An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Athy Community College
Athy, County Kildare
Roll number: 70650L
Date of inspection: 27 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Athy 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, the deputy principal and teachers delivering Guidance in the school. 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.
Athy Community College is located in the town of Athy and is under the auspices of County Kildare Vocational Education Committee. Students attending the school are drawn from a wide rural hinterland and from the town of Athy, and come from a large number of scattered feeder primary schools. The present school buildings are being well maintained and every effort has been made to provide a quality learning environment for students. A number of different phases of redevelopment have taken place since it originally opened in the 1940 to provide improved classroom space and specialist rooms. However, it is reported that plans for relocation of the school to a new building on a green field site are supported by the VEC. It is expected that this relocation should take place over the next three to five years, and that the provision of a new school building will improve the facilities and accommodation for students and staff.
Presently the school is unable to provide any sports facilities for students on site, although great efforts are being made to provide a range of sporting and other opportunities for students. Numbers enrolling in the school have been in slow decline for some time. However, it is stated that the town of Athy is now undergoing something of an economic revival and new housing estates are planned. It is expected that moving the school to a new site with improved facilities should provide a more attractive alternative for parents choosing schools for their children. The school prides itself on providing lifelong learning opportunities for the community of Athy. The Junior Certificate School Programme, the Leaving Certificate Applied, the Established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme are all provided. A number of Post Leaving Certificate courses are offered and provide students completing senior cycle with further education opportunities. The school operates the School Completion Programme to encourage full participation and improve rates of attendance.
A wide range of planning documents and policies has been developed and the staff displays a high level of co-operation and flexibility in the planning and delivery of school programmes and the sharing of available facilities. New policies are being developed this year, including a critical incidents policy.
Guidance is viewed by school management as a valuable resource to assist learning, facilitate successful transitions and provide a range of supports to deal with students’ personal issues. The school currently does not have a trained guidance counsellor to manage and deliver the eleven hours allocated for Guidance. Efforts have been made for some time now to locate a trained guidance counsellor to work in the school and provide this important expertise for students. It is recommended that management and the VEC continue to explore ways to provide the services of a guidance counsellor for the school. Guidance is viewed as a whole school support and one that should involve a wide number of staff. In order that students can receive the necessary Guidance support, a number of staff members have taken on the task of providing a guidance programme. This work is being co-ordinated and managed by the school’s deputy principal and a number of teachers are timetabled for the guidance hours. The core group which makes up the school guidance team meets regularly to plan guidance interventions and pool available resources.
In junior cycle, educational guidance and personal support is provided through the school’s pastoral system and in conjunction with the Social Personal Health Education (SPHE) programme. The school has a small cohort of students in each year group, so each student has good contact with their year head and class tutor. Students in senior cycle have timetabled Guidance classes and most complete the careers investigation module in LCVP. As well as group guidance, the deputy principal also meets with students individually in a pastoral capacity to offer individual support to those experiencing difficulty and provide one-to-one advice on career choices. Class tutors and year heads also provide on-going support and advice for students. No formal counselling support is currently available in the school, although referrals can be made, where necessary, to the local Health Board and to Kildare Youth Service for personal counselling support. Good links have been established with the National Educational Psychology Service (NEPS) and with some other support agencies, local business groups and third level colleges.
Athy Community College has developed excellent information communication technology (ICT) facilities for both staff and students. Staff members are actively encouraged to avail of training to integrate ICT in subject teaching and to make use of email to access school notices and announcements. Five data projectors are available in classrooms and a number of teachers have laptop computers. Students are encouraged to develop good transferable ICT skills and to make maximum use of this medium. The school has a dedicated and well-equipped guidance room where guidance materials can be displayed and career interviews can take place. This room has full ICT access. Notice boards are provided in corridors which display information for students on college open-days, Central Applications Office (CAO) literature and other relevant information. Classrooms fully equipped with individual computers and all necessary software are available for guidance support.
A whole school guidance plan has been drafted and is now being implemented throughout the school. This draft plan is very comprehensive and is well designed to include a guidance programme for each year group. Aims and objectives for Guidance in the school are clearly defined and the integration with the pastoral care system, subject teaching and programme delivery is explained. It is recommended that the guidance plan should be reviewed at the end of this academic year and presented for consultation to staff, parents and students and then to the board of management.
Beginning at the transition from primary school, students and their parents are invited to attend open-day events and to discuss the best subject-options for first year. The teachers who make up the guidance team are heavily involved in the induction of students into the school and in assisting them to settle in successfully. Through the pastoral system and the SPHE programme a wide range of educational guidance supports is provided. Individual support where deemed necessary is provided for students and referrals to outside agencies are well managed. Parents are widely consulted and a number of parents’ nights are arranged. These are all attended by members of the guidance team. The school reports that seeking the active support of parents is vital and that inviting them to visit the school at all times breaks down any barriers that could exist between the school and the local community. The full attendance of students is encouraged and is strictly monitored. Parents are contacted immediately when a student is absent from school without explanation. All junior cycle classes are visited frequently by the guidance team and lessons on promoting good behavioural strategies and study skills receive special emphasis. Some students follow the Junior Schools Certificate Programme and these are particularly encouraged to develop and achieve agreed learning goals. All students in third year are assisted to choose the best subject options for senior cycle. Students making the transition to work or to apprenticeship training after completing the Junior Certificate are singled out for particular individual attention. However, in order to promote a greater awareness of the range of career opportunities that are now available, it is suggested that some inputs on career topics should be introduced to second and third year students, preferably with the support of the SPHE programme.
