An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


 Subject Inspection of Guidance



St Mary’s Diocesan School

Drogheda, County Louth

Roll number: 63841E


Date of inspection:  11 May 2006

Date of issue of report:  26 October 2006





This Subject Inspection report

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

School Response to the Report



Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance


This Subject Inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in St.Mary’s Diocesan School, Drogheda. 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 a classroom, viewed Guidance facilities, interacted with students, held discussions with the principal, the guidance counsellors and with a small group of 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 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 to this report.



Subject Provision and Whole School Support


St. Mary’s Diocesan School, an all boys’ Catholic Voluntary Secondary School, and one of two all boys’ schools in Drogheda, is celebrating the fortieth anniversary of its foundation. The school caters for students from diverse backgrounds and currently there is an enrolment of 723 including 2 non-national students and 1 student from the travelling community.  Enrolment numbers are growing at present and approximately one third of students come from the town with the majority of students travelling by bus from a catchment area of ten miles which encompasses parts of counties Louth and Meath.


The school receives an ex quota allocation of 30 hours for guidance and counselling from the Department of Education and Science (DES). A further 2 hours have been allocated by the Special Education Needs Organiser (SENO) for counselling support for a student.  Two guidance counsellors collaborate to deliver the guidance provision.  The principal reports that a whole school approach to guidance delivery is developing in St. Mary’s.  This is commended.


St. Mary’s also has the services of a part-time chaplain and a Home-School-Community Liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator paid for by the school.  This level of support for students is commended. One of the guidance counsellors co-ordinates the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme in junior cycle and teaches the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) element of the programme in 6th year. Currently St. Mary’s does not have the services of a designated National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) psychologist.


Guidance classes are provided in senior cycle and in Transition Year (TY).  Classes for Guidance are borrowed from other teachers in 3rd year and small group work has been provided this year in 1st year. Individual appointments are provided throughout the school on request or by referral.   With the added allocation this year the imbalance between guidance provision in junior and senior cycles is being addressed and individual interviews have been provided for all 1st year students to support the settling in process.  This is commended.


St. Mary’s School has very good facilities for Guidance in the form of two offices with computer and broadband access.  At present the smaller office, a temporary facility, does not have phone, shelving or storage.  It is recommended that the school would review how this accommodation could be improved as more space becomes available in the buildings. The excellent facilities in the larger office accommodate small group work and also houses career materials. 


A well stocked careers’ library forms part of the school library and currently the Parents’ Council is collaborating with the guidance counsellor to re-catalogue the guidance materials there.  This is an excellent model of co-operation and involvement with parents. Students have access to the library before lessons begin and at lunch time. A display board for Guidance notices is regularly updated.  Access to the computer rooms for guidance classes is limited.  It is recommended that, in the course of school planning, the school would explore and discuss these arrangements with the teachers of ICT in order to formalise access for Guidance class groups.


There is a good sense of care for students in the school as evidenced by the supports and initiatives available to students.  Currently a pastoral care system of guidance counsellors, HSCL co-ordinator, learning support, year heads, class tutors, part-time chaplain and prefects operates in the school, linked with SPHE.  Meetings of each year group team are held twice each term. Pastoral care issues and concerns are also discussed at the fortnightly meetings of management and year heads. Case conferences involving all personnel working with individual students are held as required.  This practice is commended. Notwithstanding all these supports and the ongoing informal contact with tutors and year heads, it is recommended that the school would explore the establishment of a more formal structure for the student care/support team with regular, minuted meetings.  Such a collaborative care team approach would further enhance the good work that is already being done and would facilitate the transfer of information on students and ensure that students at risk are identified and supported as early as possible.  The Guidance department has already identified a need for a policy of transfer of information on students and this will be addressed in the course of Guidance planning.


The Rainbows Programme, which is supported by the Parents’ Council is offered throughout the school by 8 members of staff who have received training. This level of commitment is commended.  The guidance counsellors report good support for Guidance from school management.  Links with senior management are maintained with regular informal meetings.  Students are referred to the Guidance department by class tutors, year heads, parents or they self refer. Referrals by the guidance counsellors and the resource teacher to the HSE, Special Education Needs Organiser (SENO) and Youthreach are effected in consultation with the principal and parents. 


A small charge for the administration of the DATs provides an annual budget for Guidance.  Other funding for resources is provided on request. 



Planning and Preparation


To date a lot of work has been done by the guidance counsellors in guidance planning and priorities for the current year have been identified based on an evaluation of the guidance service. This is commended. One of the priorities was to formalise the planning process and to this end a committee of seven staff members led by the guidance counsellors has been established and work on the Guidance plan has been initiated.  Input from parents, staff and students is planned for next year.  It is commendable that the Guidance department has completed a detailed review of the guidance service which will inform the planning process. A student needs’ analysis vis-à-vis provision and delivery should be carried out also to inform the planning process. Student surveys which are completed biennially will also contribute to this procedure. Feedback received from the TY work experience employers will be another useful evaluation source.  It is recommended that the school would consider input from representative(s) of the local business community into the planning process.


