An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Meánscoil Nua an Leith-Triúigh
Castlegregory, County Kerry
Roll number: 68075O
Date of inspection: 10 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Meánscoil Nua an Leith-Triúigh. 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 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.
Meánscoil Nua an Leith-Triúigh
is located in Castlegregory on the northern coast of
the Dingle peninsula, an area known for its natural beauty and extensive
beaches. The school was founded under private ownership in 1961 and, from 1963,
was sited at Cloghane. New buildings to cater for 150
students were erected on the present site and the school was opened under the
patronage of the Bishop of Kerry in 2006. The 101 students
enrolled are mostly from the
The school has an allocation of eight hours per week for Guidance. It is somewhat unclear as to how this allocation is being used and it is recommended that this be clarified in the context of whole-school guidance planning. Furthermore, it is recommended that, since no member of staff has a qualification in Guidance, this also be addressed as an issue for guidance planning. Responsibility for formal vocational guidance rests with one teacher although it is a laudable feature of life in the school that all teachers share guidance responsibilities. It should be pointed out that Guidance is defined in Department of Education and Science policy to include personal and social guidance and educational guidance in addition to vocational guidance. The school is commended, however, on its attention to all aspects of student development. Some members of staff have engaged with professional development in the social and personal area and in counselling. Documents seen in the course of the inspection show staff involvement in aspects of personal, social and educational guidance across the spectrum of subjects. Interest in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is strong among staff. A recent survey of staff in relation to the guidance needs of the school revealed an interest in this regard. Assessment, testing, the monitoring of students’ progress, the care of students, student mentoring and student motivation were among those aspects identified for future action. All of these have guidance implications. Some formalisation of Guidance will become more necessary as the enrolment increases. Currently, much of this work is being done informally. It is obvious in the documentation that steps are being taken to address this issue. It has been the experience in other schools that a small student-support team, comprising the guidance counsellor, special education co-ordinator and chaplain or Religious Education (RE) co-ordinator, has been an effective forum for dealing with student support issues and whole-school guidance planning, in collaboration with senior management.
Second-year, third-year, fifth-year and sixth-year classes are timetabled for one period of Guidance per week. This is good practice and, combined with an induction programme for incoming first-year students, all of whom are placed in classes of mixed ability, provides a balanced input into junior and senior cycle classes. An additional forty-minute period has been allocated for one-to-one career sessions with students.
Recognising the need for formal space in which one-to-one work between staff and students might be carried out, and which has taken place in the less formal setting of classrooms to date, management has identified a suitable room which is about to be converted for counselling and small-group functions. Issues such as the availability of broadband, telephone and secure storage are to be addressed in the near future as part of the conversion arrangements. Interim arrangements for vocational guidance are very good. The information and communication technology (ICT) room is used extensively by the teacher with responsibility for vocational guidance. Interesting displays of guidance-related materials are visible here and on display boards located throughout the building. A small library of career materials and publications is stored on trolleys, which enables movement of the materials to various rooms as needed. Broadband access is readily available and is used by students in consultation with staff members. The facility is also used by staff in the planning of lessons and during the lessons themselves. This is good practice.
School documents express a high regard for the guidance and care of students. The informal system of monitoring students’ progress and behaviour appears to operate satisfactorily in a context approaching that of a large family. Members of staff are familiar with the background and performance of students, continual communication is the norm and issues come quickly to their attention. Senior management is in direct and daily contact with the majority of staff. Links with the community are well established. Most staff members reside in the catchment area. Ongoing social and informal contact with many parents is the norm. The school operates a relatively open system of referrals. Parents are encouraged to contact the school in relation to any issues which affect their children and are quickly contacted if an issue arises in the school. Referrals within the school are managed by the principal who requests the assistance of staff in dealing with individual cases when necessary. Similarly, referrals to outside agencies such as the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) are managed by the principal. A local curate acts as chaplain to the school and collaborates with staff, particularly in the RE department, in arranging liturgical celebrations as appropriate.
The school is conscious of the need for formal planning. Documentation of policies and their formation is good and is in keeping with the principles and guidelines suggested by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). Although the need for formalised planning is less pressing in a smaller school, some mechanism should be found to identify, clarify and advance student support and guidance issues as they arise. Whole-school guidance planning on a national level has been in a major developmental phase in recent years. Publications have included 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/robots/view.jsp?pcategory=10815&language=EN&ecategory=35329.
Some of the work being done in the school in relation to the development of a pastoral care structure could be classified as a management of students issue as part of the disciplinary system. Some might also be included profitably under whole-school guidance. A number of staff members are involved in the provision of elements of the guidance curriculum through subjects such as SPHE and RE. Staff involved in teaching those subjects have had training both in the content and methodologies associated with them, and some staff have undergone training in counselling. The Draft Guidance Framework is a useful resource in the planning and layout of the whole-school guidance syllabus and is recommended for the attention of guidance planners. It must be noted, however, that the allocation for Guidance is separate to the general allocation and should be clearly utilised for guidance purposes.
