Introduction

This report documents the progress of the Bridging the Gap project in the year ending 31 July 2002. It provides an account of the project's activities for its first year and an analysis of the project's outcomes, while also indicating directions for future development. The report includes four main sections. In the first section, the Bridging the Gap project is outlined briefly, with reference to its aims, structures and strategy. The second section describes the approach to evaluation that has been adopted within the project. In the third section, the outcomes of the project under each of the strands are documented and evaluated. Finally, recommendations are made for the future development of the project.

1. Bridging the Gap: an outline

This report documents the progress of the Bridging the Gap project in the year ending 31 July 2002. It provides an account of the project's activities for its first year and an analysis of the project's outcomes, while also indicating directions for future development. The report includes four main sections. In the first section, the Bridging the Gap project is outlined briefly, with reference to its aims, structures and strategy. The second section describes the approach to evaluation that has been adopted within the project. In the third section, the outcomes of the project under each of the strands are documented and evaluated. Finally, recommendations are made for the future development of the project.

1 .1 Background to the Bridging the Gap Project

Bridging the Gap is a five-year project running from 2001 to 2006, which aims to "bridge the gap" between the educational experiences, opportunities and achievements of pupils in schools in disadvantaged areas of Cork city and those in schools in more advantaged areas. The project extends the community mission of University College Cork, and it is directed by Professor Áine Hyland, Professor of Education and Vice-President of UCC. A total of thirty-nine schools (twenty-nine primary and ten post-primary) and three out-of-school centres are eligible to participate in the project, based on being designated as disadvantaged by the Department of Education and Science. 

The Bridging the Gap project aims to support pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds

  • to stay in full-time education for as long as possible and to achieve their full potential;
  • to have a positive and rewarding experience of schooling;
  • to develop the necessary skills and motivation to be lifelong learners;
  • to leave school with appropriate certification of their achievements;
  • to become gainfully employed, constructive and caring citizens.

It also aims to bridge the gap between

  • projects and policy
  • individual teachers and whole school approaches
  • the university and the community it serves.

Bridging the Gap complements and adds value to national and local initiatives and school-based work. It builds on a diversity of approaches while encouraging and supporting excellence. Working in close co-operation with UCC's Access programme, the project also links with other major national support initiatives, including Breaking the Cycle; Whole School Development Planning, Primary and Post-primary; the Stay in School Initiative and the 8-15 Initiative (now amalgamated as the School Completion Programme. Links have also been formed between the project and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment; the Senior Cycle Support Team; City of Cork VEC; regional support structures for schools, and the Cork City Partnership.

University College Cork is well placed to co-ordinate such a flagship project, which seeks to develop and disseminate effective practice, and to influence policy on social and educational disadvantage, locally and nationally. Cork is a relatively small city of about 150,000 people. It has pockets of concentrated disadvantage, especially on the north side of the city. The university has formed positive links with the communities of these areas and there is a good level of trust between the communities and the university. The University also has a good relationship with primary and second-level teachers in the Cork area, many of whom have participated in projects and professional development facilitated by the Education Department and other departments.

The expected outcomes of the Bridging the Gap project are:

  • a clearer understanding among relevant target populations of the reasons for, and the impact of, educational disadvantage;
  • a coherent and comprehensive strategy for changing the attitudes and behaviours of learners, families, schools and other institutions;
  • a measurable improvement in the educational experience of learners from disadvantaged backgrounds;
  • improved motivation for success among learners, families, teachers, school management and others.
  • model of change that can be replicated elsewhere in the educational system to produce quality improvement.

1.2 Project structures

Funding

The project proposal was developed during the academic year 1999-2000 with the aid of a feasibility grant from Atlantic Philanthropies. It was proposed that Bridging the Gap would be a five year project beginning in autumn 2000 and costing £1.5 million - £.5 million each donated by Atlantic Philanthropies and another private donor and £.5 million from public funds. There was a delay in the start of the project because it took longer than expected to finalise funding details with the Department of Education and Science and with the second private donor. However, the planning of the project continued in the first half of 2001, and when the projected funds were secured in full, the project activities began in autumn 2001.

Steering committee

A Steering Committee was set up for Bridging the Gap in Summer 2001. The members of the committee are: Dr. Francis Douglas, Head of Education Department, UCC; Mr. Ray McCarthy, Education Officer, City of Cork VEC; Mr. Tom Costello, Atlantic Philanthropies; Seán Ó Floinn, Assistant Chief Inspector, Department of Education and Science; Mr. Eddie Ward, Assistant Principal Officer, Department of Education and Science; Ms. Michele Power, Access Officer, UCC. The Project Director, Prof. Áine Hyland, the Project Manager, Dr. Tracey Connolly and the Project Consultant, Ms. Cynthia Deane are ex officio members of the Steering Committee.

Strategic plan

Between January and June 2001, an educational management consultant, Cynthia Deane, was engaged to draw up a Strategic Plan for the Bridging the Gap project and to advise on the recruitment of staff. Following a process of research and consultation with key players, five major strands were proposed for the project:

  1. professional development;
  2. school-based research;
  3. school and community level initiatives;
  4. networks;
  5. and dissemination.

An action plan was drawn up, including short, medium and long term goals for the project. Preliminary contact was also made during that period with the schools that would be associated with Bridging the Gap, and they were invited to submit outline proposals for school-based projects.

Project staffing

The project team currently comprises three people. Professor Áine Hyland is the Project Director and she plays an ongoing and active role in the direction of the project. In July 2001, following public advertisement Dr. Tracey Connolly was appointed as Project Manager. Cynthia Deane supports the project on a consultancy basis and, as part of this role, she carries out the internal evaluation and monitoring of the project.

