An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Guidance



St. Mac Dara’s Community College

Templeogue, Dublin 6W


Roll number: 70260V


Date of inspection: 10 May 2007

Date of issue of report: 17 April 2008





Subject Inspection report

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning


Summary of 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. Mac Dara’s Community College, Templeogue, Dublin 6W.  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 held discussions with the principal, deputy principal and guidance counsellors, viewed guidance facilities, visited classrooms, interacted with students and reviewed school planning documentation.  Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the deputy principal and guidance counsellors.  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.


Subject Provision and Whole School Support


St. Mac Dara’s Community College is a coeducational school within the County Dublin Vocational Education Committee.  It has a current enrolment of 793 - 507 boys and 286 girls. While boys significantly outnumber girls, the incoming first year enrolment is almost 50:50 and this balance is expected to continue.  Most of the students come from the immediate area but a small number travel from distances as far as twenty miles.  There is one main feeder primary school.   There is a waiting list for places each year.  There are no students from the Traveller community attending at present but some did attend in the past.  There are no non Irish national students attending.  The school caters for all levels of ability and provides learning support.  There are currently 20 students with special educational needs attending.  Dropout rates are low.  Almost all of the students from St. Mac Dara’s go on to third level or further education or training or take up an apprenticeship.   


The school receives 30 ex-quota hours from the Department of Education and Science for Guidance. An additional 1 hour 50 minutes is provided by the school from its other resource allocation.  Two qualified guidance counsellors deliver the Guidance programme.  Most of the programme is delivered on a one-to-one basis.  There are four timetabled periods per week for Guidance classes at senior cycle.  There are no timetabled classes in junior cycle but classes are borrowed as required.  One of the guidance counsellors teaches Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and the other guidance counsellor is the coordinator of SPHE.  Social Personal and Health Education is provided for students in each year in both junior and senior cycles.


There is a care team in the school comprising the principal, deputy principal, chaplain, the guidance counsellors and year heads and tutors as appropriate.  The learning support teacher and special needs teachers are consulted when necessary.  The guidance counsellors meet formally with the year heads on a weekly basis. Students are referred to the guidance counsellors through the year heads and the principal is informed about all referrals.  Regular informal meetings take place between the principal and guidance counsellors. Meetings with the County Dublin VEC Psychological Service take place as required.  This service provides ongoing support to the guidance counsellors who refer students to it for psychological assessment and/or further referral.  The guidance counsellors also have links with private counsellors and should parents prefer, referral to a private counselling service is made.  The school is currently developing a critical incident policy.  


Each guidance counsellor has an office with a computer, internet access and storage facilities. However, the offices are part of an open plan area which also includes the careers library and the storage facilities for year head files.  One of the offices is part of the open area and the second office is sectioned off with mainly glass panelling and so is visible from the remainder of the open area. This office is accessed through the open area. There are three computers for students located in the open area very close to the guidance counsellor’s desk. These arrangements lack privacy for both guidance counsellors and in particular for students.  It is recommended that the school review its facilities for Guidance with a view to providing separate offices, with separate access for each guidance counsellor. Privacy for students should be a priority when reviewing the facilities. The computers for guidance purposes should be located in the careers library which should be a discrete area.  The location of the year heads’ filing cabinets should also be reviewed in order to lessen the numbers accessing what is a small area at any given time and for reasons of security.  Students have limited access to the computer room for guidance purposes.  




Planning and Preparation


A written Guidance plan has been developed.  In developing the plan formal meetings between the guidance counsellors were held weekly.  Formal meetings also took place with the year heads. The chaplain, special needs and SPHE teachers, parents and the student council were also consulted and their input sought.  It is recommended that the plan be reviewed and that the following publications be referred to: 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; Planning the School Guidance Programme published by the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE). A template to assist in the development of the plan is available from the Department’s website  It is recommended that the definition of Guidance which is included in the Department’s booklet be used in the plan and that the plan be called the Guidance Plan to reflect the three areas of guidance (personal and social development; educational guidance; career guidance). It is also recommended that the guidance programme for each year be presented in greater detail. There are a few factual errors in the plan and these should be corrected in the course of the review of the plan.  The code of ethics should be referenced.


