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A critical examination and evaluation of the place of science in the Irish transition year

Institution: University of Limerick

The transition year is a unique year in the Irish education system, which has
undergone much change since it started in 1974/5, and is now a well established part
of Irish schools, being offered by three-quarters of schools, and taken by over half of
the pupils. The transition year is a syllabus-free year, governed by some broad
guidelines, unlike the Irish school system as a whole, which is highly standardised
and examined. As a small country within the European Union, Ireland is well placed
as a base for many science-based industries and science and technology have
become a major focus of government policy, and hence science education is
becoming increasingly important in Ireland. Like other developed nations Ireland is
experiencing low numbers taking the physical sciences, but has disproportionately
high numbers taking the biological sciences. The unique nature of the transition
year offers schools and teachers an unprecedented opportunity to offer a relevant,
interesting and innovative science programme, free from examination and curricular
The purpose of this study was to examine and evaluate the place of science in the
transition year. The study consisted of three phases. Phase 1 involved developing a
questionnaire to find out what teachers were teaching in their transition year
science classroom, and how they were teaching it. This instrument gave a valuable
insight into the practices and experiences of transition year science teachers. Phase
2 expanded further on phase 1 and developed questionnaires to examine the
experiences of second level pupils and teachers, and third level students. These
instruments provided the quantitative data for this study. Given the complex nature
of the transition year, quantitative data alone was not enough for a complete view of
science and a phase 3 was developed alongside phase 2. Phase 3 used case studies
in selected transition year schools to investigate further the place of science in
schools that offered the year. The case studies involved interviews with both
transition year science teachers and co-ordinators, and data collection on the
The results from the three phases have painted an interesting and complex picture of
science within the transition year. Themes emerged in the areas of science
provision, teaching and learning practices, attitudes towards and experiences of
transition year science, teachers’ preparedness for teaching in the year, the effect of
transition year on further study of science, and whole school planning and budget.
These themes have been discussed fully and combined to offer a greater insight into
the complexities of transition year science. The overall picture is one of traditional
and conservative teaching practices. The transition year presents a unique
opportunity to educators: to be innovative, to teach without the constraints of the
curriculum, and to develop and prepare both future scientists and scientifically
literate citizens. These approaches are currently not commonplace in transition year
science, where traditional practices are predominant, with two-thirds of teachers
teaching from the leaving certificate science syllabi. This study has shown that the
curricular freedom that the transition year offers in science is not being utilised and
thus remains a wasted opportunity to promote the teaching and learning of science.

Suggested citation:

. () A critical examination and evaluation of the place of science in the Irish transition year [Online]. Available from: [Accessed: 27th June 2019].


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