Project links

The Bridging the Gap team works closely with the regional and local co-ordinators of the Whole School Development Planning initiatives at both primary and post-primary levels and has been able to draw on their expertise and knowledge. The project also works closely with UCC's Access Officer and maintains links with the Education Officer of Cork City Partnership and the School Completion Programme. Home School Community Liaison teachers in many of the associated schools attend Bridging the Gap events.

The project team has benefited considerably from the advice and support of Maura Grant, National Director of Programmes relating to Educational Disadvantage, with responsibility for liasing between the various programmes for educational disadvantage and the Educational Disadvantage Committee. Ms. Grant is also National Co-Ordinator of the Breaking the Cycle (Urban) Programme and Giving Children an Even Break (Urban) programme. Since September 2001, Ms. Grant has attended most of the events organised by Bridging the Gap, has visited schools and advised and supported them in relation to their school and community based projects. In this way, Bridging the Gap is implementing its commitment to work in close collaboration with and as an extension of existing State-funded initiatives in disadvantaged areas. It is anticipated that the Department of Education and Science will shortly appoint regionally based co-ordinators for the Giving Children an Even Break (Urban) scheme. Since all of the primary schools in Bridging the Gap are also in the Giving Children an Even Break (Urban) scheme, it is intended that Bridging the Gap will work closely with the Cork based co-ordinator when appointed.

1.3 Project strands

As proposed in the strategic plan, Bridging the Gap has five major strands: professional development; school-based research; school and community level initiatives; networks and dissemination. A brief account of the focus and aims of each of the five strands for the first year of the project is given here. The activities and outcomes of the project in each of the strands are documented in section 3 of the report.

Professional development

Since international research shows that teacher effectiveness and expertise is the single most powerful measurable in-school predictor of student performance, the project is investing significant resources in enhancing the quality of teaching. This has been shown by research to produce considerable gains in student achievement. As a university-based initiative, Bridging the Gap is in a position to draw on a wide range of expertise to provide professional development for principals and teachers. For 2001-2002, the aims of the project in relation to professional development were as follows:

To provide a range of activities on relevant topics for principals and teachers

  • To encourage participation in professional development activities among staff of project schools
  • To facilitate positive learning experiences for participants
  • To promote interaction between teachers from different schools and areas
  • To form the basis of future networks on topics of common interest
  • To win the trust and confidence of principals and teachers in the work of the project
  • To build the profile of the project in the participating schools.

During the first year of the project, the project has provided a range of professional development activities for principals and teachers. A summary of the events is included in Appendix 2.

School-based research

In the action plan it was suggested that, since Bridging the Gap was not considered primarily a research project, major empirical research would not be undertaken as part of the project. The purpose of any data-gathering exercise would be to provide a baseline measure against which the impact of the project could be monitored. A range of research questions was initially suggested, focussed mainly on measuring participation in compulsory and post-compulsory education within the target schools.

Many of the statistical sources that are available at national level were consulted as part of the preparatory research for the project. In subsequent discussion with various interest groups and key individuals, it became clear that this was a somewhat limited approach to data gathering and analysis. Firstly, the focus on participation is a crude measure, since national policy has now adopted a broader definition of disadvantage, seeing it as " the impediments to education arising from social or economic disadvantage which prevent students from deriving appropriate benefit from education in schools". (Education Act, 1998, section 32.9). Secondly, there is a danger that "problem-centred" research carried out externally is perceived within schools as "finger pointing", which can result in the lack of a sense of ownership, both of the data and of the possible change solutions.

Building on the concept of the paradoxical theory of change, where an enhanced awareness of the current realities can act as a catalyst for change, the project adopts an innovative approach to research by making data gathering a focus for action learning by groups of teachers and principals. This community data gathering approach, pioneered in the USA, has been shown in research to support greater collaborative effort and enhanced ownership of change solutions.

In proposing that research would be one of the five major strands of activity for Bridging the Gap, it was suggested that the University could make a valuable contribution by becoming involved in school and community-based research projects. Schools and communities would gain by having access to professional research expertise, and by having a sound basis for action on identified issues. The University, in turn, would gain by engaging with its community in focussed research projects.

While all project activities have an implicit research dimension, with school and community level initiatives in particular structured to set targets and monitor results in a formal way, a small number of dedicated school-based research projects was initiated in the past year. This research aims to develop specific interventions for identified groups of children and young people at risk of early school leaving, and to document progress systematically over a period of time.

School and community level initiativesIt was stated in the strategic plan that there would be scope within the project for schools and community groups to seek support for targeted interventions at local level, provided these met criteria established by the project. This "bottom up" approach has been found to be an effective catalyst for change, especially in the early stages of a project. The aims of the project in relation to school and community based initiatives for 2001-2002 were as follows:

  • to encourage participation of schools in the project
  • to win support for the aims of the project among principals and teachers
    to develop, in collaboration with participants, a model of good practice for systematically setting project targets and monitoring results
  • to improve the school experience of pupils in participating schools.

Schools were invited in September 2001 to submit proposals for initiatives with clearly articulated goals, and to show how they would monitor and report the results of the initiative. Other selection criteria included: consistency with the aims of the Bridging the Gap project, potential for impact and sustainability, availability of finance and other relevant resources. A list of the initiatives funded in 2001-2002 is included in Appendix 3.

Networks

It was pointed out in the strategic plan for Bridging the Gap that classroom teachers are sometimes isolated and can therefore find it difficult to become aware of teaching practices that can improve the experiences of learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. The experience of the UCC Multiple Intelligences project showed that teachers are willing to participate in networks on relevant topics, sharing and building on good practice for the benefit of their pupils. The Bridging the Gap project aims to set up networks of teachers, principals and others (e.g. health professionals and community workers) on topics of interest identified in collaboration with participants. The link with the University enables the project to facilitate networks that can integrate successful approaches from a number of other projects and initiatives.

