Saturday 20 January 2018

Keeping Transition Year fresh and innovative is key to success

In my opinion....

Dr Gerry Jeffers of Maynooth University
Dr Gerry Jeffers of Maynooth University

Gary Jeffers

A key task for every adolescent is to grow up, to mature. Ireland is unique in dedicating a school year to support 15-16 year olds in growing up.

Transition Year (TY) offers young people time and space to move from the dependence of childhood towards adult independence. Activities in TY are designed to act as scaffolds to support growing up. Going on a work experience placement, being part of a mini-company team, taking part in a musical, engaging in community service projects or outdoor pursuits activities can be very enriching, even turning point experiences.

Trips beyond the classroom can broaden outlooks, increase self-awareness, open up new possibilities and invite reconsideration of life ambitions.

Irish schools have been inventing and re-inventing unique TY programmes since 1974. Over 600 second-level schools now offer the programme, some as an optional choice, others as a compulsory element of a six year cycle. The growing evidence is that TY, as well as supporting young people to mature, is particularly helpful in developing positive relationships, especially important as we have an increased appreciation of young people's needs regarding well-being, resilience and mental health.

Many participants forge strong bonds with their peers. Relationships with teachers also strengthen and this builds a fruitful platform for the Leaving Cert. Parents often report TY as a time when their relationships with their teenage children move into new arenas.

The Department of Education guidelines emphasise the need for TY to offer participants challenge in all areas of development. This includes intellectual challenge and the best programmes blend personal and social development activities with imaginative teaching in continuity subjects, that is, those studied at Junior Cycle that continue on to Leaving Cert. Furthermore, the maturity that arises from TY often manifests itself in clearer and more focused motivation for tackling the established Leaving Cert programme.

A new book, Transition Year in Action presents accounts of how a range of schools engage with TY. Through the voices of students, parents, teachers, co-ordinators, principals and researchers, it attempts to provide a nuanced picture of the breadth and complexity of TY as it operates in a wide cross section of schools.

For example, Linda Dunne, Principal of Coláiste Bhríde, Carnew, Co Wicklow states: "It's important to keep the programme fresh so we encourage teachers to innovate. Every year we try to add something new. We keep an eye on balancing academic and other initiatives."

Don Myers former president of the National Parents' Council, post-primary, says: "The recognition of TY programmes by parents has grown immensely. Parents now appreciate that TY helps students to develop and prepare them for the ever modernising world."

While there are many positive stories, there is no shortage of challenges. From the outset, TY has been a fragile plant in the educational garden. It lives in continual danger of being colonised by more pragmatic values and impulses.

Craig McHugh, former President of the Irish Second-level Students Union says: "In a town you might have one school here and down the road, another school, and two totally different TYs. It seems that, depending on what school you went to, or even which TY co-ordinator you had, dictated what kind of TY experience you got."

Dr Gerry Jeffers, Education Department, Maynooth University, is author of Transition Year in Action, published by The Liffey Press

Irish Independent

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