An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Mount Carmel Secondary School
King’s Inn Street, Dublin 1
Roll number: 60853T
Date of inspection: 11 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mount Carmel Secondary School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of provision in Guidance and makes recommendations for the further development of Guidance in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms, viewed Guidance facilities, interacted with students, held discussions with teachers and reviewed school planning documentation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and the guidance counsellor. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Mount Carmel is a secondary school for girls under the auspices of the Sisters of Charity. The school caters mainly for students who reside in the inner city with a number also travelling from the suburbs. The school has five main feeder primary schools, but up to five other schools also provide students. Over the years, the school has had to adapt to meet the changing needs of the local inner city community. A number of measures to address issues such as disadvantage and urban regeneration are being implemented, with the support of a range of local and national agencies. This spirit of co-operation with the local community has assisted the school to respond quickly to meet changing demands. At present, the school’s population includes nearly thirty percent of students for whom English is not their first language. Every effort is being made by staff to assist these students to integrate in all aspects of school life and to address any needs they may have in language or learning.
Mount Carmel is a caring school that prides itself on providing for the needs of all students to enable them to achieve their full potential. A very wide range of learning and other supports is provided. The school reports that the staff forms a close cohesive group that works very flexibly and co-operatively to support the provision of Guidance for students. Regular formal and informal meetings are held to share classes and facilitate team teaching, where appropriate. The school has established good links with the Dublin Institute of Technology which provides after-school study facilities and other supports. Contact established between Mount Carmel and a nearby secondary school is providing access to sports facilities in return for sharing subject teaching in Home Economics. In addition, some students from Mount Carmel travel to another local secondary school to study higher level maths for the Leaving Certificate. This level of co-operation with local schools is to be commended. The school also participates in the School Completion Programme to maximise student attendance and punctuality, and a full time Home School Community Co-ordinator works with parents.
The school sets a high value on the support that Guidance provides for students to encourage full participation in school and assist in their transition to third level or further education. A total of twenty two hours is allocated for Guidance from the normal allocation and, since 2001, through participation in the Guidance Enhancement Initiative (GEI) which provides an extra eleven hours for Guidance. When applying to participate in this initiative the school outlined how it would use this extra time allocation by providing additional guidance support for students in junior cycle and encouraging the up-take of science subjects. All students in junior cycle now receive guidance support and Biology and Chemistry are now available subjects in senior cycle. Science is offered as part of the taster module in first year and as a subject option for the Junior Certificate. A previous inspection of the GEI and Guidance provision undertaken in 2002 recommended that Chemistry should be offered. It is commendable that this and the other recommendations made in this report have since been fully implemented. The school is now working hard to maximise the number of students completing senior cycle. Transition year has been successfully introduced and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) is now also available. Both of these programmes are proving popular. It is reported that the LCA is providing a viable alternative for students who might otherwise not complete senior cycle.
Timetabled provision for Guidance includes a good balance between junior and senior cycle, and between group guidance and one-to-one Guidance and counselling provision. Very good facilities are provided by the school for guidance delivery. A dedicated office for Guidance, which is suitably equipped with a Broadband connection is situated in an accessible part of the school. A careers library and an area for storing guidance materials is located nearby. This allows students full access to browse independently for information on careers and course options. Notice boards display up-to-date careers information for senior students. The school has a number of Information Communication Technology (ICT) rooms with broadband access that can be used for guidance classes. A data projector is available in one classroom, and there are plans to make this type of technology more freely available in the future to expand the range of teaching methodologies being used in the school.
Good contacts are maintained with all the local support agencies, the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), the Health Board, and National Education Welfare Board. The referral of students, where appropriate, to access extra services is well managed. Management takes an active interest in the development of Guidance in the school and holds regular meetings to get updates on progress being made and to identify any obstacles that need to be addressed.
A school guidance plan that includes the GEI has been drafted and is currently being developed and updated to meet students’ needs. This plan contains a guidance programme for each year group and a school programme. It is recommended that this plan be reviewed at the end of this academic year, and that changes that arise from this review should be presented for consultation to staff, parents, students and then to the board of management.