In 2001-2002, network activity was initiated by bringing teachers and principals together for professional development events on topics of shared interest. Expert facilitators from within the University and from national and international institutions in the field of educational disadvantage worked with groups on the themes related to the aims of the project and the goals of the schools.

Dissemination

The Bridging the Gap project aims to disseminate good practice towards addressing educational disadvantage emerging from a number of sources: research; literature; local, national and international projects and initiatives. It was proposed in the strategic plan that a range of communications media would be used, including a website and a newsletter. Work on developing the project website, a brochure and a newsletter was started in spring 2002. Other dissemination activity in the past year was aimed at publicising the project within the University, on linking with national policy development and national initiatives, and on initiating contact with a range of practitioners in the area of educational disadvantage.

2.1 Principles and aims of evaluation

A number of key principles underpin the approach to the evaluation of the Bridging the Gap project. Firstly, evaluation enhances the project by being an integrated part of the action plan, and internal evaluation runs concurrently with project activities throughout the life of the project. Secondly, evaluation aims to balance concerns of validity and reliability, on the one hand, with authenticity and transparency, on the other. A combination of internal and external evaluation provides this balanced perspective. Finally, and most importantly, evaluation is seen as a collaborative exercise, engaging project participants in setting goals and in monitoring the achievement of these goals. In this way, the project focuses clearly on results, and evaluation positively supports participants in achieving their desired goals.

The model of internal evaluation adopted for the Bridging the Gap project adds value to the project in a number of ways. By taking a holistic and systematic approach to evaluation and involving participants in all stages of the evaluation process, this model

Enables participants to collaborate fully in setting project goals and in monitoring achievement against these goalsEncourages reflection, which has been shown to bring about change in the practice of professionals, including teachersCreates an environment where innovation and risk-taking are possible, because the evaluation is not based on a "finger-pointing" approach, nor on an assumption of deficit and failureFacilitates the concurrent documentation and early analysis of outcomesAllows for processes and actions to be adapted in the light of emerging resultsProvides good examples of practice for dissemination, both within the project and further afieldServes as a basis for integrating the work of the project in the five strands: professional development, school-based research, school and community level initiatives, networks, and dissemination.

The consultant carrying out the internal evaluation acts as "critical friend" to the project, while at the same time assuring the sponsors that the project is effective, has produced results, and can have long-term impact. In this way, the project benefits from having an additional source of professional support, and the University, private funders and the Department of Education and Science are kept informed of progress as required for the purposes of transparency and accountability.

The internal evaluation of the Bridging the Gap project aims

  • to assess the effectiveness of the project in undertaking the proposed actions
  • to measure the impact of the project in terms of its stated goals: short, medium and long term
  • to determine the sustainability of the project, particularly its capacity for dissemination and mainstreaming.

2.2 Evaluation methodology

The design of the internal evaluation framework for the project incorporates elements of the following approaches:

  • participant observation
  • action research
  • co-operative enquiry
  • action learning
  • evaluative enquiry
  • reflective practice.

The main steps in the internal evaluation process for 2001-2002 were as follows:

  1. Agree goals for all strands of the project
  2. Develop reporting formats in collaboration with participants
  3. Monitor feedback from participants: collate data
  4. Conduct first-hand observation to complement data gathered: attend project events, visit schools, interview participants
  5. Provide reports to Project Director and Steering Committee
  6. Advise on action and direction of future work of project.
  7. Identify issues for further development in the next phase of the project.

2.3 Outline of evaluation questions

As part of the collaborative model of evaluation adopted within the project, participants have had an opportunity to discuss the evaluation process and to generate appropriate questions. At the outset of the project in autumn 2001, the following questions about the effectiveness, impact and sustainability of the project were formulated in collaboration with project participants. The questions are both quantitative and qualitative in nature, focused on process as well as on product, on inputs and on outcomes. They are intended to guide the evaluation of actions and intervention within each strand of the project.

Effectiveness

  • Did the proposed action or intervention happen?
  • When and for how long?
  • Who participated?
  • What was the cost?
  • What methodology was employed?
  • What issues did this action or intervention address?
  • Were there any issues arising in implementation?
  • How were these issues addressed?

Impact

  • What goals were set for the action?
  • Were they: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timed (SMART)?
  • Was there a balance between short-term and longer-term goals?
  • Did all participants agree the goals?
  • Were there agreed indicators by which achievement of the goals was measured?
  • Based on these indicators, what was the impact of the action?
  • Were the goals revised in any way in the course of the action?
  • Why and how were they revised, and what was the effect?
  • Are the participants satisfied with the results achieved?
  • What is the proposed next step?
  • What are the three most important learning points from this action?
  • How will the outcomes of this action influence participants' behaviour in the future?

Sustainability

  • Have project principles and practices been integrated with the schools' development plans and the University's strategy/policy?
  • Have structures been put in place for continuity of action?
  • Is there a formalised commitment from University departments and staff to address educational disadvantage?
  • What potential is there for disseminating this model of University/community collaboration
  1. to other universities and higher education institutions
  2. to public policy in Ireland-Internationally?
  • Have the project outcomes been disseminated?
  • How, and to what audiences?
  • Is there scope for the model to be adopted for other educational and social themes and issues, for example community development, environmental projects, health promotion, arts and culture?

The above questions have informed the internal evaluation of the project for 2001-2002, and they are addressed holistically in the next section of the report.

