An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Buncrana, County Donegal
Roll number: 71140Q
Date of inspection: 27 April 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Crana 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 principal, with the guidance counsellors 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 counsellors. 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.
Crana College, a co-educational, interdenominational Vocational School under the aegis of Co. Donegal Vocational Educational Committee (VEC), is situated in the town of Buncrana, a short distance from the border with Co. Derry. The school caters for students from diverse social backgrounds and all levels of ability. Students come from approximately twelve feeder schools in the town and surrounding areas with a small number coming from Northern Ireland. There is an even ratio of male to female in the current enrolment of 311, which includes 5 non-national students, all of whom are integrated into the guidance classes. In recent years the school context has changed somewhat due to employment trends in the Inishowen area. Because there is no longer a guarantee of local employment more girls are now staying on to complete Leaving Certificate. However, boys are attracted by opportunities in the construction industry and a number leave school without completing the Leaving Certificate. Crana 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 receives an ex quota allocation of 22 hours for guidance and counselling from the Department of Education and Science (DES). This includes a current allocation of 11 hours for the Guidance Enhancement Initiative (GEI). At present 17.5 hours, approximately, of the allocation are used for guidance. The guidance counsellors also teach Mathematics, Irish and English classes. School are expected to use their full allocation for guidance purposes and therefore it is recommended that the total allocation be used for the delivery of guidance and counselling during the next and subsequent school years.
Crana College provides timetabled guidance classes to every class group and students are introduced to career planning from 1st year. This is commended as an excellent model of good practice as provision is balanced between junior and senior cycles. Two qualified guidance counsellors collaborate to deliver the guidance programme with meetings being held in their own time. It is recommended that the guidance counsellors would have formal, regular meetings to plan and review guidance activities.
Individual appointments are provided for all Leaving Certificate students. A number of first and third-year students also meet individually with the guidance counsellors to discuss subject choice and other class groups are offered individual appointments as required. One of the guidance counsellors offers personal counselling during her free time one morning per week. While this is commendable it is recommended that, in the course of guidance planning, the school review the provision of counselling vis-à-vis student needs.
The two guidance counsellors work together as a team and are supported by subject teachers and programme co-ordinators. Subject teachers exchange classes with the guidance counsellors to provide information to students on subject and level choice. This is a model of good practice and this level of collaboration and student support is commended. The school also has the services of a designated NEPS psychologist.
There are excellent facilities for guidance in the form of an office with three computers, broadband access, phone, shelving and storage. The office also houses a well stocked careers’ library and a notice board. A notice board for students is located in the senior general purpose area and updated regularly. It is suggested that the school consider installing another notice board for guidance materials/information in the junior general purpose area. The guidance office is shared between both guidance counsellors. In the course of guidance planning the school should explore the possibility of providing a second office to facilitate both guidance counsellors. Senior students have very good access to ICT facilities and all CAO/UCAS applications are completed on line. It is commendable that all senior students complete the ECDL before leaving school. Junior cycle students have access to computer rooms for guidance by arrangement.
There is a good sense of care for students in the school as evidenced by the supports and initiatives available to students. Crana College has established a Student Support Group consisting of the deputy principal (DP), HSCL co-ordinator, guidance counsellors and teachers of PE, Religion (RE), learning support (LS) and SPHE. This group also includes some of the year heads. The group meets weekly, informally. These meetings facilitate transfer of information on students and the identification of students in need of extra support. Minuted records are maintained by the DP and the group also meets with other staff members at break time and during lunch times. It is recommended that the school would explore the possibility of timetabled formal meetings of the support group so that attendance of members is facilitated to the optimum level.
Links between the guidance department and management are informal and meetings are arranged as required. Discussions between guidance counsellors and class tutors, year heads and programme co-ordinators take place informally. Students are referred to the guidance counsellors by the principal, through the student support group, by teachers, tutors, year heads, parents and they self refer. Referrals to outside agencies such as NEPS and the HSE are effected in collaboration with the principal, members of the student support group and the School Completion Programme (SCP) co-ordinator.
While there is no annual budget allocated, funding for resources is provided on request.
