Foreword

This has been another exciting year for Bridging the Gap. All involved in the project built very successfully on the work of the first year to further the aims of Bridging the Gap and to achieve the goals and targets set at both project and school level. We are now close to the half way mark on this five-year venture and we are confident that the early success of the project will be maintained and enhanced in the next three years.

The goals which we set a year ago seemed at the time to be very ambitious but we are pleased to report that we achieved virtually all of them. Our schools also set themselves ambitious goals and were successful in achieving them. We have been impressed by the creative and diverse approaches taken by the schools and communities in meeting the challenges they identified. Their successes show that "one size does not fit all" and that there is no one right "right" solution to educational disadvantage.

In a significant number of school-based projects, the schools chose the arts as tool for enhancing teaching and learning. International research has found that learners can attain higher levels of achievement through their engagement with the arts and that the arts can help "level the playing field" for youngsters from disadvantaged circumstances. These findings have been borne out by the experiences of Bridging the Gap to date.

I would like to thank all those involved in the project, especially Tracey Connolly, Project Manager, Cynthia Deane, internal evaluator, and the principals, teachers and parents for their commitment and enthusiasm. Special thanks are due to the three funders of the project - Atlantic Philanthropies, the Department of Education and Science and an anonymous Co. Cork philanthropist, who between them have contributed almost two million euro towards this five-year initiative. I would also like to express my thanks to Professor G.T. Wrixon, President of UCC and to my colleagues in the university for their ongoing support and encouragement. Bridging the Gap is particularly proud to have contributed to the success of UCC in achieving the "University of the Year" award from the Sunday Times in September 2003.

Professor Áine Hyland, Project Director

 

R eflection on the year

In its second year, the Bridging the Gap project has grown considerably and gathered a positive momentum. This has been particularly evident to me in my visits to schools where pupils, teacher and parents involved in projects are working together towards the holistic development of pupils. Enthusiasm and commitment abound in all schools.

This year saw the doors of UCC being opened again to the pupils in Bridging the Gap schools and to their teachers and parents. The showcasing events of June 2003 held in UCC were tremendously successful in celebrating the pupils' talents. One enthused pupil who performed at the showcasing event proudly told me that she certainly would be attending UCC when she grew up. In April 2003, UCC (bridging the Gap and Ionad na Gaeilge Labartha) also hosted a visit from pupils, where a student asked me if Einstein had attended UCC. I told him that Einstein had not, but he still decided that he would focus on his schooling and go to UCC. Clearly aspirations were raised by these visits to UCC.

UCC staff have increased their involvement in Bridging the Gap by assisting in professional development and school based projects. Other groups such as Cork Opera House became involved in the project during the year. The project has clearly become a wider community as a result. Scholarships for principals to attend the Project Zero Classroom at Harvard Graduate School of Education enhanced professional development in teaching for understanding as well as forming networks and building on friendships.

This year also saw more public awareness of Bridging the Gap, particularly through a Radio na Gaeltachta interview with pupils, principals and UCC staff and an article by Dr. Garret Fitzgerald, chancellor of the National University of Ireland in the Irish Times, which commended the work of the project.

It has again been a privilege to be involved in Bridging the Gap in the year 2002-2003 and thank you to everyone for your continued involvement and support.

Dr. Tracey Connolly, Project Manager

 

Introduction

Bridging the Gap is an innovative project aimed at enhancing the educational experience of young people in Cork City. It runs from 2001 to 2006. The project aims to "bridge the gap" between the educational opportunities and achievements of pupils in schools in disadvantaged areas of Cork city and those in other 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. The project is co-ordinated by University College Cork, funded jointly by the Department of Education and Science and by private funding obtained by UCC. Forty-two schools and centres in Cork City are participating in the project. There is a steering group for the project, which includes representatives from the Department of Education and Science, City of Cork VEC, and one of the funders. The project team includes staff from a number of University departments. The project collaborates with schools and other agencies working in local communities. It also links with state-funded educational opportunity initiatives. The project manager is Dr. Tracey Connolly.

