An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Christian Brothers’ School
Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary
Roll number: 65270U
Date of inspection: 13 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Christian Brothers’ School (CBS), Carrick-on-Suir. 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 of guidance. 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.
The CBS in Carrick-on Suir was opened in 1805 and is located on the eastern edge of the town. It was the second school opened by the congregation, having been preceded in 1802 by that in Waterford. The tradition of the congregation still lives in the school through its adherence to the Edmund Rice Charter, although no brother currently teaches there. Demographic changes have contributed to a decrease in enrolment to 135 this year. Six students of Eastern European origin are currently enrolled. The total enrolment of the three schools in the town is now in the region of 850, having been in the region of 1,300 in the mid nineteen nineties. It is projected to rise to about 1,200 by 2015 on the basis of rising enrolment in primary schools within a radius of fifteen kilometres from the school. Proposals regarding the amalgamation of schools in the town have been discussed. The amalgamation of the CBS and Scoil Mhuire, the Mercy girls’ secondary school, appears to be the most likely outcome of those discussions. Many of the comments which follow in this report are made in the light of the opportunities presented by the potential changes which lie ahead of the school.
CBS, Carrick-on-Suir accepts all presenting students in accordance with its open enrolment policy. A consequence of the fall in numbers has been the necessity to use existing staff without qualifications in the respective areas to maintain student support services in guidance and special educational needs. One staff member is timetabled for five of the eight hours allocated for Guidance. Two staff members manage provision for the special educational needs of students. All collaborate with external agencies such as the National Educational Psychological Service and with senior management in that work. Two of the remaining three hours allocated to the school for guidance purposes are used for general counselling purposes by the principal, who is a qualified guidance counsellor, and one hour has been assigned to class teachers for general guidance work. This is an interim arrangement following the retirement, three years ago, of the guidance counsellor, the retirement of a teacher with counselling qualifications in the past year and pending arrangements for the provision of guidance in the context of amalgamated schools. It is recommended that continuing professional development and the acquisition of formal guidance qualifications be an important issue in whole-school development planning so that the full guidance allocation will be used by qualified personnel for guidance purposes. It is also recommended that the hours allocated to Guidance be clarified in the process of guidance planning.
The current system of support for students is very good. The complementary roles played by staff in providing support is highly commended. It is particularly noted that the vocational and educational guidance of students is of a high standard and that those involved are dedicated to the tasks and provide a service which is exemplary within the limits of their competencies. It is further noted that the time devoted to the support of students, particularly in vocational decision-making, is far in excess of contracted hours and is in addition to other teaching and technical responsibilities. The teacher with most responsibility for guidance activities is also the information and communication technology (ICT) co-ordinator and is in a good position to ensure that students have access to on-line guidance-related material and to the ICT facilities for general guidance purposes.
Occasional formal meetings are held for information purposes and to facilitate school development planning. Four or five staff meetings are held during each school year. As the school is relatively small, communication among staff is mostly informal and largely co-ordinated by the principal. Roles are outlined by reference to the school’s mission, to the Edmund Rice Charter and to documents produced by the Irish Association for Pastoral Care in Education, of which the school is a member. A local curate acts as chaplain to the school on a part-time basis and provides for liturgical celebrations as the need arises. The role of the class tutor is well developed especially in first and sixth year and incorporates some of the duties performed by a year head in a larger school. A suggestion was made at a meeting with the class tutors that some more regular meetings of this group might be productive. It is recommended that some formalisation of care structures, such as the scheduling of meetings of class tutors, be considered to ensure continuity in the context of changing school circumstances.
The Religious Education (RE) department operates in tandem with teachers of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and some aspects of the guidance programme are effectively covered in the programmes of these subjects. One member of the RE team is also involved in the co-ordination of the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme, manages work experience associated with that programme and also deals with the career investigation which is part of the programme. Visits to the school by representatives of higher education institutions in the region have also been arranged as part of the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). An interest in the promotion of science and science-related careers is also in evidence in the school and such subject-specific guidance work on the part of teachers is commended. A room for prayer and reflection was opened during the autumn term and it is hoped by staff that the facility will be an aid to reflective practice. The school has established procedures for dealing with critical incidents which are, as yet, unwritten. Good practice in this area suggests that written procedures add to the efficiency of responses and are recommended. Whole-school guidance planning on the lines suggested by the National Centre for Guidance in Education in its 2004 document Planning the school guidance programme is suggested as the means by which the linking of all roles and programme elements might be achieved.
