An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Coláiste an Chroí Naofa,
Carraig na bhFear, County Cork
Roll number: 62130M
Date of inspection: 10 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste an Chroí Naofa, Carraig na bhFear. 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 parents 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 counsellor. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Coláiste an Chroí Naofa is set in a pastoral landscape near the village of Carraig na bhFear, north of Cork city. It was established in 1950 as a boys’ boarding school and seminary by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. It is the congregation’s only school in Ireland. In 1987 the school became co-educational and in 1995 boarding was discontinued. The congregation is one of the initiators of Catholic Education - An Irish Schools’ Trust (CEIST) and maintains close contact with the school. The current chairperson of the board of management is a member of the congregation and past principal of the school. The catchment area is large, extending from the city to Rathduff and encompassing fourteen feeder primary schools. Enrolment is growing and is currently at its highest level ever.
Levels of support for students in the school are very high. A stated aim of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart is to strive to create communities built on compassion, empathy, hospitality, humour and mutual respect. The quality of support is exemplified by the collaboration of staff at all levels and indicates that the values underpinning this aim are firmly held and lived.
The allocation for Guidance is appropriately and efficiently used. The current allocation is of seventeen hours per week, eleven of which are used by the guidance counsellor in all aspects of Guidance, and the remaining six hours are used by the chaplain mainly in one-to-one and small-group support of students at junior level. One-to-one work at senior level is mainly, but not exclusively, carried out by the guidance counsellor. This arrangement facilitates inputs into all classes and groups and provides a balanced and well-considered service. The school has the potential to raise enrolment to more than five hundred students. Under those circumstances the allocation for Guidance would rise to twenty-four hours per week in accordance with Circular PPT12/05.
Senior classes are timetabled for one session of Guidance per week and much of the guidance programme at junior level is delivered through Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE).
Both the guidance counsellor and chaplain are qualified in their respective areas and use their skills and training to good effect. The division of guidance hours between them is a creative response to the practicalities of the situation. The guidance counsellor is currently employed in a job-sharing capacity for eleven hours per week, all of which are devoted to Guidance. The chaplain had been originally provided under the auspices of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and is now a permanent whole-time member of staff with teaching and support functions. The responsibilities related to the roles of guidance counsellor and chaplain are well understood and discussed at weekly pastoral team meetings. The team comprises the guidance counsellor, chaplain, and three other staff members, one of whom is special educational needs (SEN) convenor. This group is commended for its professional approach to its work of monitoring the needs of students and responding to those needs in an efficient and co-ordinated manner. Channels of communication between the team and management are very good and enhance the value of the team’s work to the overall running of the school.
The facilities provided for Guidance are very good. A well-located room is used as the guidance office and counselling room and is suitably equipped for both purposes. A computer with printer and broadband access, a telephone, shelving and secure storage have been provided. A small guidance library is housed in the room and includes items related to vocational, educational and personal Guidance. Students who do not have access to ICT at home are encouraged to use the guidance facilities to complete on-line application forms such as those provided by the CAO and UCAS.
Referrals are managed by the pastoral team in conjunction with senior and middle-management. A year head system is in operation. Because of the formal and informal structures of the school, information is passed easily and effectively between relevant staff and, through the middle-management structure of year heads and class teachers, to and from parents. The school has a parents’ association and a student council. The student council is democratically elected. Each year group is represented by two members and student issues are mediated through the council. Regular contact is maintained with parents through term reports, information meetings, parent-teacher meetings and by personal contacts. In accordance with the Child Protection Guidelines which have been adopted by the board of management, the Designated Liaison Person is the principal. Links have been established with the National Educational Psychological Service and with social services provided by the Health Service Executive. Reports from the Psychological Service are normally dealt with by the SEN convenor in collaboration with the pastoral team and management.
A critical incident plan has been devised by the school in response to perceived needs. It is reported by the principal and members of the guidance team that the procedures established in the plan have been effective in dealing with such incidents
The personal plan and programme of the guidance counsellor are very comprehensive. It is noted that, in addition to hours officially reckoned for purposes of service, many hours are devoted to additional work with staff, students and parents. While whole-school guidance planning has been mainly on an informal level to date, the systems already in place have been effective in bringing coherence to the existing supports. An excellent opportunity to formalise whole-school guidance planning exists in the pastoral team. It is generally recommended that the steering group be small. For guidance planning it is recommended that those centrally involved in student support, normally the guidance counsellor, chaplain and special educational needs co-ordinator would have, at least, some involvement with the steering group. The pastoral team at Coláiste an Chroí Naofa fulfils these criteria and has some standing within the school. It is recommended that the team should begin the process of formal, whole-school Guidance planning. It is envisaged that the process would initially involve contact with the regional School Development Planning Initiative co-ordinator and a review and prioritisation of student needs. Interaction with students during the inspection revealed a willingness to engage in such a process which might be managed by collaboration with the student council.