This is the second annual evaluation report of the Bridging the Gap project. It describes the work of the project in the period from September 2002 to August 2003. The report was compiled by Cynthia Deane, project consultant, from extensive material provided by the project manager and by the participating schools. The report is both a record of the project's activities over the year and an evaluation of its achievements in relation to the goals set for the period. It includes four main sections. In the first section, the project is outlined briefly, and there is a summary of the main goals, targets and results for 2002-2003. In the second section, the year's activities in each of the project strands are described, and the outcomes are documented. The third section presents an evaluation of the project, based on reports submitted by schools. In keeping with the collaborative approach to evaluation adopted within the project, the comments of pupils, parents, teachers and policy makers are included. In the final section, conclusions are drawn and recommendations are made for the development of the project in the coming year

 

1.1 Aims of the project

By enhancing educational opportunity for pupils, Bridging the Gap aims to establish Cork City as a centre of excellence for educational inclusion. The project helps school communities and individuals to achieve their educational goals. Statutory and voluntary agencies are contributing their expertise and experience, working together to achieve success. The project also aims to bridge the gap between

  • Project outcomes and national policy
  • Individual teachers and whole school approaches
  • The university and the community.

1.2 Project activities

Bridging the Gap has five major strands: professional development, networks, research, dissemination, and school-level initiatives. A unique aspect of the project is the close link with the university, which supports development in all project strands.

Strand 1: Professional development

Teacher effectiveness/expertise is the single most powerful measurable in-school predictor of student performance

The project is investing significant resources in professional development for teachers. This has been shown by research to produce considerable gains in student achievement. Workshops and seminars on relevant topics are provided for principals and teachers on a regular basis.

Strand 2: Networks

The experience of the UCC Multiple Intelligences project has shown that teachers are willing to participate in networks on relevant topics, sharing and building on good practice for the benefit of their pupils. Through the Bridging the Gap project, UCC is working with networks of teachers, principals and others (for example community workers) on topics of interest identified in collaboration with participants.

Strand 3: Research

The project adopts a "community approach" to gathering and analysing data in all of its strands, which supports greater collaborative effort and enhanced ownership of project outcomes. Within the school-level initiatives in particular, teachers are encouraged to gather and analyse data that demonstrate achievement of their own project's goals and targets. This is an innovative approach in the context of educational disadvantage in Ireland.

Strand 4: Dissemination

The project offers an opportunity to disseminate good practice emerging from a number of sources: research; literature; local, national and international projects and initiatives. Through the project activities, schools and teachers are collating examples of good practice occurring locally and sharing these with a wider audience.

Strand 5: School and community level interventions

There is scope within the project for schools and community groups to seek support for targeted interventions at local level, aimed at improving the school experience in a measurable way. This "bottom up" approach has been found to be an effective catalyst for change, and has helped to win support for the project at school level.

University-community links

The support of the university is fundamental to the work of the project in all five strands. UCC has formed positive links with the city communities and with primary and second-level schools in these areas. Bridging the Gap helps the University to fulfil its community mission and provides a rich opportunity to develop university/school partnerships.

This kind of partnership has the potential to be a new way of life, not just another project, and to change the culture not only of the schools, but also of the university.

1.3 Project goals and 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 approach, the first annual project evaluation report published in 2003 proposed a number of key goals and targets for the project in the 2002-2003 school year. The following summary shows the results achieved in relation to the set targets:

School and community based initiatives

Goal

  • Continue to support these initiatives, with additional schools being encouraged to prepare proposals for funding.

Target

  • Increase the number of actively participating schools by 20 per cent (i.e. five additional schools).

Result

  • Nine new schools involved, a 40 per cent increase.

Networks and professional development

Goals

  • Establish networks by bringing together clusters of projects.
  • Establish an action learning network of principals, based on the core group who attended the Harvard Summer Institute in 2002.

Targets

  • Establish two networks and focus the professional development strand of the project to meet needs identified by the members of the networks.
  • Increase the number of teachers attending professional development events by 25 per cent over last year's figures.

Results

  • Principals' network was initiated and ICT course organised in response to demand.
  • Attendance at events remains at same level as last year.

 

Dissemination
Goals

  • Complete the development work on the project website by autumn 2002.
  • Provide support to enable schools and teachers to use the website and email communication.
  • Produce and circulate a printed brochure 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, to publicise the work of the project.

Targets

  • 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.
  • Use information technology for all communications within research and network strands, and in parallel with traditional written communication in the other strands.
  • Provide a course to support schools and teachers in implementing ICT within the project.
  • Select six relevant opportunities for disseminating the project nationally, through presentations or written submissions.