Given the available resources, a good balance has been achieved in providing for the guidance needs of students at all levels. Guidance classes are timetabled for fifth years, sixth years and for the LCVP group. Intermittent contact is arranged with other year groups as the need arises, particularly prior to subject choices in third and fourth years. One-to-one counselling is currently provided by the principal as an interim measure to students at all levels and a small number of students are referred to counsellors outside the school. The lack of a fully qualified guidance counsellor to carry out this important work in the school is one of the few shortcomings of the current provision.
The facilities for Guidance are good. Resources for Guidance are available on request and in consultation with the principal. Because the main provider of vocational guidance is also a Business teacher and ICT co-ordinator and also because rooms have been assigned to teachers, students have easy access to ICT facilities during timetabled classes and by arrangement with the co-ordinator. An office is also provided for guidance purposes and is equipped with broadband access, telephone, printer, shelving and secure storage. A small careers library and notice boards are available to students in the ICT room and careers information is also visible on display boards throughout the school. Two data projectors are available to staff and appear to be widely used.
Good, day-to-day informal contact is maintained by the principal with all staff. Timetabling requests are made to the principal during the spring term each year and are made in the light of discussions with staff and with final-year students regarding general guidance provision. Discussions with sixth-year students take place in the final term as part of the evaluative process in Guidance. Suggestions made by students regarding the content of guidance classes are incorporated into the scheme of work in subsequent years. This is good planning practice and is recommended as an important element of guidance planning.
Referrals are managed by the principal. A number of agencies and individuals external to the school, including the National Educational Psychological Service, are used and the principal reports that the services are effective in the small number of cases referred out.
The personal plan and programme of the teacher with responsibility for career guidance is very good and shows a keen awareness of the relevant documentation. A laudable respect for the limits of competencies is shown by all involved in the provision of elements of the guidance programme. Very good practice is evident within the limits of those competencies. Teachers of subjects such as SPHE, RE and LCVP and those in care and pastoral roles possess a wide range of skills and those skills are applied well and are supported by some planning documentation. Whole-school guidance planning has not been formalised in the absence of a qualified guidance counsellor but a review of guidance takes place each year as part of the general review of the school. It is recommended that guidance planning be formalised as part of whole-school planning to ensure continuity in the context of changing school circumstances.
The guidance programme in the junior cycle begins prior to entry. An open evening is arranged annually before Easter in the course of which issues such as subject and programme options, assessment and school processes and procedures are discussed with parents and potential students. All teachers attend and the sessions are organised in co-operation with the parents’ council. An information request form is also circulated to parents seeking information relevant to the schooling of their children. Competency in English and Mathematics is assessed and the combined information is used to monitor students’ progress, particularly in first year. Regular contact between the principal and feeder primary schools is part of the induction process.
First-year students study all available subjects which include Business Studies, French, Science and Materials Technology (Wood) in addition to those required by the Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools. This range of subjects is commended as efficient and equitable and facilitative of choices at subsequent decision-making stages. Informal, day-to-day contact is a feature of communication in the school and enables some co-ordination of the guidance elements of the SPHE and RE programmes. A study and examination seminar is being arranged for second-year, Transition Year (TY) and sixth-year classes during the early summer term and will be provided by an external service. Preparation for subject and programme choices is the main aspect of formal guidance in third year. Occasional contact with those classes is arranged by the teacher with responsibility for career and educational guidance for that purpose. Students are taught how to use software such as Qualifax to aid their decision-making and are encouraged to discuss their choices with teachers.
Optional subjects for the Leaving Certificate examination are chosen during third year, or in TY by those opting for that programme. The scheme of optional subjects is based on student preferences and is equitable. LCVP is optional. Advice and information regarding subject and career choice are provided by staff at the request of students and parents. Commendable co-operation between the boys’ school and the girls’ school takes place during TY. Girls attend Physics and Woodwork lessons in CBS and boys attend Chemistry, Music and Home Economics lessons in the girls’ school.
