Bill Cullen the well known and respected author and motor entrepreneur has become a more controversial person of late with his comments, especially his criticism of the Green party and the Environment Minister whom he blames for some of the woes of the motor industry.
His more recent comments relate to the usefulness of Transition Year in the secondary school cycle and we would have to echo some of his comments. Without strong supervision, many students find this a wasted and difficult year and finding work placements is not so easy due to the recession.
One suggestion from businesses who do take on transition year students is that the programme be subjected to a type of assessment. There would appear to be too much autonomy given to schools regarding the transition year and there should there be more control to see if the work programmes are worthwhile. For instance, do the students really find the period useful in terms of choosing a career.
Often parents try and encourage their children in a particular direction and use their contacts to see if they can get a placement, whether the student is interested or not. Better structures are needed and the Department needs to set a better standard. Some students claim the break from study sets them back as they take up new interests. They can lose the academic focus. Others find that the extra year matures them and therefore they apply themselves better for the Leaving Certificate. We would ask should there be some certificate stating what the student did in transition year that could be used on a CV in later years.
Could a student fail transition year for lack of effort? It would also be interesting to know if drop-out rates rise after transition year and do some students lose interest. Many Leaving Cert students claim that those in the gap year have too much free time and some have been known to drift into alcohol and soft drugs abuse during this period as there is no study or exam pressure.
Sports, culture and healthy living are not promoted enough and there should be a greater role for the arts involving this age group. Perhaps it is time for teachers and staff to revisit this programme in order to raise standards and expectations for schools, parents and pupils.
This summer period would be a good time for teachers to reflect on transition year and the same goes for the Department of Education which is often slow to move. Teachers, school principals and department managers might see a way of lifting the standards of the transition year or else creating a longer run-in period for the Leaving Certificate.
Given the incidence of high unemployment, it will be even harder to place transition year students in the coming year and, for students, getting the best Leaving Certificate possible will be a high priority.