Transition year – time for a rethink

 

Sir, – While Stephen O’Hara and Eoin McCormick (Letters, October14th and 15th) make excellent arguments in favour of the transition year experience, something I never specifically argued against, by the way (Letters, October 13th), the question remains whether we need an entire extra school year or could such a programme be easily accommodated within the two summer holidays of the senior cycle? – Yours, etc,

NICK BUCKNELL,

Bray,

Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Having had an involvement with the transition year (TY) programme since its mainstreaming in 1994, both as a TY co-ordinator in a school and later as a post-primary school inspector, I am of the firm belief that a student’s experience of TY is significantly determined by the quality of the programme offered by the school.

The programme guidelines continue to be progressive in the context of allowing schools to create their own curriculum offering based on a core subject layer, a Leaving Certificate subject sampling layer, a TY-specific module layer and “one-off” calendar events like the school show, field trips, Gaisce (the President’s Award) or the Young Scientist competition. The provision of meaningful and supported work experience is also a significant element of the programme.

The creation of a vibrant TY programme requires the commitment of school leadership and the programme team to plan and provide for students across all of these layers.

Pressures from the backwash effect of the Leaving Certificate or from parents and others to provide strong summative assessments need to be challenged constantly. The variety of outcomes for students from project work, portfolio presentation and both negotiated and self-directed learning should complement summative “tests”, if there is pressure for these. The response to these pressures can often be the tendency for some schools to move towards a three-year Leaving Certificate experience with a nod towards TY in a timetable block that provides work experience provision and some TY-specific activities, which are of course valuable in themselves.

Indicators of quality in a TY programme, beyond student and parent testimony, are the timing of subject choice for Leaving Certificate; when students access their Leaving Certificate textbooks; and if the classroom learning experience is similar to fifth year, and the type of assessment and reporting regime used.

If students are required to choose their Leaving Certificate subjects without the experience of a meaningful subject-sampling period then the other indicators often follow. Textbooks often dominate the subject learning experience and examinations mirror those of fifth-year and sixth-year students.

If these indicators exist then, I believe, the value of TY for students is compromised.

The transition year programme will come under the spotlight during the current Review of Senior Cycle, initiated by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), and will hopefully find its place in a future iteration of senior cycle that will effectively link to the current newly introduced Framework for Junior Cycle.

As a long-term advocate for a meaningful TY experience for senior-cycle students, I believe it is incumbent on school leadership and teaching teams to continue to value the spirit and aims of the transition year programme and to provide a meaningful offering to students within the resources available. – Yours, etc,

Dr DOMNALL

FLEMING,

School of Education,

UCC.