An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Casteldermot, County Kildare
Roll number: 70670R
Date of inspection: 4 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Lorcáin, Casteldermot. 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 the guidance team. 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.
Coláiste Lorcáin is a mixed post-primary school located in the town of Castledermot and is under the auspices of Co Kildare Vocational Education Committee. Students are drawn from the town and also from a wide rural hinterland that includes the Athy area and parts of west Wicklow. Numbers in the school have stabilised over the last number of years, and an upward trend is expected to be maintained because of a new local housing development. The present school is an amalgamation of two schools, a convent secondary school for girls and a vocational school, on a large site. Since the amalgamation, Coláiste Lorcáin has developed a wide range of new subjects and programmes. The school campus now incorporates the previous secondary and vocational school buildings, the, playing fields and a large gymnasium. In recent years, the secondary school buildings have been extensively modernised and these now form the main school site. Practical subjects and some ICT facilities are still provided in the old vocational school. The school states that there are plans to begin phasing out the use of this building and that some of the facilities available there will be transferred to the main school. An assembly takes place each morning, which students attend to hear announcements and at which attendance is recorded.
A new pastoral care structure of year heads and class tutors has recently been implemented in the school. This is providing a more structured approach to school organisation and to the monitoring of students. As well as having a trained guidance counsellor, the school also has a chaplain. The guidance counsellor and the chaplain are both members of the school’s pastoral team. The team also includes school management. This group meets weekly to plan individual student interventions and if necessary arrange referrals for students to outside agencies.
Guidance is viewed by the school as a very valuable resource and as a whole school support for students and staff. It is well integrated into the pastoral care structures but also provides a distinct and cohesive range of educational, vocational and counselling supports. In line with its present enrolment, the school has an allocation of thirteen hours for Guidance. Although the school has had a guidance counsellor for many years, the present guidance counsellor was only recently appointed to this role. In addition, another teacher assists in the delivery of guidance and these two teachers make up the school’s guidance team. This team shares the guidance hours, meets weekly to plan implementation of the guidance programme in senior cycle and to plan the provision of extra inputs for students when required. The guidance timetables include a combination of group classroom sessions and one-to-one interviews. There is a heavy emphasis in the guidance timetables on the provision of individual guidance support. It is recommended, in order to maximise the number of students who can access guidance information and support, that more guidance sessions be planned with both junior and senior cycle students in conjunction with the Social Personal Health Education programme (SPHE) and with other subjects.
The school provides good facilities for Guidance. A dedicated, well-equipped office is located in an area of the school that is accessible to students and parents. This office has full access to Broadband. Good storage for guidance materials is provided both within the office and in a display area outside in the corridor. Here students can browse third level course literature and make appointments to meet with the guidance counsellor for guidance advice and counselling support. Well-maintained notice boards display careers information on colleges, course changes, application dates, college open days and career events. A nearby classroom is available for guidance sessions and full access is available for guidance sessions in computer rooms.
All students can avail of counselling support from the guidance counsellor upon request, and students identified as having particular issues to address are also supported by the chaplain and by the school’s pastoral-care group. The referral of students to outside agencies for additional professional support is well managed and care is taken to tailor all school responses and interventions to meet individual needs. Good contacts are maintained with the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) psychologist, local social services and with the child guidance services operated by the Heath Board. Parents are kept fully informed and involved in supporting their children to gain full benefit from all the school can offer.
The school is actively engaged in school development planning with assistance from the School Development Planning Initiative. In-service staff training in planning has taken place and a wide range of school policies is being developed and revised. All teachers are engaged in subject planning groups and many have joined cross-disciplinary teams to develop new policies. This level of co-operation and engagement in school planning by staff is to be highly commended. A school guidance plan is being developed, which builds on a draft plan completed in 2005. The new plan is an integrated school model that establishes aims and objectives and lists clear goals for guidance in each year group and school programme. The implementation of this plan is managed by the guidance counsellor who is taking responsibility for the development of the plan and manages liaison with staff and the delivery of guidance in the school.
The guidance plan has as its principal aim to assist the successful transitions of students into the school and from the senior cycle to further or higher education and training. Linkages with all the main programmes and subject areas are documented. Beginning with the transfer of students into the school, the plan outlines how this process of providing guidance support and advice to both students and parents is managed. Guidance is viewed by the school as playing a major role in advising about subject options and explaining the possible career implications of selecting certain options to parents and students. This high level of advice and support continues to be available to students throughout all their time the school. The guidance counsellor attends all parents’ information nights organised by the school.
Throughout junior cycle students receive assistance to develop good skills to learn effectively and become more aware of personal skills. This assistance is provided by subject teachers and through the Social Personal Health Education (SPHE) programme, with a number of inputs on guidance topics delivered by the guidance counsellor. Students identified as requiring more individual support are referred to the guidance counsellor. In third year students are assisted to select subjects for senior cycle or to choose the option of Transition Year (TY). In order that students could begin the consideration of possible career areas at an earlier stage, it is recommended that some new ways be explored to introduce some inputs on careers in second and third year in conjunction with SPHE.
The Transition Year (TY) is popular with students and TY students are encouraged to take full advantage of the range of opportunities provided by participating in work experience and completing the career investigation module. All students develop a curriculum vitae and explore the most suitable range of subjects to choose for Leaving Certificate to support future career options.