Results

  • Website has been developed and is functioning.
  • E-mail is increasingly being used for communications: 70 per cent of school reports were sent electronically.
  • All researchers in the research strand of the project use information technology for communication and exchange of information.
  • ICT skills course was provided for principals, in collaboration with the National Centre for Technology in Education.
  • Brochure was published and circulated.Media publicity has been generated at national level: four newspaper articles and two radio interviews.
  • Showcase event was held in UCC over two days in June 2003: 1200 children participated.
  • A video recording was made of the showcase event.

University links and Research

Goal

  • Increase the level of involvement of university departments in the project.

Targets

  • Facilitate links between at least three university departments and project schools.
  • Establish links with two further relevant research projects by spring 2003.

Results

  • Approximately fifteen university departments have committed to supporting project
  • Direct links have been established with three departments.
  • Two new research projects were initiated on topics of relevance to Bridging the Gap schools.

In this section the activities under each of the five project strands in 2002-2003 are described briefly.

2. 1 Professional development

International research has shown that teacher effectiveness/expertise is the single most powerful measurable in-school predictor of student performance. 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. During the first two years of the project, significant resources have been invested in providing a range of such activities. The events have been well attended and participants have given very positive feedback about the relevance and usefulness of the sessions provided.

For its professional development programme in 2002 to 2003, the project drew on the expertise of local, national and international contributors from a range of backgrounds. Sessions were presented by speakers from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (Frances Leahy), the National Centre for Technology in Education (Mary O'Leary, later with NCCA) and the Harvard Graduate School of Education (Lois Hetland). The project also consolidated its links with its local partners by inviting speakers and facilitators from the community (Eve Phillips), the University (Mike Fitzgibbon, Famine Studies Centre), a project school (John Meaney), and the arts community (Maura Currivan).

In addition to these events, the successful Harvard scholarship scheme was repeated in 2003. Five scholarships were made available by the project for school principals to attend an intensive one-week Summer Institute in the Harvard Graduate School of Education in summer 2003. The scholarship scheme was very successful, with participants reporting that they derived considerable professional benefit from their attendance at the summer institute.

Significant progress was made in 2002-2003 in gaining support for the project from staff from a wide range of departments in UCC. A briefing session on the project was held for UCC staff on 19 November 2002, and approximately thirty people attended, from a number of university departments and services. Arising from the offers of support, which have been followed up by detailed discussions with the Project Manager, it has been possible to extend the programme of professional development for teachers, and the links that have been established offer opportunities for further development next year.

ICT course for project school principalsOne of the project targets for the year was to increase the use of ICT for project communications. In response to a demand expressed by the principals' network, a course on ICT skills was provided for principals in April-May 2003. The main goal of the course was to help participants acquire the necessary e-mail skills to facilitate the process of data transfer and information dissemination within the project.

Twelve principals, divided into two groups, attended a series of three two-hour sessions focussing on the use of e-mail. Sessions took place either in the afternoon or evening. The course was held at Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh Boys, a participating school of the Bridging the Gap project. The school's computer facility was used and the course tutor was John Meaney who teaches at the school. The costs of the course were met by the NCTE (National Centre for Technology in Education).

All participants expressed satisfaction with the course and confirmed that they felt enabled to utilise e-mail as a means of communication. They also expressed an interest in developing their ICT skills further in the new school year. Some identified specific learning requirements that they felt would enhance their recording of project data, dissemination of project information and showcasing project content.

2.2 Networks

In 2002-2003, network activity was continued within the project by bringing teachers and principals together for professional development events on topics of shared interest. The proposed principals' network took the form of a specialised course on using email and Internet, as described above.

An important part of network development in 2002-2003 has been the further development of links between the Bridging the Gap project and University departments. The President of UCC, Professor G.T. Wrixon, has reiterated the University's commitment to the project and encouraged departments to support it by becoming involved in its activities. The link with University departments will enable the project to facilitate further networks and to provide professional development for teachers on relevant topics in the future.

