An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Mount Mercy College
Model Farm Road, Cork
Roll number: 62661U
Date of inspection: 18 October 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 Mount Mercy College. 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 two days 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.
Mount Mercy is a Catholic girls’ secondary school situated in the western suburbs of Cork. The school is celebrating its fortieth year in 2006. It is a sister school of Saint Catherine’s primary school which exists on a separate, but nearby, site. The school currently operates under the trusteeship of the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy and will be transferred to trust of CEIST (Catholic Education – An Irish Schools’ Trust) when that body is fully operational.
The school has an allocation of thirty-three hours for Guidance. Twenty-eight of these hours are allocated on the basis of an enrolment of more than six hundred students and five hours have been allocated under the terms of the Guidance Enhancement Initiative (GEI). The school’s original application for inclusion in the GEI was based largely on its commitment to science education and to the provision of support services to its students. The allocation is being used effectively for these purposes. Two qualified guidance counsellors are employed, one on a shared basis with a local boys’ secondary school. Every effort has been made to facilitate the timetabling of Guidance and the collaborative effort of management and guidance counsellors has resulted in the provision of a guidance service of high quality throughout the school. The guidance counsellors’ individual programmes show evidence of balance between the provision at senior and junior cycle levels and between inputs at individual and group levels. Similarly, guidance counsellor involvement in the main transitional stages of student development, from primary to secondary school and from junior to senior level, for example, is well established.
Both guidance counsellors have well-positioned offices which are also used as counselling rooms. Each room has a computer with broadband internet access, a telephone and facilities for the display of literature and for the secure storage of confidential material. The school also has a designated guidance classroom with a well-stocked library and student computer access. Guidance-related information is in evidence on notice boards throughout the school and it is noted that boards are used to display information relevant to the groups most likely to have access to them. The display of student artwork on walls throughout the building is also noted with favour as symbolic of the school’s interest in the development of cultural awareness as part of social and personal development.
Access to ICT is very satisfactory. Guidance classes have first option to use the facilities if those classes have not already been timetabled for the computer rooms. Students also use the computers in the guidance offices during one-to-one and small-group sessions with the guidance counsellors. Individual student access to the computer rooms is arranged in consultation with the ICT co-ordinator and is reported by the guidance counsellors to be easily arranged. Funding to enhance the ICT resources of the school is being sought by management and a proposal to establish a laptop library for students is being pursued despite difficulties reported by the principal in accessing such funds.
It is an interesting feature of the school that students are encouraged to take responsibility for their own decisions. Central Applications Office (CAO) and Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) applications, for example, are treated as individual applications and where, as in the case of UCAS, advice, information and references are needed, students are themselves expected to attend to these matters with encouragement from the guidance team.
The support of students has a high priority at Mount Mercy and comes from a strong commitment to the basic values of care and support espoused by the school in its philosophy of education and mission. Evidence of excellent work and documentation was clearly seen not only in Guidance but also in the areas of Special Education, student management, through the year heads system, and programme co-ordination. Staff members are enthusiastic about their sometimes onerous roles and have a common concern for the welfare of students. Good communication is a feature of life in the school and the appointment of principal, guidance counsellor and co-ordinator of Special Education within a short time of each other appears to have added to the cohesive nature of student support in the school. Because of this, information is passed quickly and formally between those involved in student support and with senior management. Staff members spoken to had a clear understanding of the various roles and of their complementary nature. The guidance team works very well with those involved in the provision of support for students with special educational needs. Collaborative approaches to student induction, assessment and parent information are the norm and are highly commended. Documentation and record keeping is of a very high standard.
The principal visits schools in the catchment area in the early spring and these visits are followed by visits by a guidance counsellor and by the special educational needs (SEN) co-ordinator. Classes in first year are of mixed ability and information, gathered at these sessions and in contacts by the principal with parents, is pooled to ensure the mix.
Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is being developed as a formal subject and the recent appointment of a co-ordinator has already resulted in two meetings of the SPHE team of which the guidance counsellors are members. This is commended and it is suggested that current regular contact between the team and guidance counsellors be maintained so that elements of the course which are common to Guidance and to the whole-school guidance programme, may be discussed and planned. Although the school has no full-time chaplain, the Parish Priest visits the school regularly and provides support for liturgical celebrations as the need arises.
The referral system within the school operates smoothly with the cooperation of teachers. A standard appointment slip is used on which the time and date of the appointment is noted. The slip is presented to a teacher at the appropriate time and is signed by the guidance counsellor at the end of the appointment. Referrals to external agencies such as the National Educational Psychological Service are managed by the principal in collaboration with the support team and are reported by the team to be satisfactory.
The personal plans and programme of the guidance team are very good. Guidance inputs into classes at both junior and senior level and into programmes such as Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Transition Year are well planned and delivered. The work experience element of the Transition Year programme and the guidance modules of the Leaving Certificate programme are particularly well provided in collaboration with the guidance team. It is recognised that the cooperation of all staff is essential to effective and well-run programmes and this cooperation is commended.