3.1 Professional Development

This strand of the project was considered by the project team to be of considerable importance in the first year of the project, and significant resources were devoted to providing a comprehensive programme of events throughout the school year. There were two main kinds of events: project planning and management sessions (three events), and thematic professional development sessions (six events). A brief outline of the content of each event is included in Appendix 2. The former dealt with substantive project matters, such as completing proposals and monitoring results. They were aimed at principals and project leaders and were scheduled to take place during the working day, finishing with dinner for participants. The latter events were held in UCC from 7.30 to 9.30 pm, and each was followed by light refreshments in the staff restaurant. The intention was to facilitate the participation of classroom teachers without causing disruption to the schools.

In September 2001, a two-day session was organised for school principals to help them to identify specific targets within their school's development plan on which they would focus in the short-term. These targets would then be used as a basis for school and community based initiatives funded by Bridging the Gap. Further sessions were organised for the principals in the second and third terms, to support them in monitoring and documenting progress against the targets that they had set at the beginning of the year. During the two-day session in September, the principals also identified topics for teacher professional development and a series of evening events was organised during the year. These included sessions on Assertive Discipline, Multiple Intelligences, Active Learning Methodologies, Music in the Classroom, Making the most of Support Initiatives and Literacy through the Arts.

In addition to these events, five scholarships were made available for school principals to attend an intensive one-week Summer Institute in the Harvard Graduate School of Education in summer 2002. Applicants for these scholarships were required to explain in their application how their attendance at this course would contribute to their personal and professional development and to their schools' development. A total of eighteen people applied and the names of the five successful applicants were drawn by lottery. In addition to these five people (all of whom were from primary schools) the Access programme in UCC provided two further scholarships, one for a post-primary principal and one for the principal of an out of school centre. Thus, a total of seven Cork city schools were represented at the Summer Institute in 2002. Five other schools in the Bridging the Gap project were represented at the Institute in the year 2000. An informal briefing session was held for this year's participants in May 2002.

The Bridging the Gap project also funded the attendance of six teachers from participating project schools at a one-week conference on educational disadvantage held in St. Patrick's College, Drumcondra, Dublin in July 2002.

An average of one event was held per month in the period September 2001-May 2002. The events covered a range of topics identified by the project team and school principals as being relevant to the interests of teachers in project schools. It can be seen from the above figures that there was a high level of participation in the events, especially those that dealt with the formal aspects of the project. Two-thirds of the schools attended at least half of the events, a remarkable rate of involvement considering the difficult climate in schools this year arising from ongoing industrial relations issues. All of the target schools, with the exception of one, were represented at the first two-day session on goal setting. All of the schools that received funding for their proposed school-based initiatives attended the subsequent sessions on project monitoring and documentation. The evening sessions were attended mostly by teachers who had a particular interest in the specific topics, linked in many cases to their school-based initiative.

  • to facilitate positive learning experiences for participants
  • to promote interaction between teachers from different schools and areas
  • to form the basis of future networks on topics of common interest

It is clear from the level of participation that teachers considered the content of the professional development programme worthwhile, particularly as so many people attended the evening events in out-of-school time. The feedback from participants was extremely positive. They welcomed the opportunity to meet with colleagues from other schools and to participate in events that were relevant to their concerns. They enjoyed the social aspect of networking with teachers from other areas, and they found the university to be a helpful facilitator in this respect. Two of the longer daytime events were held in a nearby hotel, and were followed by dinner for participants, speakers and the project team. These events proved very popular, enabling groups of principals and teachers to work together in a focussed and productive way, and to develop helpful contacts with other project schools.

  • to win the trust and confidence of principals and teachers in the work of the project
  • to build the profile of the project in the participating schools.

Participants in all of the professional development events expressed strong support for the work of the project both in their contributions to the workshop sessions and in informal conversations with the project team. The project manager, who was in ongoing contact with schools concerning the organisation of the programme, followed up the contacts made at the events by visiting thirty-two schools during the year. In the course of these visits, she was able to meet staff and promote the project more widely. In some schools, staff were not fully aware of the project, as the information sent to schools had not always been disseminated to all staff. It is possible that even more teachers would have attended had they been made aware of the programme of events.

From the perspective of effectiveness, it is clear that the professional development strand of the project achieved its goals for 2001-2002. Its impact, measured in terms of levels of participation and interaction, the facilitation of positive learning experiences and network opportunities for participants, and the building of awareness, trust and confidence in the project, has been considerable. From the point of view of sustainability, it is perhaps too early to judge the success of this element of the project at this stage. In the future, it is recommended that there should be systematic follow-up of the outcomes of the professional development programme, which will help to determine longer-term impact and sustainability. A useful approach in this regard is Kirkpatick's (1977) model for evaluating learning, which uses four stages to measure the learners' reaction to learning, the extent of their learning, the application of learning to the work/practice context of the learners, and the broader impact of learning on organisation/community/society.

There is an issue, however, about the feasibility of the project directly providing an extensive professional development programme on a continuing basis, given the limited staffing resources within the project. While events in last year were successful and cost-effective, constraints were imposed by the availability of rooms in the university, and by the capacity of one staff member to organise the programme as part of a varied and demanding job-description. It may be preferable in the future for the project to adopt the role of broker, helping groups to identify professional development needs and outsourcing delivery of the programme of events to other providers, including relevant University departments.

3.2 School-based research

As outlined in 1.3 above, all Bridging the Gap project activities have an implicit research dimension, with school and community level initiatives in particular structured to set targets and monitor results in a formal way. However, a small number of dedicated school-based research projects was initiated in the past year. The main aim of the research strand of the project in 2001-2002 was to make data gathering a focus for action learning by groups of teachers and principals. Researchers from schools are being helped by the project to develop specific interventions for identified groups of children and young people at risk of early school leaving, and to document progress systematically over a period of time. The University supports researchers by contributing professional research expertise to the school and community-based projects.