The school has a large number of policies and plans with guidance implications and which form the relatively permanent part of the school plan. Management is commended for the process which has advanced the formation of these policies and plans in a relatively short time, particularly at a time when considerable energy had also been expended on bringing the planning and construction of the new school to completion. Eleven existing policies have been listed in documents seen in the course of the inspection. Nine of these have direct implications for Guidance. In addition, five areas for future action have been identified, all of which have guidance implications. These are: the establishment of a student council and the formation of policies in relation to pastoral care; crisis intervention; relationships and sexuality and homework. Some of these are at an advanced stage of planning. The formation of the student council and of a mentoring programme for incoming first-year students, for example, are to involve an element of formal training in youth leadership. The Kerry Diocesan Youth Service has been identified as a suitable training agency for this purpose. Practice in relation to crisis intervention is well established in the school and the planning process will address its formalisation as a school policy and protocols. It is noted that the admissions policy states that admission of students with special educational needs is subject to the provision of the requisite resources by the Department of Education and Science. It is recommended that this wording be revisited and modified in keeping with the principles of inclusiveness and integration of all students, which underpin the policy.
A laudable career guidance programme has been drawn up which, by implication, includes teachers of a range of subjects in its implementation. The programme outlines inputs into each year group, including Transition Year (TY) and involves staff from within the school and also from external agencies which provide inputs into, among others, study skills, drugs education, bullying and information regarding third-level opportunities. It is recommended that this be incorporated into a whole-school guidance plan, which should be an integral part of the school plan. Other issues which might be addressed in the context of guidance planning include access to and the use of ICT, mechanisms to involve parents, linkages with the wider community and staff professional development. The recent analysis of the perceptions of staff regarding the guidance needs of the school is commended. Good planning involves all interested stakeholders and it is obvious from the response that the interest of staff has been stimulated. With the formation of the student council, the opportunity will exist to examine guidance needs from a students’ perspective and is recommended.
Curricular planning is a collaborative endeavour in the school and all staff members contribute to deliberations on issues such as subject choice, timetabling and the curriculum. The choice of European languages has been a topic of recent discussions. TY is optional but the majority of students choose to participate. All students in TY experience all available Leaving Certificate examination subjects. Subject choices are made during TY and subjects are arranged on the basis of students’ preferences. The TY co-ordinator in collaboration with staff, students and the community, manages work experience.
One lesson was observed in the course of the inspection. A sixth-year class participated in an admirably led interactive session in the ICT room during which the Central Applications Office (CAO) system was reviewed and the change-of-mind procedures were explained. The topic was relevant and appropriate to the students to whom it was presented. Following a roll call, the purpose of the lesson was outlined, materials checked and handouts distributed. Each student had built up a folder of materials related to this series of classes. Previous work was well laid out in the folders which showed both understanding of the process of career decision making and development over time. It was a notable feature of the lesson that, while a variety of teaching methods was used, these were used unobtrusively and to very good effect. The use of a digital presentation showed how well such technology can be used in classrooms. The material of the presentation was referred to throughout the lesson, such that the topic was enhanced by the illustrations and text displayed, rather than the technology becoming the focus. Examples given were clear and illustrations were colourful. Unfamiliar terms were well explained. The Qualifax internet website was accessed appropriately during the lesson and all students used the technology as directed. Such good practice is highly commended.
The atmosphere during the lesson was calm and orderly. Students were attentive and co-operative throughout. Questions were asked regularly to check students’ understanding of the topic. Questions were responded to quickly. Students, by their responses, showed a good grasp of the material and of the personal implications of vocational decisions. When clarification was needed, students appeared to be comfortable in asking for it and the responses given were clear and to the point.
It was obvious that relationships in the classroom were good. This enabled a friendly rapport as the teacher moved about the room. Students were encouraged in their work and supported in the assigned tasks by helpful comments. Gentle prompts were given to students to remain attentive and the materials and pace of the lesson ensured that attention was held to the end.
The absence of a qualified guidance counsellor precludes the administration of some standardised tests. Formal, diagnostic testing of new first-year students is carried out by the special education co-ordinator in September to determine the learning needs of incoming first-year students and to monitor their progress, particularly in the junior cycle. Tests and instruments used include the Profile of Mathematical Skills, the Non-Reading Intelligence Test and the Vernon Graded Word Reading Test.
Interest inventories, especially those associated with the online versions of Qualifax and Careers World are used during senior cycle classes as aids to students’ decision making. Good practice in their integration into classroom guidance was evident from students’ folders and showed a thoughtful approach to the dilemmas facing students in charting their futures.
Because numbers are small, tracking of students’ initial destinations is undertaken as a collaborative staff effort. A record is kept on file in the staffroom.
Records kept by guidance staff show a high regard for the formalities associated with meetings, both on an individual level and at a school level. Good records are kept of most such encounters, using templates such as those suggested for meetings by the SDPI and, in the case of interviews with students, staff-designed record forms. This good practice is commended.
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.