Transition Year is the Irish schools’ system’s USP, discovers Absolutely Education

On leaving primary school at the age of 12, children in Ireland start secondary education. The first three years are the Junior Cycle. They culminate in the Junior Certificate exams which (like GCSEs) are state examinations developed for the end of compulsory education. The Senior Cycle, for children aged 15 to 18, involves an optional first year: the Transition Year (TY). Free from formal exams, it provides an opportunity for students to pursue a range of experiences. Those who don’t opt for TY go directly in to the two-year Senior Cycle, whereby finishing school a year ahead of those who go through TY. In a survey by the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union, nearly 80 per cent of pupils found TY to be worthwhile. An optional extra year of school isn’t obviously appealing to children, so why is it popular?

At Glenstal Abbey, as is the case in many high-achieving schools in Ireland, TY is an integral and compulsory part of the educational experience. TY in a boarding school offers unique opportunities for participation in a wide range of interesting, formative and entertaining activities. The school believes strongly in the merits and benefits of this experience. It is not a year where every last detail of what will be studied or experienced will be prescribed in advance. Instead, boys, staff and parents work together to allow varied and new experiences of learning to take place, and it’s where valuable skills for life are discovered.

Like many high-achieving schools in Ireland, transition year is compulsory at Glenstal Abbey

The programme at Glenstal has three clear aims: to emphasise personal development, social awareness and increased social competence; to promote academic skill with a focus on self-directed learning; and to educate through experience of adult and working life.

During their first term, Glenstal boys sample subjects they have never tried before, giving them the chance to ignite new areas of interest. The process also helps students make informed decisions as to what subjects to choose for their final years of school. 

Various TY-specific modules are on offer at Glenstal. ‘Press-Pass’ is one such module: it’s designed to enable students to learn all about newspapers and the writing, analysis, preparation and photography that’s involved in putting one together. ‘Mini-Company’ is a module which encourages boys to think of a creative enterprise whereby they come up with a product, market it and sell it to a target audience. Last year a group of students designed and sold Glenstal Abbey rugby hoodies, and the proceeds were donated to charity.

Those who study a foreign language are encouraged to engage in exchange programmes during TY. Boys travel to France, Germany of Spain during their final term. In return, their exchange partner will come to experience Irish life for a number of weeks during the year.

The Transition Year is an important break from the cycle of public exams, it’s a valuable opportunity for students to engage with the wider world. A well-organised, high quality programme provides a positive and appropriate transition for students into Senior Cycle. 

Glenstal Abbey boys on a transition year charity cycle ride

To learn about British boarding, read our article on boarding schools in the UK here