Representatives from six schools attended a one-day session on school-based research in March, facilitated by Professor Damian Hannan of the Economic and Social Research Institute. Arising out of this session, four schools identified a teacher-researcher to work with Professor Áine Hyland in articulating a specific research proposal and in developing and working on a research project over the next two years. Following a number of meetings with Professor Hyland and Dr. Tracey Connolly, the researchers have submitted detailed outlines of their proposed projects, and these will be submitted for approval to the University before the researchers are registered for post-graduate programmes. The Bridging the Gap project will pay the fees of successful applicants.

The proposed research topics are:

  • how the challenges of early school leaving were addressed in a disadvantaged secondary school on the north side of Cork city, 1990-1999
  • an evaluation of the effectiveness of programmes provided by an out-of-school centre for early school leavers in Cork city
  • a study of children with Specific Language Impairment and the operation of language classes for these children attached to a mainstream primary school
  • an in-depth study of early school leavers from a North-side post-primary school.

The research strand of the project has the potential to have considerable impact over the life of the project, both at the level of individual schools and collectively across all project schools. The research approaches adopted in the selected school-based projects can be more widely disseminated to other interventions in schools and communities within the project, to encourage good practice in gathering and using data as a basis for action. At a national level, there is the opportunity for the project to demonstrate and promote a more rigorous focus on goals and results within initiatives targeted at addressing educational disadvantage.

3.3 School and community level initiatives

As indicated in section1.3 above, the aims of the project in relation to school and community based initiatives for 2001-2002 were:

  • to encourage participation of schools in the project
  • to win support for the aims of the project among principals and teachers
  • to develop, in collaboration with participants, a model of good practice for systematically setting project targets and monitoring results
  • to improve the school experience of pupils in participating schools.

Funding of over 87,000 was allocated from the Bridging the Gap budget in 2001-2002 to school and community level initiatives that met the agreed selection criteria. In the period to end June 2002, twenty-three schools have been sanctioned for funding. The projects funded include music and arts; language development and reading; after school and homework clubs; curriculum support. Each school that is being funded under this heading is required to document progress made in relation to the stated goals of the project. 

It is evident that the availability of a relatively small amount of funding for such initiatives is an incentive to schools to become involved in this strand of the project. There has been very enthusiastic participation by principals and teachers in the process of setting and monitoring project goals, with high-quality proposals being submitted by schools seeking project funding. The project has encouraged schools to adopt a more systematic approach to setting targets and monitoring the achievement of their initiative against these targets over the period of the project. Many of the initiatives undertaken by schools have already begun to show positive impact on the learning experiences of pupils. In some cases, the progress of the pupils targeted by the specific project has been highlighted in a visible way - e.g. a public performance, exhibition, video or publication.

In June 2002, seven hundred children from eighteen of the primary schools participating in the project visited UCC for two concerts given by the Cork Pops Orchestra and organised by the Project Manager. This event was intended to entertain the young people and at the same time to introduce them to the university campus and its facilities. After the concerts, the children were given refreshments and some groups walked through the college grounds with their teachers. Both pupils and teachers regarded the event as a positive experience. A report and photographs appeared in the Evening Echo on 21 June 2002. While no formal evaluation was conducted, it appears from the responses of participants that the event was successful in attracting a large number of children to visit the university and in presenting the university as an accessible place for pupils from project schools.

For the purpose of evaluating the outcomes of this strand of the project, the school and community level initiatives are divided into clusters, and for each cluster there is a brief summary of the key goals set, and the ways in which schools are documenting progress towards achieving these goals. There is also an account of the outcomes that have been reported by schools to date, including any activities that have been undertaken to showcase results.

3.4 Networks

As outlined in section 1.3 above, the Bridging the Gap project aims to set up networks of teachers, principals and others (e.g. health professionals and community workers) on topics of interest identified in collaboration with participants. In 2001-2002, network activity was initiated by bringing teachers and principals together for professional development events on topics of shared interest as shown in 3.1 above. Expert facilitators from within the University and from national and international institutions in the field of educational disadvantage worked with groups on the themes related to the aims of the project and the goals of the schools. Participants greatly welcomed the opportunity presented by the project to make links with fellow professionals in the interest of sharing learning and experience.

An important part of network development in the past year has been the initiation of links between the Bridging the Gap project and University departments. The president of the University invited heads of departments to a meeting in May 2002, where he stated the University's commitment to the project and encouraged departments to support it by becoming involved in its activities. There has been a positive response from staff in a range of departments who wish to become involved. This link with University departments will enable the project to initiate networks that can be further developed as the project progresses. In this way, the impact of the project will be enhanced, and the outcomes are more likely to be sustainable because changes in practice will become embedded within schools and communities, supported by the continuous learning taking place among networks of professionals.

While it can be seen that some progress has been achieved in the initiation of networks during 2001-2002, it is clearly the least developed of the five project strands to date. However, the work that has already been done will serve as a basis for further development next year: there is the nucleus of a very effective network in the arts/music area, for example, and the proposed geographical clustering of schools under the auspices of national initiatives offers an opportunity for the project to facilitate a number of local networks.

3.5 Dissemination

The Bridging the Gap project aimed in 2001-2002 to begin a process of disseminating good practice towards addressing educational disadvantage. Essentially, this involved two interrelated strands of activity: bringing good practice from a number of sources - research, literature, local, national and international projects and initiatives - from the outside in, and bringing the good practice developed within the project from the inside out. The professional development activities facilitated by the project all served the purpose of disseminating good examples of practice from a range of national and international literature, research and policy initiatives. In addition, the principles on which the Bridging the Gap project is based were clearly articulated through the professional development events, so that all participants are fully aware of the aims and operating structures of the project. This building of shared understanding is an important first step in the dissemination process.