2.3 School-Based Research

A number of research dissertations and theses, leading to Masters or Doctorate degrees, are under way, carried out by teachers on topics of relevance to Bridging the Gap schools. These are supervised by Professor Áine Hyland. Two new projects were added in 2002-2003. The research projects for 2003 include:

How the challenges of early school leaving were addressed in a disadvantaged secondary school on the north side of Cork city, 1960-1999An evaluation of the effectiveness of programmes provided by an out-of-school centre for early school leavers in Cork cityA study of children with Specific Language Impairment and the operation of language classes for these children attached to a mainstream primary schoolAn exploration of the ways in which the arts affect learningCase study research on models of community music education.

The researchers presented their work at a research seminar organised by the Education Department in UCC on 20 June 2003. This seminar provided an opportunity for the Bridging the Gap researchers to network with others undertaking research projects on educational topics.

2.4 Dissemination

The project uses a range of media to disseminate good practice emerging from a number of sources: research; literature; local, national and international projects and initiatives. A website and a brochure were developed for the project in autumn 2002. The web address is http://bridgingthegap.ucc.ie. A copy of the brochure was sent to each teacher in the participating schools to raise awareness of the project.

The Bridging the Gap team avails of every opportunity to disseminate research findings and good practice emerging from the project. The Director of the Project chairs the national Educational Disadvantage Committee set up under the 1998 Education Act. Her involvement in this committee provides a conduit for ongoing dissemination of the findings of the Bridging the Gap project. It also provides a direct link with more than twenty other national and local projects represented on the national committee website http://www.education.ie (Social Inclusion) The national profile of the Project Director has ensured that the project received extensive coverage in two major radio programmes this year. On Friday 9 May a half-hour programme on Radio na Gaeltachta featured the work of the project and an interview with the director. In a panel discussion on RTE's Saturday View on Saturday 23 August, the director presented the approach of the project and it received praise from other contributors.

2.5 School and community level interventions

Funding of over 95,000.00 euro was allocated in the Bridging the Gap budget this year for targeted interventions at school and local level aimed at improving aspects of the school experience. The project found last year that the availability of funding for such local initiatives acted as an incentive to schools to become involved in the project. In the current year, the number of schools putting forward proposals for funding rose by 40 per cent, bringing the number of projects to thirty-two. Grants were in the region of 3000.00 euro per school. Each school was required to document progress made in relation to the goals they set for the project, and all schools submitted comprehensive reports in June 2003. The large majority of reports were sent electronically, and many included photographs, audio and video recordings, examples of pupils' work and publicity materials generated by the schools about their projects. The quality of the reports is very high. Many constitute excellent examples of practice, and would merit much more detailed consideration than can be given here. It would be worthwhile to explore ways of disseminating good practice from these reports to a wider audience.

Two showcase events were held in UCC on 4 and 6 June 2003, at which the progress of the pupils participating in the school-based projects was highlighted. Schools had an opportunity to demonstrate publicly the work of their Bridging the Gap funded projects, mainly in the performing and visual arts. More than 1200 pupils and their teachers participated in the showcasing events which were attended by principals and teachers, by staff and students of UCC; and by local and national educational administrators.

Among those who attended were the Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr. J. Kelleher; the Chancellor of the National University of Ireland, Dr. Garrett Fitzgerald; the Chairman of the Governing Body of UCC, Professor Enda McDonagh; the President of UCC, Professor G.T. Wrixon; Assistant Chief Inspector of the Department of Education and Science, Seán Ó Floinn; the national Director of Programmes for Educational Disadvantage, Maura Grant; the Education Officer of the Cork City Partnership, Mary Linehan. Among the publicity received as a result of the showcasing was an article written by Dr. Garrett Fitzgerald in the Irish Times on Saturday 14 June. The Audio-Visual Centre of UCC was commissioned to produce a video of the events which records and celebrates the work of the project.

In collaboration with the Cork Opera House, a programme of subsidised tickets for children from Bridging the Gap schools was organised in spring 2003. The programme was extremely popular, with many schools taking the opportunity to enable pupils see top-class theatre performances of works intended for children. Over 1700 pupils attended performances. As part of the programme, the Opera House provided workshops for schools after the performances. Teachers also attended a workshop provided by Bridging the Gap on approaches to appreciating and deriving educational benefit from theatre performances.

