An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Our Lady’s School
Templeogue Road,Terenure,Dublin 6W
Roll number: 60860Q
Date of inspection: 23 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Our Lady’s School, Templeogue Road, Terenure Dublin 6W. 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 held discussions with the principal, the two guidance counsellors, viewed guidance facilities, visited a classroom, observed a Guidance class, interacted with students 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 of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Our Lady’s is a single sex girls’ school with a current enrolment of 725 students. It is a long established school and it receives three applications for every first year place available. There is a six year waiting list for places. A number of factors contribute to this: prior to the development of this part of the city and surrounding areas, students attended Our Lady’s from as far away as Blessington and this tradition continues, despite the availability of closer schools for a number of its students. The immediate area around the school continues to be developed, with young families moving into new housing developments.
A new extension to the school has been approved which will provide additional classrooms and offices. It will include facilities for Technology, Home Economics, Science, Art and it will have two lecture theatres. It is planned to introduce Technology into the curriculum when the facility becomes available in 2009.
Students from the local primary school have automatic entry to Our Lady’s but all others must apply and places are given to these applicants strictly by application date. Apart from the main feeder school, applications for places come from nineteen other primary schools. Students come from mixed backgrounds and while they are mainly from suburban areas, some come from areas outside of the city. There are currently thirty five students with special needs attending the school and there is a learning support teacher and three part time resource teachers to cater for these students. There is a strong emphasis on holistic education and care for students in the school. The care system operates vertically as well as horizontally. All classes have a form teacher and all years have a year head. In addition, a vertical ‘House’ system operates in the school. There are five houses, and every class, from first to sixth year, is assigned to one of the five houses. A councillor (a sixth year student) is elected every year for each class and represents that class in the house. The councillors receive training and meet every second week. House activities such as sporting activities, debates, talent competitions are planned and all students become involved to represent their house. On the day of the visit, one of the houses was planning its annual house mass. Students from the house were engaged in the preparation of posters, decorations and in making all arrangements for the mass.
The school receives thirty ex quota hours per week from the Department for Guidance and all of the hours are being allocated for this purpose. Two qualified guidance counsellors deliver the Guidance programme. The school has a well established Guidance service but both of the current guidance counsellors are new to the school and at the time of the visit one had been in the school for a matter of weeks. Most of the Guidance programme is delivered on an individual basis. Transition Years have a weekly Guidance class. In all other years, classes are borrowed as required. Sixth years have two periods per week during lunch hour for Guidance. In discussion with sixth year students, a preference for more Guidance classes was expressed, but there was dissatisfaction with the current arrangement of having classes during lunchtime. It is recommended that this situation be reviewed.
Facilities for Guidance are excellent; each guidance counsellor has a well equipped office with access to the internet, secure filing systems and adequate space for materials. There is a careers section in the school library and there are well placed display boards for guidance related notices. There are two computer rooms in the school and there are three computers and a printer in the library. Students have access to all of these facilities for guidance purposes.
There are structured links between the guidance counsellors and other members of care teams and between the guidance counsellors and management. A new referral system to the guidance counsellors is being developed with the aim of ensuring better communication between staff and counsellors in relation to students’ needs. This system involves an effective method of continuous communication between guidance counsellors, other members of the care teams and subject teachers from the time a problem is identified. Guidelines have been developed to assist teachers: to identify students who may be experiencing personal difficulties; with the steps to take to refer them to a guidance counsellor; and on how to become involved in helping them through the difficulty. As part of the new referral system to a guidance counsellor, a referral form has been developed which is to be completed by the form teacher or year head after consultation with a subject teacher/s concerning a student. When the student has been seen by a guidance counsellor, her needs are discussed with the year head and other members of the care team. Guidelines will be available to subject teachers to assist them in helping the student. Confidentiality is maintained as appropriate. This inclusive and structured referral and communication system is commended as best practice. However, it is not clear from the documentation provided by the school whether the current practice of self referral to a guidance counsellor is to continue and if it is how it will be managed. The school needs to have a clear policy concerning self referral in the context of planning and time management as well as in the context of its policy on communication between guidance counsellors and staff.
