An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

 

Subject Inspection of Guidance

REPORT

 

Saint Augustine’s College

Abbeyside, Dungarvan, County Waterford

Roll number: 64890W

 

Date of inspection: 15 March 2007

Date of issue of report:  4 October 2007

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations


Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance

 

 

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Augustine’s 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 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, deputy principal and acting guidance counsellor.  The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

St Augustine’s College, known locally as The Friary, is located among trees on a large, waterfront site on the outskirts of Dungarvan. The college caters for students from a wide catchment area which includes the encroaching town of Dungarvan and extends almost twenty-five kilometres into rural West Waterford. The building and grounds are well maintained and are disability friendly.

 

The school has an allocation of twenty-four hours per week for Guidance, based on an enrolment of 574 students in September 2005. The current enrolment of 578 ensures that the allocation will remain at the same level for the coming school year. The hours are being efficiently used. Two staff members are qualified guidance counsellors, one of whom is the principal. Twenty-two hours have been assigned to the guidance counsellor and the remaining two hours are effectively distributed among staff whose responsibilities include work experience, student induction, home visitation and other support roles. It is anticipated that the school will grow to an enrolment of over six hundred in the coming three years. It is recommended that the use of extra hours to which the school will be entitled be planned for now.

 

The guidance service in the school is being run on a temporary basis by a staff member acting in a guidance capacity, with the strong support of the principal. The illness of a staff member during the school year forced the appointment of a very competent teacher to assume the vocational guidance elements of the post in the absence of qualified staff and applicants. The responsibilities associated with personal guidance and counselling have been clearly defined. All issues related to student counselling, welfare, confidentiality and referral are dealt with by the principal who is a qualified guidance counsellor. A qualified counsellor is available in the school on a part-time basis for three hours each week. The principal, in consultation with individual staff members, arranges referrals to the counsellor. It is understood that consideration of the issues of guidance staffing and qualifications is in progress and it is recommended that these issues be clarified as soon as possible.

 

It has been the practice to provide a balanced and comprehensive guidance programme to all students. The personal programme of the guidance counsellor shows inputs at all stages, from induction to post-leaving, and to a range of target groups including students, parents and staff. The available resources have been well used and it is noted that the hours devoted by staff to Guidance have been far in excess of the allocation. 

 

The current system of six-week to eight-week modules for Guidance, with four periods per week in fifth year and three periods per week in sixth year, is historically linked with classes for Religious Education. The demands of the guidance programme, particularly in sixth year, Transition Year (TY) and in the junior cycle point to the need for some modification to this scheme. It is recommended that the timetabling of Guidance classes be reviewed. It may be useful to consult the Draft Guidance Framework recently published by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) in this regard and in relation to whole-school guidance planning. The document is available on the NCCA website at www.ncca.ie. The participation of a range of staff in the provision of elements of the whole-school guidance programme is a feature of the draft framework. Many aspects of the framework are already in practice in St Augustine’s College, examples of which are the work-experience programme, elements of the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), RE and Physical Education (PE) programmes.

 

Communication is very good, informal and is based on a network of good relationships among both staff and students. The tone of the school in relation to the inspection was positive, friendly and accommodating. Both staff and students were forthcoming and positive in their comments about the school. The active participation of members of the Augustinian Order in the running of the school, particularly in the support and guidance of students, is very noticeable, appreciated by senior management and highly commended. The first-year head, for example, provides a comprehensive support service to incoming students which continues throughout first year. The service includes collaboration with other staff in the preparation of open days, parents’ information sessions and, particularly, in an induction programme at the beginning of the school year. A class-teacher system operates without year heads for the other year groups whereby a teacher adopts a role of student care and management for a particular class group. Very good links have been established in a very short time between the core providers of student support namely, the guidance service, the special educational needs department and the chaplaincy. The chaplain visits the home of every student each year and relevant information is communicated to staff and management following the visits. The result of such personalised approaches to students was also evident in interactions observed in the course of the inspection. Students and teachers were at ease and respectful towards one another and staff relations appeared to be very good.