It was proposed in the strategic plan that a range of communications media, including a website and a newsletter, would be used to disseminate to a wider audience the good practice emerging from the Bridging the Gap project. Work on developing the project website, a brochure and a newsletter was started in spring 2002. The Bridging the Gap team also worked in other ways to disseminate research findings and good practice. The Project Director, Professor Áine Hyland, was appointed to chair the Educational Disadvantage Committee set up by the Minister for Education and Science under Section 32 of the 1998 Education Act. Her involvement in this committee provides a conduit for ongoing dissemination of the experiences of the Bridging the Gap project and other initiatives. It will also provide a direct link with more than twenty other national and local projects represented on the national committee.

Since summer 2001, the Bridging the Gap project team has made submissions to the National Anti-Poverty Strategy Forum, to the national consultative process on the EU Commission's Memorandum on Lifelong Learning, and to the National Qualifications Authority. Professor Áine Hyland has presented a number of papers at conferences and seminars on educational disadvantage; at the National Economic and Social Forum and at the annual conference of the Educational Studies Association of Ireland (see Figure 1, below). Dr Tracey Connolly has presented papers at seminars organised by the Cork City Partnership, the Clonmel Community Partnership and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

Presentations on educational disadvantage made by Professor Áine Hyland 2001-2002

24th May 2001: A presentation entitled "Educational Disadvantage" given at a Seminar relating to the National Anti-Poverty Strategy organised by the Department of Education and Science in the Marino Institute of Education.

24th September 2001: A talk on Educational Disadvantage given to a group from the Provincialate of the Presentation Sisters in the South Presentation Convent, Cork.

12th December 2001: A talk to representatives of various educational groups involved with educational disadvantage, in response to a draft report of the National Economic and Social Forum on Early School Leaving.

6th February 2002: A talk entitled "Addressing the Needs of Disadvantaged Students" given at a seminar in Limerick organised by the Teachers Union of Ireland.

22nd March 2002: Paper entitled "Are Current Structures of Schooling in Ireland Appropriate for all our young people?" read at the annual conference of the Educational Studies Association of Ireland in Trinity College Dublin.

3rd July 2002: Talk entitled "Educational Disadvantage - Solutions for the Future" given at the National Forum on Educational Disadvantage in St. Patrick's College, Drumcondra.

It can be seen from the above that the Bridging the Gap project has been very effective in initiating its dissemination process in its first year of operation. The planned development of a website and a newsletter in the autumn of 2002 will further enhance this strand of the project. There is already a considerable wealth of material that has been generated within the school and community based initiatives, and this could be disseminated immediately via the website as soon as it is available. It has been found in the past year, however, that email is not widely used in many of the project schools. It is not clear whether this is because of lack of confidence in or familiarity with the technology on the part of teachers, or because of logistics or infrastructural issues, such as the availability of computer workstations and internet connections. This is an issue to be addressed in the next year of the project, to support the dissemination strand of the project, both inside out and outside in.

4.1 Conclusions

In conclusion, the internal evaluation of the project for 2001-2002 shows that Bridging the Gap has made considerable progress towards achieving its goals for the year. Since it was launched, forty-one of the forty-two target schools have participated in one or more of the five project strands. (The one remaining school has indicated that it will participate next year.) Schools have put forward proposals for initiatives to address aspects of educational disadvantage in their school community. They have set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timed (SMART) goals and have systematically monitored their progress against these goals. Many of them have generated excellent documentation of their project's outcomes, or have showcased the work of pupils for a community audience. Teachers have participated in a range of focussed professional development activities and have implemented changes in their own practice. They have begun to share learning, expertise and experience with other teachers, and some have embarked on extended research projects within their schools. The project has also succeeded in establishing the foundations of its future networking and dissemination strategies.

During this year, the project has also met a number of challenges. A delay in finalising funding arrangements was an obstacle to planning in the early stages, but this was overcome and all strands of the project were enabled to proceed from autumn 2001. It was a difficult year for industrial relations in post-primary schools in particular, and this seems to have had an impact on the participation of these schools in the project. Half of the ten post-primary schools in the target group submitted projects for approval in 2001-2002, compared with almost three-quarters of the primary schools (twenty-one out of twenty-nine schools). These figures include both school based initiatives and school-based research projects.

Communication with teachers also proved somewhat problematic. While correspondence was sent to the principals concerning the professional development programme, the project team discovered that not all teachers were aware of the events. It is not clear whether this was because principals did not communicate the information, or because teachers themselves did not read it, or because the means of communication was inadequate. Whatever the reason, it is an issue that needs to be addressed next year if the project is to have whole-school impact. On the positive side, schools were very diligent in returning documentation to the project manager as requested. Forms were generally well completed and reports conformed to the given guidelines. The efficiency of the project would be greatly enhanced, however, if in future all of the documents were completed and returned by schools electronically.

 

4.2 Recommendations

The following recommendations are made for building on the success of the project as it moves into its second year of operation. Each of the recommendations effectively constitutes a goal for the project for the school year 2002-2003. Specific targets related to these goals are proposed in the next section.

Strategy and structures

Maintain the momentum that has been established in each of the five project strands, reviewing progress continuously against the strategic plan

  1. Agree targets for each of the strands to be achieved by summer 2003.
  2. Increase the level of involvement of university departments in the project.
  3. Report progress to the Steering Group twice a year.
  4. Increase the effectiveness of communications within the project, using information and communications technologies where possible.
  5. Form strategic links with partners to whom some project activities can be outsourced.