In fifth and sixth year, the guidance programme is planned effectively so that students can receive a high level support to make individual choices about careers and course options. A comprehensive guidance programme is being delivered through a wide range of guidance inputs for fifth and sixth year students. Inputs include a range of lessons on career topics, career path planning, work preparation skills and making applications for college places. Mock interview sessions are also arranged with support from local business. A panel of guest speakers is invited and visits to college open days and other career events are arranged. Individual interviews are conducted with students to discuss possible options for progression and those students requiring extra support to address personal concerns or issues are also facilitated. Students wishing to make applications to the Central Applications Office (CAO) and United Colleges Application System (UCAS) are assisted in every way to complete applications. In order to strengthen the guidance team’s existing good level of engagement with senior cycle students and make maximum use of available time for guidance, it is recommended that each class group in senior cycle should have a number of timetabled guidance sessions each year, including sixth year, with the guidance counsellor. This would facilitate the delivery of guidance themes, which are of common interest in a more co-ordinated way and provide a scheduled time for guest speakers to visit the school.
Good Information Communication Technology (ICT) facilities are available and the guidance team makes full use of these resources to encourage students to avail fully of all guidance software, career and college websites. The school also has data projecting facilities in a number of classrooms. These can be used to display careers information to groups of senior cycle students.
The guidance team attend all parents’ nights to provide information and advice about subjects and the possible career implications of making certain subject choices. Progression options for students are also explained. Parents are welcomed to the school to meet with all staff members including the guidance team. Good linkages have been established and are maintained with local business, a range of employers, third level and further education colleges and local support agencies. Networks with other schools are also maintained. Each year the school co-operates with local schools in the arranging of a local careers event for students on third level, further education and training options.
The school is to be commended on the way that support is afforded to teachers to attend careers events and all possible continuous professional development opportunities. Attendance at regular personal supervision sessions and guidance cluster group meetings is also facilitated.
In the course of the inspection visit, two senior cycle classes were visited, a fifth year and a sixth year Leaving Certificate group. The methodologies selected to present and develop the topics in each class were very appropriate to the age and developmental level of the students. Good planning was in evidence in both classes and viable learning objectives were established from the outset of the lessons. The topic for each lesson was well introduced and good support materials were supplied.
The guidance class for fifth years was held in a well-equipped ICT room with Broadband access. All students were actively engaged and demonstrated competent computer skills and were able to carry out the task set by the teacher without a great deal of assistance. The lesson’s aim was to introduce students to the Qualifax website to enable them to begin exploring career and course options. Students were asked to brainstorm ideas on courses and then individually complete an interest inventory on the website. They were then invited to research possible third level and further education course options based on areas of individual interest. The task was clearly explained at the start of the lesson, and students worked well to complete the set task. All students were expected to make notes on information gathered from the website for future reference. It is suggested that a worksheet could have been provided for students to make the recording of ideas and information gathered even more effective. Learning to a very good level was in evidence throughout, with students working independently and in small groups to complete the task set.
The second lesson was on how to develop good study skills and learn effectively to achieve good personal learning outcomes. Good use was made of visual materials. Advice was given to students on how to plan and manage available time for study. Excellent support materials were provided that explained in detail how information should be gathered and notes made for future revision purposes. A good classroom atmosphere also prevailed throughout this session to support quality learning outcomes. Students were all fully engaged in active learning and interacted well together. 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 practice provides good continuity between lessons.
During the second session students 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. This questionnaire aims to gather the views of senior cycle students on Guidance. It is 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 that have been provided on careers and educational opportunities. Furthermore, the questionnaire invites them to state what changes they consider would improve the school’s guidance programmes and to suggest what type of programme would give maximum benefit to students in senior cycle.
At present, students enrolling in the school to enter first year undergo a prior assessment process. The guidance counsellor plays an active role in supporting this assessment process. The stated purpose of this initial assessment is to identify students who require extra learning support and to assist in the successful placement of students in first year. However, the assessment instruments currently being administered need to be reviewed as some are out of date and do not have norms suitable for Irish students. It is therefore recommended that tests with Irish norms should be selected instead. To support the assessment process further, it is suggested that, when liaising with feeder primary schools, details of all assessments completed by pupils in fifth and sixth class should be sought to add to each student’s educational profile. The school supports the guidance counsellor in visiting primary schools to meet with staff and students. This means that students meet the guidance counsellor prior to entry and when they visit the school for induction.
During third year the Differential Aptitude Test (DATS) is administered to all students. This is commendable as it provides a good opportunity for students to gain a picture of their aptitudes and a good starting point for one-to-one discussions on career options. At present, students who are transferring directly to fifth year receive feedback on the results of this test on a one-to-one basis to assist them in making subject choices for senior cycle. Those choosing TY receive the results throughout the year to assist them to make choices for senior cycle. It is suggested that all students should receive results of their DATS soon after completion, so that they can begin building an awareness of personal interests and strengths. Good use is being made in guidance classes of careers websites, Career Directions, Careers World and the Qualifax. Interest inventories are also being administered to assist individual career-path development.
There is evidence of good record keeping in the guidance office. All meetings held with students and referrals made to outside agencies are recorded. Minutes of all meetings of the guidance and pastoral care teams are maintained and all decisions taken are recorded. The initial destinations of all students leaving the school are compiled and recorded annually to inform management about subject options and strengthen school guidance planning.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
A whole school approach to Guidance is being adopted that fully integrates Guidance with the school’s pastoral care structure, and a wide range of educational, vocational and personal supports is being provided for students
A good level of co-operation is evident among staff in the delivery of Guidance and counselling support for students
The school is engaged in planning and in developing a variety of approaches to address all students’ needs
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 draft whole school guidance plan be completed and presented for consultation to staff, parents and students and then to the board of management
In order to strengthen the guidance team’s engagement with senior cycle students and make maximum use of the time available for guidance, it is recommended in the next academic year that each class in senior cycle including sixth year, should have a number of timetabled guidance sessions delivered by the guidance counsellor
In order that students are facilitated to begin exploring possible careers at a younger age, it is recommended that ways be found to introduce some inputs on careers in second and third year, in conjunction with the SPHE programme
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the guidance team and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.