To date a good deal of work has been done on guidance planning in Crana College. A guidance planning group has been established which is led by the guidance counsellors and consists of the DP, HSCL, Anti-bullying and SPHE co-ordinators and teachers of PE, LS and RE. The theme of the guidance plan is ‘Learning for Life’. A folder for each year group contains programmes, aims and timeframes. Currently the guidance counsellors are finalising the second-year programme. Appropriate class materials, which include materials in use in cross-border schools, are being collated and developed. All of these activities are commended.
Student evaluation of the guidance provision by sixth years is facilitated annually by the guidance counsellors and this informs programme planning. This is commended as a model of good practice. It is recommended that the school also considers input into the planning process from representatives of parents, the student council and perhaps the local business community. A students’ needs analysis vis-à-vis guidance provision should also be carried out to identify any gaps in the current programmes. Cross-curricular planning discussion with colleagues in subject areas such as SPHE and RE would be helpful in preventing overlaps.
Currently boys and girls in first year are separated for Guidance and Music classes and students are withdrawn from Guidance classes to attend resource/learning support teaching. In senior cycle Guidance and Religion are timetabled with a double PE class and boys and girls are separated. It is recommended that the school review these arrangements to ensure that no student misses Guidance classes and that both boys and girls of the same class group attend classes together. This will go some way to discouraging stereotyping of career areas and courses.
The school has a transition programme for incoming first year students which begins with an open day. The SCP and HSCL co-ordinators visit the feeder primary schools and feedback is provided by teachers. A two-day orientation programme for incoming students takes place in May and the school hosts an information session for parents. First-year students attend school one day before the rest of the student population. At the end of September there is an open evening for parents of first years where they meet with teachers, year head, tutors and guidance counsellors to receive feedback on the students’ settling in process and can raise any issues of concern to them. Services, supports and roles are outlined again and projects and programmes introduced. This is commended both as an added support and also as a further opportunity for parents to familiarise themselves with the school personnel and structures.
Classes are of mixed ability in first year and an 8-week programme of taster classes is provided. This is commended as it assists students to make an informed choice when selecting subjects and levels for Junior Certificate, which students choose after mid-term. A part from the core subjects of Irish, English, Mathematics, Science, Business Studies, Technical Graphics, Religion and Guidance students choose two subjects from Home Economics, Art, Metalwork and Materials Technology (Wood). Students and parents are welcome to make individual appointments with the guidance counsellor when deciding subject and level choice. During Seachtain na Gaeilge in- school activities integrate careers that require Irish.
In third year, Crana College offers an open choice of 14 subjects to begin subject choice for senior cycle. One of the guidance counsellors works with the principal to draw up possible subject blocks and examine satisfaction rates. It is commendable that the guidance department has compiled a booklet on subject choice for students, which details the subjects on offer and offers some information on choosing subjects, content and use in career areas as well as on the computation of points. A separate handout gives basic entry requirements for 2006 courses. The guidance counsellor meets any individual students who are experiencing difficulty. Parents are required to sign off on subject choices and are welcome to make an appointment or to contact the school. It is recommended that an information session for parents of third years would be arranged at this time.
One of the guidance counsellors organises the work experience programme of the LCVP and also delivers the career investigation section of the Link Modules.
The guidance counsellors attend parent/teacher meetings and information sessions for parents of incoming students. Parents are encouraged to contact the guidance counsellors for clarification of any issues of concern. The school reports good response from parents with a number of Leaving Certificate parents arranging individual appointments with the guidance counsellor. It is recommended that the school would explore the possibility of offering an information session to parents at this time.
The focus of the school’s GEI proposal was to provide guidance in junior cycle in order to encourage students to continue in school after Junior Certificate, choose subjects more suitable to their talents and consider science subjects. This proposal is being successfully implemented. Science is a core subject in junior cycle, chemistry was introduced into senior cycle in 2001 and uptake continues to increase. It is recommended that statistics of the take up of science subjects be logged so that comparisons may be made. Students attended the Physics Road Show last year and enter science based competitions both in the Republic and in Northern Ireland. As part of their Gaisce awards, fourth year students mentor a science club and a homework club for first years.