Other notable school and community level interventions for 2002-2003 include the following:

  • Groups of pupils from the two Gaelscoileanna involved in the Bridging the Gap project visited Ionad na Gaeilge Labhartha in UCC. The pupils and their teachers, together with the Director of Ionad na Gaeilge Labhartha, the Project Director and Project Manager, were interviewed live on Radio na Gaeltachta as part of the visit.
  • Academic staff from the faculties of Science and Engineering in UCC have worked with pupils from a project school in preparing for the Young Scientist exhibition 
  • A group of parents from two schools involved in reading projects visited UCC and met with the Project Director and Project Manager 
  • The Bridging the Gap project provided support to a women's community group to publish reflections on their activities in drama and performance arts. The group published a book entitled Snippets in 2003.

Throughout the reports submitted by schools at the end of the year, there are many examples of good practice in the setting of goals and targets, and in the collection and recording of data to monitor the achievement of the set targets. A number of schools have begun to develop and apply rubrics to measure the performance of pupils in targeted areas of achievement. In many cases, pupils are being enabled to set their own achievement targets, and their voices are heard clearly in the schools' evaluation of progress.

The three-step model that Bridging the Gap schools have been supported in implementing (analyse, act, assess impact) provides a systematic framework whereby schools can focus clearly on results in the broadest educational sense. By empowering schools to decide for themselves what actions to take and how to record progress, the project is building the capacity to enable schools to make a difference.

Impact on national policyThrough its links with the Educational Disadvantage Committee and Forum, the project is having a clear impact on national policy. The model of focussed target setting for educational disadvantage initiatives is being proposed for adoption at national level. Other aspects of the project that have the potential to influence policy formation are the research being undertaken on topics related to educational disadvantage, the developing of strong links between the university and the community, and the forming of sustainable networks of teachers and principals.

3.2 Comments from project participants:

In keeping with the collaborative model of evaluation that has been adopted within the project, a selection of comments from pupils, parents, and teachers is included below. These comments express the impact of the project on the learning experiences of pupils and communities far more eloquently than a purely quantitative evaluation would do. What the pupils say:

Visits to the Opera House

We went to George's Marvellous Medicine with our school in the Cork Opera House. A month before we went to the play, we started to read the book. We really enjoyed reading it so we were looking forward to seeing it on stage. At last the day arrived. We walked all the way down to the Opera House. When the curtain was raised the crowd went silent and the lights went off.

We were amazed when we saw the set, it was wonderful. The actors were brilliant. The grandmother was our favourite character because she was very funny, but also very mean and weird. You would not like to have a grandmother like her! A couple of weeks later an actor came to talk to us about the play. We did our own version of the play and it was very funny. We are really looking forward to a play next year.

Visit to Ionad na Gaeilge Labhartha, UCC

Bhaineamar ard-taitneamh as an dturas chuig Ionad na Gaeilge Labhartha i UCC. Bhí an-sport againn. Míle buíochas.

Bhi an turas go h-aoibhinn ar fad. Ba bhreá linn teacht ar ais.

Ar fheabhas, go h-iontach!

Science Projects

Thank you letter from pupils to UCC faculty members

We are writing to thank you for your interest in and support of our project in the recent ESAT BT Young Scientist Exhibition 2003. This is our first year doing Science. It was very helpful to have assistance of experts like you. We finished our project and brought to the exhibition in Dublin. We didn't win a prize but we had great fun. Next year we hope to enter another project.

Reading and arts projects

I was happy when the parents came to our room. They helped us with our reading. It was very enjoyable. It gave us time from our busy day. We had great fun together.

We have learned to communicate with others, to listen to each other and that practice makes perfect. We can do anything once we work together.

Homework club

The reason I joined the homework club was because I want to come out of school with my homework done. I really like the activities, especially the bowling. The other good thing is the teachers help you. I think that teachers made a good decision in starting it.I want to go to the homework club next year because I think it is a really good idea and the teachers help me a lot.

The best thing is they (teachers!) are not grumpy

We should have longer sessions. I would like to join it next year.

I joined the club because everyone was talking about it. I was so mad and disappointed when I didn't get in at first. But now I'm in it and I'm very happy. I was in one before, but this one is better and different.

Learning support

Do you like being in the small group?Yes, I like it because there are less people in the class which makes it easier to concentrate. My behaviour has improved because there are less people in the group to distract me and I can listen.Has your school work improved? Yes, because I got most of my targets that I set for myself. I find it easier to study because of my extra notes in history. I have passed all my tests so far.