St. Mary’s School has also completed preliminary work on a response to critical incidents and a Response Team is being developed. This is commended.  It is recommended that the school would network with local schools in this regard as such collaboration will provide support and assist all participants. It is recommended also that the school would engage with a NEPS psychologist in preparing the final draft of the policy document.


Programmes for guidance provision and delivery in each year group have been completed. St. Mary’s has a transition programme for incoming students which begins with an open day for prospective students and their parents.  The principal and members of staff visit the primary feeder schools and the principal reports good collaboration and feedback from primary teachers.  Appointments are made with all parents of students with any special education needs before entry to St. Mary’s and students’ progress is monitored in the school.


The school also hosts an information evening for prospective parents and students during which an input is delivered by the guidance counsellor. The guidance counsellors are available to meet with individual parents or appointments are arranged. An induction day is held for incoming 1st years before classes begin during which the guidance counsellors and the guidance service are introduced.  Science and a modern language are core subjects in junior cycle. In first year students choose optional subjects from two bands of three subjects each. Subject sampling is provided for students and it is planned to extend these taster subjects next year.  This is commended as students are afforded the opportunity to make an informed choice for Junior Certificate. It is recommended that the school ensures that parents are informed of the import of subject and level choice as students decide subjects. Next year the school also plans to increase the level of support provided for parents of first year students. This is commended.


Guidance is delivered in conjunction with the SPHE, Physical Education (PE) and Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) programmes, Religion and Art in junior cycle.  This collaboration and cross-curricular, integrated approach to guidance delivery are commended. First year classes now have access to group or class guidance as well as individual appointments and 2nd year students are offered individual appointments as requested. The guidance counsellor borrows classes to provide a guidance module for 3rd years on decision-making, post-Junior Certificate choices, programme and subject choice for senior cycle.


In preparation for subject choice in 3rd year subject teachers rotate classes to provide information to students on senior cycle subjects.  This collaborative approach is co-ordinated by the guidance counsellor and is commended.  Students attend a careers’ exploration session organised in collaboration with the other schools in the town. Students met with in the course of the evaluation found impartial information on subjects to be very valuable in deciding subjects for senior cycle. They consider Guidance classes to be very helpful and believe classes should be obligatory and would like more career information while in junior cycle.


The school hosts an information session for parents of 3rd year on subject choice and the TY option.  Parents met with during the evaluation praised the school and the Guidance department for the advice, support, resources and tools available to students and parents to assist with subject and programme choice.  In the past the school has offered the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) however numbers opting for the programme did not warrant its continuation.  It is suggested that the school reconsider how this programme could be successfully introduced into the curriculum.


The guidance counsellor works closely with the HSCL to promote school attendance and continuation in education.  A homework club is organised by the HSCL co-ordinator and individual support is offered by the guidance counsellor and the HSCL co-ordinator to students considering leaving school early.  Parents are welcome and encouraged to meet with management and student support personnel to discuss plans. The school reports good collaboration from the local SENO and the attendance officer in school monitors attendance with special reference to students at risk of early school leaving.


The TY is optional and at present there is one class group. Guidance is timetabled for one class period per week.  Topics covered include research skills, career investigation, identification of personal strengths, skills and interests. An outside agency provides a module on job-search skills including mock interviews. In 5th year guidance classes are provided on a modular basis with Life Skills, Computers and PE. Students develop research and job search skills, explore their skills and interests and compile a personal profile sheet.  Within the 6th year programme students explore career areas and options of education, training and work. FETAC and HETAC options and college costs are considered as well as job application procedures, stress and study management. Information and support is provided for students applying to UCAS.


Students have access to videos, QualifaX and Career Directions. The Guidance department operates a system of access to the computer and printer in the library for guidance purposes.  This facility is used mainly by senior students by means of a permission slip from the guidance counsellor and the teacher. Senior students also have access to the main computer room at lunch time a number of days per week.  This is commended, as it encourages independent learning and self management skills. A compulsory study skills programme, organised by year heads, was introduced in the current school year for all senior cycle students.


Students attend college open days and other career and course information events. Representatives from colleges and training organisations visit the school to provide talks and visits out are organised for students.  St. Mary’s has established good links with the Drogheda College of Further Education and the Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKIT) which offers workshops in electronics and computers for students as well as a panel of guest speakers.  Parents met with during the evaluation would like to see more structured links with third level colleges developed and more past students returning to the school as guest speakers to share their experience and act as role models. These possibilities should be considered and explored by the school. Perhaps parents could also contribute to the process.


In collaboration with management and using the options facility programme, one of the guidance counsellors co-ordinates subject choice for senior cycle. St. Mary’s offers a wide choice of approximately twenty subjects. An open choice initiates the process with option groupings being defined as students work on their choices. At present the school is considering changing some of the subjects offered.  Students met with during the evaluation support this and would like to see subjects such as Music mainstreamed.  It is suggested that St Mary’s could liaise with another school in the town to collaborate in this regard.


