An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Árdscoil na Trionóide
Athy, County Kildare
Roll number: 68077S
Date of inspection: 15 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Árdscoil na Trionóide. 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 the guidance counsellors and reviewed school planning documentation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and to the guidance counsellors. 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.
Árdscoil na Tríonóide is a mixed Catholic voluntary secondary school that has formed from the amalgamation of two schools, Scoil Eóin, a Christian Brothers Secondary School and Scoil Mhuire, a Mercy Secondary School. The school operates under the trusteeship of CEIST (Catholic Education, an Irish Schools Trust). Opened in September 2007, the school buildings have been refurbished and a modern and well designed environment for teaching and learning is now available to students and teachers. The newest available technologies including information and communications technology (ICT) are now accessible throughout the school. A very wide curriculum and a range of school programmes are provided. Good sporting facilities and the provision of many co-curricular and extra curricular opportunities for students support the delivery of a holistic education for all.
The school has two major feeder primary schools in the town of Athy and also enrols students from a wide catchment area. It is reported that due to the local demand for education places, numbers in the school will rise next year to about 800. Currently, the principal arranges visits to local feeder schools. It is suggested that the guidance team consider planning ways to input into this process so that they meet with pupils and their sixth class teachers in these schools.
Due to the current enrolment of 761 students the school has an allocation of thirty ex-quota hours for Guidance. Two guidance counsellors make up the guidance team and manage Guidance in the school. It is reported that staff in the two amalgamated schools have come together successfully to meet the diverse needs of a large school population. The guidance team co-operates effectively to plan guidance delivery. The team is to be commended for successfully merging two separate school guidance plans and developing a new whole-school plan that is in keeping with the needs of the new larger school. All meetings of the team are minuted and liaison with other teacher colleagues is managed effectively to plan guidance delivery and a range of appropriate interventions for students.
The important contribution that Guidance provides in supporting students to become effective learners and make successful transitions is valued by management. Good facilities are provided for Guidance. Two dedicated offices have been allocated that are well located and are accessible to students and parents. The offices are well resourced with storage space and have full broadband access. A notice board for the display of guidance information for students about college open-days, other career events and application requirements for third-level or further education is located in a prominent location in the corridor. The careers library is housed in the school library. Students can access this facility throughout the week. As the school has excellent ICT facilities, students can explore all available information about careers and third-level and further education colleges digitally. Guidance has access to classrooms with full ICT for group work. This high level of support for the delivery of Guidance to students is to be commended.
Timetabling for Guidance in the school reflects a balance of provision between junior and senior cycles. Guidance is delivered in a variety of modes that includes one-to-one, group and classroom sessions. The school currently has thirty hours for Guidance and this number is set to increase next year. It is recommended therefore, that consideration be given to further maximising the use of this resource by increasing the number of timetabled guidance sessions by guidance counsellors with all groups in senior cycle. A modular approach to timetabling could be deployed throughout the academic year to achieve this aim and to provide full access for all senior-cycle students to Guidance.
Throughout their time in school access for students to Guidance and to one-to-one counselling support is available when required. The school prides itself on providing a good level of holistic care for students both academically and personally to assist them to achieve good outcomes. Guidance is viewed as a necessary whole-school support that delivers these objectives. Regular contact is maintained by the guidance team with management which is reported to be very supportive of whole-school Guidance. The referral of students for support within the school operates efficiently and referrals to outside national and local support agencies are handled sensitively and effectively.
The school is a caring one and adopts a very collegial approach to providing care for students. A wide range of supports is available for students both from the pastoral system and from guidance personnel. Year heads meet each week to discuss students who require extra support. An informal student support group that includes Guidance then meets to plan interventions for these students. However as the school is still in a new developmental phase, it may be useful to consider formalising this group in the future to form a student-support team that manages all interventions with students.
The school has a very well developed critical incident response plan that was drafted with whole-school support and the full involvement of the guidance team.
Planning is a priority for school management and for all subject departments, including Guidance. Subject plans are evaluated regularly. The guidance team has co-operated effectively to construct a whole-school guidance plan that is based on the perceived needs of students. The plan is well developed and contains guidance programmes for each year group and school programme in junior and senior cycles. To further develop this excellent planning process, it is recommended that the guidance plan be put for consultation during this academic year to the student council to fully ascertain students’ views about Guidance. It is further recommended, to aid an annual evaluation of the plan, that the guidance programmes for each year group include expected learning outcomes and specify links with all school programmes, and that a time scale for the various activities be fully documented.
From the time they enter the school, students have contact with Guidance and are assisted in a number of ways to settle into the school, adjust to the new learning environment and the demands of studying new subjects. A particularly good feature of the Guidance provided is the way that students receive individual support to deal with personal issues, and that on-going assessment of learning needs is arranged. As the school operates a mixed-ability formation of class groups, students are assisted to maximise their potential through peer learning and extra support for learning is provided where appropriate. All first-year students are individually interviewed by the guidance team and this intervention provides a good foundation for learning and the selection of optional subjects. A taster programme in first year also commendably supplies good insights for students into a wide range of optional subjects. Parents are kept informed about Guidance at parents’ evenings where information about subjects and progression routes are fully explained. Students and their parents should also be referred to the information module on the Qualifax website: Leaving Cert. and Junior Cert. Subject Choice www.qualifax.ie. This site provides comprehensive information on the possible long-term implications of subjects chosen in junior cycle.