Project strands

School and community based initiatives

Maintain the balanced integration of all five strands of the project that has developed to date. The school and community based initiatives, in particular, play a central role in implementing the project's strategy. In the coming year, it is recommended that the existing model of selecting and supporting these projects should continue, with additional schools being encouraged to prepare proposals for funding. Resources available within the university should be exploited to the full, and new areas to be explored might include projects in the areas of the environment (a school or community garden, for example); science and technology awareness for primary school pupils; health and nutrition; sport, local history and culture.

Networks and professional development

Bring principals and project leaders together early in the autumn of 2002, to review the progress of the project for the past year and to agree targets for 2002-2003. Focus in particular on planning for school and community based initiatives, on identifying possible networks, and on discussing the professional development needs of teachers.

Establish networks by bringing together clusters of projects, either thematic or geographical. Facilitate network meetings, and enable the networks to identify their professional development needs. Devise a professional development programme to meet these needs over the life of the project and outsource programme delivery where possible, working for example with university departments, the local education centre, or national education support services.

Consider engaging people to act as network co-ordinators or facilitators in a part-time or temporary/seconded capacity. Initially, this could be done on a trial basis with one network, for example arts/music. The experience should be monitored and if the outcomes are worthwhile, it could be extended to other groups.

Establish an action learning network of principals, based on the core group who have attended the Harvard Summer Institute in 2002. Facilitate this network in identifying the professional development needs of principals and in developing a programme to address these needs over the life of the project. Facilitate an action learning project for members of the network who wish to participate.

Work with the local cluster co-ordinators with responsibility for educational disadvantage initiatives, to be appointed in autumn 2002, to identify ways in which the Bridging the Gap project can support the work of the schools in their clusters.

Dissemination

Complete the development work on the project website by autumn 2002, and publicise it as the main medium of communication within the project. 

Provide support to enable schools and teachers use the website and email communication. 

Publish a web-based newsletter twice a year, outsourcing the editing and production as necessary.

Produce and circulate a paper-based brochure with outline information about the project, referring readers to the website for more detailed information. Send a copy to each teacher in all project schools, to raise awareness of the project.

Target a number of key audiences for dissemination of information about the project in 2002-2003.

Engage participating schools in the dissemination process.

Plan a showcase event for spring 2003, where the work of the project can be publicised widely. Clarify at the outset the purpose and audience of the event, the desired messages to be communicated, and the appropriate media to be employed. It is recommended that this event be linked to one of the networks and that resources be provided to the group to organise the event.

4.3 Project targets for 2002-2003

The Bridging the Gap project has defined a goal-based strategy to address educational disadvantage in Cork City schools. The setting and monitoring of goals and targets is an important part of the project methodology. All participating schools are being helped through the project to identify SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timed) targets for their school and community based initiatives. In keeping with this target-setting approach, the following targets are proposed for the project in the school year beginning autumn 2002.

a) Increase the number of actively participating schools by twenty per cent (i.e. five additional schools)

b) Increase the number of teachers attending professional development events by 25 per cent over last year's figures.

c) Facilitate links between at least three university departments and project schools

d) Establish email/website as the main means of communication within the project, so that by summer 2003 at least 60 per cent of all project communication is electronic

e) Use ICT for all communications within research and network strands, and in parallel with traditional written communication in the other strands.

f) Provide a course (for example, in collaboration with the National Centre for Technology in Education) to support schools and teachers in implementing ICT within the project.

g) Establish two networks and focus the professional development strand of the project to meet needs identified by the members of the networks.

h) Add two further school-based research projects by spring 2003.

i) Select six relevant opportunities for disseminating the project nationally, through presentations or written submissions.

Appendix 2

SUMMARY OF PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT EVENTS 2001-2002

1. Project planning and management sessions

Seminar 1   

  • Title: Goal setting for effective projects
  • Date: 28-29 September 2001
  • Facilitators: Áine Hyland, Tracey Connolly, Cynthia Deane, Maura Grant, Jean Geoghegan, Frances Leahy, Mary Linehan
  • Participants: Principals and project co-ordinators from project schoolsAttendance: 62 people from 41 schools
  • Brief overview: At this two-day session, the project team outlined the goal-based strategy and introduced the SMART targets model. Participants were facilitated in framing their own project goals in workshop sessions, using a template supplied by the project consultant. Criteria were agreed for the selection of school and community based proposals for project funding. A proposal for the internal evaluation of the project was also agreed. Following the seminar, schools were invited to submit detailed proposals for school and community based initiatives, including explicit statements of goals.

Seminar 2

  • Title: Documenting the progress of your project
  • Date: 21 February 2002
  • Facilitators: Áine Hyland, Tracey Connolly, Cynthia Deane, Maura Grant
  • Participants: Principals and project co-ordinators from project schools
  • Attendance: 46 people from 28 schools
  • Brief overview: At this session, schools participating in the project worked together in clusters to explore a range of options for documenting, recording and reporting the progress of their school and community based initiatives. The project team outlined some of the key principles guiding the collection and use of data. An approach to using rubrics was also presented and discussed in small group sessions. Following this session, schools were requested to draw up plans for documenting the progress of their projects.

