An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject  Inspection of Guidance

REPORT

 

Dominican College

Griffith Avenue, Dublin 9.

Roll number: 60690R

 

     Date of inspection: 5 November 2008

  

 

 

 

Inspection report

Guidance provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of findings and recommendations

 

 

  

 

Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance

 

 

Inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Dominican College, Griffith Avenue.  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 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 to the 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.

  

 

Guidance Provision and Whole School Support

 

Dominican College is a large well-established voluntary secondary school for girls. The school relocated to its present site in 1984 from Eccles Street. The school building, its extensive grounds and the available sports’ facilities provide a good environment for learning. Students come from the local area and from a wide catchment area of Dublin city and county. The school prides itself on providing good academic opportunities and a range of personal supports for students. New approaches to teaching and learning are being introduced and the school currently has one dedicated room with Information and Communication Technology (ICT). In line with the school’s development priorities, it is planned to introduce interactive white boards to classrooms, once resources permit.

 

Guidance is viewed by school management as a whole-school activity and an essential support for students making transitions, selecting appropriate subjects and programmes and planning career-path opportunities. Two guidance counsellors make up the school’s guidance team. The guidance team has a formal meeting each week and also meet informally on a regular basis. The school has a total allocation of 30 ex-quota hours for Guidance and has participated in the Guidance Enhancement Initiative (GEI) since 2004. This initiative provides extra guidance hours which are being used to focus on providing Guidance in junior cycle.

 

Good facilities are provided in the school for Guidance. There is one dedicated guidance office for the full-time guidance counsellor and a shared office is available to the second team member. These rooms are suitably located, accessible to students, are well-equipped with ICT and have secure storage and display areas for guidance materials. Dedicated notice boards for Guidance are provided in the school’s corridors. These display up-to-date information about third-level education courses, college open days and career events. The careers’ library is located within the school library which is accessible to students throughout the week. The school has an enrolment of over 700 students who all require good access to career information. It is therefore important that all students can directly access information by themselves using ICT. The replacement of literature about careers can prove expensive and unnecessary as the most up-to-date information about third-level education and careers is now easily available on the World Wide Web (www). It is therefore recommended, once resources permit, that even more access for students to ICT in the school library be facilitated. This would facilitate individuals to conduct independent research of relevant college and career websites to complement the existing careers’ information and college brochures that are on current display.

 

Guidance is provided as an integrated model with counselling. All students can access one-to-one counselling support directly from the guidance team or can be referred for this assistance. Good on-going support is provided for those who require extra support to address personal issues and any barriers to education. Guidance is provided by the team using a range of modes. These include, one-to-one guidance and counselling interviews, timetabled guidance classes with senior-cycle groups, and occasional sessions held with class groups by arrangement with subject teachers. The guidance team meets with parents at parents’ evenings and by appointment. There is also a very well-developed school website that provides up-to-date information about the school, its policies and the curriculum offered. To further promote awareness about Guidance to the whole-school community, it is suggested that more information about guidance programmes and a calendar of career events should be included on this website and updated regularly.

 

Timetabling for Guidance in the school currently reflects an imbalance of provision between junior and senior cycles. A heavy emphasis is placed on providing a good deal of one-to-one support for students in senior cycle to assist them to individually plan their progression opportunities. It is recommended that the team examine this imbalance and explore new ways to provide information about careers and third level courses on a more frequent basis to groups of students. This approach would guarantee more focussed use of available time, prevent duplication in providing basic information and supply a firm knowledge base for students’ individual interviews with the guidance team. As enrolment numbers exceed 700 and in order to provide Guidance to the largest possible number of student groups throughout the school, a modular approach to the timetabling of Guidance should be considered. In addition, ways should be explored with management about how Guidance can be facilitated to make greater use of the available ICT with student groups.

 

Excellent links are maintained between the guidance team and other staff members who provide pastoral and other supports for students such as the school chaplain. A care team that comprises guidance staff, the school chaplain and management meets weekly to plan special interventions for students who are identified as requiring extra support. It is suggested that it may be necessary in the future to consider expanding the membership of this group in line with the school’s overall planning objectives.

 

Regular contact is being maintained by the team with school management that is supportive of developing whole-school Guidance. The referral of students for extra support to staff within the school operates efficiently and referrals for extra assistance to outside agencies such as the National Educational Psychology Service (NEPS) are handled sensitively and effectively.

 

The guidance team has support from management to engage in personal and professional career development and to attend counselling supervision sessions.

