Tuesday 15 October 2019

TY or not TY? That is the question - students have their say

Where Transition Year is compulsory, teenagers are more likely to feel negatively towards it, writes Katherine Donnelly

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Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

The future shape of Transition Year (TY) is one of the topics for discussion in the current review of senior cycle. The sort of questions being asked are should it continue as a stand alone programme or would there be benefits to splitting it into a series of modules spread over a three-year Leaving Cert programme?

Is it pitched at the right age? South Korea has borrowed the concept, with a programme for 13-year-olds, partially modelled on TY, lasting for one semester rather than a year.

Will the raising of the average school starting age due to the early childhood education scheme have a knock-on effect on TY participation as more pupils reach or approach 16 in third year?

Changes being rolled out at junior cycle, including collaborative learning and project work, trigger more questions about TY as currently constituted.

TY has been both dismissed as a 'doss year' and lauded as welcome breathing space for students between the grind of two State exams and an opportunity for self-development and work experience.

Academic benefits, such as how TY participants generally engage better with homework in fifth and sixth year and also tend to achieve higher points in the Leaving Cert than peers who skipped the year, have been highlighted in the research.

A new study, The Transition Year Experience: Student Perceptions And School Variation by Aidan Clerkin of the Educational Research Centre (ERC), Drumcondra, focussing exclusively on the views of students, has thrown up interesting perspectives.

He surveyed more than 5,000 students, initially about their thoughts about TY while they were in third year. Subsequently, those in TY were asked about their experience and then he did another round-up of views when those third years were in fifth and sixth year.

As well as making a timely contribution to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) senior cycle review, the insights from the study provide useful pointers to schools currently running or thinking about running the programme.

The Department of Education doesn't make TY mandatory, but it has spread to about 90pc of schools - in some, it is compulsory while others make it optional. Overall, about 70pc of students participate in TY in the year after junior cycle.

It is less likely to be available in small schools, schools with more socio-economically disadvantaged students and schools in the education and training boards (ETB) sector, which points to an equality gap, particularly as the cost associated with TY is often cited as the reason for non-participation.

In schools that do make it available, the type of offering and, as a consequence, the student experience, can vary widely.

Clerkin found a largely positive attitude to TY, with four out of five students reporting that they were satisfied or happy with the year. But beyond that endorsement lies a wide range of different experiences, many far from positive.

Contrary to any notion that 15 to 16-year-olds would relish a 'doss year', negative views tended to arise if they felt they had little to do in their TY classes, or that their teachers didn't take them seriously, or that the classes were too similar to conventional classes.

Clerkin said the extent to which a minority of students - about 14pc - reported feelings such as boredom, was concerning.

A particularly interesting finding is that pupils of schools where participation was compulsory were more likely to report negative views. So while some students may be at a disadvantage because they cannot access it, others are compelled to do it against their will.

Clerkin points to valid reasons as to why students may not want to do TY, including knowing what they want to do after school and not wanting to "waste" a year, or because of the expense. Concerns about losing study skills during the year were also commonly cited.

He questions forcing unenthusiastic or disengaged students to participate in the year and, perhaps, negatively affecting other students and teachers, and says compulsory provision is a decision that should be considered carefully.

Another consistent theme was a mismatch between student expectations and reality, with two-fifths of those surveyed reporting that TY was not what they expected, prompting Clerkin to suggest that schools improve the flow of information to third-year students.

Clerkin makes a number of recommendations, including new Department of Education guidelines with examples of good practice and a commitment to making participation available to all students as far as possible, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds or other potential barriers.

Irish Independent

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