Music

(Thank you letter to Principal from a pupil) I want to thank you for giving me the chance to play a musical instrument. I really enjoyed it and I'm looking for to playing with the Barrack Street band. I can now read music as well as playing. I am now beginning to enjoy playing for other people, including my grandad and my teachers. My mum and dad are delighted too.

I would like to go on and learn more and maybe in years to come, be famous. Until then I will try to practice, to learn more and get better.

Thank you very much.

(Thank you letter from parents of above pupil to Principal) I am writing to say how very grateful we are to both you and UCC for helping our son to discover such wonderful talent. As his parents we have tried to help him with his school work as he always struggled with it, but now we feel that he will have some direction in his life.

We were especially delighted for our son to have such a wonderful gift and with his great progress in such a short space of time. As very proud parents we wish to thank you in all sincerity, and of course UCC for this wonderful opportunity.

What the teachers say:

Showcase events

All the children who participated in the Bridging the Gap showcase thoroughly enjoyed both performing themselves as well as seeing the other schools. The fact that the emphasis was on fun rather than competition really made the day special for the children. It was a day they will never forget as it also gave them the opportunity to tour UCC, which they hadn't seen before. It was a great novelty for them to experience a third level institution and one of the boys remarked that he "couldn't wait to study in UCC". So thanks again for providing such a well-run day out for our boys."My heart is bursting with pride today."(Principal)

Support provided by project

The involvement of a team of teachers led to a sharing of expertise, skills and responsibility, preventing overload on any one teacher. The enthusiasm and hard work of the class teacher was an encouragement to all. The scheduling of formal progress meetings meant that the project was kept on course. Having a home- school links teacher and parents' room was invaluable from the point of view of parental involvement. The financial help available from Bridging the Gap provided an incentive to get involved a provided the necessary resources which helped to get the project off the ground. The project was "do-able". It was something we had the expertise and resources ourselves to do and we were convinced of the benefits of it. The talks arranged by Bridging the Gap provided an opportunity to hear of other projects and ways of management and to a certain extent "kept the pressure on".

Impact of project on pupils, parents, and community:The project has boosted pupils' self-confidence and enhanced their self-esteem. They became more aware of their talents and are full of self-belief. As well as this they learnt practical skills like singing and dancing. The world of Shakespeare was opened up to them in a new and lively way. They have learned to work together as a team and to get to know each other better.

Overall the project was a fantastic learning experience for both students and teachers alike. It was a great platform for enhancing school life. For some students school didn't seem half as monotonous. Teachers were there to work with, not as strict authority figures. Many students never had a positive experience of school but this project helped to change that perspective. As one student said after Oliver, when asked did she enjoy the experience, "Yes, and can I have some more!"

In my view this sums it up. UCC became part of the community and more importantly became accessible to everyone in that community.

Homework club:

We set out to reduce the time spent by these children on their homework. We clearly succeeded in doing so. The quality of their work was also improved as is shown by the questionnaires from pupils, teachers and parents.

We also set out to reduce the stress caused in the homes by homework. Again, the surveys and questionnaires and anecdotal evidence suggest very strongly that we succeeded in this goal also. By including the boys themselves in the actual evaluation of the groups, we gave a sense of ownership and belonging. The boys themselves appreciated a quiet, supervised and assisted atmosphere in which to do their work and finishing their work was something which was important to them.

We also established that belonging to the groups has improved attendance to an extent and we can now confidently claim that they have a positive effect on general behaviour.

Learning through the Arts:

We regard the "fun club" as an enormous success. We are satisfied that the club has contributed greatly to the improvements in the pupils' language skills, self-confidence and social skills.

The parents are delighted with the progress of their children. They have proved very supportive and co-operative and many parents have taken the time to thank staff and to express their delight with the club. The parents of the junior infant classes have already expressed their interest in allowing their children to attend "fun club" next year.

The children in my class look forward to the drama teacher's arrival every Monday. They enjoy the drama class so much and the benefits they have gained each week are tremendous. They have learned to express themselves with far more confidence. It is great for their self-esteem, confidence and self-expression and especially in the development of their social skills.

