An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Castleisland Community College
Tonbwee, Castleisland, County Kerry
Roll number: 70520V
Date of inspection: 10 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Castleisland 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 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 guidance counsellor. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Castleisland Community College is situated on the outskirts of the town and is one of three post-primary schools in Castleisland. The school is a non-designated community college under the management of Kerry Education Service. Two hundred and forty-nine students, mostly from a rural background, are currently enrolled, of whom 183 are boys and sixty-six are girls. The allocation for Guidance is based on enrolment, which, being stable, will remain at eleven hours per week. Most of the allocation is being used by a qualified guidance counsellor whose hours are being maximised by the addition of some subject teaching. The hours actually worked in the school by the guidance counsellor are in excess of the allocation. The school was the subject of a whole school evaluation in 2005 and it is noted that the school has responded positively to the recommendations made in the report of that evaluation. Among the general observations made in the course of this guidance inspection are that the school is pro-active in its support of students, that the process of whole-school planning, including guidance planning, is at a relatively advanced stage and that the physical environment is clean, well maintained and inviting.
The guidance counsellor’s programme is well balanced between provision for the junior cycle and senior cycle and between individual, small group and class interventions. Counselling skills are fundamental to the operation of the service to students. Because of changing circumstances, including attendance by staff at courses of continuing professional development, some of the allocation for Guidance has been devoted on a temporary basis to non-guidance staff who have major student support roles. These roles and functions appear to have stabilised. The use of the allocation for Guidance should be clearly and fully outlined in the context of whole-school guidance planning. The school is now in the advantageous position of having a number of staff in new roles in student support, namely, in guidance, special educational needs and chaplaincy. Similarly, school participation in the modular, whole-school guidance-planning course under the auspices of the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE) is imminent. This will provide a new perspective on Guidance and student support and will provide a means by which the roles of those involved in the provision of Guidance may be clarified. Such participation is characteristic of the school’s engagement with the planning process and is commended.
In many respects, the facilities for Guidance are good. There is easy access on a class-group basis to information and communication technology (ICT), storage and filing facilities are appropriate to the needs of the service and commendable displays of guidance information are visible throughout the building. In addition, the guidance literature available to students in the library indicates that the prevalent view of Guidance corresponds to the official view that it encompasses personal, educational and vocational guidance. It must be pointed out, however, that the office accommodation for the practice of Guidance is in need of change. A boiler room and a section of corridor between glass panels are the current guidance offices, neither of which is suited to the purpose on the grounds of health and safety, confidentiality and convenience. Accommodation more suited to the practice of Guidance should be identified as a matter of priority.
Communication and relationships within the school are of a very high standard. The school functions well in loco parentis. The size of the school and the ongoing formal and informal contacts between staff, management, students and the community ensure that this is the case. A student-support or pastoral team has been established recently and comprises staff with core student-support functions. These include the guidance counsellor, co-ordinator of special educational needs, who also has a chaplaincy qualification, the social, personal and health education (SPHE) co-ordinator and another teacher with interest and expertise in the area. Collaboration with senior management is ongoing and some formality is achieved through structured meetings a record of which is maintained using a template recommended by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). Among the functions of the team are the identification of students in need and the identification of services within the school to which referral is appropriate. Referrals to external agencies, such as the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), are managed by the principal and deputy principal in collaboration with the team.
Progress through the school development planning process is clearly evident in the documents seen and in contacts with staff in the course of the inspection. Having engaged with the SDPI and having proceeded through the phase of policy ratification into the phase of subject-department planning the school is well placed to engage with whole-school guidance planning. In this regard, recent developments among staff have already been mentioned above.
It is inevitable that the student support team, which has responsibility, effectively, for this area, will encounter guidance planning issues. Initially, planning concerns may include a review of students’ needs and the management of overlaps in the various services provided by staff, especially in Guidance, special educational needs, chaplaincy and SPHE. It is recommended that the roles and functions of staff with student support functions be clarified and noted in the context of whole-school planning. It is also recommended that the student support team include whole-school guidance planning as a regular, formal agenda item.
A comprehensive programme of guidance interventions for all year groups, including pupils of primary schools who are about to enter the school, has been planned by the guidance counsellor although its implementation is somewhat limited by the relatively high amount of timetabled class contact of the guidance counsellor. The programme is notable for its breadth and inclusion of elements of SPHE, Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) and Religious Education (RE), and other inputs with significant Guidance components. It is also of interest in that it reflects the thinking behind the Draft Guidance Framework recently published by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). It is recommended that the timing of the various aspects of the programme be incorporated into future drafts to facilitate similar planning on the part of other staff.