Beginning when students are entering first year, the guidance counsellor plays an active role in assisting students and their parents to be fully informed about subjects and the range of supports provided by the school. Students are assessed at enrolment and then re-assessed throughout first year to ascertain any specific learning needs. A taster module is provided for first years to introduce them to new subjects before they make subject options. The guidance counsellor provides advice for students on options and explains the career possibilities of choosing certain subjects. In conjunction with the Social Personal Health Education (SPHE) programme, a module of six to eight guidance classes is delivered each year to first year groups. This facilitates guidance delivery for each class and allows students to become well acquainted with the guidance counsellor. Those with individual issues to address can access individual counselling support upon request, or can be referred by a teacher to the guidance counsellor. This high level of support for groups and individuals continues into second and third year with the provision of suitably tailored guidance modules and counselling support. In addition, students included in the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) are assisted with profiling and setting goals for learning. However, in order that some tentative exploration of career areas could be initiated while students are still in junior cycle, it is recommended that the guidance modules for second and third years should include an introduction to a number of career areas. This approach would provide a more informed basis for students choosing subjects for senior cycle and assist the selection of work experience opportunities in Transition Year (TY).
The guidance programme for senior cycle includes one timetabled guidance class each week in TY, fifth year and sixth year. It aims to prepare students to make successful transitions to third level or further education courses. In TY, the guidance programme aims to maximise the benefits that students can achieve through participating in all the opportunities that are provided. In particular, students are encouraged to select work experience placements that will assist career decision-making. The guidance programme also concentrates on the development of good individual transferable vocational skills. Towards the end of TY, students are assisted to make appropriate subject and programme choices for Leaving Certificate. A number of students now choose the Leaving Certificate Applied option and these students are assisted to make successful transitions to employment or further education programmes. All senior cycle students are facilitated to attend college open-days, information sessions and career events, such as the FÁS Opportunities fair.
Full information is provided about college entry requirements and the Central Applications Office (CAO) application process. Web-based research on careers is actively supported throughout senior cycle. All senior cycle students meet individually with the guidance counsellor to discuss and plan viable career paths. Fifth year students complete a career assignment to pursue personal interest areas, and the findings of this research is followed up in sixth year when students come to make final college and career decisions. Subject teachers and tutors are also involved in this process and provide background information on their own subject areas as well as supporting students who are making subject choices. Imaginative use is being made of a number of methodologies including videos and talks from guest speaker to awaken students’ interests in non-traditional employments and encourage consideration of careers in areas such as engineering.
A panel of guest speakers provides valuable insights and information for senior cycle students into a range of employment and academic areas. Worthy of particular mention is the care taken by school staff to raise and widen students’ expectations of personal success and maximise personal aspirations towards excellence. Students are actively assisted to avail of college access supports, such as the Trinity Access programme (TAP) and to consider all available third level or further education opportunities. Good links with the business community are being maintained and contacts between the school and local community employment-based initiatives are particularly strong. The school is to be commended on the number of students who are now completing senior cycle and making successful transitions to third level, further education courses and adulthood.
Regular scheduled information sessions are arranged for parents to keep them fully informed on subject and school programme choices, and to deal with queries they may have about the school. A school newsletter also provides good contact with homes. The guidance counsellor attends all parents’ information sessions. Advice is provided to parents and students about the possible career implications of certain subject choices and the level at which subjects should be studied to achieve particular outcomes. Parents are welcome to visit the school by appointment and interact fully with teachers.
The school supports the guidance counsellor to attend personal supervision sessions, avail of continual professional development opportunities and attend career events.
In the course of the inspection visit, two classes were visited, a first year and a sixth year Leaving Certificate Applied group. The methodologies selected to present and develop the topics in each class were very appropriate to the age and developmental level of the students. Good planning was in evidence in both classes and viable learning objectives were established from the outset of the lessons. The topic for each lesson was well introduced and delivered. A good classroom atmosphere prevailed in each instance. Suitable materials were researched and provided to support learning. A good classroom atmosphere also prevailed throughout both sessions to support quality learning outcomes.
