An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Mount Saint Michael
Rosscarbery, County Cork
Roll number: 62470N
Date of inspection: 9 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mount Saint Michael, Rosscarbery. 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 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 Saint Michael is a co-educational secondary school overlooking the town of Rosscarbery in Co. Cork. The school is under lay principalship. It is a school under the trusteeship of the Mercy Congregation and will be part of the proposed Catholic Education – an Irish Schools Trust (CEIST). There is a strong consciousness in the school of the importance of the values of the Congregation and this is expressed in a commitment to student support and holistic development. A prayer recited over the public address system prior to the day’s notices and the calm and easy interactions observed between teachers and students were indicative of a genuine attitude of care, based on firmly held values.
Two hundred and eleven girls and one hundred and ninety-four boys are enrolled. The total enrolment of four hundred and five students entitles the school to an allocation of seventeen hours for Guidance in the 2007-2008 school year under the terms of Circular PPT12/05, the same allocation as in the 2006-2007 year. It is reported by the principal that the projected enrolment is stable at about this level. It will be important, from the perspective of Guidance, that the enrolment will remain above four hundred to maintain the current allocation. The resource is well used and it is noted that the actual time devoted to the service is greater than the allocation. It is recommended that, for clarity, the use to which the hours allocated to Guidance are put be detailed as part of the school development planning process.
The school is part of the DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) plan and is allocated one full-time equivalent post under the scheme. Similarly, the school is in receipt of an allocation of eleven hours for Home School Community Liaison (HSCL). HSCL operates very effectively in the school and community. It is very well co-ordinated and the allocation is efficiently used.
Co-ordination of the various supports available to students is on an ad hoc basis with occasional meetings of co-ordinators and management. The guidance service is central to student support and operates in an integrated way throughout the school.
The timetable provision for Guidance is devoted largely to one-to-one and small-group interventions and to intermittent interventions with class groups. Sixth-year classes are timetabled for one period of Guidance per week and fourth-year classes have one period of Guidance per week.
The student support systems operate in an integrated way in the school and in the community. Many staff members live locally and are known to families of students. Informal communication is a constant feature of the work of staff and it is felt by staff that any difficulties experienced by students are quickly identified and dealt with. Those involved in the teaching of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) meet regularly and are well co-ordinated. SPHE forms a major part of the guidance programme of the junior cycle and good, informal communication exists between the co-ordinator and the guidance counsellor. HSCL is a more formal, but discreetly very active, aspect of student support and guidance. Communication with the middle-management team of year tutors and with the guidance counsellor is ongoing. A number of staff members have also gained expertise and qualifications through continuing professional development in areas such as chaplaincy and counselling.
A good overall balance has been achieved in the delivery of Guidance across the range of year groups and between one-to-one and group Guidance. Formal Guidance is delivered by timetabled class contact with sixth-year groups and by targeted inputs into year groups, especially at the major transition points such as the early stages of first year, entry to senior cycle and during senior cycle. Since vocational decisions, including the choice of courses to be taken subsequent to leaving school, are generally made by the middle of sixth year, it is suggested that the targeting of year groups prior to sixth year for timetabled inputs might be considered as an alternative to regular, timetabled contact with sixth years. The Review of Guidance in Second-Level Schools, which was published by the Inspectorate in 2006 and is available online at http://www.education.ie/servlet/blobservlet/review_guidance_second_level_schools.doc?language=EN , points to a need for Guidance at stages earlier than sixth year. Any modification of existing practice should be considered in the light of the guidance counsellor’s programme and of the school’s overall guidance programme, as determined through the school planning process. The guidance counsellor is also the Transition Year (TY) programme co-ordinator and is in daily contact with most of the year group. The TY curriculum is broad and comprises a very good mix of personal, social and educational content. It is also obvious that the process of vocational decision-making is supported during the year and provides a good foundation for the choices to be made before leaving school.