Seminar 3

  • Title: Sharing experiences: the United States and Cork City
  • Date: 13 May 2002
  • Facilitators: Anita Madrid (USA), Áine Hyland, Tracey Connolly, Cynthia Deane
  • Participants: Principals and project co-ordinators from project schoolsAttendance: 41 people from 27 schools
  • Brief overview: At this session, the guest speaker, Anita Madrid, spoke of her experience working with the Berkeley Pledge, in the University of Berkeley, California, USA. The initial proposal for the Bridging the Gap project was partly based on the work in Berkeley. There was an informative question and answer session during which Anita responded to issues raised by participants, providing insights into how the Berkeley project dealt with issues similar to those faced by Cork schools. Principals and teachers from a number of project schools made brief presentations about the work of their projects, paying particular attention to how they are monitoring and recording progress against their targets. Anita complimented the Bridging the Gap project on the progress to date, and on the effective measures put in place for assessing results. Following the seminar, schools were asked to complete and return a short progress report on their project.

2. Thematic Professional Development Sessions

Six seminars were held in the period from November 2001 to March 2002. Staff of all Bridging the Gap schools, the Education Department in UCC and representatives of community based and national initiatives were invited to all six events. Each seminar followed by a reception at the Staff Restaurant in UCC.

Seminar 1

  • Title: An Interactive Presentation on Assertive Discipline in the Classroom
  • Presenter: Brendan O' Brien, Principal, Youth Encounter School, Cork
  • Date: Monday 19th November 2001Time: 7.30p.m - 9.30p.m.
  • Venue: Block A Level 1 Food Science Building
  • Brief Overview: Through the use of overheads Brendan outlined the different forms of discipline in the classroom and the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of each. Brendan set up a classroom type scenario with the audience, whereby one member was the misbehaving pupil. Brendan role played the teacher and illustrated the effect that each different approach to disciplining the pupil had on the pupil, teacher and class. Brendan referred to literature on discipline and showed the participants a number of books that deal with classroom discipline.

Seminar 2

  • Title: Supporting Music in the Classroom, in the School and in the Community
  • Presenters: Maura Grant, Breaking the Cycle Urban; Billy Clifford (Principal), Albert Groake, & Kathleen Vaughan (Teachers) Scoil Íosagáin, Farranree, Cork; Evelyn Grant, Conductor and Community Music Specialist
  • Chair: Prof. David Cox, Music Dept UCC
  • Date: Wednesday 28th November 2001
  • Time: 7.30p.m - 9.30p.m.
  • Venue: Room 123 O'Rahilly Building
  • Brief Overview: Maura Grant gave an overview of music and its positive effects on pupils. The staff of Scoil Íosagáin explained the steps that were involved in setting up a school band, they referred to the problems that arose and how they were met such as no hall in the school, problems in funding instruments. The staff also explained the methods they use in teaching music. Evelyn Grant discussed her experience teaching music in the school and community and demonstrated a number of music instruments that are suitable for primary school children.Prof. Cox chaired the sessions and gave final comments

Seminar 3

  • Title: Using Multiple Intelligences in your Classroom - An Introduction
  • Presenters: Prof. Áine Hyland & Marian Mc Carthy, Department of Education, UCC
  • Date: Wednesday 5th December 2001Time: 7.30p.m - 9.30p.m.
  • Venue: Council Room
  • Brief Overview: Through the use of a PowerPoint presentation, Prof. Hyland briefly outlined the theory of Multiple Intelligences with particular reference to the work of Howard Gardner. Marian Mc Carthy interactively involved the participants in exercises that demonstrated the application of the theory in the classroom. There was a lively discussion on how teachers can tap into pupils' Multiple Intelligences.

Seminar 4

  • Title: Making the Most of Supportive Initiatives in Your School Community
  • Presenters: Prof. Áine Hyland (Bridging the Gap); Liz Nolan (Principal) St. Mary's on the Hill N.S., Knocknaheeny, Cork
  • Date: Tuesday 5th February 2002
  • Time: 7.30p.m - 9.30p.m.
  • Venue: Council Room, UCC
  • Brief Overview: Prof. Hyland began the session with a PowerPoint presentation outlining the problems of educational disadvantage and initiatives undertaken at a State level to tackle these problems. Liz followed by giving a brief overview of St. Mary's on the Hill (which is a Bridging the Gap school) and explained the various educational initiatives that the school is involved in. As Principal, she feels that these initiatives are having a positive impact on her school. In the discussion that followed, principals and teachers from other schools spoke of their own experiences of the various initiatives, and of the issues involved in implementing them in their schools.

Seminar 5

  • Title: Literacy through the Arts
  • Presenter: Maura Grant (Breaking the Cycle, Urban
  • Date: Tuesday 26th February 2002
  • Time: 7.30p.m. - 9.30 p.m.
  • Venue: Food Science Building Block A Level 1
  • Brief Overview: This was an interactive session. Participants worked in groups of six. Each group carried out a number of exercises showing how the arts can be used as a pathway to literacy in the classroom. Through these exercises participants engaged in an experiential learning process that they could then apply in their classrooms. For example, each group was given a poem and a story and had to plan how to act out the poem using various musical instruments and creating their own music, songs and movement to suit the words and theme of the poem or story. Maura circulated a folder of various exercises, which focused on literacy and learning through the arts and could be used in the classroom.

Seminar 6

  • Title: Active Learning in Your Classroom
  • Presenter: Marian Mc Carthy, Education Department, UCC
  • Date: Monday 11th March 2002
  • Time: 7.30p.m. - 9.30p.m.
  • Venue: Council Room
  • Brief Overview: Marian started the interactive session by using examples of pupil answers that demonstrated understanding and lack of understanding of what was taught. To illustrate the application of the teaching for understanding framework, groups of five were formed and each group was given a box containing items that had to be used in creating a story. Each group was instructed to present in a certain way, for example mime, focus on sounds and narration. In the discussion that followed the exercises, participants explored ways in which different pathways to understanding might be used to encourage active learning in the classroom.
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