Transition Year: Not such a doss year after all

Transition Year has survived criticism and cuts, but can it survive the new Junior Cert? Students have their say

Tue, May 27, 2014, 02:00

It’s been 40 years since the first Transition Year was piloted in three schools. Now more than 30,000 students take the programme in 560 of the country’s 700 secondary schools.

Transition Year, or TY, has weathered plenty of criticism. When entrepreneur Bill Cullen described it as a “doss year” in 2012 he certainly wasn’t the first.

Many predicted its demise when the recession started to bite: how could we afford a year of school trips and subject tasters when we couldn’t even fix the plumbing? Nevertheless TY has prevailed, fortified by positive studies by the ESRI and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) showing that students who take the programme earn more CAO points in the Leaving Cert than those who don’t.

Defenders of the programme say that in an Irish adolescence characterised by contrived academic pressures the TY programme is uniquely humane.

In a way, the TY programme has encapsulated what many progressive pedagogical thinkers would do to the system as a whole, if only the teacher unions and the university gatekeepers would accommodate it. In this sense, it may become a victim of its own success. The latest perceived threat to TY comes in the shape of the reformed Junior Cycle.

The value of TY lies in its divergence from State exams and rote learning, its emphasis on project work and subject sampling, all watchwords of the new Junior Cycle curriculum.

If the full NCCA vision for the Junior Cycle is realised, students will spend the first three years of post-primary school getting away from rote learning. What value will TY have then?

One of the strongest defenders of TY is the Irish Second-level Students Union (ISSU), which represents 140 student councils around the country. In partnership with the Department of Education, the union commissioned a survey of students and TY co-ordinators to find out how it is perceived on the ground.

The research group canvassed every school in Ireland to encourage students and TY coordinators to fill out a questionnaire on their response to the programme, whether they had taken part in it or not.

The group collected 1,323 student responses and 57 TY co-ordinator responses and backed up this quantitative data with four large group sessions in Dublin, Galway and Cork, where students discussed their opinions of the Transition Year programme.

ISSU president Mark Caffrey believes the results of the survey bear out the union’s support for TY.

The majority of students surveyed believe that Transition Year should remain in place as part of the Senior Cycle, while calling for changes to the programme to make it “a stronger and enhanced year within school”.

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