How not to win friends and influence people!

I remember writing to the Advertising Standards Authority regarding a radio ad for Ashfield College which I felt was dismissive of and seeking to undermine Transition Year (TY), a year that has enormous benefits for students by implying it was a wasted year and a doss.

You can imagine how I felt when I tuned into the John Murray programme on Bank Holiday Monday to hear Friends of the Elderly spokesperson, Declan Kirwan, being sharply critical of TY and labelling it as self indulgent and advocating its replacement by a Community Service Year. A number of thoughts struck my mind. In some countries which still have conscription, young people are offered the possibility of doing a year in the army or else 18 to 24 months working in the community. I’m sure such a suggestion has merit but the age profile of the conscripts or volunteers is 18 to 20 years and not the 15 to 16 year olds who do Transition Year in Irish schools.

I just didn’t get the premise of the argument. The country is in a state of chassis but the young people of Transition Year can be used as the saviours of the elderly! It’s a strange argument to make because a vibrant community outreach programme is at the heart of most Transition Year programmes. Indeed, in a Machiavellian moment I was considering the debate in school staffrooms the next time a request comes in from Friends of the Elderly looking for support. What’s even more ludicrous is the fact that the Friends have a magnificent and very worthwhile programme running in many Transition Years.

I was glad that the Teacher Unions quickly came out in support of the Transition Year concept which seeks to enhance young people’s educational experience to include a broader set of competencies. In my opinion it is the unfocused aspects of the year which make the experience most valuable for students. At the end of Transition Year, students are more mature, more rounded, more confident, more socially aware and the evidence from the ESRI of the benefits of the extra year in terms of improved Leaving Certificate results is compelling.
I hope recent moves towards reform of the Junior Certificate may ultimately lead to reform of the Leaving Cert such that it isn’t the be all and end all of third level entry but as a fan of the Transition Year concept, one of the biggest challenges I had as school principal was to convince parents that TY was worthwhile and that the true benefits wouldn’t be evident until their son or daughter left school after sixth year.

So there is evidence that TY works for students in terms of third level entry but most second level students dip their feet into the water of community service and community action during their time in TY. NAPD sponsors the Pramerica Spirit of Community Programme in the Republic of Ireland. The General Teaching Council of Northern Ireland is our equivalent up north. This week in the City Hotel in Derry, 20 youth volunteers from north and south were recognised for their outstanding contribution to their community. Pramerica is a company based in Letterkenny and their interest in these awards is purely philanthropic and rooted in their Corporate Social Responsibility perspective.

I’m certain that for many of the honourees recognised for their contribution to Irish society in Derry this week, the confidence to give back, to stand up and be counted, to go the extra yard for others was born in their exposure to the programmes and experiences they had in TY. Our colleagues in Friends of the Elderly know that too!

View all blogs by Clive Byrne

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