Involvement with drama and our trip to the Opera House has opened a whole new world for some of our children, many of whom have never experienced the theatre before. Bridging the Gap has developed a positive attitude towards UCC and places of further education. Drama in the classroom has been wonderful for oral language development

We feel that this project has opened up subjects and topics in class, which have made us all more aware of the importance of self-esteem. I know we have achieved something very worthwhile in doing this project. The exhibition that we ran the in the local Arts Centre is all the proof we need. The boys and their parents are so proud of this showing of their work. Schools from around the area have come to see it and their praise has been loud.

What the parents say:

Parents' surveys about benefits of participating in music projects

The benefits mentioned by parents included:

  • being part of a group
    building confidence and self-esteem
  • mixing and enjoyment
  • personal development
  • encouraging a lifelong interest
  • having fond mixing socially with peers
  • understanding music and rhythm
  • an activity that can be done at home and School
  • an excellent hobby
  • parents very proud
  • surprise at the outcome after such a short time.

My daughter is much happier in school.
It gave her more confidence.
She has a better appreciation of music and has changed her outlook on people and music.
She is more sociable, and makes more conversation about the class.
They did their school proud, they were wonderful.
They experience more interaction with people and teamwork.

Comments from parents who participated in Reading Initiative

"The children came on great. You'd see a big improvement in the weaker ones."
"The first day I went in to the room and saw all the faces looking up at me I felt like I had two heads on me."
"I'm more aware of the Reading Level of my own child now. I was expecting too much from her before this."
"We got to know the others on the rota and could chat with them on the road home now."
"If I was buying a birthday present for my niece I'd get a book where before I'd go for a toy."
"I used to read to my girls now and then but after this programme I make sure to read to them every night."
"The books in the class library are brilliant and the kids can help themselves as the teacher has them graded."
"Since this Programme I go with my children to the Library every Saturday."
"We enjoyed this, it was interesting to see the confidence improving in the class and at the end of the term they could read the novel without any help from us."
"They used to be delighted to see us coming in and they'd be going over the long words and breaking them up before we'd start. I'd say they worked harder at home too to show us how good they were."
"We were sorry when the term ended, we used to enjoy the cup of tea after in the Parents' Room."
"If this Programme continues we'd be delighted to join in again. It was no trouble to us and good for the kids."

3.3 Comments from policy makers and experts

There is an increasing awareness at policy level of the ways in which schools and communities can work together to promote educational inclusion and high-quality learning experiences for all. The approach adopted by the Bridging the Gap project has been endorsed at the highest national policy levels, and by expert commentators. A selection of comments is included below.Schools and communitiesIt strikes me that the value of our educational support programmes can only be measured by the impact on the child, the family and the relationship between the community and the place of learning…. Parents who are energised by their involvement in school programmes in turn fuel their children's enthusiasm for learning.

In my view, the key to effective planning is in listening to each other and working together at local level. In this way, mutual goals emerge…. Teachers, parents and society need to reflect on the concept of educational success. Traditional views of school success have been very narrow. The school system must offer creative solutions in response to children's learning needs. Children must experience success, if there are to have any sense of self-worth…. If school is to be a preparation for life, I believe that schools should value, enhance and accredit as many forms of intelligence as possible.

(Minister for Education and Science, Mr Noel Dempsey T. D., addressing the inaugural meeting of the educational disadvantage Forum, November 2002)

Setting and monitoring targets for educational inclusion

Research and practice consistently show that the setting and monitoring of specific performance targets is the key to successful achievement of improvement goals in schools and in national education systems. The current practices in many of the targeted interventions to address educational disadvantage in Ireland, might at times appear to reinforce poor performance rather than reward success. In any revision of the current system of resource allocation, short and medium term targets should be clearly articulated and schools, institutions and communities should be rewarded for achieving their targets.

(Prof. Áine Hyland, chairperson of the Educational Disadvantage Committee, in her introduction to the report of the Educational Disadvantage Forum, January 2003)

The Bridging the Gap showcase eventLast week I had the opportunity to see and hear something of what is being done through the Bridging the Gap project in Cork City. In University College Cork I heard a remarkable concert that was being given by children from eight different primary schools in disadvantaged areas of Cork City. Each child had started learn to play an instrument only the last few months schools, being given ?3000 each to buy the instruments.

What was remarkable was that these were not groups or orchestras selected from amongst the most musically talented pupils in the schools. No, all of the children in each school were involved, no child being left out. And every one of the children was clearly deeply engaged with the process, most showing marked signs of enjoying what they were doing. One primary school actually fielded an orchestra of all its 120 children.

