An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Assumption Secondary School
Walkinstown, Dublin 12
Roll number: 60851P
Date of inspection: 16 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Assumption Secondary School. 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 counsellor 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 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.
The school is a voluntary secondary school that operates under the trusteeship of the Religious Sisters of Charity. Many of the students previously attended the adjacent primary school and reside in the immediate area. Others come from a number of primary schools in surrounding suburbs. Current student enrolment is 369. It is reported that this number is expected to stay in a state of equilibrium over the next few years. A number of newcomer students are now members of the student cohort and are integrated into the school.
School management states that Guidance provides a vital support for students making transitions, decision making and progressing into further or higher education. Guidance is delivered as an integrated support for students with counselling. All students can access one-to-one counselling with the guidance counsellor to discuss personal issues, concerns about learning or career-decision making. It is reported that staff liaise effectively and co-operatively with Guidance, and that in addition, students who are experiencing difficulties in school receive good ongoing support through the school’s pastoral-care system. As this pastoral-care system is now well established and a student-support team is in place, it is recommended that Guidance play a more active role in the work of this team in planning and implementing targeted interventions for students.
The school has an allocation of 13 hours for Guidance. The allocation of these hours is currently spread somewhat unevenly between junior and senior cycle, with the main emphasis concentrated on providing Guidance for senior-cycle students. Individual interviews are held with all senior cycle students and a number of guidance lessons are arranged with class groups throughout the year. To address this imbalance in providing Guidance for junior cycle students, it is recommended that more collaboration take place between Guidance and the Social Personal and Health Education programme (SPHE) to plan the delivery of guidance topics. Guidance is delivered throughout the school using a range of modes. These include some timetabled guidance lessons, visits by students to career events and third-level college open-days, talks by outside speakers and one-to-one interviews with students. To make Guidance even more accessible for students, it is recommended that more timetabled group sessions be arranged by the guidance counsellor with junior and senior cycle classes. The referral of students for extra support within the school and to outside agencies is managed effectively and sensitively. Good links have been established with the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), the Health Service Executive (HSE), third-level and further-education colleges and with employers.
A dedicated office has been provided for Guidance. This office is suitably equipped, has storage space and full broadband access. Notice boards to display information about college open-days, career events and application requirements for third-level education are provided in the school corridors. When resources permit, consideration should be given by management to relocating the guidance office to an area within the school that is more accessible for students and parents. A larger space that could accommodate the careers’ library with information and communications technology (ICT) would provide a valuable resource for learning, and independent research of third-level, further-education college and career websites by students. Commendably, this issue is currently under review by school management. Once the school’s main ICT room has been refurbished, the scheduling of a number of guidance lessons in this room each year is recommended. This would enable senior cycle students, under direction, to explore appropriate and relevant websites and complete career investigations.
A Critical Incident Response Plan for the school has been developed. It is reported that this plan will shortly be reviewed. It is recommended that the guidance planning group and the guidance counsellor be directly involved in this review.
The school is engaging in whole-school, subject-department planning and self evaluation. Support for this process has been accessed from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). Preliminary work has begun on drafting a school guidance plan. To progress this work speedily, it is recommended that a planning group, led by the guidance counsellor, be established. The first task for this group should be to conduct a students’ needs assessment to inform the planning of Guidance. As part of this analysis, the opinions of the student and the parents’ councils should be sought, as well as, staff and management. Assistance to complete 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) www.ncge.ie websites. Two documents that 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) www.education.ie should also be consulted. The grid for guidance planning, which is displayed on the SDPI website should be used to initiate drafting the whole-school guidance plan. It is recommended that, once drafted, the guidance plan be presented to staff, parents and students for consultation and then to the board of management. Guidance in the school should have a whole-school focus, be integrated with all subjects and programmes such as Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and the Transition Year (TY) and be evaluated annually.
The current draft guidance plan outlines a programme for each year group and for TY. It is recommended that these programmes be expanded in detail, the themes for completion in each school term be itemised and linkages to subjects and programmes be demonstrated. A list of tests and the interest inventories to be administered and a list of guest speakers should also be included.
Students entering the school have an induction programme and receive assistance from Guidance to make this transition. The guidance counsellor visits the main feeder primary schools, liaises with the home-school-community liaison co-ordinator (HSCL), compiles students’ completed assessments and entrance tests, and discusses students’ needs with teachers in the primary feeder schools and with colleagues. This approach is commended, as it assists students to make smooth transitions. Meetings for parents of incoming first-year students are held annually, which the guidance counsellor attends. It is suggested that students and their parents be referred to the information module displayed on the Qualifax website: Leaving Cert. and Junior Cert. Subject Choice at www.qualifax.ie. This website provides comprehensive information on the possible long-term implications for students making subject choices in junior cycle.
Good links have been established between the guidance programmes for junior cycle students and the SPHE and Religious Education (RE) programmes. Arrangements are in place for junior cycle students to meet with the guidance counsellor in groups and one-to-one to discuss educational and personal concerns. Individual counselling is available for students, where it is deemed appropriate. Third-year students are assisted through the guidance programme to develop good study skills and choose subjects for the Leaving Certificate or opt for TY. To further develop the existing guidance programmes for students in second and third year, it is recommended that some additional inputs on career topics be planned and included. Co-operation with the SPHE programme could facilitate this development. Introducing topics on careers would encourage students to begin exploring a range of possible career avenues and set personal goals, well in advance of making individual subject choices for senior cycle. Through this process, students would become more aware of the levels at which these subjects should be studied in the Leaving Certificate to achieve their set goals. Engaging in career exploration would encourage more dialogue between students about possible career routes. It would enable them to become more informed about how personal goals can be achieved, through accessing further and higher education courses. The use of ICT could assist their research and websites such as Careers Directions www.careerdirections.ie and www.careersportal.com provide useful and current information.
