An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
St Finianís Community College
Swords, Co. Dublin
Roll number: 70120F
Date of inspection:††††† 10 May 2006
Date of issue of report:†† 15 December 2006
Report †on †the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Finianís Community 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 the guidance counsellor, had a meeting with a small group of parents 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 the opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; no response was received from the board.
St. Finianís Community College, a co-educational, nondenominational Community College under the aegis of Co. Dublin Vocational Educational Committee (VEC), is situated on the outskirts of the town of Swords.† The school is one of four schools in the area and caters for students from diverse social backgrounds. Students come from approximately twelve feeder schools in the town and surrounding area. There is a good ratio of male to female in the current enrolment of 589, which includes 14 traveller and 50 non-national students. Currently there are approximately 25 nationalities represented in the student population. This year the school is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of its foundation.
St. Finianís Community College participates in the School Completion Programme (SCP) and is now included in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) action plan for educational opportunity. The school does not have the services of a Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator; however, two support staff employed in the school under the SCP visit homes as required and in particular to encourage students who have left school early to return to complete Leaving Certificate. The school also has the services of a psychologist from the Co. Dublin VEC Psychological Service to whom the guidance counsellor refers students.
The school receives an ex quota allocation of 24 hours for guidance and counselling from the Department of Education and Science (DES). The guidance counsellor, who has an assistant principal post of responsibility, is timetabled for 18 hours guidance delivery.† †Many of the duties of the post of responsibility of the guidance counsellor are guidance related and involve direct contact with parents and students e.g organising parent/teacher meetings and visiting primary feeder schools. The principal reports that it is difficult to secure the services of a qualified guidance counsellor for the remaining six hours. Schools are expected to use their full allocation for guidance purposes and therefore it is recommended that the school authorities liaise with the VEC and/or other schools in the area to explore ways in which arrangements could be put in place in order to ensure that the total allocation of hours is used for the delivery of guidance and counselling during the next and subsequent school years.†
St. Finianís Community College provides timetabled Guidance classes in senior cycle. Classes rotate between modules of PE, Life Skills and Guidance. Individual appointments are provided for students throughout the school and personal counselling is provided by both the guidance counsellor and the counsellor who, as part of the SCP, is employed for a total of 10 hours per week and attends the school on four mornings.† This extra support for students is commended. †An appointment book for the counsellor is maintained in the office of the deputy principal (DP) and students request appointments via the book.† It is suggested that the school review this system as some students may be reluctant to request an appointment in this way due to a perceived lack of confidentiality.† On average students attend for approximately four counselling sessions. The counsellor refers students to the Mater Child Guidance Clinic in Swords as required and refers practical problems to do with day-to-day school issues to other members of staff within the school.
Informal meetings are held between the guidance counsellor and the counsellor.† It is recommended that these meetings be formalised so that transfer of relevant information and review can be facilitated. Meetings are held between the counsellor and the principal and DP and with the SCP co-ordinator who is based in the school. The guidance counsellor also works closely with the SCP co-ordinator and with the year heads, tutors, Travellersí Liaison Person and teachers of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) to deliver the guidance programme.† This co-operation is commended.
The guidance counsellor reports good support for Guidance from management and staff. †There are excellent facilities for Guidance in the form of an office with computer, broadband access, phone, shelving and storage.† The office also houses a careersí library.† Career information is also available in the school library and students have access to four computers within the library which is open at lunchtime for Leaving Certificate students.† There are several career notice boards located around the school.† These are updated regularly as also is an Alert notice board for seniors giving updates on courses and events.† This is commended.† The school also provides a harmony room where students finishing personal counselling sessions can take time out if necessary.† This is commended as students are afforded time before returning to class and the school reports that there is always a teacher or a member of the ancillary staff present there.
The guidance counsellor has access to a seminar room and to relevant audio-visual aids for class. QualifaX and Career Directions are available to students on the computers.† Guidance is timetabled for one class group in the computer room and the guidance counsellor and IT teacher collaborate to provide team teaching with LCA students in the computer room.† This approach is commended. Access for all other classes to the computer room is by negotiation with colleagues.† The most up-to-date information on third level courses, further training and careers is available via the internet, and it is recommended therefore that the school, in the course of guidance planning, review the current arrangements.
There is a good sense of care for students in the school as evidenced by the supports and programmes available to students.† St. Finianís Community College has established a student care team consisting of teachers of pastoral care, SEN and SPHE, tutors, year heads and the guidance counsellor.† Meetings are held informally and during staff meetings. This is commended however, it is recommended that the school should formalise the structure and explore the possibility of providing timetabled formal meetings of the team so that attendance of members is facilitated to the optimum.† Such a structure of regular, minuted meetings would consolidate the good work being done by individuals and small groups and would facilitate the transfer of information on students and the early identification of students in need of extra support.