 

The school has a well-developed critical incident policy and a management plan which have been drafted with full support from the guidance team.

 

 

Planning and Preparation

  

The school is heavily engaged in the process of school planning and is developing and reviewing a wide range of school policies. The school guidance plan was drafted by the guidance team following an analysis of students’ needs and a consultation conducted with staff and parents. The planning of Guidance is viewed as a process that has progressed over the last few years. The main section of the guidance plan clearly outlines objectives for Guidance and a separate programme for each year group and for Transition Year (TY) is included. The work completed on the plan so far is commendable. In order to take this plan to the next stage of development, and further strengthen its whole-school focus it is recommended that the links between Guidance and school programmes such as Social Personal Heath Education (SPHE) and TY be more clearly documented; that timeframes for the completion of each activity be inserted and that expected learning outcomes for each year group be established. These additions would facilitate easier evaluation of the guidance plan and programmes. It is further recommended, to support these changes, that the team begin to identify areas for development such as greater use of ICT with students.  When the school’s guidance plan  has been revised at the end of this academic year, it should once more be presented to management, staff, parents and students for consultation and then to the board of management for ratification.

 

Assistance to update the guidance plan can be accessed from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) www.sdpi.ie and the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE). Two documents have been circulated to schools, Planning a School Guidance Programme (NCGE 2004) www.ncge.ie and Guidelines for second level schools on the implications of Section 9c of Education Act 1998, relating to students’ access to appropriate guidance (DES 2005) and are available at www.education.ie. As Guidance links with many aspects of the curriculum, information about ways to develop a curricular framework for Guidance and how it can be integrated with all aspects of the school curriculum may be accessed at www.ncca.ie.

 

When pupils are seeking to transfer to Dominican College from primary schools, the guidance team meets with the parents of these prospective pupils. The team also contributes to the induction programme for first-year students. Ongoing contact is then maintained with all class groups and with individual students in junior cycle. It is suggested that students and their parents should be referred to the information module on the Qualifax website: Leaving Cert. and Junior Cert. Subject Choice www.qualifax.ie. This website provides comprehensive information for parents on the possible long-term implications of subjects chosen in junior cycle and should prove useful when selecting optional subjects.

 

It is commendable that the guidance programmes for junior cycle groups promotes students’ personal development and that some project work on career topics are also completed. To further augment this guidance provision for second-year and third-year classes, it is recommended that more structured inputs on careers be planned within these programmes. This should be achieved in co-operation with the SPHE and Religious Education (RE) programmes.  Introducing career topics to junior cycle students will encourage them to begin exploring a range of possible career avenues well in advance of making individual subject and programme choices for senior cycle. It also promotes the setting of goals by students for personal achievement and facilitates informed dialogue between teachers and students about the correct levels at which subjects should be studied in order to achieve such goals. Researching a range of career opportunities also awakens students’ interest in career areas that are non traditional and are not gender specific. The use of ICT could be deployed to assist students’ research and websites such as Careers Directions www.careerdirections.ie and Careers Portal www.careersportal may prove useful.

 

The school offers a very successful and popular TY programme that receives good support from Guidance. Assistance is supplied to students to enable them to gain full benefit from work experience and exploit the many personal and career opportunities provided by the TY programme.

 

The guidance programmes for fifth and sixth year classes are designed to assist students to make good personal choices. As already mentioned, the introduction of more group- guidance sessions for all fifth-year classes would support the effective one-to-one interventions that are already being made by the guidance team with individual students. It is recommended also that the content of the guidance programmes be shared with each class group in the first term. This could be achieved by placing the information on the school’s website. This approach would motivate students to engage in proactive research of topics which are of personal interest in advance of their introduction in guidance sessions.

 

Students wishing to make the transition to third-level education receive good assistance from the guidance team to explore viable personal options and to make applications to the Central Applications Office (CAO) www.cao.ie for entry to universities and colleges in Ireland, and to the Universities & Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) www.ucas.com for application to third-level courses in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. Those choosing progression into Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses and to other training or employment routes are also facilitated in every way to make appropriate personal choices. Parents are kept fully informed about career-progression opportunities for their daughters at parents’ events and through one-to-one meetings with staff.

 

Good contacts are maintained by the guidance team with a very wide range of third-level colleges.  A panel of guest speakers is invited to address students and these individuals give a broad perspective about third level education and career opportunities. Visits for students to a number of third level colleges and career events are also facilitated each year. A number of formal interviews for students in senior cycle are arranged annually with the guidance team. This level of support provided for individual students is commendable.