Parents met with during the evaluation state that the school operates an open door approach to parents. There is evidence of good collaboration between parents and the school and in particular with the Guidance department. This is commended. Currently the Parents’ Council is trying to promote stronger links with the Students’ Council and to involve them proactively in environmental and energy issues. The Parents’ Council organises talks for parents and is appreciative of the help given to students in SPHE, RSE classes and in pastoral care.  They consider that Guidance provides a direction for life and merits a greater emphasis in junior cycle.


The guidance counsellors provide an input into all information sessions for parents and attend  parent/teacher meetings  Parents would like to see the names of the guidance counsellors listed with all the subject areas for these meetings. The school reports good response from parents to invitations to contact and/or meet with the guidance counsellor. Parents praised the approachability of the guidance personnel and appreciate the many opportunities offered to meet with the guidance counsellors individually. A biennial information session is also provided for parents of 6th year to outline the CAO/UCAS, apprenticeship and grants systems.


Apart from links established with industry through the work experience programme it is commendable that the school also liaises with a number of organisations to provide information and support for students e.g Colleges of Higher and Further Education, HSE, FÁS, Youthreach, local youth projects and local gardaí.  Meetings of all agencies who offer support to young people in the Drogheda area are held at regular intervals and presentations are made by representatives on their area of work and expertise. This is commended as a successful model of networking and professional peer support.


The guidance counsellors are members of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) and the school facilitates attendance at relevant guidance events, local and national in-service and at the monthly supervision sessions to support counselling.



Teaching and Learning


In the course of the evaluation one 6th year class was visited. The lesson was very well planned and structured, including the advance preparation of the Sasco chart with lesson title. As the classroom in use is not conducive to group work it is recommended that the school would review the allocation of rooms in the course of guidance planning.


There was evidence of continuity with previous lessons. This is commended.  The aim of the lesson, which was clearly explained to students, was to identify and discuss how feelings fit into relationships. This content forms part of the RSE programme which the guidance counsellor covers with the senior students.   The pace and content of the lesson was appropriate to the class group.   


A variety of methodologies was employed beginning with a handout of the lyrics of a song which was played on tape.  Students were asked to listen to the lyrics, identify feelings and pay attention to the contribution of the piano in the piece. This was followed by excellent feedback from the students.  The use of cards with written feelings was introduced and students were invited to share examples of each feeling with the class. Work began with the guidance counsellor sharing feelings with the class. Students who wished to “pass” were allowed to do so. This particular part of the lesson was handled in a very sensitive and caring manner and with the use of humour.


Group work afforded students the opportunity to list emotions that are generally difficult to deal with and discuss how the students themselves cope with these.  Feedback from groups was via a rapporteur and a list noted on the chart.  Students were then invited to select the two feelings most difficult to deal with and numbers involved were noted on the chart.  The guidance counsellor used questioning to check understanding and initiate comment and discussion. A friendly and relaxed class atmosphere encouraged engagement and participation on the part of students.


Good rapport and mutual respect were evident between guidance counsellor and students.  Feelings were discussed in an open and non-judgemental atmosphere.  Students were at ease with the content and received positive affirmation and encouragement. Continuity was maintained by reference to discussion topics in the following lesson.  It is recommended that time be allocated in the planning of lessons to deal with any negative feelings that may be evoked for students in the course of dealing with particular content. Students may also require individual support and this should be included in the planning of time allocation.



Assessment and Achievement


Testing in junior cycle is largely diagnostic and norm-referenced numeracy and literacy tests are used to identify students in need of extra support. The Guidance department is considering the introduction of a spatial intelligence test to assist students with particular gifts in this area.


This year students in 3rd year were given the opportunity to complete the Eirquest Careers Questionnaire to assist subject choice and to identify areas of strength.  Reports are returned to students and a guidance counsellor meets with each student to explore and discuss the report.  Interest Inventories such as the Rothwell Miller are used in 3rd and 5th years.


The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) are administered in 6th year. The Thurstone Interest Inventory and Incomplete Sentence Blank are used to assist career and course choice.  Feedback on tests results is provided during individual appointments and a written summary of results and the session recommendations are given to each individual.


Other instruments used are the Cambridge Profile Aptitude Tests, Problem Analysis Test, Beck Depression Inventory. As a fee is required for some of these tests it is recommended that the school ensures that no student chooses to forego testing due to any financial constraints.


Tracking of Leaving Certificate students is done by the guidance counsellor over a two year period.  Past students are encouraged and welcome to return to school in September or to meet with the guidance counsellor for further support, information and advice.  Evaluation of the Guidance programme is carried out by means of a survey of 6th year students every second year.


Profiling of students begins during the transition into the school and is added to as students progress through the school.  With more access to guidance now available in junior cycle it will be possible to have regular updates at an earlier stage for all students.



Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations


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 the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
























School Response to the Report


Submitted by the Board of Management





Area 2:   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the   inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection


The second Guidance teacher has been provided with a fully fitted office, internet and telephone facilities and a computer.   The office observed at the time of the inspection was a temporary provision.