Links between the Guidance department and senior management are informal and the guidance counsellor reports that regular meetings take place.† The guidance counsellor also attends some of the weekly meetings of the principal and year heads. Students are referred to the guidance counsellor by the year heads, tutors, parents or they self refer. Referrals to outside agencies such as the Mater Child Guidance Clinic in Swords, National Education Welfare Board (NEWB), the HSE and the Co. Dublin VEC Psychological Service are effected in collaboration with the principal and the SEN co-ordinator. The guidance counsellor reports good support for families from the Family Centre in Santry.
While there is no annual budget allocated, funding for resources is provided on request.
Work completed to date on guidance planning in St. Finianís Community College has been done by the guidance counsellor in consultation with the principal and DP. †A draft policy, including aims, provision for delivery of guidance and counselling and programmes for each year group, has been drawn up. †An evaluation of the service is being completed by 6th year students.† All of these activities are commended; however it is recommended that a guidance planning group led by the guidance counsellor be established.† It is suggested that representatives of students, staff, parents and perhaps the local business community would participate to support and progress the planning process.† A studentsí needs analysis vis-ŗ-vis guidance provision should also be carried out to identify any gaps that may exist in the current programmes.†
In St Finianís the timetable of a number of teachers is reduced by one period on two days per week in order to facilitate meetings.† Cross-curricular planning is already in progress between the guidance and the SPHE departments and further discussion with colleagues in subject areas such as PE, pastoral care and RE would be helpful in preventing overlaps. Co. Dublin VEC has organised training for teachers of English to non-nationals and the guidance counsellor works closely with teachers of non-national students to provide information. In the course of guidance planning consideration should also be given to the effectiveness of the current structures in supporting the provision of guidance to non-national students in the school.
St. Finianís Community College operates an induction programme for incoming first year students which begins with visits by the guidance counsellor to the primary feeder schools.† The school hosts an open day for prospective students and their parents and this is followed by an assessment day.† Parents met with during the evaluation praised the school for providing activities in science and in sport for students prior to entry as an effective way of familiarising students with the school.
The guidance counsellor collates all pre-entry test results and returns to the primary schools to discuss results and the school reports good feedback on students from the primary schools.† It is suggested that it could be beneficial to provide the primary schools with sample timetables at this time so that students are aware of how a typical day in second level is structured. The guidance counsellor introduces the guidance service to 1st year students on induction day.††
Four class groups in 1st year are of mixed ability and two smaller class groups take a reduced number of subjects. The school does not provide taster subjects and incoming students decide subjects before entering 1st year. The school reports support for students and parents and flexibility for change later; however, it is suggested that St Finianís would consider the possibility of providing taster classes so that students have an opportunity to make a more informed choice of subjects.† While information sessions are held for parents of incoming students with an input from the guidance counsellor it is recommended that the school ensures that information on the import of subject and level choice and reduced choices be made available to all parents of incoming 1st year students.
The guidance counsellor works closely with the 1st year class tutors and borrows classes from colleagues to deliver a guidance programme which focuses mainly on the settling in process. Guidance is integrated with the SPHE programme and group work and individual appointments are offered as required. Informal meetings are held between parents, class tutors and guidance counsellor in September of each year.† This is an excellent model of good practice as parents have an opportunity to receive feedback on the settling in process of the students as well as raise any concerns they may have. Parents met with during the evaluation regarded this meeting as a great help where parents can talk to teachers in a relaxed and informal atmosphere.
In second year the guidance counsellor also collaborates with the teachers of SPHE and individual appointments are provided.† Classes are streamed in 2nd year and students decide subject levels for Junior Certificate.† It is important that parents are apprised of possible career/course implications at this time.
St. Finianís has established a committee to develop a policy on senior cycle subject options and levels. This is commended. It is recommended that, in determining subject bands, this committee would take full account of the gender equality policy of the DES so that all students are encouraged to explore as wide a range of subjects as possible.† This will go some way to discouraging traditional patterns of uptake and stereotyping of career areas and courses.
The guidance counsellor borrows classes in 3rd year to provide a module on self-assessment, decision-making, subject and programme choice for senior cycle.† Individual appointments are offered. Students are surveyed to determine popular subjects. Based on this 4 bands of options are offered and students choose one subject from each band. A part from the three core subjects, students are encouraged to take a modern language and three other subjects. Students are also advised to liaise with 5th year students and friends currently studying the subjects.† In consultation with the guidance counsellor, the year head and subject teachers provide information to students to assist subject and level choice and handouts are prepared.† This collaboration is commended. It is recommended that the school would also provide an information session for parents on the import of subject and programme choice at this time.
As well as timetabled classes senior cycle students have individual appointments with the guidance counsellor. A study seminar is organised by the year head for 5th year students. Students attend college open days and career events. A panel of guest speakers attend the school to provide a programme of talks on colleges, courses and careers.† In this regard the school reports good support from DCU and from past students of the school. This is commended as these past students provide excellent role models for students. It is recommended that the school would explore the provision of an information session for parents as students prepare for the transition from school to higher/further education, training or employment.