In senior cycle, students have access to a structured guidance programme. This is delivered for all students and in conjunction with the Leaving Certificate Vocational and the Leaving Certificate Applied programmes. ICT support is available for the delivery of guidance to senior cycle students and all are assisted and encouraged to develop good computer skills and become independent learners. Qualifax and other guidance sites are used to assist students to explore career possibilities. The guidance programme in senior cycle includes a mix of inputs, group guidance sessions, individual interviews, talks from outside speakers and trips to careers events. The programme depends heavily on the good co-operation of teachers who give freely of their available time and work in a flexible way to deliver Guidance for the benefit of students.
Linkages with a wide range of local companies and with business organisations have been established and are maintained to meet the actual career needs of each year group. The school sees itself as part of the local social and economic community and values the links established with local business. Employers and past pupils contribute time to the school by acting as guest speakers and by attending mock interview sessions with students. Excellent relationships are also maintained with local and national third level and further colleges. The quality of the links established with business and with colleges, and the way they are being used to assist students to make good career choices is highly commendable.
The school supports teachers to attend careers events. However, as there is no trained guidance counsellor, opportunities to attend supervision arranged for guidance counsellor or other in-career training cannot be accessed at present.
In the course of the inspection visit, a fifth and a sixth year group were visited, a Leaving Certificate Applied class and the other following the Leaving Certificate Vocational programme. The Leaving Certificate Applied students were actively engaged in developing indicators for employment and the roles and responsibilities of employees and employers. The task was clearly explained to students at the start of the lesson. All students were expected to make a contribution and to record the lesson for future reference. Learning to a good level was in evidence throughout the lesson with students each working independently and then in small groups to complete the task set.
The second guidance session was held in a very well-equipped ICT room. The methodology selected to present and develop the topic chosen was very appropriate to the age and developmental level of the students, as all have good computer skills. Good planning was in evidence in both classes and viable learning objectives were established from the outset of the lessons. The topic of each lesson was well introduced and good support materials were supplied.
A good classroom atmosphere prevailed throughout both sessions to support quality learning outcomes. Students were all fully engaged in active learning. Students who required particular help were assisted to find out the necessary information. The provision of folders for guidance information sheets encouraged students to store work completed. This provides good continuity between lessons. In the second class visited, students were invited to interact with the inspector and they entered into a discussion about their personal career-choices and possible third-level options. During this session they were also asked to complete a short questionnaire on Guidance, which is being administered by inspectors of Guidance in 50 second level schools throughout 2006/2007. The aim of this questionnaire is to gather the views of senior cycle students on Guidance. The short questionnaire is intended to be anonymous and invites a sample of senior cycle students in each of the schools included in this survey to respond to a series of questions about the Guidance provision in their school, and to comment on how useful and informative they have found the range of inputs on careers and educational opportunities that have been provided. Furthermore, the questionnaire invites them to state what changes they consider would improve the schools’ guidance programmes and to suggest what type of programme would give maximum benefit to students in senior cycle.
A small number of aptitude tests are being administered in the school to assess students’ needs. The guidance team assists in this process to support subject departments. There is good and sensitive sharing of students’ information among staff to assist planning. However, it is suggested that the school, with support from the VEC, should explore the introduction of some different aptitude tests with norms closer to the Irish population. It is recommended that all information about students including educational and psychological reports compiled by NEPS, other agencies or by teachers and which is already sought from feeder primary schools and from parents should be shared, where appropriate with the guidance team. It is recommended that, when the school has the services of a guidance counsellor, a wider range of assessment and career investigation instruments should be included in the guidance programme.
The school maintains good contact with students who have left the school and annually records students’ initial destinations. This information is then used effectively to inform subject options and programme planning in the school, and the board of management. Good records on students are kept and meetings of the guidance team are recorded.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
The school is providing a good learning environment and a wide range of educational and personal guidance support for students
There is at present no trained guidance counsellor available to the school, but a number of staff have taken on the guidance role and are working very co-operatively to provide guidance support for students
A whole school guidance plan has been developed and is being implemented. The plan includes a guidance programme for each year group
The school is continuing to work co-operatively to provide a high level of educational and personal support to students
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
The school is using all its available resources to provide good guidance support for students. In order that all guidance supports be available to students, it is recommended that County Kildare Vocational Education Committee should continue to explore all possible staffing arrangements to provide the services of a trained guidance counsellor to this school
It is recommended that the guidance plan should be evaluated at the end of this academic year and then redrafted after consultation with staff, parents and students. It should then be presented to the board of management
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the guidance team and with the principal and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.