One of the guidance counsellors is attendance officer for the school and in that role meets monthly with the principal, DP and HSCL co-ordinator to discuss attendance and focus on students at risk of early school leaving (ESL). In collaboration with the SCP co-ordinator rewards for good attendance have been introduced and positive strategies including group work and team building exercises have been developed. This is commended. The school is targeting first and second years especially and the guidance counsellor works closely with the HSCL co-ordinator who visits homes of students who may be nearing the time limit for alerting the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB). The guidance counsellor meets individual students who are contemplating leaving school early and they are also invited to the talks by FÁS representatives to senior students. The principal reports that ESL rates are decreasing significantly in recent years.
The monitoring committee of the GEI has not yet been established. It is suggested that the guidance planning group could include the monitoring and review of the initiative within their brief.
Crana College has established links with the local employers through the work experience modules and LCVP visits to industry and through the Youth Career Link Programme funded by the Inishowen Partnership Company which provides career oriented support for students. Local business people also collaborate with the school to provide mock interviews for senior students. The school liaises with colleges of further and higher education, including participation in the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) with NUI Maynooth and Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT), and with training agencies to arrange visits and organise a panel of guest speakers to come into the school. Senior students attend college open days and other career events.
There is good collaboration with colleagues and schools from Northern Ireland. Crana College participates in a number of local, national and cross-border initiatives e.g the KEY and LET programmes are cross-border, cross-community initiatives that promote cross-cultural links, develop self-esteem and encourage co-operation and leadership and organise for students to attend residential weekends with other schools from Northern Ireland; the Messines Experience is an International School for Peace Studies schools links project, sponsored by the International Fund for Ireland. The level of commitment to student support is commended as is the voluntary contribution of the staff.
Both guidance counsellors are members of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) and the school facilitates their attendance at all relevant meetings and courses, local and national in-service. The guidance counsellors also attend the local supervision sessions organised to support counselling. Responding to recommendations in the previous guidance report the guidance counsellors have networked with neighbouring schools and have met with other GEI schools in the county. It is recommended that this professional networking be continued as it will provide support and assist all participants. Such collaboration would be beneficial for the drafting of the Critical Incident Policy on which the school is working. It is recommended that the school would engage with the NEPS psychologist in preparing the final draft of the document.
In the course of the evaluation two class groups, one senior and one junior class, 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 good continuity with previous lessons and appropriate linkages with course areas. In both classes reference and brief discussions about completed exercises were used as starting points for lessons. The pace and content of each class was generally appropriate to the class group with time being efficiently used.
Teachers employed a variety of methodologies – handouts, whiteboard, pair-work, question and answer. In a junior cycle class, for example, the teacher, using a word search, integrated what was being done with English class exercises. The overhead projector was then used to review students’ work. This was particularly helpful in reinforcing learning, involving students and recognising achievements. In a senior cycle class, students were encouraged to gather material and information for themselves by the use of prospectuses and relevant websites. What to look for was discussed. This approach is commended as it equips student to engage in independent learning and self-management skills.
Teachers used questioning to both check students’ 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 frequent reference to both completed work and in-school facilities to support learning. Good rapport was evident between teachers 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.
Testing is administered by the guidance counsellors to support students, assist student profiling, inform decision making and provide experience for students. All in-coming first years complete pre-entry standardised, norm-referenced assessments which screen for literacy and numeracy competence. Together with information from the feeder primary schools, this information is used to identify students who may need learning support. In first year students are introduced to simple aptitude tests. The Careers Interest Inventory (CII) and skills profiling using MUASIC are completed in 3rd year to assist subject and programme choice. The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) and the Centigrade programme are administered in fourth year to assist career and course choices. These are followed by interest tests in fifth year e.g Rothwell Miller Interest Inventory. Test results are returned and interpreted in Guidance classes and during individual appointments.
One of the guidance counsellors tracks Leaving Certificate students and past students are welcome to return for information and support as required. Student profiles are maintained and retained. Folders of student work are also retained by the guidance counsellors.
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:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the guidance counsellors and the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.