The school has a crisis response plan. A crisis team has been established and a strategy developed which includes guidelines for all staff members on actions to be taken in the event of a critical incident.
The Guidance planning process has commenced in the school. Consultation with the whole staff has taken place. A planning team, which includes the guidance counsellors, the principal and the learning support teacher meet weekly to progress the plan. This structured approach to planning is commended and it is recommended that in the further development of the plan that the team access the template on guidance planning which is available on the Department’s website: www.education.ie. This template has links to a number of documents which have been developed in response to the requirement of the Education Act 1998 that schools provide all students with access to appropriate guidance.
The principal and year heads of first years visit the feeder primary schools and provide the guidance counsellors with information about the incoming first years. The principal and the sixth class teachers of the main feeder school visit Our Lady’s and meet with the guidance counsellors. An information evening is held for the parents of the incoming students.
The guidance counsellors have access to first year classes by borrowing them from other subjects, and visit each class to introduce themselves and to explain what Guidance is about. At the time of the visit, a file was being set up on each student. The guidance counsellors hope to introduce a buddy system for first years. The guidance counsellors also liaise with teachers and members of the care team to monitor and support students in their transition to second level school.
First years study all subjects offered in the junior cycle. Science is a core subject and optional subjects are provided either by two periods per week throughout the year or by a module of a half year. Students receive help with subject choice at the end of first year when they make their choices of optional subjects for second year. This arrangement is commended as it allows students to make choices on an informed basis.
The guidance counsellors borrow classes from other subjects to deliver the guidance programme to second years. The programme consists of activities to assist students develop self management skills and includes: study skills, bullying, self esteem, coping with change; particularly during adolescence. The programme also includes an introduction to careers. Year heads and form teachers teach Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and the guidance counsellors liaise with them in relation to the planning and delivery of the common aspects of the Guidance and SPHE curricula. This collaboration is commended as it ensures that there is coordination in the planning and delivery of the aspects of the two subjects which interlink. Students are seen on a one-to-one basis if required.
The guidance counsellors have access to third years for class activities, as required. The guidance programme in third year includes a greater focus on careers and work. A study skills seminar is provided. Preparation for the Junior Certificate examination covers examination technique and coping with stress. As Transition Year is mandatory in the school, all students are introduced to the programme in third year.
All students take Transition Year (TY) which has been running in the school for over thirty years. All TY classes have a weekly Guidance class. They study all subjects on the school’s senior cycle curriculum. Business Studies is introduced in TY, it is not available in junior cycle. Classical Studies is also introduced in TY. Work experience and community work form part of the TY programme and students are prepared for these placements. They are introduced to Qualifax and Careers World and take interest inventories and the Differential Aptitude Tests (DATS). Subject teachers provide information on their respective subjects to facilitate students’ subject choice for the Leaving Certificate. Students are met individually to receive feedback on tests taken and they receive advice, based on the results, on possible subject options for the Leaving Certificate. The guidance counsellors attend the TY parent/teacher meeting.
All students follow the Leaving Certificate (established) programme. It is recommended that the possibility of introducing the two other Leaving Certificate programmes be considered, given the range of ability levels in the school as well as the future plans to widen the curriculum when the new extension to the school is completed.
All fifth year students are met individually and have some Guidance classes for group activities. They attend careers lectures which are provided during last class every second Friday. Students are given a choice between two lectures. It is recommended that the timing and choices available to students should maximise the benefits of this important activity.
The guidance programme for fifth years is comprehensive. In addition to information, students are provided with opportunities to develop life skills, to engage in career exploration and to visit career events and training centres. The inclusion of a focus on non traditional careers such as engineering and careers in the Defence Forces and Navy is commended.
All sixth years are met individually and have a weekly Guidance class which is held during lunch time. It is recommended that the timing of this class be reviewed. Students get a list of all college open days at the beginning of the year and are asked to choose the colleges and courses they are interested in with a view to being prepared to benefit from the event. They are also required to give feedback on the visit. This approach to attendance at open days is commended as it ensures that students get optimum benefit from the event. Students also attend other career events and exhibitions. They also list careers that they wish to be covered by invited speakers. Students are also provided with information on Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses.