The transition of students from primary to post-primary school is well managed and entails substantial interventions by the guidance counsellor. This includes visits to feeder primary schools, the organisation of and attendance at information sessions for parents and consultation with parents as needed. Collaboration between the guidance and special educational needs staff is ongoing and appropriate and is exemplified by the processing of applications for reasonable accommodations in the State examinations.
The system of mixed-ability classes in the junior cycle is commended. Students choose optional subjects for the Junior Certificate examination at the end of first year and some flexibility of choice is allowed to students in the initial weeks of second year in consultation with the guidance counsellor. The range of optional subjects for the Leaving Certificate examination is determined by the preferences of students in third year and in Transition Year (TY), as appropriate. This method of subject choice is commended. TY is optional but was not implemented in 2007 – 2008 because of the relatively small number of potential applicants.
Student support is a clear priority in the school. A variety of structures and roles have been established in keeping with the guiding principle of holistic personal development. These include the year head and class teacher structure. Communication with other staff involved in student support is good. The process is largely informal but some formality is observed in the inclusion of guidance-related issues in the agendas of staff meetings and in the recording of meetings.
The system of communication with parents is good. Most staff members reside locally and 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. In addition to parent-teacher meetings, information sessions and other communications from the school, a newsletter is published regularly. In view of the quality of the services, it is recommended that the school’s guidance and other care and support services be more prominently featured in school literature.
The school has extensive links to community organisations and to the education and business sectors. Good use is made of these links. The benefits to the school include inputs into the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and TY work-experience programmes and the availability of speakers to provide information of relevance not only to Guidance but also to other subjects and programmes. The TY programme is optional and is run on years when sufficient numbers apply to participate.
The encouragement and facilitation by management of continuing professional development, particularly in whole-school guidance planning, is commended. The guidance counsellor is regularly facilitated to attend meetings of the local branch of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) and to engage with professional counselling support arranged by the Institute. Similarly, there is a consciousness of the importance of specialised training for those who teach SPHE and RE, and such training is facilitated as required.
The lesson on the Central Applications Office (CAO) application procedure was observed in the course of the inspection. It was well planned and taught. The lesson began with a roll call and a summary of what was to follow. At its conclusion, students were assigned homework and a summary of the topic was presented. Students were seated at tables in the computer room. The seating arrangement was appropriate to the tasks assigned and facilitated movement between students so that progress could be monitored. The variety of methods used is commended. In addition to extensive use of questions, many of a higher order, a digital presentation was given and each student received a CAO application pack and a copy of the CAO application form. Students were thus introduced to both the technicalities and practicalities of the application process. The digital presentation was well paced and the information given was accurate and current. Reference was made during the lesson to work completed in previous lessons and years, such as a career investigation which was completed in the previous year.
Initially, students were quiet and silently addressed set tasks to the instructions given but became more animated once the material had been presented and when questions were asked. Students’ responses and requests for clarification showed that they had absorbed and analysed the material and that it was relevant to the process of vocational decision-making. Good relationships were apparent in the class and the use of first names showed a familiarity with students which was commendable.
No formal standardised tests are administered in the context of Guidance in the junior cycle although diagnostic testing of literacy and numeracy is carried out by the special educational needs team. The use of an assessment of general ability is under consideration. In this context, it is recommended that consideration be given to the use of a test of ability based on Irish norms. Information about available tests and their use is to be found on the Department of Education and Science website at http://www.education.ie/servlet/blobservlet/cl0099_2007.doc . Aptitude tests are administered in fifth year and the results are presented to individual students as part of the guidance interviews which take place during that year. The results are used as an aid to students in the process of decision making regarding course, training and vocational choices. Similarly, a range of interest inventories are used in the course of the senior cycle to clarify students’ choices and to stimulate discussion in class groups as part of the guidance programme. Extensive use is made of web based inventories, especially those associated with the Qualifax and Career Directions websites.
Documents seen in the course of the inspection show that the school is reflective and innovative in its management and support of students. Examples include the Tips for Teachers booklet and the crisis response policy. Record keeping in Guidance is comprehensive. Documents and materials are appropriately stored according to their level of confidentiality. It has already been reported that some formality has been applied to meetings and this is commended, particularly as it applies to planning meetings and to meetings with individual students. The guidance counsellor tracks the initial destinations of students after the Leaving Certificate examinations.
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 guidance counsellor and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.