An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Fermoy, County Cork
Roll number: 62260C
Date of inspection: 18 September 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Cholmáin, Fermoy. 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 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 Cholmáin is a Catholic boys’ secondary school situated close to the centre of Fermoy, overlooking the town. The school was founded in 1858 as the Cloyne Diocesan Seminary. Its first president was Thomas William Croke, later to become Archbishop and first patron of the Gaelic Athletic Association. It was a boarding school until 2003. A large extension was added to the rear of the school in the 1960s. The impressive structure of the original school, which is still in use, is a listed building. The school has undergone some administrative changes in 2007. A new principal and deputy principal were appointed prior to the beginning of the academic year in September. One consequence, from the perspective of Guidance, was the need to employ a guidance counsellor due to the appointment of the previous incumbent as deputy principal. These developments open interesting opportunities for the school to fine-tune its guidance and student-support provision, which is already very good. The school sets out to be caring in all aspects of school life. A policy and set of procedures have been developed for dealing with instances of loss and bereavement. This report is very positive and is based on the finding that the school operates a well-integrated system of supports for students, in which the importance of Guidance is recognised and which is in keeping with the school’s ethos and stated values.
The school-going population of the region has dropped significantly since the mid-1990s. The average enrolment of students at Coláiste Cholmáin has remained relatively stable in the past five years at 365. Students come from a catchment which includes approximately twenty-five feeder primary schools. The school caters for a small number of newcomers to Ireland and for an increasing number of students with special educational needs. The collaborative work of those involved in Guidance, chaplaincy and special-educational-needs co-ordination is a particular strength of the school and the appointment of a chaplain is a further indication of regard for student support.
The school has an allocation of thirteen hours per week for Guidance from the Department of Education and Science. These hours are being used effectively. The number of students enrolled in a school is the major determinant of the allocation for Guidance. This being stable at Coláiste Cholmáin, the allocation is likely to remain at the present level for the foreseeable future. The appointment of the guidance counsellor to the post of deputy principal at a late stage has necessitated some rearrangement of plans, duties and responsibilities, including the appointment of a teacher who is currently undergoing professional training in Guidance. The availability of documents relating to the plan and programme of the guidance counsellor has ensured continuity in the provision of Guidance and the documents are a firm foundation on which to develop the whole-school plan.
The guidance counsellor’s programme is delivered mainly in the form of planned interventions in all year groups. The programme shows a good balance between interventions in the junior and senior cycles, between work with classes, small groups and individuals and between personal, educational and vocational guidance. A need has been identified for more work with second-year classes in order that the class and individual work which is done with first-year students be continued. All first-year students are met individually by the guidance counsellor on a number of occasions during the year, particularly in relation to induction and to subject choice. This issue is being considered in the context of guidance planning. The use of terminology in Guidance has changed and it is recommended that the use of the word “career” in some of the older signage and documents, the timetable for example, be identified and removed.
The programme of induction and support for incoming students is commended. First-year classes are of mixed ability and experience the full range of available subjects. Optional subjects for the Junior Certificate examination are chosen following a range of interventions by staff, including individual interviews with the guidance counsellor. The range and combination of optional subjects is mainly determined in the junior and senior cycles by the preferences of students. These processes are commended for facilitating choices based on experience.
The resources and facilities for Guidance are very good. The guidance counsellor’s office is equipped with a computer with broadband access, a printer, telephone and adequate storage facilities for records and for display purposes. The office also houses a small library of guidance-related material for consultation by students. The office is suited to use for counselling. The school’s information and communication technology (ICT) facilities are good. It is reported by the guidance counsellor that arrangements for group access to the ICT room are easily made and that individual access is usually facilitated either in the ICT room or in the guidance office. A review of the current provision is proposed in guidance planning documents.
Referrals to the guidance counsellor are made by staff, management and by self-referral of students. Referrals to outside agencies have been managed by the guidance counsellor in consultation with senior management. These arrangements will be reviewed in light of the recent changes in senior management.
The guidance service is highly commended for its comprehensive programme for all year groups and individuals, and for its collaborative practice with staff throughout the school. In particular, links with the special-educational-needs department, the chaplaincy and with senior management have established Guidance as a core element of student support in the school. This collaboration has ensured that very good use has been made of the available resources in identifying the day-to-day and long-term needs of students in their personal and academic lives. It has also ensured that responsibility for subsequent actions has been defined and that the outcomes of actions have been monitored and evaluated. Although much of this activity has been on an informal level, very good records have been kept of meetings and of actions taken. The school, in its mission statement, aspires to foster good relationships within the school, with parents and with the local community. Clear evidence was observed in the course of the inspection that this aspiration has become a reality within the school.
