What Transition Year, if anything, teaches us



The American humorist and novelist Mark Twain said: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

He might well have been addressing the 130,000 plus students who earlier this year completed their Junior Cert and who, in 90% of cases, have the option of doing Transition Year. The programme varies hugely from school to school. Some offer TY on a select basis, or don’t offer it at all, while others mark the year as mandatory.

The Transition Year (TY) programme has been running since 1992 and is, in its own words, “designed to give teens a year to mature, learn new skills and gain both work and life experience”. The entrepreneur Bill Cullen notoriously once said Transition Year was nothing but a “doss”. Almost 15 years on, that notion still lingers among some parents and educators, despite the huge growth in popularity of the ‘gap’ year.

Nearly 80% of pupils surveyed by the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union (ISSU) found TY to be a worthwhile experience, according to the report, ‘Transition Year:

Exploring the Student Experience’. But what about parents, who are one step removed from what’s really

going on?

Undoubtedly some find it hard to adjust to the effect a dramatic change in school routine can have on their children. Even those who embrace the whole idea can look on aghast as their teenagers seemingly ‘party, party, party’.

“I just couldn’t wait for it to be over – it was a total waste of time,” one mother told me, seemingly desperate for school-enforced study to once again rein in her 15-year-old wild child.

Another saw it as akin to “a dangerous breeding ground for bad habits and excess socialising”.

But, of course, the beauty of the TY experience is that freedom that it offers: a chance for young people to forget about learning for exams and concentrate, perhaps – and Mark Twain would undoubtedly concur

– on learning for life. Whether this concept works in reality depends on the criteria of such – so varied

– ranging from the quality of the programmes in schools and success in securing worthwhile work experiences, to the attitudes and personalities of individual children.

While the obligatory school trip is tops with most in TY, travel a broadening of minds and all that, though often a

financial burden on some parents, and ‘dossing’ can lend itself to new friendships and experiences, even if some not always desirable, the prevailing conundrum seems to be the lack of workplace opportunities and, where there are such places, the lack of any meaningful ‘work

experience’. In short, the student is invited in, given somewhere to sit, and left to his or her own devices.

A spokesperson for one large company told me: “We stopped such a facility. Ours is not the right environment – the place is too busy and fast paced and really there’s little that a 15-year-old can help with. We now tend to focus on more structured college placements now.”

The website of one community school says: “Schools and students [must] understand that due to the short nature of the placement, the tasks assigned may be of a low level and routine in nature. However, it is important [for employers] to ensure that during their work placement, students have the opportunity alongside the tasks they are assigned to observe as many processes as possible and to interact with staff and customers where feasible.”

A tall order it seems, with many companies just simply not geared up for such.

According to the ISSU, rural schools have more students unable to find work experience of interest. Students, who live in urban areas with access to public transport, have greater opportunities to choose for their work experience.

Like most things in life, the TY programme is not an exact science. In the end it may well be down to the individual, to their maturity, their enthusiasm and their commitment. After all, you only ever get out of life what you put into it.

Though that in itself can take a lifetime to learn…

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