A number of documents have been published recently regarding the nature and planning of whole-school Guidance. These include Guidelines for second-level schools on the implications of Section 9(c) of the Education Act (1998), relating to students' access to appropriate guidance published by the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science (2005), NCGE (2004) Planning the School Guidance Programme, and documents to be found on the SDPI website at http://www.sdpi.ie and on the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE) website at http://www.ncge.ie/documents/Guide_Counselling.pdf. An accredited guidance planning course is also being run currently by the NCGE. An item for consideration in longer term planning is the use of additional hours allocated to Guidance which would follow, should enrolment exceed five hundred students.
Appropriate Guidance is being provided at all levels, from pre-induction to post-leaving. The guidance counsellor visits up to fourteen primary schools in the catchment in October each year. A one-hour presentation is given which introduces pupils and interested primary teachers to Coláiste an Chroí Naofa and is a lead-in to the open evening arranged in the school at the end of October. The guidance counsellor attends the evening and arranges other information evenings for parents. Each aspiring entrant is interviewed with a parent by the guidance counsellor, principal or deputy principal during November. Students undergo a programme of induction in the early days of first year. The programme is designed to ease new students into the routines of secondary school and is followed up during SPHE classes, by individual interviews with the chaplain and by inputs from subject teachers.
Subjects for the State examinations are chosen at the end of first, third and fourth year. Decisions regarding the choice of optional programmes are made in third year in the case of those who opt for the Transition Year Programme or following Leaving Certificate subject choice in the case of those who opt for the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme. Information sessions for parents are arranged by the guidance counsellor. An aim of these sessions is to encourage parents to supplement class work with discussion at home about the issues related to subject and programme choice.
The system of subject choice is based on student preference and is effective, balanced and fair. The advice of the guidance counsellor is sought in relation to the range and balance of subjects on offer although it is usually found that, following an analysis of student preferences, the existing pools of subjects require only minor modification.
The school has two computer laboratories, one only recently installed and commissioned. Student access to the rooms is freely available, subject to the usual restrictions. Guidance classes are either timetabled for one of the rooms or may be arranged through the ICT co-ordinator. Individual students may also use the computer in the guidance counsellor’s office for, for example, CAO applications, on-line interest inventories or for general information.
The guidance counsellor is a member of a supervision group established with Department of Education and Science funding by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) and has participated in psychometric assessment training and other continuing professional development opportunities arranged by the IGC and other organisations. Open days and information sessions are attended by the guidance counsellor as the need arises. Some staff members have had training and experience in programmes such as Seedlings, a peer group grief support programme for young people aged between twelve and eighteen years, and in training programmes run by the Cork Social and Health Education Project. The commitment of staff to such ongoing professional and personal development is worthy of note.
The theme of the class observed was the National Qualifications Framework. Additional items included the ladder of progression through Institutes of Technology, a good illustration of which is to be found in the Cork Institute of Technology prospectus. Announcements about impending college open days were also made and guidelines given to those attending. Good use was made of the available resources. The blackboard was used to illustrate aspects of the qualifications framework and, in response to a question, to demonstrate the workings of an aspect of the points system for entry to higher education. A chart of the National Qualifications Framework was used and students were encouraged to refer to illustrations of the framework placed on a notice board used for Guidance purposes in the school corridor. A handout of questions to be asked was distributed to aid students attending the open days of course providers. It might be useful if the blank back of such handouts were used for additional information such as the chart of the National Qualifications Framework or information which might signal the content of future sessions.
The atmosphere in the classroom was calm and the use of some good humour was effective in prompting discussion. Students were attentive and followed the instructions of the teacher. Some questions were asked by students to clarify points made. The room used for these classes is in an area of the school which has been proposed for development and is furnished with heavy desks which are not ideal for Guidance purposes, especially for small group work where some flexibility in desk arrangement is desirable. Good use was made of teacher movement about the room and had the effect of maintaining the attention of students throughout the lesson.
The lesson ended with a brief summary of the programme to follow in future sessions.
Assessment of incoming first years is carried out in March prior to entry in a Saturday morning session. Assessment of general ability and of reading skills is carried out. Test results are used for monitoring and diagnostic purposes. Teaching in first year is on the basis of mixed ability and the results of the assessments are used to ensure an even distribution of talents through all classes. Monitoring of student progress and further diagnostic testing takes place throughout their schooling, particularly in first year. This is managed by the guidance counsellor and Special Educational Needs convenor in collaboration with management and staff. The instruments used have been thoughtfully chosen and satisfy the needs of the school. The system has proven to be equitable and is commended.
A range of interest inventories are used, particularly at senior level. These include the web-based Qualifax and Career Directions questionnaires and other paper-based inventories and interest blanks, used to stimulate discussion in classes and in follow-up one-to-one sessions. High ethical standards are apparent in the documentation and general approach to all tests and instruments.
Student destinations after leaving the school are tracked by the guidance counsellor by means of telephone calls to the homes of those who have left.
Good record-keeping has provided a firm foundation for the advancement of guidance planning as proposed in the recommendations. Records are kept of all meetings with students and of subsequent actions. Meetings with staff on guidance issues are minuted. All records are filed and kept in secure storage. It is reported by the guidance team that the keeping of such records and the formal reporting of the outcomes of the meetings has had positive effects on guidance planning, particularly in the promotion of collaborative practice and in the elimination of service overlaps.
The following are the main strengths 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 counsellor and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.