person whose support is requested outside of team meetings. The core team does not often meet in its entirety. It is usual for two or three members to meet when an issue arises. The particular group of team members meeting depends on the nature of the issue. The recording of the outcomes of these meetings, described as consultations within the school, shows good practice. It is recommended, however, that more formality be brought to the work of the core team, that it meet regularly, perhaps weekly, and that it consist of between three and five teachers, including the LCA co-ordinator and a member of senior management. Membership of the core team should rotate, perhaps annually. Planning by the core team should not be predominantly a response to issues that arise but rather should anticipate how it is hoped to develop the programme and bring about change to achieve this development. The recommended meetings of the core team are not meant to replace less formal consultations but rather to enhance them.

 

Minutes of whole-team planning meetings, which take place three times a year, are recorded. For organisational reasons these meetings have been split into two groups, meeting separately. It would be preferable for the full team to meet on these occasions. Minutes of all meetings should be further enhanced by including the agenda and the attendance.

 

 

 

 

2.3 Curriculum

 

The timetabled curriculum is broad and balanced and is in line with the guidelines and policies of the Department of Education and Science (DES). The specialisms being offered, Agriculture and Horticulture and Graphics and Construction Studies, take account of the needs, interests and abilities of the students. Consideration continues to be given to gender equality in the curriculum design in line with best practice, taking constraints of timetabling and staff allocation into account. This is commended and encouraged.

 

The programme has been modified taking account of local circumstances and business activity. Planning for further change continues. Electives in Religious Education, Hotel, Catering and Tourism and Active Leisure Studies were listed for session four. However the Active Leisure Studies module had been replaced by a module on road safety to meet the studentsí preferences more effectively and to broaden their educational experience. The replacement module is based on a draft Transition Unit being developed by the Road Safety Authority in conjunction with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and being piloted as part of the NCCA review of senior cycle and Transition Year. The inclusion of such material shows a positive spirit of innovation and energetic involvement on the part of the LCA team in providing students with areas of study appropriate to their experiences and interests, consistent with the aims of the programme. However this unit is not recognised as, or being developed as, an elective within LCA. This lack of recognition could, in certain circumstances, cause an additional problem when awarding credits. It is recommended, particularly in light of the suitability of such an elective in meeting the needs of the students, that the road safety material be presented in the format of an LCA module descriptor and be submitted to NCCA for validation. The LCA programme statement proposes that implementation, subject to final approval by DES, would follow. The validated elective module should continue to enrich the programme in subsequent years.

 

There is a generous allocation of time for electives over the four sessions of the programme and this approach of the school to ensure that students benefit from a rich curriculum is admirable. The timetabling of electives should continue to be examined with reference to the suggestions for timetabling the entire LCA programme available at http://lca.slss.ie.

 

Work experience takes place in a two-week block in each session, usually immediately prior to Christmas and Easter holidays. Students are encouraged to arrange their own placements but are assisted by the co-ordinator, in consultation with their parents, when necessary. Work experience is integrated into the programme and students are encouraged to refer to it as appropriate in all courses. The programme team is made aware of the details of the studentsí work experience and is encouraged to integrate the studentsí experiences in planning for teaching. Very good practice includes visitation of students on work experience by LCA team members. This helps to foster valuable links with employers and indicates the commitment of the teachers to the full achievement of the aims of the programme. Clearly it also provides additional support for students. Short accounts by team members of these workplace visits, seen during the evaluation, provide valuable information for all staff. This is commended.  

 

Guidance is timetabled for students for two periods per week in line with best practice and the provision for Guidance overall is commended. The provision within the curriculum for students to develop their ICT skills is appropriate and includes clear cross-curricular elements. 

 

 

 

 

3 quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1 Planning and preparation for teaching

 

The work undertaken in each of the lessons observed is in line with the written requirements of the module descriptors for the relevant courses. There is very good liaison between the learning support team and the teachers of the programme, notably through the learning support teacher who attends the weekly meetings of the learning support team as well as meetings of the LCA team and also teaches the English and Communications course. This liaison supports detailed planning to meet the particular learning needs of LCA students. It is commended. A high level of planning and preparation provided effectively for differentiated teaching and learning. Very good practice was observed in cross-curricular planning and this focus should continue, taking every opportunity to develop cross-curricular links. Integration of ICT into teaching and learning was seen in a number of lessons.

 

3.2 Teaching and learning

 

Lessons visited were well structured, purposeful and clear in intent from the outset. The pace of lessons was appropriate and a suitable range of active teaching methodologies was used. Pair work was very often used to very good effect. Links to studentsí own understanding and experiences were often exploited as a means of encouraging involvement.

 

Classrooms were neat and orderly and provided an appropriate environment for the lessons being taught. This learning environment should be further enhanced in some rooms by the display of more learning materials of a visually stimulating nature relating to the courses being studied with particular focus on literacy development. Students were actively involved. Teachersí expectations were high. Discipline was intrinsic to the lessons and was effectively and sensitively maintained. The atmosphere was at all times positive, encouraging and affirming.

