An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Ardscoil Phobail Bheanntraí
Bantry, County Cork
Roll number: 62080A
Date of inspection: 15 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardscoil Phobail Bheanntraí. 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 teacher responsible for Guidance. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Ardscoil Phobail Bheanntraí is a school in a fortunate position. It is a successful school which has coped well with important changes in staff and management in recent years. In coping with change, the learning experiences have paved the way for further major advances. The process leading to the formation of a community college by the amalgamation of Ardscoil Phobail Bheanntraí and St Goban’s College is at an advanced stage under the Government’s Public Private Partnership Programme. In 1972 the school was formed from a previous amalgamation of a boys’ and a girls’ school, Coláiste an Spioraid Naoimh and St Mary’s Secondary School respectively. The patron of Ardscoil Phobail is the Bishop of Cork and Ross and it is run as a Catholic school which accepts all denominations. The school is situated on an elevated site overlooking Bantry and is within walking distance of the centre of the town. The catchment area is wide, extending from Glengarriff to Kilcrohane and students are from a mixture of urban and rural backgrounds.
The school has an enrolment of 210 and is growing. The enrolment at the time of a whole-school evaluation carried out in 2005 was 186. The Department of Education and Science allocation for Guidance is eight hours per week. Staff changes in the recent past have necessitated the redeployment of existing staff into Guidance. A concomitant of this has been the need to facilitate the acquisition of guidance qualifications by a currently unqualified member of staff. The main emphasis of the service, given the absence of qualified personnel, is on vocational guidance although there is a strong commitment to the personal, social and educational support of students among staff in general. A year-head system was introduced at the beginning of this school year. Management and staff are commended on the obvious commitment to providing a quality service and also to the enhancement of the service by continuing professional development.
One teacher has responsibility for career guidance and is timetabled for one period per week with each of the senior-cycle classes. Four periods per week are available for other guidance-related work. The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) co-ordinator manages work experience and the Link Modules associated with the programme. It is noted that the time actually spent in guidance activity is far in excess of the timetabled hours and that a balanced, well-documented service is provided to junior and senior cycle students. Among the advantages of a full qualification in guidance will be the enhancement of the existing very good service through the addition of counselling, testing and other skills. The integration of the personal, social and educational aspects of Guidance with the existing vocational provision will be a further enhancement. The use of the full allocation in the current year is somewhat unclear and it is recommended that this be addressed in the context of whole-school guidance planning.
The facilities for Guidance are good. An office is provided with broadband access, telephone and printer. Adequate storage and filing space is also provided. A small library of careers information is accessible by students and includes information regarding the opportunities available in further training and education. Access to computers for group guidance is readily available both in the information and communication technology (ICT) room and in the guidance office.
Very good communication is a feature of the school. Much of this is informal. Some formality has been brought to the system of communication in recent years by the appointment of year heads and also through participation in the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). Those involved in student support, including the teacher responsible for career guidance, the special education co-ordinator, chaplain and Religious Education (RE) and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) co-ordinators, are in daily contact. Some formalisation of this group, as a student-support team, is recommended. It is also recommended that members of the group might form the task group responsible for advancing the whole-school guidance plan. Links with management are also very good and operate on a similar basis to other communication in the school. Referrals are made through the existing channels of communication to staff responsible for vocational guidance and for student support. Students are free to self-refer to staff, as appropriate. Referrals to outside agencies are managed by the principal in consultation with relevant staff. The school does not have a critical-incident policy although some procedures have been developed through experience. The formation of such procedures and policy are suggested as an issue for school planning.
From a Guidance perspective, the school is in a good position to exploit a number of planning opportunities which are present. The foundation of the new school, professional development in Guidance, planning supports and recent documents all bring challenges and opportunities. The experience gained in planning to date will prove beneficial in bringing coherence and efficiency to the process. The annual review of students’ needs and the evaluation of the current programme are highly commended. These demonstrate the school’s readiness for whole-school guidance planning and affirm its adherence to the review-design-implement-evaluate system encouraged by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI).
A very good career guidance plan has already been developed by the staff involved in Guidance. The plan reveals an insightful approach to Guidance and, although limited in scope to the vocational area, shows the links which exist to other aspects of student support and guidance. One example of this is staff involvement in a student mentoring programme in which some students are guided individually by their mentor teachers. The plan lays a very good foundation for whole-school guidance planning. It should be pointed out that the preparation of the whole-school guidance plan and its integration into the school plan is a responsibility of management. It has been recommended above that this responsibility could be devolved to a small group of interested staff, especially in the context of professional development in Guidance which has been proposed by staff. Many resources now exist to advance guidance planning. These include the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE) document A continuing professional development programme for guidance counsellors in post-primary schools (2007), the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) Draft Guidance Framework (2007), the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science Review of guidance in second-level schools (2006) 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). Further documents outlining the whole-school guidance plan are to be found on the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) website at www.sdpi.ie and on the Department of Education and Science website at http://www.education.ie.
