An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Saint Joseph’s Presentation Secondary School
Castleisland, County Kerry
Roll number: 61260U
Date of inspection: 19 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Joseph’s Presentation 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 guidance counsellor. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
St Joseph’s is located close to the centre of Castleisland and is one of three schools serving the town and its hinterland. The population of the town is relatively stable. The development of the airport and associated facilities at Farranfore, five miles away, and the partially completed new road linking Tralee and Killarney are expected by management to have positive effects on both the size and diversity of the student body. The school is well prepared for any potential changes. The Presentation Congregation is currently engaged in the transfer of trusteeship to Catholic Education – An Irish Schools’ Trust (CEIST) and St Joseph’s, as a Presentation secondary school, will be among the schools involved in the transfer. A strong sense of the basic values and mission of the Congregation is apparent in the school and frequent reminders in the form of posters, notices and religious symbols are visible.
The school is in receipt of an allocation of eleven hours for Guidance. These hours are being used effectively in the provision of a balanced service. The allocation for Guidance will remain at eleven hours for the 2007-2008 school year on the basis of the current enrolment of 232 girls. Responsibility for the use of these hours has been delegated to the guidance counsellor. Close collaboration with management and excellent record keeping attest to the wisdom of such delegation. All are commended for this and for the additional, voluntary time devoted to the provision of Guidance.
A fully qualified guidance counsellor is employed with full hours divided equally between Guidance and another subject. The integration of Guidance into other aspects of the curriculum is a major strength of guidance provision at St Joseph’s and is achieved by the dedicated work of the guidance counsellor in collaboration with management and staff. A good balance has been achieved between provision at junior and senior levels. Again, this has been made possible by the collaborative efforts of staff and the targeted inputs of the guidance counsellor at the induction of first-year students and at the major transitional stages. A similar balance has been achieved between interventions at the class-group, and small-group levels and in one-to-one contact at individual level. Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is considered by those involved in its delivery to be an important part of the school’s guidance provision and forms a major part of the junior level programme. It is indicative of the professionalism of staff that teachers of SPHE have undergone training provided by the SPHE support service. The collaboration of the guidance counsellor and Special Educational Needs co-ordinator has also ensured that guidance support of students with special needs is well provided for and monitored.
The guidance counsellor’s office doubles as a counselling room. The room has a telephone and an installed computer with broadband access and a printer. Adequate storage and shelving have also been provided and secure storage is available for materials of a confidential or ethically sensitive nature. A number of notice boards are visible throughout the school on which guidance-related information is displayed and a section of the library is devoted to guidance materials.
Access to information technology is by arrangement with the ICT co-ordinator and is freely available to students under the normal conditions of internet use in schools. Individual help on a one-to-one basis is given to students with particular needs regarding, for example, the completion of CAO and UCAS forms. The facilities in the guidance office are used for these purposes. It is reported by the guidance counsellor that the advent of broadband has had a major beneficial effect on ease of internet access.
Regular informal meetings between the guidance counsellor, Special Educational Needs co-ordinator and SPHE co-ordinator have been part of normal practice. This group now constitutes a recently established planning team. It is intended that the planning group will bring a degree of formality to the planning process, similar to that already in evidence at other meetings of staff. A meeting was attended as part of the inspection process. The meeting was arranged by the guidance counsellor and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme co-ordinator for programme planning purposes. It was observed and commended that the meeting had an agenda and was minuted. Such good practice augurs well for the future management of guidance planning. The school chaplain, a curate of the parish, has a close relationship with the school. Although he is not a member of staff he provides for the school liturgically and spiritually as the need arises.
The size of the school and the collaborative style of senior management allow free exchange of information with, and between, those in support roles. Good working relationships have been established. The formalities of information sharing are observed by the use of memos and this practice will be extended to the operation of the planning team. Such good practice is commended. Early intervention in support of students at risk is also made possible by the ongoing communication among staff. Students at risk are identified and quickly brought to the attention of management and the guidance team. A small number of referrals to outside agencies are managed by the principal in consultation with the guidance counsellor and Special Educational Needs co-ordinator. Good contacts have been established with the designated National Educational Psychological Service psychologist and local counselling and social services. The system operates to the satisfaction of staff who are confident that student needs are being catered for.
The guidance department has devised a well balanced and documented plan. The impressive attention to detail, as demonstrated by the documentation of meetings, the survey of staff needs and the recent formation of a small, cohesive planning and student support group places the department in a strong position in relation to whole-school guidance planning.
Staff needs in relation to Guidance have been surveyed. One of the main inferences of the responses is that staff are keen to be involved in student support and are conscious of the need to develop skills in the area. Continuing professional development is an important aspect of the planning process and these identified needs are to be addressed in the context of school development planning. In the related area of Social, Personal and Health Education, because teacher values and attitudes are important to the process, the continuing professional development of those who teach in this area is an important consideration. It is heartening to note the consciousness of staff of these issues and their readiness to address them.