The guidance programme for each year group is well documented. The programme includes thorough processes at the key transitional stages of induction into the school, subject and programme choice in first year, third year and Transition Year and in the senior cycle prior to leaving the school. Guidance inputs into programmes such as Transition Year (TY), Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) are other important elements of the programme, as is individual work with students on personal, educational and vocational choices. The issue of some scarcity of inputs into second-year classes has been identified and is being addressed in the planning process. The current programme is well suited to the curriculum framework for Guidance recently proposed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). Collaboration with teachers involved in the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme, the Religious Education (RE) programme and other subjects is essential to the delivery of elements of the proposed guidance framework so that overlap may be avoided and to ensure thorough coverage of those elements which are common to the programmes and subjects. The school is well prepared in this regard and good work is already in progress.
The current guidance plan is a work in progress and has been developed through practice and consultation over the past five years. The consultative process has included presentations to staff, and the involvement of the board of management and of senior management in the development of the plan. The plan outlines the aims, activities and areas for development of Guidance at Coláiste Cholmáin and forms the basis on which to develop the whole-school guidance plan as an integral part of the school plan. A number of areas for development have been identified: the development of ICT, continuing professional development for teachers and the facilitation of more structured planning meetings. It is interesting to note that their common characteristic is that, while they are guidance issues, they are each embedded in whole-school development. The guidance counsellor is familiar with the documents related to guidance planning which have been published in the past five years. They include two documents published by the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science, namely, Guidelines for second-level schools on the implications of Section 9(c) of the Education Act 1998, relating to students' access to appropriate guidance (2005) and Review of Guidance in second-level schools (2006) and Planning the school guidance programme published by the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE). They also include web-based planning information on the websites of the Department of Education and Science at www.education.ie and of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) at www.sdpi.ie .
A further consequence of the recent senior-management changes in the school has been the deferral of a place on the modular whole-school guidance planning course being offered by the NCGE. It is anticipated by senior management that this place will be taken up in the future. It is recommended that, in the interim, some form of structured guidance-planning meetings be initiated using the structures advocated by the SDPI. That is, that a small task group be formed which would be representative of those involved in the support and care of students, that the needs of students, staff and school be reviewed and prioritised and that a plan be prepared with short-term, medium-term and long-term goals. It is envisaged that such a process could take between two and three years and would incorporate mechanisms for regular review during, and subsequent to, that time.
Policy formation is ongoing in the school. Policies which have been ratified and which have implications for the guidance programme include those related to bullying, bereavement, pastoral care and learning support. Policies on inclusion and disadvantage are being developed under the school development planning process.
In accord with relationships within the school, relationships with the wider community are reported also to be good. Strong, ongoing links have been established by staff members with local and regional agencies and individuals and these are called on as appropriate, to provide work experience, for example, and in the organisation of an annual career information day for students. Formal and informal referrals are made through personal and professional contact as the need arises. Parents are involved formally and informally in the guidance process through individual contacts, information sessions organised by the school and parent-teacher meetings. The school has a middle-management structure of year heads and class teachers. This acts as a filter of information and of issues from parents and other sources which are brought to the attention of the guidance counsellor as appropriate. The structure of the regular meetings between senior management and individual year heads which have been the norm, is currently under review, again following the recent senior-management changes.
The school supports and encourages continuing professional development of staff, including the guidance counsellor’s attendance at monthly branch meetings and other instances of professional development organised by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors.
The lesson observed was the first of a series dealing with career options for fifth-year students. It followed a series of lessons and other inputs from the guidance counsellor in the previous year which led to senior cycle subject and programme decisions. The methods used were appropriate to the size of the group of forty-eight boys. Very good use was made of a digital presentation which was colourful and informative. The use of relevant anecdotes was particularly effective in maintaining attention and in personalising the material being presented. Good examples were given of the vocational choices of past students and it was obvious that a keen interest had been taken in their career progress after secondary school. It was also noted that the knowledge of a range of detailed information displayed by the teacher about the opportunities available to students was extensive. Questions were well utilised during the lesson and, although the group was large, individual names were used in the majority of cases.
Students were calm and attentive during the lesson, responded to questions and sought clarification as needed. The room was large enough to enable movement and every opportunity was taken to move between students while maintaining eye contact with those being questioned. The lesson began and ended with summaries of previous work and of future lessons.
Assessment of incoming first-year students for reading skill and general ability is carried out in March prior to entry. General ability is assessed using a standardised instrument which is appropriate to the cohort. Test results are used for monitoring and diagnostic purposes and to ensure that first-year classes are of mixed ability. Monitoring of students’ progress and further diagnostic testing takes place throughout their schooling, particularly in first year and is managed by the special-educational-needs co-ordinator 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 is used in third year and at senior level. These include tests of interest and aptitude which are administered before subjects and programmes are chosen while in third year and Transition Year. The web-based Qualifax and Career Directions questionnaires and other paper-based inventories and interest blanks, are used to stimulate discussion in senior 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.
The initial destinations of students who have left the school are tracked by the guidance counsellor through contacts made with them, particularly in the first year after leaving.
It has already been indicated that records kept by those involved in Guidance are of a very high standard. The recommendation below regarding structured planning meetings is made with full confidence that such planning is based on existing good practice. 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.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the guidance counsellor and with the principal and guidance counsellor at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.