At a parents’ evening for the incoming first years, a presentation is made about the school and the presentation includes information on the SPHE and Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) programmes in the school. As a guidance counsellor is the coordinator of SPHE, there are close links and collaboration between the two areas of Guidance and SPHE and this is commended.  During first year a questionnaire is administered to students by their SPHE teacher to determine how they are settling into secondary school and if they are experiencing any difficulties. First year students take all subjects and make their optional subject choices for the Junior Certificate at the end of the year.  This practice is commended.  To assist students in making their subject choice, a presentation is made in the second term which includes information on the subject options available and advice on how to make a good choice. An excellent booklet which is prepared for students and their parents is distributed as well as an option application form which must be returned by a specified date. The booklet contains guidelines for choosing subjects, information about each optional subject, what is covered in the syllabus, the skills it develops and the career opportunities it offers.  The booklet highlights the need for students and their parents to consider subject choice based on students’ ability and interest and stresses that the notion of ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ subjects should no longer be a factor in subject choice.  This proactive approach to challenging sex stereotyping in subject choice is commended. It is recommended that reference to the new module on the Qualifax website Leaving Cert. and Junior Cert. subject choice be included in the booklet. The module provides information on the long term implications of subject choice  


There is a mentor programme for first years. Sixth year prefects act as a mentor for each first year class group. A survey of bullying is carried out with first years. Any reported or suspected incident of bullying is firstly dealt with by the year head who may refer those involved to the guidance counsellors.  One-to-one counselling is provided to any first year who may require it.


There is no formal guidance programme for second years.  A guidance counsellors has some classes for SPHE.  Counselling is provided for those students who may be referred through the year head, by a parent or by self referral.  If required, group counselling is provided.  Subject teachers assist students in deciding on the level at which they take subjects for the Junior Certificate.  It is recommended that a formal guidance programme be developed and delivered to second years. The programme can be linked to the SPHE programme which is being delivered by a guidance counsellor.  There are common elements in the objectives of Guidance and SPHE and these elements can be addressed in the SPHE classes.  However, second year students should begin career exploration and this might take the form of research and project work on careers.  The work commenced in first year which related subjects studied in school to careers could form the basis for second year project work.  Students should be introduced to relevant websites such as Qualifax and become familiar with undertaking independent research on third level education and training options and with careers.  The guidance programme for second years can be designed as a module to be implemented in classes.


The guidance counsellors borrow classes to prepare third year students for senior cycle subject options. Another excellent booklet is prepared to assist the students in making their choices. The booklet lists the senior cycle subjects available in groups and links them to junior cycle subjects.  It provides information on the content of the syllabus of each subject and whether it is required for entry to specific third level colleges or courses. The booklet also contains practical advise for students on choosing options and a copy of the Master Chart of Essential Subjects is appended to the back of the booklet.   A presentation is made to the parents of third years on senior cycle options. A guidance counsellor has one third year class for SPHE.  Individual students are seen on a one-to-one basis if required.  Third years are introduced to computers for guidance purposes and it is recommended that they use ICT to research third level courses, training and other further education options.  Students need to be fully informed about the long term implications of their choice of subjects for the Leaving Certificate and the most comprehensive and up-to-date information about third level and further education course content and requirements is available on the internet.    


Transition Year is optional and in the current year there is one TY class. There is no guidance programme for TY students but through SPHE, personal development and preparation for work experience are covered.  It is recommended that a guidance programme be developed for TY. The programme could be delivered in a module of classes and might include career exploration, project work, undertaking of interest inventories.


The school offers the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP).  Students are advised to choose the subjects they are interested in studying for the Leaving Certificate firstly. When they have chosen their options, if the subjects are appropriate for LCVP they are then given the option to take the programme.  There is one timetabled Guidance class per week for fifth years.  The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATS) are administered and students are prepared for a visit to University College Dublin’s (UCD) open day.  The Guidance classes also include an emphasis on study skills and through SPHE issues of personal and social development are covered.  LCVP students take the link modules which form part of the programme.  The aims of the guidance elements of the LCVP are directly related and complementary to the general aims of guidance activities in senior cycle and can form part of the guidance programme for all Leaving Certificate students.    Fifth year students who wish to be considered as prefects in sixth year are interviewed and training is provided for the successful candidates.  Fifth year students attend sessions given by visiting speakers. Students are seen on a one-to-one basis as requested.   


Sixth year students have one class of Guidance per week. In addition, all students are met individually a minimum of four times throughout the year for educational and career guidance. Outside speakers provide information on a range of careers.  A sixth year parents’ night is held annually in October at which presentations are made to parents which include information on applying to third level colleges, colleges of further education, training and apprenticeships. Speakers from a range of third level and further education colleges attend the event. Parents and students are met together to discuss any issues or concerns about future options.