I learnt that the impact of this musical involvement of school attendance has been very dramatic: indeed very few of the pupils failed to turn up on the days when they have training and rehearsals, and school attendance generally seems to have improved. This Cork initiative is a marvellous example of how much can be achieved by a combination of voluntary effort and quite limited public funding -- at this stage just ?100,000 a year from the Exchequer.

(Dr Garrett FitzGerald, Chancellor of the National University of Ireland, writing in the Irish Times on 14 June 2003)

4.1 Conclusions

At this point it is clear that as the Bridging the Gap project reaches the end of its first two-year phase, it has been successful in engaging schools with the aim of promoting a strategic approach to educational inclusion. Considerable achievements have been made in all strands of the project. Excellent examples of practice are emerging, which it is hoped will have long-term impact both in the schools and at national level. The success of the project is due in large measure to the commitment that has been shown by the participating schools, and particularly by the principals. The project team has built up a strong and collegial relationship with schools, and there is a very positive atmosphere within the project as a whole. The work of the project manager in particular has contributed significantly to the efficient operation of the project and to the achievement of its targets. Schools have paid tribute to the excellent support they receive from the project manager, who visits schools regularly and maintains excellent communications with the teachers who are working on the project.

In looking to the future of the project, a number of key questions arise. What will happen after the end of the project? Will change be embedded within the schools' culture? Will classroom teachers have changed their practices? Will schools have changed their whole approach to educational inclusion?

As the Bridging the Gap project moves into its second phase, the emphasis should be on sustainability, to ensure that schools have a lasting legacy from the project. The project can achieve this in a number of ways, for example by helping teachers to develop enduring skills, by establishing new structures and strategies to link schools with sources of support at local and national level, and by consolidating networks, especially those based around the links with the university. So, having already achieved success in creating islands of change within individual schools and clusters of schools, Bridging the Gap will begin to shape a much bigger landscape of change in relation to achieving educational inclusion, at regional and national levels.

4 .2 Recommendations for 2003 - 2004

A number of specific recommendations are put forward for the coming year, and based on these recommendations specific project targets should be developed by the project team in collaboration with participants. The recommendations relate to the five strands, and to the management of the project.

4.2.1 Professional development

  • Conduct a focus group of principals and teachers from project schools to identify topics of interest for professional development in the coming year.
  • Provide funding for teachers to take selected relevant online courses, such as those provided by the Harvard School of Education, through its WideWorld programme.
  • Provide further professional development for principals and teachers in Information Technology.
  • Engage members of UCC faculties and departments who have offered to support the project in planning and delivering the professional development programme.

4.2.2 Networks

  • Form networks based on clusters of projects, and facilitate the networks in accessing relevant professional development for teachers and principals.
  • Provide opportunities for networks to meet and to share examples of practice with each other and with other networks.
  • Build on the networks that already been established by consolidating the links with specific university departments and faculties.

4.2.3 Research

  • Disseminate the results of research undertaken within the project.
  • Ensure that participating project schools have access to the findings of national and international research.
  • Support schools in the Adopting a systematic approach to the gathering and analysis of data within their own projects.

4.2.4 Dissemination

  • Continue to avail of opportunities for disseminating the work of the project at local and national level.
  • Organise a seminar where schools can present their projects to an audience including other schools, community workers, representatives of national initiatives, university staff and policy makers.
  • Select a number of school reports for publication as examples of good practice emerging from the project.

4.2.5 School and community level initiatives

  • Encourage schools to submit projects in the areas such as science, health, environment and sport
  • Focus in particular on establishing a cluster of projects using Information Technology to enhance learning.
  • Hold a project fair in 2004 to showcase the wide range and diversity of projects.
  • Invite groups of parents and pupils into the university, linking with relevant departments who have offered to support the project.
  • In continuing to support arts projects, focus on preparing for Cork City of Culture 2005, for example look towards organising a "festival of culture" for schools and establish a working group of teachers and community representatives to work on this project.

4.2.6 Project management

  • Achieve better alignment between issue of forms and school calendar
  • Engage administrative assistance for project manager on a flexible basis as required for specific tasks, for example to maintain a detailed database of contact with schools.
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