In collaboration with the guidance counsellor mock interviews are organised by the Parentsí Council for 6th year students.† Parents met with during the evaluation state that approximately 40 students take up the invitation to prepare CVs and attend interview. Parents would like to see more students attending and putting more practice and effort into CV preparation. They state that students receive a lot of help from the school with CAO choices and again in August when Leaving Certificate results and college offers are issued.
The guidance module of the LCA is delivered by the guidance counsellor. Visits out to industry are organised for students. Parents consider it important that students have contact with the world outside school. They consider that students are well debriefed after their visits to open days.
The guidance counsellor attends parent/teacher meetings and information sessions for parents of incoming students. Parents are encouraged to contact the guidance counsellor for clarification of any issues of concern.† Team work and partnership between school and home is encouraged and the school reports good attendance at parent/teacher meetings and a number of parents arrange individual appointments with the guidance counsellor. †The school has worked on a revised code of positive behaviour for students which will be introduced in the next school year.† The code† †encourages co-operation and is based on open communication with parents.†
Parents met with during the evaluation praised the school for its open door policy and reported that contact is maintained during the summer if any students have problems e.g absence due to health reasons. The school has introduced a system of texting parents re student absenteeism and this is reported to be working well. St. Finianís is commended for the good links established with local business through the work experience modules and the Business in the Community (BITC) scheme.† Mentoring is provided to 5th year LCA students by business representatives through the BITC. The school also liaises with the local Youthreach Centre, with FŃS and NTDI in Swords.† Parents praised the school for their care and support of students especially for those students with disabilities and special needs.
Early school leaving (ESL) has been an area of concern in the school however the support of the SCP has improved retention rates.† Students at risk of ESL are referred to the guidance counsellor †for extra support and information. The principal reports very high rates of employment in the local area which is an attraction for students to leave school before completing the Leaving Certificate.† The guidance counsellor works with JCSP students in 3rd year but has limited access to 1st and 2nd years because of time constraints. During the guidance planning process the school should review these arrangements to ensure a balance of guidance provision between junior and senior cycles and especially to support any students at risk of early school leaving.† Students met with during the evaluation expressed a wish to have more guidance classes and at an earlier stage in the curriculum.
The guidance counsellor is a member of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) and the school facilitates attendance at all relevant meetings and courses, local and national in-service.† The guidance counsellor also attends the local supervision sessions organised to support counselling. The school is currently working on a Critical Incident Response Policy which outlines action plans. It is suggested that the school network with other local schools as such collaboration would be beneficial to all participants.† It is recommended that the school engage with the VEC psychologist in preparing the final draft of the document.
In the course of the evaluation the inspector met with a group of 5th year students and two Leaving Certificate class groups were visited. Lessons were well planned and structured.† In each case the content of the lesson was introduced at the beginning so that students were aware of what was proposed. There was evidence of continuity with previous lessons and appropriate linkages with course areas. The pace and content of each class was generally appropriate to the class group with time being efficiently used.††††
As these were 6th year class groups, lessons began with a recapitulation of information on application deadlines and tips on form filling. New information concerning new courses and apprenticeship advertisement was given. Students were referred to the Alert notice-board and to websites. This approach is commended as it encourages independent learning and the development of self management skills in students. The guidance counsellor employed a variety of methodologies Ė handouts, whiteboard, question and answer. Important points were noted on the board. The main topic of the lessons - the grants scheme for further and higher level education was appropriate and particularly helpful as students will be sitting the Leaving Certificate Examination when the forms are issued by the local authorities.† Students were exhorted to bring all the handouts home to discuss application requirements with parents and to begin the process of collection of essential data. Students were encouraged also to make individual appointments with the guidance counsellor to clarify any issues or concerns they may have concerning the grants scheme.
The guidance counsellor used questioning to both check studentsí understanding and to facilitate new learning. In general students received positive affirmation and were encouraged to build on their own knowledge and existing information.† There was reference to both completed work and in-school facilities to support Guidance.† Good rapport was evident between teacher and students.† Friendly class atmosphere encouraged student engagement and participation.† Students were at ease and comfortable to ask questions. The good practices of roll call and homework assignment were noted.† Students consulted with the guidance counsellor at the end of class either individually or in small groups.
Testing is administered by the guidance counsellor to support students, assist student profiling and inform decision making. All in-coming first years complete pre-entry standardised, norm-referenced assessments which screen for literacy and numeracy competence.† St. Finianís also uses its own tests in Irish, English and Mathematics to assess achievement. Together with information from the feeder primary schools, this information is used to identify students who may need learning support.†
The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) are administered in 3rd year to assist students with subject choice. †Test results are returned and interpreted in Guidance classes and during individual appointments. The Careers Interest Inventory (CII) and Rothwell Miller Interest Inventory are administered in senior cycle to assist career and course choices.
Tracking of Leaving Certificate studentsí destinations is done by the guidance counsellor in September of each year using mobile phone numbers.† Past students are welcome to return for information and support as required. Student profiles are maintained and retained.†
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the guidance counsellor and the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.