Many elements of the guidance programme are in place and are delivered by staff of all disciplines. The career-guidance programme for all year groups is well documented and is balanced and comprehensive. An induction programme for incoming first-year students is delivered in September following a number of interventions during the year prior to entry. These include an open day and visits by staff to feeder primary schools. There is close co-operation between those involved in guidance, SPHE, LCVP and other guidance-related activities. Support for students’ subject choice is considered to be a collaborative effort and is based largely on the principle of student preference. During September, first-year students choose either Home Economics or Technical Graphics as optional subjects for the Junior Certificate examination. Students choose Leaving Certificate subjects during third year. Eligible students may opt for LCVP once the process of subject choice has been completed. Guidance staff are heavily involved in the process and are in a position to advise management on the implications of curricular changes and proposals.
ICT is used throughout the guidance programme, both in class work in the ICT room and in work with individual students in the guidance office. This is good practice.
The school operates an open system of parental involvement. In addition to receiving information at annual sessions regarding the school in general, subject and programme choice, parents are also active in the parents’ association. Commendable joint initiatives between the parents and the guidance team have included the formation of the school’s anti-bullying policy and the organisation of speakers on topics such as the CAO system and subject choice. Information to parents is also circulated through regular newsletters, formal and informal contacts. School documentation is clear and to the point.
The local community is generous in its support of the school through, among others, the parents’ association, work experience for LCVP students and sponsorship of the annual awards ceremony and in providing speakers on topics of interest to students of Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) and other subjects. The school also has links with the local Youthreach centre.
Continuing professional development is encouraged and facilitated by management. At the time of the inspection a staff member had been accepted into the Higher Diploma in Guidance and Counselling course in University College Cork and negotiations were ongoing to facilitate course attendance. This is a highly desirable outcome and is a commendable response to a recommendation made in the whole-school evaluation of 2005.
One lesson, with a group of fifth-year students, was observed in the course of the inspection. The lesson was a good example of how well a class may be taught. The theme of the lesson was a career investigation and aimed to elucidate some of the skills and information needed to carry it out. The lesson was taught in the ICT room. Following a roll call, clear instructions were given as to the form and aim of the lesson. Students were divided into pairs and assigned to computers. Familiarity with the use of the system was obvious in that students gained access to sites, such as Career Directions, without the further intervention of the teacher. The use of the internet to gain access to up-to-date information is commended. Students appeared to be stimulated by the tasks assigned and by the variety of methods and materials used. Worksheets were distributed in the course of the lesson, small groups were formed and a set of issues for discussion was proposed. Questions were asked and prompts given throughout the lesson. Good use was made of questions which required the use of imagination and of analysis of past experiences and lessons.
The classroom atmosphere was calm and orderly and was based on very good relationships. The use of humour is particularly commended in that it facilitated positive interaction and good classroom management. The room layout, in the form of an inverted U also contributed to good management in that all monitors were visible at all times. This also facilitated movement about the room and between groups of students. Students were reassured calmly and work was checked regularly during the lesson, which was well paced and unhurried.
Students followed directions very well. Clear instructions were given to respond to the issues prompted for discussion in the handouts. In their responses to questions, students showed an obvious understanding of the lesson content.
Most diagnostic tests are administered by the special education co-ordinator. These include the GRT2 test, Neale Analysis, NRIT and Jackson Phonics tests and are used to identify students in need of extra resources, including reasonable accommodations in State examinations, and to monitor their progress. Most of the instruments currently used in the context of Guidance are non-standardised and include a skills audit and a multiple intelligence test. These are used in the course of career investigations, particularly during the LCVP. Web-based interest inventories, such as those associated with Qualifax and Career Directions, are also used in helping students to clarify their course and career decisions. The use of standardised tests and the development of a test policy are to follow qualification in the use of such instruments. It is suggested that the test-use policy be drawn up jointly and, in due course, by those qualified in their use in Guidance and special education.
The initial destinations of students are tracked by the principal and by the teacher with responsibility for career guidance. An interesting use is made of the information gathered. Before students leave they are requested to indicate whether or not they might be available to discuss their vocational choices with those still in the school. The majority indicate a willingness to co-operate and are occasionally called upon to offer advice and information to those in the throes of decision-making.
Very good record keeping was observed on the part both of staff and of students. Meetings with students are recorded and a comprehensive folder of career and educational information is compiled for each student. High standards of security and confidentiality were observed in all aspects of record keeping.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher responsible for Guidance and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board accepts the report as an accurate reflection of guidance within the School.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
The guidance teacher has since accepted a study year to undertake a course in Guidance Counselling in UCC. This will be of immense benefit to Ardscoil Phobail Bheanntraí and the new community college.