Senior cycle classes are timetabled for Guidance and students participate in a comprehensive programme of career guidance during those classes, which are timetabled for the ICT room. Communication with the parent body is good. Parents are also involved in facilitating mock interviews which are organised in collaboration with the parent council. Similarly, information sessions are arranged in conjunction with organisations such as the higher education institutions and FÁS, both in and outside the school, and it is noted that staff who organise these inputs are teachers of subjects as diverse as Business, RE, LCVP and Science. Such collaborative practice is highly commended. Work experience is managed by the LCVP co-ordinator and much emphasis is placed on the responsibility of the students in gaining employment. The goodwill of local employers is acknowledged by the school as an important factor in the success of the programme.
A number of adult education night courses are organised by the school, including courses in Art, Spoken French, Computers and the European Computer Driving Licence.
Much of the professional development engaged in by staff involved in Guidance has been self directed. There is evidence to show that that process has been fruitful and that staff are aware of current trends in Guidance. The principal reports very good support for RE in-service from An Tobar, the RE support service of the Marino Institute. Members of the students’ council attend a leadership training course in the process of induction into the council and have been involved in the discussions leading to amalgamation. Lack of formal qualification in Guidance and Counselling precludes involvement in the activities of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors such as whole-school guidance planning, counselling supervision and other in-service. Continuing professional development is an important aspect of whole-school planning and it is recommended that these issues be dealt with in that context.
A fifth-year class was visited in the course of the inspection. The lesson on sources of career and course information was taught in the ICT room, using a data projector, and made use of the broadband service to access the Qualifax website. The lesson was well planned and materials such as work sheets and a research form had been prepared in advance. The use of the CAO handbook in conjunction with college handbooks by each student was useful in allowing practical experience of materials which will be very relevant to most of them in the coming year. Students were comfortable and skilled in the use of the computer system and readily accessed the required information under the clear direction of the teacher. Very good use was made of questions. Feedback to and from students showed good rapport and respect on both sides. References made to past lessons showed this lesson in the context of a developmental process and students appeared to understand the relevance of previous learning to the task at hand.
The atmosphere in the classroom was relaxed and co-operative. The teacher moved among the students who were seated individually in front of computers and answered any queries from students as they arose. Students were also given the option of approaching the teacher after the lesson so that issues of relevance might be discussed individually where necessary.
Students were absorbed in the tasks set during the lesson. All instructions were clear and were followed without hesitation. The responses of students showed understanding of the concepts being used and that prior learning of previous lessons was being built upon. The lesson was one of a series and was appropriate to the stage of development and interests of those in the class.
The use of standardised tests is confined to qualified test users. In the absence of such qualifications, use may be made of questionnaires and interest blanks which may aid students in clarifying personal, vocational and educational decisions. The internet is a fertile source of such inventories with the proviso that in many cases their statistical reliability and validity may be difficult to determine. They can, however, be useful devices to stimulate thought and discussion and are worth consideration as part of the general guidance programme. Qualifax is already in use in the school and contains one such interest assessment.
The destinations of students who have left the school are monitored by guidance staff in co-operation with other teachers. Good use is made of electronic data such as CAO applications in compiling and keeping these records. Detailed student profiles and records of interviews are held in secure storage, in paper and electronic forms. Meetings with other staff on guidance issues are mainly informal. Some formality, especially in recording the outcomes of such meetings, will become necessary as part of guidance planning already recommended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The plan and programme of the teacher providing Guidance is very good.
· The administrative and formal practices and procedures associated with the provision of Guidance are very good.
· Aspects of the whole-school guidance programme are well delivered by a variety of staff members in the absence of a qualified guidance counsellor.
· The school is small and proposals for amalgamation with another school present interesting opportunities for the development of formal, whole-school guidance plans.
· The ethos of care, based on the Edmund Rice charter, is well represented by the attitude of staff and in the symbols visible throughout the school.
· Staff and students were found to be welcoming and friendly in the course of the inspection.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that guidance planning be formalised as part of whole-school planning to ensure continuity in the context of changing school circumstances.
· It is recommended that the hours allocated to Guidance be clarified in the process of guidance planning.
· It is recommended that professional development and the acquisition of formal guidance qualifications be an essential component of whole-school guidance planning.
· It is recommended that some formalisation of care structures be considered to ensure continuity in the context of changing school circumstances.
· It is recommended that the procedures to be followed on the occurrence of a critical incident be written.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher of guidance classes and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.