The facilities for Guidance are good. The centrally located office is used also for meetings with individual students, although its location on the first floor may hinder access by students with some physical impairments. The office is furnished with appropriate storage and office equipment, including a computer with broadband access, printer, and telephone. Information boards and posters are visible throughout the school and students may access guidance-related information such as college prospectuses and career information in the library or through the computer system. Internet access is available to students in the information and communication-technology (ICT) room by arrangement with the ICT co-ordinator and in the guidance office.
The guidance counsellor works closely with the HSCL co-ordinator and the co-ordinator of special education. Weekly meetings were held while the HSCL system was being organised. Meetings are now held as issues arise and in relation to regularly occurring events such as subject choice and assessment. Members of the group are seen to be central to the functioning of the school not only from a student support perspective but also from that of general communication, administration and middle management. It is recommended that this group be more formally constituted and that regular, minuted meetings be convened. It is further recommended that the group be responsible for the management of whole-school guidance planning in association with senior management and in the context of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI).
Links with management are continuous. The guidance counsellor is responsible for a number of processes in the school, including the system of subject choice, is programme co-ordinator of TY and, as a post of responsibility holder, is a member of the middle-management team.
Referral systems in the school are mainly informal. Continual communication based on adherence to the value of care is formalised by records kept by those involved in Guidance, special education and HSCL. This practice is commended and it is suggested that the formal status and security of these records be discussed in the context of school planning. At least two staff members are qualified counsellors and the school has access to the services of a member of the Mercy Congregation who is also qualified. Referrals are managed by the principal in cooperation with the guidance counsellor and HSCL co-ordinator, and by the co-ordinator of special education especially where referrals to the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) are warranted. It is reported that some difficulties have been experienced by the community in accessing social, health and psychological services due in part to the distance of forty miles between the school and the main centres in Cork and to long waiting lists for some services.
The guidance counsellor’s personal plan and programme are very good and encompass the range of groups and issues normally dealt with by guidance counsellors. The school has engaged with the regional SDPI co-ordinator and planning for whole-school involvement in Guidance in progress. A number of policies with implications for Guidance have been developed and ratified by the board of management. These include the policies on admission, the code of behaviour and bullying. It is recommended that whole-school guidance planning be formalised under the guidelines of the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE) and the SDPI. It is also recommended that a team approach be adopted to such planning and that those centrally involved in student support be members of such a team. The team involved in setting up HCSL is an experienced and competent group and it is suggested that this be the steering group for whole-school guidance planning. Task groups and subject departments with particular affinities to and interests in Guidance, such as SPHE, Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE), Religious Education and policy makers, could have specific functions in relation to the overall plan and could feed into the steering group. Similarly the guidance elements of well-running programmes such as HSCL, special education, SPHE and TY should be drawn together into a coherent and overarching student support system by the steering group.
The Guidance programme managed by the guidance counsellor is very good and entails inputs at all levels and at all stages of the students’ schooling. Induction from primary to secondary school is a joint effort co-ordinated under HCSL. The guidance counsellor is co-ordinator of the TY programme and has extensive contact with each student in the year group. Informal meetings are held regularly with the co-ordinator of SPHE and collaborative arrangements have been made to provide training for teachers of the subject. All sixth-year students are interviewed individually by the guidance counsellor and those in other year groups are met as the need arises.
Access to ICT at group level is arranged by the guidance counsellor for Central Applications Office (CAO) applicants and for general guidance classes when needed. The system of access to ICT is reported to be satisfactory and is planned for as part of the guidance counsellor’s programme. Application through the British (UCAS) system is arranged on an individual basis by the guidance counsellor either in the ICT suite or in the guidance office.
The guidance counsellor is co-ordinator of the curriculum planning team and has responsibility for the management of student subject choice in first year and in TYP. Issues of concern are discussed in this forum during meetings which are held approximately three times per year or in informal discussions with senior management.