The transition from primary to secondary school is considered to be a particularly important milestone by staff and management at Mount Mercy and the process is managed thoroughly and effectively. The guidance counsellors are heavily involved in the process. They visit many of the feeder primary schools and attend all relevant parent-information sessions and parent-teacher meetings and are available by appointment to parents. First year is considered to be most important in helping students in their decision making in relation to subject choice, making friends and settling in, and particular attention is paid to these issues in SPHE. The decision to timetable these classes on a team-teaching basis with guidance counsellor participation is indicative of this priority. Collaborative practice among staff is again commended.
Consultation between the guidance team and management is ongoing and the implications of any proposed curricular changes, as in subject choice, for example, are discussed. These discussions are of a relatively informal nature. Some formalisation of the process might be achieved in the context of whole-school guidance planning as suggested below.
The school has established strong links to a variety of organisations including the local and regional higher and further education institutions, training organisations and businesses. These links are well used in the provision of a comprehensive and varied set of educational experiences both in school, in the form of visiting speakers and seminar providers, and also of visits by students to some of those organisations and institutions. College open days are availed of, and students are encouraged to attend seminars and workshops, such as those organised to further their interest in the areas of science, engineering and technology.
School literature, newsletters and yearbooks are well designed and contain a wealth of information for staff, students, parents and the community.
The whole-school guidance plan is in its initial stages and it is recommended that, because of the clearly evident good practice in the school and because statutory policies have been formed and ratified, the way is clear for whole-school engagement with the guidance planning process. A number of advantages are now apparent. Among them are the relatively recent appointment of the principal, guidance counsellor and special education co-ordinator, the good relationship which exists between them and with the staff of the school, the engagement by the school with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) process and the publication of documents related to whole-school guidance planning by the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and others. It is recommended that full use be made of these strengths in advancing whole-school planning of student supports and of Guidance in particular. This might be achieved by a small group comprising the guidance counsellors, special education coordinator and one or two interested others. The subject department planning model proposed by the SDPI could be used in conjunction with the guidance planning materials on its website or in the context of the National Centre for Guidance in Education guidance planning course under consideration by the school.
Continuing professional development (CPD) is encouraged and facilitated by school management and this informed approach is commended. The guidance counsellors avail of the opportunity to attend meetings, seminars and counselling supervision sessions organised by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, and others as the need arises. It is reported by the principal that the benefits of CPD far outweigh any organisational adjustments necessary to enable it to take place.
A sixth year class was visited in the course of the inspection. The main topic of the lesson was the CAO application process. A range of teaching methods were used effectively during the lesson ensuring that the interest of students was maintained. The use of open questions was particularly noted and student responses showed depth of learning and breadth of information. Effective use was made of the white board in noting student responses and the main concepts dealt with during the lesson. The use of the CAO application pack is commended in that it familiarises students with the materials and can help to demystify the system. The use of practice copies of the CAO form was useful. A thorough knowledge of the materials and of the process was evident throughout.
The relaxed and friendly atmosphere was characteristic of the lesson and facilitated a personal approach which was in keeping with the aim of supporting students in their own decisions, with the general aims of Guidance and with the values espoused by the school.
The room used was spacious and student tables and chairs were well placed to allow movement between them and easy checking of student work. The layout was appropriate to the methods used and to the materials being dealt with.
Students’ absorption in the process was demonstrated by the range of questions asked of the teacher. In a subsequent session, students displayed a realistic understanding of the process of decision making and of their own responsibilities in that regard.
High standards are maintained in the administration of tests and in the reporting of results. The close collaboration of the guidance counsellors and the special education co-ordinator and the meticulous documentation and analysis of test results are highly commended. Students about to enter the school are assessed in Irish, English, Mathematics and general ability in March prior to entry. Classes are of mixed ability and the results of the assessments are used for monitoring and diagnostic purposes with a view to the analysis of student needs and to the efficient targeting of resources to provide learning support for students with learning and other difficulties. Further diagnostic testing is carried out by the special education co-ordinator and the scheme for recording and communication of results is excellent.
Aptitude tests are administered to students in the Transition Year programme and to those in fifth year who chose not to take that programme. The tests are machine scored and the results are reported to students in the course of one-to-one sessions as part of the senior guidance programme. Other interest inventories, both paper based and web based, are also used at senior level and in the context of student decision-making. Qualifax, the Irish database of courses, is accessed by students using the school’s computer network and during individual consultations with the guidance team.
Students who have left Mount Mercy are tracked by the guidance team in cooperation with staff. Student records are of a high standard. All meetings with individuals and groups are noted, as are subsequent actions and contacts with staff. Records are stored securely.
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.