The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) undertook a study for the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in 2004 "The Transition Year Programme: An Assessment". The findings of this study would have been informed by their previous research in 2004. The 2004 study found that students who take Transition Year differ in a number of respects from those who do not take the programme. On average, students who took part in Transition Year achieved higher Leaving Certificate exam grades and were more likely to go on to higher education than non-participants.
First, students receive greater exposure to the kinds of subjects they will take for Leaving Certificate. Second, while being a year older does not seem to enhance academic performance the emphasis on self-directed learning and the perceived consequences of participation for maturity may enhance the study skills of students. Third, research has indicated higher academic performance among students who have had positive interaction with their teachers and a number of students reported improved relations with teachers as a result of taking part in the programme.
A number of negative findings were also highlighted by the ESRI. It was found that students who took part in the TY were more likely to work part-time in Senior Cycle and this tended to cancel out the performance gains associated with programme participation. The ESRI also noted that students in predominantly working-class schools where the programme was compulsory did not achieve higher Leaving Certificate grades than their counterparts who had not participated in TY. It was also noted that students in schools where Transition Year was compulsory tended to have higher drop-out rates than their counterparts in schools where it was not compulsory - because they may be unwilling participants in the programme.
Transition year is found to have definite academic benefits for students and is thought by the majority of principals nationally to have a positive impact on student development. I am currently awaiting the findings of the Irish Second Level Students' Union study of Transition Year which explores the students' experiences. My Department has funded this study.