The sixth year guidance programme is very comprehensive and includes course and career research, study skills and the preparation of a study plan, information about the Central Applications Office (CAO) and the UK Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) systems, Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses, apprenticeships and training.  The programme also includes preparation for interviews and the preparation of a CV.  Mock interviews are held. LCVP students go on work experience or work shadowing. Students attend college open days and career events.  Students complete interest inventories and a personality test.  The personal and social elements of the programme include preparation for the transition from second level school, coping with anxiety, independent living and quality of life.  It is recommended that aspects of the sixth year programme be introduced to students earlier in the senior cycle and in junior cycle. Course and career research should commence in junior cycle and information on courses, application systems and the completion of interest inventories should form part of the guidance programme for TY and fifth year students.  It is also recommended that the practice of providing every sixth year student with a minimum of four individual interviews be reviewed.  Some students may not require such intensive individual attention, while others may need more than can be provided in the current practice. 


The school participates in the STEPS programme and has links with third level colleges, colleges of further education, FÁS and Fáilte Ireland.   There are also links with a range of employers and  companies. 


The school facilitates the participation of the guidance counsellors in continuous professional development (CPD).  The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) provides regular sessions on issues that arise in casework.  The guidance counsellors find these very worthwhile and opt to attend them rather than supervision. 




Teaching and Learning



Two classes were observed.  Both were sixth year classes.  The first class was one of a series on preparation for life after school, particularly for life in college. A list of issues that students need to consider was prepared.  The list included issues such as money management, attendance at lectures, study, social life, motivation, friendship.  Student engagement was excellent and there was a lot of student initiated questioning.  Most of the questions were initiated by boys.  A handout on the theme of the lesson was distributed.


The second class observed was also a sixth year class.  The theme of the lesson was on the challenges that students face in third level education and in work.  Students were asked to brainstorm and suggest challenges that might be faced. Each challenge suggested was written on the board.  Each one was discussed and examples sought. Solutions were provided by the guidance counsellor for coping with some of the challenges, for example advice was given on how to get help in college if required, on how to make new friends, how to cope with academic difficulties.  A majority of the students were interested in the lesson and contributed to the brainstorming and subsequent discussion.


Both lessons were relevant and well prepared.  The variety of methodologies maintained the interest and engagement of a majority of the students.  In both classes, good rapport between guidance counsellor and students was evident.




The Drumcondra Reasoning Tests is administered to first years. All classes in the junior cycle are organised on a mixed ability basis with banding for Mathematics and Gaeilge.  The results of the Drumcondra test are used to identify students who may require learning support.


The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATS) are administered in fifth year.  Sixth year students complete the Qualifax and Musaic interest inventories, the Muasic Test of Abilities and the Muasic Personality Test.  Test results are discussed with students and parents during individual interviews. It is recommended that the use of the Muasic Tests be reviewed and that the list of recommended tests for use in second level schools, which is available on the Department’s website be consulted. 


Records of all guidance meetings with students are maintained and there are computer files on students.


A survey of students’ initial destination was carried out four years ago.  The guidance counsellors attend the school each August after the receipt of the Leaving Certificate results, to support students.  They are also available to support students after the CAO offers have been communicated.  Students who wish to discuss any aspect of their offers or who need further support or advice may make an appointment to see the guidance counsellors.  This support is commended.






Summary of Findings and Recommendations


The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:


·         St. Mac Dara’s provides for the holistic development of all its students in a caring environment.

·         Guidance is supported by school management

·         There is close cooperation between the guidance counsellors and regular formal meetings are held.

·         The structured communication and cooperation between the guidance counsellors and all members of the care team ensure that students’ needs are met by the school.

·         The close links between SPHE and Guidance ensures a coordinated approach in the planning and delivery of the interlinked aspects of both curricula.   

·         Guidance planning has commenced and all relevant members of staff as well as parents and students have been consulted.

·         The school has established a wide range of links with support services, third level colleges, colleges of further education, training bodies and employers


As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:


·         The facilities for guidance need to be review and improved.

·         The guidance plan should continue to be developed using the documents listed in the main body of this report. Representatives of the local community should be consulted as part of the planning process.  

·         There is need for greater balance between the provision of Guidance to junior and senior cycle students.

·         Some elements of the guidance programme for sixth year should be introduced earlier.  The development of self-management skills is an objective of guidance and it is essential that students begin to develop these skills as early as possible in their second level education.

·         Students should have more access to ICT for guidance purposes.

·         There should be more balance between class based delivery of Guidance and one-to-one delivery. 



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