As new cases of the Coronavirus continue to (hopefully) go down in number, the government intends to reopen secondary schools by the start of September, with the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.
On the 27th of July, the Department of Education and Skills released the school reopening plans. This included a detailed plan for Transition Year in particular (“Returning To School: Transition Year 2020/21”). Transition Year is a programme that involves various group and outdoor activities. As a result, the government has given some specific guidelines to help schools conform to social distancing. For your convenience, we will discuss some of the main key points below that may affect your Transition Year such as participating in work experience and going on school trips.
Photograph: JL Cereijido/EP
DISCLAIMER: These plans are subject to change depending on how COVID-19 is controlled throughout the year. TY.ie has no affiliation with the Department of Education and Skills so if you want a more formal, complete and elaborate breakdown of the plan you can find it here.
1. Tying Up Loose Ends with the Junior Cycle Programme
“Plan for teaching, learning and assessment in a way that builds on and progresses students’ learning from junior cycle. Given the likelihood that the school closure period will have impacted on students’ learning in variable ways, schools can allocate additional time to teaching the core layer of the programme, with an emphasis on developing students’ literacy and numeracy skills.”
Due to the closing of schools in early March, students were not able to do their Junior Certificate exams. Instead, the Department of Education and Skills will award every student a certificate of completion. However, the department has advised that schools should “allocate additional time (in Transition Year) to teaching the core layer of the (Junior Cycle) programme, with an emphasis on developing students’ literacy and numeracy skills”. This means that you may have continue in part to where you left off in March during your Transition Year. This of course depends on if and how your school arranged online learning during the lockdown.
So, during the first few months of TY, there may be an increased emphasis on “literacy and numeracy skills”. However, learning in TY, will still involve “strong engagement with knowledge, the development of personal, social and learning skills, a focus on wellbeing and a strong emphasis on creativity”.
2. Building Upon Independent Learning
“Build on the recent experiences of remote learning during school closures to include opportunities within TY courses and modules for a mix of teacher-led, student-led, self-directed, and inquiry-led learning that will support progression to Senior Cycle.”
Throughout the lockdown, many schools organised and put together online learning classes and resources. While this was done due to the virus, online learning does have some advantages that would benefit students during a “normal” school year. Online learning allows students to learn at their own pace and environment. But most importantly, online learning encourages self-discipline and responsibility, two things which are beneficial for preparing for the Leaving Cert.
The department encourages schools to facilitate “a mix of teacher-led, student-led, self-directed, and inquiry-led learning that will support progression to Senior Cycle” in Transition Year. This may result in more independently researched projects and a combination of in-class and online assignments.
3. Getting Use To Using A Computer
“Develop a specific programme on digital learning skills at the beginning of the school year.”
The department advises schools to teach students the essential digital skills required to facilitate independent online learning. Skills like using various programmes from Microsoft Office to uploading and sending work to teachers using Google Drive/Google Classroom or OneDrive. Schools might use existing courses like ECDL or develop their own for their Transition Year students.
4. Fewer School Trips
“Plan for alternative school-based or on-line activities to replace co-curricular and extracurricular programmes that may not be possible or which may need to be cancelled at short notice.”
There will most likely be restrictions on out-of-school activities such as school tours. If your school previously arranged a trip abroad during Transition Year, this will most likely be cancelled in favour of something safer. Things like outdoor trips and activities may still be able to take place if social distancing is observed.
5. Physical (Distancing) Education
P.E will also have to conform to physical distancing and physical equipment guidelines:
“Physical activities should be chosen on the basis of what is safe and practical and in line with the public health advice available at the time of selection. In the context of physical distancing, it may be advisable to consider, as appropriate, the selection of physical activities that involve less direct contact such as divided court activities.”
This means that P.E classes may be restricted to non-direct contact sports such as tennis over rugby. Athletics, gymnastics and “divided court activities” (Badminton, Volleyball, Tennis) could still be arranged for P.E time.
6. Subject Sampling
“The range of subjects and learning areas will be dependent on the availability of teachers to provide subjects and on access to specialist rooms, particularly if class groups have to be divided owing to the impact of social distancing.”
Subject sampling is an important aspect of Transition Year. With subject sampling, students can get a good idea of what a subject entails for the Leaving Certificate. This helps students to make better decisions when picking subjects. To adhere to social distancing guidelines, schools will have to decrease the number of students in each classroom. A previously one room class may take up two rooms. This could mean that less rooms and teachers will be available to teach sample subjects to Transition Year students.
Classroom Arrangement Plan for Social Distancing (Dept. Education & Skills)
A possible way around this is to have online classes for sample subjects. This all of course depends on the facilities and staff available in each school. Some schools may still be able to offer subject sampling. Others will have to find a work around or decrease the number of subjects a student can sample.
7. Virtual Guests
“‘Virtual Visits’ rather than face-to-face visits should be considered and appropriate arrangements put in place.”
Guest speakers regularly visit Transition Year students to talk about various topics such as their careers. The department has advised schools to arrange ‘Virtual Visits’ rather than in-person visits. Virtual visits can be organised more easily and talks can be arranged with guest speakers that wouldn’t have had the time to visit the school in-person. Virtual visits open the door to more guest speakers and are more convenient to arrange. Students could perhaps help TY coordinators to invite special guests over Zoom/Teams/Skype.
However, obvious issues with virtual visits are having a good internet connection and hardware to make the experience as lively and interesting as possible. If those issues don’t hinder the experience, virtual visits could be quite beneficial to Transition Year students, even after things go back to ‘normal’.
8. Work Experience?
“Block release: In cases where it is possible for students to safely complete their work experience in accordance with public health advice and social distancing requirements, they should do so. Where it is not possible for all or some students to do so during the block(s), they should attend timetabled classes as normal during the designated weeks.”
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, how will COVID-19 School Reopening plans affect Transition Year work experience? The department says that work experience can still go ahead “in accordance with public health advice and social distancing requirements”. However, some businesses may no longer be able to offer work experience to Transition Year students as they have switched to working from home. Other businesses may arrange online work experience for students. As many companies around the world are permanently or partially moving to work from home arrangements, online work experience would be beneficial to Transition Year students. Some companies will still be able to offer in-person work experience and the department has advised schools to work with local businesses for work placements.
“One day per week: While this approach is not encouraged, some schools have adopted it. It is highly unlikely that students will be able to complete work experience on this basis in the earlier part of the school year. Students should be provided with access to synchronous or asynchronous teaching and learning opportunities on the scheduled work experience day. Attendance should be checked and activities including the completion of work preparation modules, careers investigations, and journals should be planned for the day.”
If your school previously arranged work experience for one day per week, this is likely to change in favour of work experience ‘blocks’ (a full week or two weeks of work experience).
If work experience is not possible in your school, the department has instructed schools to focus on:
- The non-experiential aspects of work experience such as careers investigations.
- Modules in employment skills including, for example, online courses/modules on Health and Safety in work
- Virtual tours of workplaces, businesses and companies
COVID-19 precautions will affect both curricular and extracurricular activities in schools for all students. However, we believe that the core aim of Transition Year will still be highly effective and prominent throughout the year: ‘to educate students for maturity with an emphasis on personal development, social awareness and skills for life.’
We will continue to share tips for making the most of your Transition Year as well as interview students throughout the year. We will also be running our online TY Ninjas Programme after the success of last year’s programme. Finally, we will update you with any significant changes to the reopening plans so make sure to subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social media.