The resources of the National Centre for Guidance in Education and School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) are being used in support of guidance planning. The SDPI regional co-ordinator has visited the school and informs the planning process. Two major thrusts may be discerned in current SDPI work in schools: the development of subject departments and of whole-school guidance planning. Recent additions to the SDPI website have included a section on guidance planning. In addition to these resources, documents published by the National Centre for Guidance in Education (Planning the School Guidance Programme 2004), the Department of Education and Science (Looking at Our School, 2003 and Guidelines for second-level schools on the implications of Section 9(c) of the Education Act (1998), relating to students' access to appropriate guidance, 2005) are also being used to inform the guidance planning process at St Joseph’s. It is suggested that the implications for guidance planning of very recent documents such as Guidance for All? (ESRI, 2006) and the Review of Guidance in Second-Level Schools (2006), available on the Department of Education and Science website at http://www.education.ie/servlet/blobservlet/review_guidance_second_level_schools.doc should also be taken into account. Interaction with students showed a consciousness of the importance of decisions made during post-primary education and a recognition of the need for comprehensive Guidance. It is recommended that the guidance needs of students at all levels be determined in a manner similar to that in which the needs of staff have been sought. This is in line with the basic system promoted by the SDPI of Review-Design-Implement-Evaluate and is compatible with the praiseworthy approach already adopted by the school. Documents to be found at http://www.ncge.ie/documents/Guide_Counselling.pdf may prove useful in extending the process of whole-school guidance planning to staff. The regular monthly student-support meetings between the guidance counsellor and Special Educational Needs co-ordinator provide an excellent opportunity to form the basis of a small whole-school guidance planning team
The guidance counsellor’s programme includes inputs at the major transitional phases of schooling. A collaborative approach to the transition from primary to secondary school is taken by senior management, middle management and staff. Primary schools are visited by the principal and by staff, including the guidance counsellor. The first-year induction programme for incoming students is currently under review and has to date been implemented by the year head and learning support co-ordinator with guidance inputs into the programme. The guidance counsellor, in consultation with subject teachers, organises sessions for students at all levels as appropriate. Issues dealt with in these sessions include subject choice, study and examination skills and career development.
Linkages have been established with many groups and institutions in the community and regionally. The school collaborates with many local businesses and individuals in the provision of work experience to students of the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme. Similarly local businesses have been generous in their facilitation of field trips and visits in support of the curricular needs of a variety of subjects and programmes such as Guidance, Science and Business. The school recognises the cross-curricular benefits of these outings and the support of staff in their organisation.
The guidance counsellor attends counselling supervision provided by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors in association with the Department of Education and Science, meetings of the Kerry branch of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, information sessions organised for guidance counsellors and seminars and workshops related to personal and professional development such as the AHEAD disability workshop. The guidance counsellor has also been involved in the organisation of the careers exhibition organised annually by the Kerry branch. This commitment to continuing professional development is commended and its facilitation is further indication of the general professional approach of the school.
Guidance input into the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) is also achieved in cooperation with the co-ordinator and with subject teachers. Visits and trips are largely arranged for students engaged in the programme and it is proposed to introduce mock interviews for LCVP students during the current year. Those not taking the LCVP complete a personal profile. The exercise of compiling the profile is used to inform the vocational planning process and is carried out in one-to-one sessions with the guidance counsellor. Regular, minuted meetings take place between the co-ordinator of the LCVP and the guidance counsellor and are highly commended.
The use of ICT in guidance classes is commended. Group access is arranged on the timetable and by flexible arrangements with other staff and is reported by the guidance counsellor to be satisfactory. The recent addition of broadband access to the internet has facilitated access to Qualifax, Career Directions and other relevant information.
The guidance counsellor is involved at all stages of curriculum planning, particularly in the design and monitoring of subject choice. The system in operation is based on student preference, is fair and generally results in a balanced range of subjects for each student. One reservation is expressed regarding the choice of Home Economics or Science as subjects for the Junior Certificate Examination. The choice is made at the end of first year, and this is commended. However, the decision by students at this early stage either to drop Science or to retain Science at the expense of Home Economics could have implications for subsequent vocational choices, especially in relation to entry to certain courses of training. It is recommended that consideration be given to the issues involved, particularly to the long-term implications of such decisions for the individual student.
Contact with parents is regular and is organised through the formal channels of the school. The guidance counsellor attends all parent-teacher meetings and parents are encouraged to maintain open contact with the school. This is generally achieved by telephone contact and, when appropriate, by appointment.
A fifth-year class was visited during the inspection. The lesson observed was the first of a module on career choice and involved the introduction of the guidance programme to fifth years. An appropriate range of methods was used during the lesson. Good use was made of open-ended questions in eliciting student responses. Students showed an awareness of the issues dealt with and were reflective and familiar with the methods used. A visualisation exercise was introduced and completed as a normal part of class work. The blackboard was used effectively and responses to students’ questions were clear and informative. The concepts of career development and choice were developed in a thoughtful sequence and were extended to include a plan of future lessons and events. Written responses were retained in personal folders which will be used throughout the year for the accumulation of further material.
The room was set out in the formal manner of rows of desks and did not allow for much movement. It is suggested that some flexibility in the arrangement might be possible in future lessons to enable small-group work or face-to-face discussion as the need arises.
Students were calm and attentive during the lesson and asked for clarification when needed. As the initial lesson of a series it provided a firm foundation for the lessons to follow.
Cooperation between the guidance counsellor and Special Educational Needs (SEN) co-ordinator ensures a coherent approach to the use of psychometric, diagnostic and interest assessment. Initial assessments are carried out in September following entry to the school and include a general reasoning test and tests of reading and numerical skills. Follow-up diagnostic testing is carried out by the SEN co-ordinator. Students are identified by the support team in a manner which is sensitive and confidential and the school’s resources assigned to satisfy the prioritised needs. The tests are subsequently used for monitoring students’ progress. Aptitudes are assessed in fifth year. The practice of communicating the results to students in one-to-one sessions is commended.
Interest inventories are filled in by students during timetabled guidance classes in fifth and sixth years and include web-based instruments such as those found in Qualifax, Career Directions and Careers World.
The destinations of students after leaving St Joseph’s are tracked by the guidance counsellor.
Guidance record keeping is of a high standard. Students’ profiles are kept in secure storage both in the general school files and in those kept by the guidance counsellor. Meetings with students are noted carefully and filed. Similarly, meetings with other staff members are minuted and are run according to an agenda. This practice is highly commended and will be an efficient means of recording the development of the Guidance planning process.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
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.