Throughout junior cycle, students have regular contact with the guidance team and can seek individual interviews for guidance advice or counselling. To further develop the existing guidance programmes for second-year and third-year students, it is recommended that some additional inputs on career topics be planned. This could best be achieved through co-operation with the Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme. Introducing topics on careers to second and third year groups encourages students to begin exploring a range of possible career avenues well in advance of making individual subject and programme choices for senior cycle. The school is promoting students to maximise their potential and set high goals for achievement, so the inclusion of careers education in second and third year would encourage dialogue between the guidance counsellors and students about the level at which the subjects should be studied for Junior and Leaving Certificate, so as to achieve personal goals. The use of ICT, which is available throughout the school, could be deployed to assist students’ research. Websites such as Careers Directions www.careerdirections.ie and www.careersportal.ie are recommended.
The guidance programmes for Transition Year (TY) and senior cycle classes are comprehensive and all students are interviewed individually to plan transitions and address personal issues.
Commendably, a number of guest speakers are invited to address students and provide insights into the world of work and third-level or further education. Good links are maintained with a number of third-level colleges such as the National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM) and Carlow Institute of Technology (CIT). Students attend open days in these colleges and other visits are arranged based on students’ interests. A local careers fair, which provides access for students to information about a very wide range of progression options, is arranged each year with support from the guidance team.
Students wishing to make the transition to third-level education receive good assistance to explore viable options and to make applications to the Central Applications Office (CAO) www.cao.ie for entry to universities and colleges in Ireland, and the Universities & Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) www.ucas.com for application to United Kingdom and Northern Ireland colleges. Students can apply to the CAO and to UCAS online in the school. Those choosing progression into Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses and to other training or employment routes such as FÁS apprenticeships are also facilitated in every way to make good personal choices. As the school is located in a rural area, it is suggested that more links to Teagasc could be explored. Parents are kept fully informed about progression opportunities at parents’ events and through one-to-one meetings with staff.
Good contacts between the school and a very wide range of outside agencies which provide extra supports are maintained. These are fully documented in the guidance plan.
In the course of the inspection a guidance lesson with a sixth year Leaving Certificate Vocational (LCVP) group was attended. The methodology selected to present and develop the lesson topic on completing the CAO form was well chosen, and was appropriate to the age and the developmental levels of the students.
Good advance planning of the lesson was in evidence and suitable materials had been prepared. The topic was well introduced and delivered. Clear learning outcomes were established from the outset of the lesson. Questioning of students was used to good effect to elicit their understanding of the topic and the assignment to be completed.
The layout of the classroom was suitable and conducive to learning. Learning goals and the expected outcomes to be achieved were established at the beginning of the lesson and this provided a good scaffold and structure for effective learning. It is suggested however, that in future lessons more use be made of brainstorming students’ ideas about the chosen topic at the beginning of sessions, and that all comments made be recorded and summarised on a whiteboard for reference.
All students were engaged and attentive during the lesson. They demonstrated good listening and competent learning. They also displayed good knowledge about the lesson topic and completed their assignments diligently. Good rapport was evident between the teacher and the students throughout the lesson.
Classroom management was excellent with students displaying an orderly approach to learning. Follow up on the lesson was signalled at the end of the session and students’ completed work was saved in individual folders.
Appropriate use is being made of assessment procedures to support students’ learning and other needs. Aptitude tests, school entrance tests and psychometric instruments are administered to students to assist them to explore their learning needs and career interests. The school guidance plan documents the tests and other instruments that are selected. However, reference should be made by the school to the current Circular Letter PPT 0008/2007 on testing in schools, which is available at www.education.ie. This could stimulate ideas about the choice of new tests or interest inventories for use with students. Good use is also being made of tests such as the Young Cloze and the NRIT. The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATS) is administered to all students and they receive individual feedback on their results. This is being used effectively to assist students to make subject and programme choices in senior cycle. Other aptitude tests and interest inventories are selected and administered to meet particular students’ needs. In addition full use is being made of Qualifax www.qualifax.ie to explore third-level and further education and training options using ICT.
Good records of all one-to-one counselling sessions held with students and of all follow-up actions to be taken are maintained. Individual student files are compiled and stored appropriately to provide maximum individual support. The initial destinations of all students leaving the school, which are presently being informally collated should be documented formally annually. The information gathered about these destinations could be then used to inform school and guidance planning. Guidance is also available to students who have left school and require advice about career choices. This approach is to be commended as the school exhibits a deep duty of care towards all its students, and recognises that some of them may need extra support to make successful transitions.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Guidance is a whole-school activity that links with most school programmes and provides academic, personal and career support for students in all year groups.
· Students making all transitions receive good support from Guidance.
· The guidance plan has been developed by the guidance team following a consultation process.
· All students can access individual guidance and counselling support. Good records of all one-to-one counselling sessions held with students and all follow-up actions are maintained.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the number of timetabled guidance sessions allocated to senior cycle students be increased. A modular approach to timetabling could be deployed throughout the academic year. This would ensure full access for senior cycle students to Guidance.
· When next evaluating the guidance plan it is recommended that the student council be included in the consultation process to fully reflect the views of students.
· It is recommended that the guidance programmes for each year group document links to all school programmes. Expected learning outcomes and set time frames should also be stated.
· Reference should be made in the Guidance plan to the current Circular letter PPT0008/2007 on testing in schools. This is available at www.education.ie
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the guidance counsellors and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published February 2009