Why Transition Year is becoming more popular 'between the canals'
Three inner-city schools in Dublin have embraced TY to 'level the playing field', writes Katherine Donnelly
In his 2015 book, Transition Year In Action, Professor Gerry Jeffers recalls when TY was being main-streamed in the 1990s, there was a view among teachers that it "will never catch on" because it was "far too idealistic".
Well it did, although not everywhere, yet.
A big attachment to Transition Year is one of the themes emerging from the current review of the senior cycle by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).
Parents, students and teachers who were interviewed or surveyed cited many benefits of TY, such as personal development, a maturing of relationships between students and teachers and the opportunity to sample life in the workplace.
From an academic point of view, various research reports have shown students who do Transition Year engage better with their Leaving Cert studies, which tends to translate into higher CAO points, when compared with students who have not done it.
Despite a strong approval rating among those familiar with it, TY is still not available in all schools. Up to 10pc do not offer it and, where it is available - generally on an optional basis - some pupils prefer to progress straight to fifth year. TY is most likely to be compulsory in the fee-paying sector and least likely to be found in schools in urban communities suffering socio-economic disadvantage or small rural schools. It is another example of class divide in the education system.
Traditionally, many pupils in disadvantaged communities were keen to finish school as early as possible and get a job for reasons of economic necessity. With many families having no background in higher education, further study was not regarded as an option, but in a world where a post-school qualification is seen as essential, attitudes and ambitions have changed.
However, the level of resources needed to provide a meaningful programme is cited as a reason for lower-take up of TY in less well-off communities.
In Dublin, a cohort of schools not offering TY were often characterised as being "between the canals", a reference to communities in inner-city areas suffering socio-economic disadvantage.
That has been changing over the years but, nonetheless, a decision by three long-established and DEIS schools in Dublin's south inner-city to introduce TY represents a seismic shift.
CBS Westland Row, CBS Synge Street and CBS James' Street may be three small schools, but they contributed to an increase to 68pc of the proportion of third year pupils progressing to TY in 2017/18, up from 65pc in 2014/15.
The schools' adoption of TY in one fell swoop in 2016 was not a joint one, but it did reflect a general recognition that not offering it was no longer an option.
CBS Westland Row principal, Kate Byrne said the school had previously made TY available, but dropped it because of a lack of resources. Privately-sourced funding has allowed them to reinstate it.
Behind the move was the realisation that, without the extra year, some students were barely 17 when sitting the Leaving Cert, therefore not competing on a level playing field with a majority of school leavers, who are aged 18 or 19. Apart from the known benefits of TY for study habits and Leaving Cert results, Byrne also hailed the social skills developed during the year. The school was also cognisant of its city location and links with local businesses, and wanted to use TY to make even better use of those relationships.
She says her pupils "love it".
Byrne estimates that TY costs about €10,000 a year, over and above grants paid by the Department of Education.
The private funding means her pupils do not have to pay up to €500 to €600 for the programme charged elsewhere and the school can support typical TY trips, such as to Carlingford Adventure Centre.
Otherwise, "most of these children wouldn't have had opportunities to do a lot of the activities that maybe a lot of middle-class kids would have", she says.
Unlike Westland Row, CBS James' Street does not have the benefit of a significant private donation to support TY, "so the first thing we do is try to organise things that are not going to cost the students money", says principal, Paul MacEntee
They do get sponsorship and support from individual companies and organisations, including Inland Fisheries Ireland, which allows for fishing lessons and trips.
TY pupils also do a day's work experience every week in caring environments, such as crèches and nursing homes and this year, attention to the academic side of things includes conversational French.
The programme is going down well in the 147-pupil school and, according to the principal, "we haven't had a parent saying it is a waste of time".
CBS Synge Street, which has 42 nationalities represented among its 274 pupils, has the benefit of a bequest from a former pupil, Con Creedon, to support any student who goes on to third level. Last year 90 pupils were supported.
Principal Clare Catterson says when students start with the school "college is to the forefront and we tell them we are going to support them all the way".
But they were also facing a situation "where we had a lot of students doing the Leaving Cert at 16 and that is an exam aimed at 18 year olds".
Catterson felt it even more keenly because Synge Street is an all-boys school, and girls tend to achieve at higher levels than boys.
With all the talk about equality of access to education, it didn't make sense not to be giving their pupils every opportunity, she says.
"We really felt strongly about the extra year and the opportunity available to them in TY in terms of improving communications skills and honing the skills they develop in junior cycle.
"TY also helps them to explore Leaving Cert subjects and to make more informed choices."
Current TY pupils are being exposed to information about the wide range of careers that will be available to any of them in the new National Children's Hospital being built on their doorstep.