Parents are encouraged to collaborate with the school in their children’s education. The teacher assigned to HSCL has a specific remit in that regard and is the primary contact point for parents. Communication with relevant staff and management is regular. Features of rural disadvantage are of particular concern to the school and excellent use is made of the limited resources by those involved. The guidance counsellor meets parents by appointment throughout the year and at meetings convened to explain the system of subject choice and progression to life after secondary school.
Extensive linkages have been established with agencies and institutions, particularly in Munster. Local businesses have been generous in their support of the work-experience programme of the TY and educational and training institutions provide speakers who visit senior cycle classes. Students attend open days and other vocational information events such as the Career Options event organised by the Cork Branch of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors. The school also participates in the Access programme and has close links to those of University College Cork and Cork Institute of Technology. The collaborative work of staff involved in this programme is highly commended and is a good example of the unobtrusive but effective work being done by the school in keeping with its core values.
The versatility of those involved in the school’s guidance programme is based on a diversity of interests and training. The close cooperation between the guidance, special education and HSCL teams ensures that a variety of skills is applied in each case. The guidance counsellor has been involved in peer supervision and continuing professional development in Reality Therapy, Neurolinguistic Programming and other areas of counselling. Participation in the NCGE guidance planning course is being considered currently by the school. In the context of recommendations made in this report, such participation is encouraged.
The lesson observed was an interesting example of good practice. The theme of the lesson was the work of the physical education (PE) teacher and was tailored for those students who expressed an interest in that work. A PE teacher was invited to participate in the lesson, which was partly discussion, exposition and information giving. Interested students of sixth year were invited to attend and eleven opted to do so. Following an introduction by the teacher, students were asked about their interests in general and the focus of the discussion was gradually and expertly focused on the work and training of the PE teacher. Open questions of a higher order were well mixed with more factual enquiries and students responded comprehensively to all.
Classroom atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. Both teachers showed an openness to questions and to student comments and shared a good rapport with students. The easy manner of the teachers and the layout of the room enabled them to remain in calm contact with students. Their manner indicated a genuine interest in the topic and in the opinions of the class. The class, the inspector included, sat in a circle of chairs.
The questions asked by students showed a real desire to use the lesson for the purposes of decision making. While students attended in the knowledge that PE teaching was the theme of the lesson it was obviously understood that much information of a more general nature could also be gleaned from it. Questions ranged from the nature of the work of the teacher to college life and to the teaching of a second subject. A very good grasp of the issues and possibilities was shown by the majority of students.
First-year classes are of mixed ability and the programme of assessment is based on the principle of ensuring that any special needs are identified and dealt with. The assessment of incoming students is carried out by the co-ordinator of special education. The results of an initial screening for general ability using the AH2 test, used for monitoring purposes, are used in conjunction with instruments which facilitate the diagnosis of specific difficulties in the areas of literacy and numeracy such as the Neale Analysis of Reading Ability. Other instruments are used as the need arises. During meetings of the teachers of first year, the results of the various assessments are compared with the results of subject assessments to confirm the individual needs of students and to outline action to be taken.
Various interest inventories and questionnaires are used in senior cycle classes to stimulate thought in the area of personal and vocational decision making. Among the materials used are the Rothwell-Miller Interest Blank, Qualifax and Centigrade. The use of these and others is subject to regular review and new material is added to the senior cycle guidance programme when relevant. An informed approach to the use of assessment instruments was evident in discussions with test users. Further information regarding instruments in common use in Irish schools is soon to be published in conjunction with the test-grant scheme and is commended for the attention of relevant staff.
Following the Leaving Certificate examination, the training and occupational destinations of students are monitored by the guidance counsellor. The process is facilitated by the close links between the school and the community and this information is readily available.
Record keeping is very good in the case of meetings with individual students and with groups of students. Various forms have been designed for these purposes and the content of meetings and subsequent actions are noted on them. Files are stored securely and are readily accessible by the guidance counsellor. Records of meetings are also retained securely and these basic procedures are particularly commended in the light of the recommendation that a guidance planning team be initiated.
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.