 

The facilities for Guidance are very good. A spacious office with broadband access, printer, telephone and storage facilities for books, brochures and files is in constant use. The office is also suited to individual work with students. It was noted that, at times when the inspection did not necessitate the use of the guidance office, it was well used by students who wished to consult the available literature or the teacher. Access to internet and computer-based information is available to students in the guidance office by arrangement with the teacher. Group access to the computer facilities has been suspended pending a complete renewal of the system planned for the summer of 2007.

 

Very good informal links exist between the chaplain, the special needs co-ordinator and senior management.

 

Referrals for vocational guidance are arranged through a well-organised and efficient appointment system based on ease of access and clear roles. Counselling issues are dealt with by the principal who also manages referrals to outside agencies such as the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) and to the part-time counsellor.

 

 

Planning and preparation

 

A comprehensive guidance plan and programme was first published in the school in 1999. The plan is currently being reviewed and a new, draft guidance plan is being circulated. The decision to set up a guidance planning task-group extends this planning to the wider body of staff. This approach is in line with that envisaged in the documents mentioned below and is commended. The subject-department planning structure currently being advocated by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) is recommended as a useful vehicle on which to base whole-school guidance planning. It should also be borne in mind that a number of documents which are essential to good guidance planning have been published recently. They include Guidelines for second-level schools on the implications of Section 9(c) of the Education Act (1998), relating to students' access to appropriate guidance, published by the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science (2005) and Planning the school guidance programme published by the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE) in 2004. Very useful templates of use in introducing and planning a Guidance review are also available at http://www.ncge.ie/documents/Guide_Counselling.pdfThe implications of the Review of guidance in second-level schools (2006), available on the website of the Department of Education and Science at http://www.education.ie/servlet/blobservlet/review_guidance, should, likewise, be considered in these deliberations. In the longer term, consideration might be given to the guidance planning modules being provided as part of a diploma programme by the NCGE.

 

The school provides a balanced guidance programme to all students. The inputs referred to above are indicative of the wealth of staff skills. Similarly, the concept of a ‘caring community’ espoused by the school in its mission statement is shown in a practical way by the effective efforts of staff in their support of students and in creating ‘a happy and safe environment’. Specific provision is made for all year groups, from the induction of first years to the classroom guidance provided for senior students.

 

Current co-ordination of these inputs is largely informal and effective. In the interests of continuity and the transmission of experience it is recommended that some formalisation of practices and procedures be achieved through the planning process. The clarification of roles and responsibilities is a natural part of planning and will bring about some of this formalisation. Similarly, when the roles and responsibilities associated with school policies are examined for their guidance implications it will become apparent that the recommended formalisation should follow.

 

The links in place between the guidance department, management and other members of the support team have been strengthened by the formation of a guidance planning task group comprising the guidance counsellor, principal, deputy principal and staff members with direct support or guidance roles. The school has had a number of staff days supported by inputs from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and is at the stage of subject-department formation and planning.

 

All first-year students study the required core subjects. In addition, all students study Science, Business Studies and either French or German. This is commended in that it leaves open to students the full range of course and career options. A six-week to eight-week ‘taster’ experience of one of Art, Home Economics, Materials Technology (Wood), Music or Technical Graphics is taken by all first years. One of these is chosen as a subject for the Junior Certificate examination.

 

Most support for students in second and third years is provided by their class teachers with intermittent inputs from the guidance counsellor as the need arises. A short programme to explain the senior cycle options available to students in third year is being prepared, and will be implemented before choices regarding the optional TY and Leaving Certificate subjects are made in the early summer term.

 

Students who enter fifth year in September will choose four subjects from a set range. The options are well balanced and are reported by senior management to satisfy the majority of students. Some modification of the available options is possible in the light of students’ demands. The principal, as a qualified guidance counsellor, is in a strong position to inform curriculum planning, particularly as it affects students’ choice.