Guidance in TY in the school concentrates presently on providing students with opportunities to explore career options, the building of personal profiles and meeting with a range of guest speakers. It is reported that students find the programme benefits them both personally and academically. Even more involvement for Guidance in the TY is recommended. Guidance for fifth-year and sixth-year class groups is delivered mainly through one-to-one interviews with students and occasional group sessions. In order to expand guidance provision in senior cycle generally, it is recommended that management explore ways to provide all senior cycle classes with a number of timetabled guidance lessons each year. Ideally, this should be arranged on a rolling modular basis to accommodate all class groups. Some of these guidance lessons should be scheduled to take place in the ICT room. These timetabled lessons would support the effective delivery of the guidance programmes to groups, encourage more individual investigation by students of possible career paths, and augment the one-to-one support already being provided by the guidance counsellor. A greater concentration in the senior cycle guidance programmes on the investigation of subject and career options in peer settings, and the exploration, using ICT, of websites such as: Qualifax www.qualifax.ie, Careersdirections and Careersportal is recommended. These sessions would also facilitate more dialogue taking place between the guidance counsellor and students about the establishment of personal-career goals. Through these sessions the linkages between the subjects chosen for the Leaving Certificate and career opportunities could be stressed. As already stated, the importance of subjects being taken at the correct levels for the Leaving Certificate to achieve career goals must be given more emphasis, as taking subjects at the wrong level can impact negatively on students’ career choices and limit their future options.
More integration of Guidance into subject-department planning in all subjects is also recommended. Advice for students about careers should also be available from subject teachers who are specialist in their own fields of learning. The development of career-focussed learning objectives for students that are fully integrated into subject teaching, would support further the delivery of Guidance across the whole curriculum.
A range of outside speakers is arranged to address students’ interests and expand their knowledge about careers and the world of work. Visits to college open days and to other career events are also arranged annually. It is recommended that a description of all these guidance interventions be included in the school guidance plan.
Students wishing to make the transition to third-level education receive good assistance to explore viable options and to make applications to the Central Applications Office (CAO) for entry to universities and colleges in Ireland, and the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) for application to third-level programmes in the United Kingdom and in Northern Ireland where this is appropriate.
Students who choose progression routes into Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses and to FÁS or other training options are also facilitated in every way. Parents are kept informed at parents’ events, through the school newsletter and through one-to-one meetings arranged with staff.
Management is very supportive of staff engaging in continuous professional development (CPD) and attending supervision sessions for counselling. This is commended.
In the course of the inspection of Guidance, one senior cycle fifth-year group was visited. An invited guest from the Health Service Executive (HSE) was introduced to speak about careers in the areas of medicine and care support. In previous guidance lessons, students had received information about careers in medicine and health care, and interests had been expressed in exploring these careers in more depth. The desire to meet with someone who has first-hand knowledge of working in the area of health was taken up by the guidance counsellor. Thus prepared, students were able to engage with the topic and with the speaker. Questions were asked by students that displayed a good understanding about the wide range of careers available throughout the health service.
The methodology selected to present and develop the topic was well chosen and appropriate to the age and developmental level of the students. Good advance planning was in evidence and viable learning objectives were established from the outset with students. The layout of the room was conducive to effective communication between the guest speaker, the guidance counsellor and students. The topic was well introduced. Good and informative support materials were supplied. All of the students were actively engaged and demonstrated good listening skills and and attended diligently.
Classroom management was excellent with students displaying an orderly approach to learning. Follow up on the lesson was signalled at the end of the session.
The current school guidance plan does not document the range of tests and interest inventories to be administered to students. The suitability of tests is however, reviewed regularly within the school. It is advised that reference should be made to the Circular Letter 0009/2007 on testing in schools, which is available at www.education.ie to assist with the selection of tests for Guidance and learning support. This circular is updated annually. It is suggested also that administration of the AH2 test should be phased out, and that a more suitable test be considered in line with the school’s assessment policy.
The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATS) is administered to all students, who then receive individual feedback on their results. This is being used effectively to assist students to make subject choices in senior cycle. The use of a wider range of aptitude tests and interest inventories is however, encouraged.
Good records of all one-to-one sessions held with students and of all follow-up actions to be taken are maintained. Individual student files are compiled and stored appropriately to provide maximum individual support. The initial destinations of students leaving the school are not however, currently being formally mapped. To inform future guidance and whole-school planning, and staff who provide a range of support for students, it is recommended that the initial destinations of all students leaving the school should be collated annually.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Students who are making all transitions have support from Guidance.
· Guidance links with the SPHE and TY programmes.
· Guidance is integrated with counselling and is available for all students.
· Each senior cycle student is assisted through Guidance to develop a personal-career plan.
· Work has now begun on drafting a school-guidance plan.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that a guidance-planning group be created that includes the guidance counsellor. This group should begin by conducting an analysis of students’ needs and then support the development of a whole-school guidance plan. Once drafted, this plan should be put for consultation to staff, students and parents, and then to the board of management. This plan should be reviewed annually.
· It is recommended that a module of timetabled guidance lessons be arranged for each class in senior cycle.
· It is important that junior cycle students be encouraged to begin exploring possible career options before making subject choices for senior cycle. It is recommended therefore that a number of lessons focussing on career topics be arranged for second-year and third-year class groups in co-operation with SPHE.
· It is recommended that the initial destinations of all students leaving the school be mapped annually to inform school and guidance planning.
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.
Published November 2008