Designed to promote confidence, maturity and independent learning, transition year is an optional programme in most secondary schools, bridging the gap between the junior and senior cycles. It should be a model for the direction in which the leaving certificate must go, according to the headmaster of Belvedere College, Gerard Foley, and the head of Mount Temple Comprehensive, Liam Wegimont.
In a scathing attack on the current leaving certificate system, both principals feel that it is “redundant” and teaches pupils to memorise information that is subject to change, rather than equipping them with the skills for self-directed learning.
“When transition year is done well, that’s exactly where the Irish education system should be going,” Mr Wegimont tells eolas. “Transition year gives the space for schools to design curricula on the actual needs of the children in that school. We would see it very much as a model for future leaving cert reform,” he adds.
Mr Wegimont is looking forward to the implementation of the reformed junior cycle, which will focus on independent learning and critical thinking. “While we work very hard to prepare children to get the best points possible in the leaving cert, we are also fairly clear as a school that the leaving cert is redundant, is not fit-for-purpose and should be abandoned as quickly as possible,” he states. “It gets in the way of, rather than enabling, learning,” the headmaster emphasises.
Mr Foley agrees, saying: “Transition year is what education is about.” He believes that the current “centralised, exam-driven, controlled” system is “a nonsense.” It is “an outdated mode of working because [it doesn’t] train people with the skills they need to work in teams or to be independent lifelong learners,” he continues.
The principal laments that “IT isn’t even a leaving cert subject in Ireland” despite the Government’s claims that Ireland is attracting social media and ICT companies due to its well-educated graduates. When asked by his son about tessellations, Mr Foley “knew they were something to do with tiles.” His son’s first port of call was to use his smart phone to look up the term on Google.
Politicians who talk about education “have no idea” because they have never stood in a classroom and don’t understand “how people are learning now as opposed to how they learned when they were at school,” he contends.
“I’m in my forties and I wouldn’t dream of thinking that my experience in the 80s in a Christian Brothers in Tralee has any similarity with the way my own son learns now,” he adds.
Mount Temple is a co-educational, comprehensive, non-fee paying school with a Protestant ethos. Transition year is paid for through a grant from the Department of Education, plus fundraising undertaken by the parents’ association which operates a voluntary contribution scheme. Past pupils include all four members of U2, former Irish Cricket international Patrick Hughes and author Christopher Nolan.
“We work on the Marxist principle: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need [therefore] we try to ensure that no child is excluded from an activity on the basis of not being able to pay,” Mr Wegimont explains.
Belvedere College is a fee-paying, all boy, Jesuit school, situated in the north of the city. Past pupils include former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, rugby union’s Cian Healy, Sir Terry Wogan and James Joyce. Pupils pay €350 for transition year which covers everything apart from an exchange trip, which is paid for by families. As pupils are hosted by families linked to other Jesuit schools on the exchange programme, the major cost is the flight.
Belvedere’s transition year students begin their decision-making process in third year when they start seeking work experience and care in the community placements. Tuesdays are allocated for skills classes such as the young entrepreneurs scheme, cookery, lutherie (guitar-making), Chinese language and culture, youth leader course (with Belvedere Youth Club) and millinery. Thursdays are set aside for activities including film appreciation, martial arts, FAI coaching courses and scuba diving. The other three days are focused on leaving cert subjects.
The transition year motto is “carpe annum,” Mr Foley states. Having been used to the “memory laden” junior cycle, this will be their first opportunity to be independent. They are expected to start fundraising for their exchange trip which, depending on the subjects studied, will entail a stay in France, Germany, Spain, China, Boston, or Greece. Some students decide to partake in the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage. “If you start transitioning in transition year, it’s too late,” Foley claims.
Students are assessed on an ongoing basis on project-based, oral and written work (such as keeping a diary of their experiences). The importance of meeting deadlines is emphasised. The total amount of points to be gained is 14,000 e.g. students are marked out of 1,000 for English and work experience and out of 750 for optional subjects such as art or Greek. A Spirit of Transition Year award is given to a student who excels in an area which is “out of their comfort zone.”
Contributing to community is an essential element of transition year for Belvedere’s pupils, with some becoming peer tutors on the social diversity programme, with pupils from more disadvantaged backgrounds.
“A kid going to school in the East Wall sees Belvedere College as a school for all the poshies from Clontarf, but he meets a kid who is helping him in a homework club and realises: ‘A kid is a kid and I’d like to go there,’” Mr Foley states.
Similarly, in Mount Temple, pupils are expected to broaden their experiences and awareness of the world. Classes include mainstream subjects such as Irish, English, maths and French or German, modules in leaving cert subjects such as physics and chemistry; and a wide range of non-exam subjects such as judo, Japanese, sound engineering, cookery and drama. Community work in Nazareth House retirement home, Sheriff Street crèche and the Central Remedial Clinic in Clontarf is voluntary and the pupils find it rewarding, according to the principal.
In addition, two activity weeks are held during the term where pupils partake in classes such as first aid, sailing, film-making and soccer skills. Actiontrack is a particular favourite for the pupils, Mr Wegimont contends. It entails a group of English troubadours (specialists in medieval music) coming into the school on a Monday morning, choosing a theme and turning it into a musical or a play by the end of the week, with the students writing and performing the music and designing the set and the lighting. A musical or play is also produced each year. The choice is “wide and broad,” Mr Wegimont comments.
Another major element is the school’s partnership project with Ghana. “Transition year pupils have the opportunity to visit Ghana and experience the Ghanaians’ rich culture and customs first hand,” the headmaster explains. Whilst in Ghana they volunteer in projects, helping vulnerable and poor families and orphans. “There is great excitement and anticipation amongst the TY students involved,” he comments.
The headmaster adds: “This is at the core of what transition year is about because, as a school, we are committed to education for sustainable development and global justice.”
Date posted: Tuesday, February 7th, 2012 at 3:28 pm