Guidance for junior cycle students is delivered through a planned module of six to eight lessons in conjunction with the Social Personal Health Education programme. The first years are being assisted to settle into the school and to develop good learning skills. Guidance is supporting the SPHE programme by providing lessons on how to develop good study skills and time management competencies. Effective use was made throughout the lesson of brainstorming ideas and encouraging students to communicate clearly. Active listening was in evidence. The ideas expressed by students were built upon and all were actively encouraged to take turns and contribute to the discussion. Advice was given to students on how to plan and manage available time for study and leisure. Students were all fully engaged in active learning and interacted well together. As a follow on to this lesson it is planned that students will design a study timetable to allow a better balance of study and leisure time.
The guidance class for sixth years was held in a well-equipped ICT room with full Broadband access. The students were actively engaged and demonstrated competent computer skills and all were able to complete the task set by the teacher without a great deal of individual assistance. The lesson’s aim was for students to explore independently the Careers World website and to complete an interest inventory. The areas of personal interest identified were then used to begin exploring career and course options. Students worked purposefully to complete this task and asked questions when they met a difficulty. Students were asked to save information gathered and to add this to their career exploration folders for future reference. Learning to a very good level was in evidence throughout the lesson with students working independently and in small groups to complete the task set. It is suggested that the preparation of a worksheet for students would allow them to tick off the areas explored on the website and provide even more continuity between lessons.
During the second session students were also asked to complete a short questionnaire on Guidance, which is being administered by inspectors of Guidance in 50 second level schools throughout 2006/2007. This questionnaire aims to gather the views of senior cycle students on Guidance. It is anonymous and invites a sample of senior cycle students in each of the schools included in this survey to respond to a series of questions about the Guidance provision in their school, and to comment on how useful and informative they have found the range of inputs on careers and educational opportunities that have been provided. Furthermore, the questionnaire invites them to state what changes they consider would improve the school’s guidance programmes and to suggest what type of programme would give maximum benefit to students in senior cycle.
At present, students enrolling in the school undergo an assessment process to ascertain learning needs. The guidance counsellor plays an active role in supporting this process. The stated purpose of this initial assessment is to identify students who require extra learning support and assist in the successful placement of students in first year. It is suggested, therefore, that assessment tests chosen for this process need to be reviewed annually. Only tests that have norms compatible with Irish students and suitable for those whose first language may not be English, should be administered. To support the assessment process further, it is suggested that, when liaising with primary schools, all details of assessments completed by pupils in fifth and sixth class should continue to be sought to add to individual educational profiles. The school supports the guidance counsellor to meet students on enrolment and when they visit the school for induction. The school adopts a flexible approach to assessment and appropriate use is made of assessment instruments for all students.
Good use is also being made of ICT in guidance classes to explore a range of careers websites, Career Directions, Careers World and Qualifax. Students are actively encouraged to explore all college websites to ascertain information on courses. Interest inventories are also being administered widely to assist individual career-path development, and, where it is available, good use is being made of web-based instruments to investigate further interest areas and career possibilities.
There is evidence of good record keeping in the guidance office. All meetings held with students and referrals made to outside agencies are recorded. Minutes of meetings of the guidance and pastoral care teams are kept and decisions taken are noted. Good record keeping is practised in the school and a record of each meeting with students is maintained. Meetings of the school’s monitoring committee for the GEI are recorded.
The initial destinations of students leaving the school are being recorded only informally. It is recommended that the initial destinations of students leaving the school should be formally mapped to inform management and staff about the selection of subject options, and the school guidance plan. It is suggested that the information on sixth years’ destinations could be gathered by the school each year using e-mail and mobile phone texting contacts.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
A whole school approach to Guidance is being adopted by staff and a wide range of educational, vocational and personal supports for students is being provided
School management is very supportive of Guidance and sees it as a valuable resource for the school that can be even further developed
A very high level of individual guidance support is being provided to enable students to address personal issues, and to set and achieve viable learning and career goals
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
It is recommended that the school guidance plan should be evaluated at the end of this academic year and that any significant changes made to the plan should be presented for consultation to staff, parents and students and then to the board of management
In order that some tentative exploration of career areas could be initiated with junior cycle students, it is recommended that the guidance modules for second and third year should include a number of inputs on careers
It is recommended that the initial destinations of students leaving the school should be formally mapped to inform management and staff about the selection of subject options and about the school guidance plan
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the guidance counsellor and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.