The school has good contact with parents. There are parent/teacher meetings and information nights for parents at which formal presentations are made by the guidance counsellors. Booklets are prepared for parents on aspects of the school life, such as TY. An excellent booklet has been prepared to provide information to students and their parents before students make their subject choice for the Leaving Certificate. The booklet provides information on application procedures and entry requirements for third level and further education colleges; specific subject and minimum grade requirements for certain courses; advice on the value of specific subjects for areas of study and for employment.
The school has contact with the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) and with other local support services. The support from NEPS is welcomed by the school but concern was expressed about the length of waiting lists for clinical appointments.
The guidance counsellors are encouraged and facilitated to engage in continuous professional development (CPD) and attend the professional supervision programme provided through the Education Centres.
A class with sixth years was observed. This class was held during lunchtime and was delivered by both guidance counsellors who worked as a team. As the class was only thirty minutes in duration, the guidance counsellors had to move swiftly to cover all planned topics. It was a well prepared class and covered a range of guidance issues. Students were reminded about college open days and provided with any required information. They already had a list of the days, so it was not necessary to spend much time on the issue. Information was provided on new courses and on cancelled courses in the various third level colleges. Information was also provided on PLCs and the progression routes from PLCs to third level courses were explained, using the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). A PowerPoint presentation was used to explain the Framework and the level to which various qualifications were assigned. Aspects of the Central Applications Office (CAO) system were also explained. The use of PowerPoint made the explanations very clear, particularly the levels of the NFQ, and enabled the guidance counsellors to move very swiftly from one topic to another. Student engagement was excellent and interaction by way of questions demonstrated the interest of the students. Aspects of the class were clearly revision or considered to be revision by the guidance counsellors. From some of the students’ questions however, it was not clear whether some of the topics covered in the class had in fact been dealt with previously. As both guidance counsellors are new to the school and could not be expected to know the learning pace of all of the students, it is accepted that they needed to cover a lot in a short time to ensure that students were prepared for applying for third level or further education courses.
The methodologies used in the delivery of the class were varied and the team approach used by the guidance counsellors provided variety in terms of presentation and interaction. The management of the class was efficient and the atmosphere relaxed, despite a packed lesson. The team planning and delivery by the guidance counsellors is commended. It is recommended that this approach might be considered in the delivery of the information aspects of the guidance programme to all senior cycle classes. If such classes were timetabled for fifth and sixth years throughout a period of the year, for example a term, with revision classes for sixth years, this would provide the guidance counsellors with more time to provide the individual counselling that is required by some students. It would also provide more time to deliver guidance classes in junior cycle.
Contact is maintained with past students and questionnaires are sent to them to obtain information about their post school study, training or career choices.
The AH2 and the Group Reading Test II (GRT II) are administered to first years. The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATS) and a range of Interest Inventories are administered to TY. These include: The Rothwell-Millar Interest Blank, Centigrade, the interests tests that are included on the Qualifax and UCAS websites. The issue of the choice of tests for first years and the purpose of administering these tests was raised with the guidance counsellors and they indicated that the whole issue of testing will be reviewed in the context of guidance planning. It is recommended that the use of the AH2 be reviewed in particular as the norms for this test are very outdated.
The guidance counsellors are updating records and establishing their record systems. Their offices are equipped with secure filing cabinets and both are familiar with statutory requirements related to the storage of information.
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 with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Obsevations on the content of the inspection report
The school and Board of Management are very happy with the content of the inspection report.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the
inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the
The school is aware that lunchtime classes for 6th yrs is a burden. Timetables by their nature are very inflexible; however we will examine this issue and would appreciate any advice/direction from the inspectorate regarding best practice in other schools.
The school will also review its practice in relation to the use of AH2 as a form of assessment and we will also look at the introduction of LCA/LCVP as a possibility