 

The information and communication technology (ICT) room is in the process of being upgraded. It is expected that a new suite of computers with broadband access will be in place by September 2007.

 

Information sessions in relation to aspects of school life are arranged as appropriate during the school year. The themes of the sessions include study skills, applications for entry to higher-education and further-education institutions and issues of social concern. Guidance personnel attend all parent-teacher meetings and are available to parents by appointment. The school information packs available to parents are of a high standard and are comprehensive. It is suggested that the strengths of the school in relation to student support and guidance are somewhat underplayed in the documentation and merit inclusion.

 

The school has established strong links with local businesses and has an extensive network of employers who provide work experience for TY students. It is the student’s own responsibility to make arrangements for work experience but the school’s links with employers ensure that all are placed. Similarly, links have been established with regional and national institutions of higher and further education and visits to and by those organisations are arranged on a regular basis.

 

Professional development is encouraged and facilitated by school management.

 

 

Teaching and learning

 

A sixth-year class was visited in the course of the inspection. The theme of the lesson was the preparation of a curriculum vitae (CV). A well-prepared lesson plan was available to the inspector in addition to the materials used in the course of the lesson. Good use was made of an overhead projector to illustrate the documentation and the points made. Copies of some of the material, such as a blank CV, were distributed to students and a good mix of practice and theory was achieved by the appropriate use of questions, prompts to students and immediate clarification of issues which arose during the lesson. Questions were relevant and thought-provoking and included some of a higher order and a mixture of questions directed generally and individually at members of the class.

 

Initially, students remained silent, but skilled use of questions prompted good responses and some relevant queries about the content of the lesson from students. Rapport with students was very good. The teacher’s awareness of the interests and past experiences of students, such as that gained through work experience, was easily apparent and added to the rapport which had obviously been established. Movement in the room was facilitated by the layout of desks and was effective in maintaining students’ alertness.

 

Students followed instructions very well and showed familiarity with the methods being used. Students’ work was checked and commented on immediately. This was done with due regard for students’ feelings. Tasks such as the filling of a blank CV were completed by most students during the lesson and suggestions were made as to how the documents might be improved in students’ own time. A good summary of the material and of the content was given prior to the end of the lesson.

 

 

Assessment

 

The use of standardised tests is part of the guidance programme of the school and the evidence suggests high standards of test administration and interpretation. In the temporary absence of qualified test users, other instruments such as inventories associated with Qualifax and Career Directions are used to support students in clarifying issues related to their vocational and educational choices.

 

The destinations of students who have left school have been tracked by the guidance counsellor and arrangements are being made to continue this practice.

 

Record keeping is of a very high standard and is commended. Continuity in the guidance service has been greatly enabled by the availability of documents associated with planning, guidance practices and procedures. This level of good practice is being maintained. Records of meetings with students, student profiles and guidance documentation in general are in keeping with good practice.

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         The attitude to Guidance and student support in the school is very positive.

·         Good communication mainly through day-to-day contacts with all staff is in evidence.

·         Relationships among staff are positive and supportive and visitors to the school are warmly welcomed.

·         The school has engaged with the School Development Planning Initiative and the planning process is gaining momentum and formality.

·         The excellent whole-school guidance plan is under review in the context of school development planning.

·         Recent management and staff changes have had implications for the guidance service and these are being carefully managed and planned for.

·         Documentation and publicity material about the school are clear, well presented and show a strong commitment to values of care and support.

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:

 

·         The subject-department planning structure currently being advocated by the School Development Planning Initiative is recommended as a useful vehicle on which to base whole-school guidance planning.

·         In the interests of continuity and the transmission of experience, it is recommended that some formalisation of practices and procedures be achieved through the planning process.

·         It is recommended that the timetabling of Guidance classes be reviewed.

·         It is suggested that the strengths of the school in relation to student support and guidance merit inclusion in school documentation.

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the guidance counsellor, principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.