 

 

Teaching and Learning

 

In the course of the inspection, guidance lessons with a third-year class and with a sixth-year group were attended.  The methodologies selected to present and develop the lesson topics in each of these sessions were suitable, in keeping with the guidance plan and were appropriate to the age and the developmental levels of the students. Good advance planning of the lessons was evident, which provided a good structure for effective learning to take place. The lesson topics were well introduced and delivered at a pace conducive for learning. Clear expected outcomes were established for students from the outset of the sessions. Students received clear instructions about how to complete assigned tasks and assistance was supplied, where required, to individual students throughout the lessons. Questioning was used to elicit students’ understanding of the themes and of how the set assignments would be completed.  It is suggested however that the brainstorming of ideas and views should be used at the beginning of each guidance lesson to provide the teacher with a composite picture of students’ prior knowledge of topics. Support materials were supplied and these dovetailed well with lesson planning.  To make the lessons even more effective, it is recommended that more active teaching methodologies be introduced to supply visual as well as auditory stimuli for learning and that paired-peer learning be used in more instances. Where possible, a number of guidance lessons each term should be arranged for senior cycle students to take place in the ICT room. It is also suggested that reference should be made during each guidance lesson to the content of the guidance programme for that year group and that students be encouraged to begin researching the next topic in advance of the next lesson.  In each lesson the layout of the classrooms, although supportive of good teacher-student communication, somewhat restricted effective communication between students. Greater use of circular seating for Guidance sessions is suggested to address this communication issue.

 

Students demonstrated that they were motivated to learn and a good rapport between students and staff was evident. They demonstrated maturity, good listening, competent learning and excellent collaborative skills.

 

Classroom management was effective in both lessons with students displaying an orderly approach to learning. Follow up on the lessons was signalled at the end of the sessions to provide continuity of learning.

 

 

Assessment

 

Appropriate and purposeful use is being made of assessment modes, tests and other instruments to assess students’ learning and individuals’ needs. In Guidance, assessment is used very effectively to assist students to explore individual aptitudes and plan suitable career paths. The school guidance plan documents the range of tests and interest inventories administered.  The suitability of tests is reviewed regularly within the school.  It is advised that reference should be made to the Circular Letter 0008/2007 on testing in schools, which is available at www.education.ie, to assist with the selection of tests for Guidance and for learning support. It is also suggested that administration of the AH2 test should be phased out and that more suitable tests should be considered. 

 

The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATS) is administered to all students in third year and they receive individual feedback of their results. It is used effectively to assist students to gain a good understanding about their aptitudes and possible career paths and to select subjects for senior cycle. Other aptitude tests and interest inventories are selected and administered to meet particular students’ needs. In addition, full use is being made of Qualifax to explore third-level and further education and training options using ICT.

 

Good records of all one-to-one sessions held with students are being kept and all follow-up actions to be taken are fully recorded. Individual student files are compiled and stored appropriately to provide maximum individual support on an ongoing basis. All meetings held with staff and management are recorded. The initial destinations of all students leaving the school are mapped annually to inform school and guidance planning.

 

 

Summary of Findings and Recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • Providing care for students is a priority for the school and all students have access to one-to-one guidance and counselling support from the guidance team.
  • The guidance team work effectively together to plan and manage the delivery of Guidance in the school.
  • The guidance plan is being developed with whole-school support from management and staff.
  • Good links are established with outside agencies, third level colleges and local business.

 

 

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

 

  • As student enrolment numbers exceed 700, it is recommended that a modular approach to timetabling be considered in order to provide Guidance to the largest possible number of student groups in the school.

 

  • In order to take the guidance plan to the next stage of development and further strengthen its whole-school focus, it is recommended that the links between Guidance and school programmes such as Social Personal Heath Education (SPHE) and TY be clearly documented; that timeframes for the completion of each activity be inserted and that expected learning outcomes for each year group be included to facilitate easier evaluation of the programmes. The plan should also include priorities for future development such as greater use of ICT with groups.

 

  • To further augment existing guidance provision for second and third-year junior cycle classes, it is recommended that more structured inputs on career topics be planned within the programmes. This should be achieved in co-operation with the SPHE and Religious Education (RE) programmes.

 

  • It is recommended also that the content of the guidance programmes be shared with each class group in the first term. This information should be placed on the school’s website.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Published, June 2009