 

An effective standard of learning took place. Students displayed suitable levels of understanding and knowledge when questioned. Students collaborated and learned from each other in lessons observed.  

 

3.3 Assessment

 

In addition to formal assessment of coursework, central to LCA, informal assessment was integral to each lesson observed. Regular feedback is given to students as their work is monitored in class. Monitoring, completion and recording of key assignments are done to the required standard. In most cases the key assignment record sheet is signed and dated by the teacher and it is recommended that this practice be followed universally. The storing of the records of evidence of key assignments centrally is commended. Student tasks seen in the course of the evaluation were of an appropriate standard and indicated the care and application of the students in their completion and the careful guidance and support of their teachers.

 

Studentsí attendance is carefully monitored and recorded as required in LCA and instances or patterns of absence are investigated. Students are advised that full attendance is expected and that ninety percent attendance is required for award of credits. Parents are contacted immediately if a studentís attendance causes concern. Awards are made for the top three attenders in each year. Such positive recognition is commended.

 

Session results are posted to parents helping to keep them informed of their sonsí and daughtersí progress, with both parents and students having been made fully aware of the significance of these results for the awarding of the LCA qualification.

 

 

4 programme evaluation and outcomes

 

4.1 Programme evaluation and review

 

The programme is evaluated at a whole-team meeting towards the end of each year. The use of the SWOT analysis approach has provided very clear information on which to base further development of the programme. The outcomes of the annual programme evaluations by the team have been taken into account in programme reviews. It is recommended that students and parents be invited to contribute to the evaluation of the programme each year. This could be done effectively by means of a straightforward questionnaire. Similarly, the opinions and experiences of members of the school community not involved in the programme should be sought. Such a broadening of the range of responses considered will further enhance the value of LCA programme reviews.

 

4.2 Attainment of programme objectives

 

The objectives of the programme are being met. Students felt Ďhonouredí to be part of LCA. Their positive feelings were enhanced by being the only LCA class this year. While attendance can be a challenge in LCA, this is given a lot of attention by the co-ordinator and the pastoral care department, including the chaplain. Where attendance is good, students progress to achieve their full potential in LCA.

 

Studentsí learning and self-management skills develop as a result of involvement in LCA. This development is seen in the improvement in studentsí attitudes and engagement with education since advancing from junior cycle.

 

 

5 summary of strengths and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

         The timetabled curriculum is broad and balanced and is in line with the guidelines and policies of the DES and it is commended that consideration continues to be given to gender equality in the curriculum design in line with best practice.

         The inclusion of material on road safety shows a positive spirit of innovation and energetic involvement on the part of the LCA team in providing students with areas of study appropriate to their experiences and interests.

         There is a generous allocation of time for electives over the four sessions of the programme and this approach of the school in ensuring that students benefit from a rich curriculum is admirable.

         Very good practice was seen in the visitation of students on work experience by LCA team members, helping to support students, to foster valuable links with employers and showing the commitment of the teachers to the full achievement of the aims of the programme.

         Guidance is timetabled for students for two periods per week in line with best practice and the provision for Guidance overall is commended.

         The objectives of the programme are being met and the students expressed very positive views on their involvement.

         Studentsí learning and self-management skills develop as a result of involvement in LCA and this is seen in the improvement in studentsí attitudes and engagement with education since advancing from junior cycle.

 

 

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

 

         It is recommended that management examine the viability of providing base classrooms with an adjacent store for LCA.

         It is recommended that the LCA team as a whole plan for the incorporation of specific measures to ensure the development of the literacy and numeracy skills across the curriculum, in consultation with the learning support department and being mindful of achievements in English and Communications.

         Further development of the LCA plan should include the expansion of the sections on methodologies and assessment and evaluation and a programme plan including a calendar of events with details of visits and other planned activities.

         It is recommended that more formality be brought to the work of the core team, that it meet regularly, perhaps weekly, and that it consist of between three and five teachers, including the LCA co-ordinator and a member of senior management.

         It is recommended that students, their parents and interested members of the school community not directly involved in the programme be asked to contribute to the evaluation of the programme each year, perhaps by means of a straightforward questionnaire.

 

 

 

 

Published, October 2008

 

 

 

 

Appendix

School Response to the Report

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

 Inspection Report School Response Form

 

 

            Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report

 

The Board of Management welcomes this report and is pleased with the very positive assessment of the implementation of the LCA programme in the school. The report is judged to be fair and helpful and the recommendations it contains are achievable. Quite a number of these recommendations have already been implemented based on the verbal feedback received from the Inspector on April 18th 2008.

 

Area 2   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection

 

  1. The Road Safety Module will be descripted and forwarded to the NCCA.
  2. A new resource room has been provided.
  3. A separate literacy programme has been put in place.
  4. A core group has been established and is timetabled to meet weekly.
  5. A calendar has been organised.
  6. An LCA notice board has been provided.
  7. The duties of the co-ordinator have been reorganised.
  8. More structured involvement of parents has been facilitated.
  9. Yearly plans and lesson plans are being formulated.