An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
North Circular Road, Limerick
Roll number: 64201T
Date of inspection: 25 April 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 January 2008
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardscoil Rís, Limerick. 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 two days 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 counsellors. 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.
Ardscoil Rís is a good example of a secondary school the systems, plans and programmes of which are based on firmly-held values and where the systems of guidance and support are in accord with those values and with best practice. The school is located near the centre of Limerick, to the north of the river Shannon as it flows through the city. A major extension to the school has been designed and planning for its construction is at an advanced stage. 705 boys have been enrolled in the 2006-2007 school year and it is planned that the enrolment will remain at this level for the foreseeable future. The school participates in the Limerick Area Post-Primary Schools Common Application Procedure and has a clearly defined admission and enrolment policy. Fifty-three primary schools are listed as feeder schools although the majority of students are from an urban background. A small number of newcomers of different nationalities attend the school. The school is a Christian Brothers’ School and it is notable that the signs and symbols denoting adherence to the Edmund Rice Schools’ Charter are obvious both in the building and in the school’s literature. Similarly, the school’s guidance provision is clearly values based and is of the highest standard. Teamwork and student support structures are strong and are led by committed staff to whom significant responsibilities have been delegated. Reflecting this commitment, a number of staff reported appreciation of the time which has been made available for meetings and which has facilitated a collaborative approach to student support and to planning.. A recent seminar of the Health Service Executive on the formation of a critical incident plan and procedures was attended by four members of staff and also exemplifies this commitment. A number of meetings attended in the course of the inspection, including meetings of year heads, special education co-ordinators and the Religious Education team, showed a deep concern for the individual student, a high regard for collaborative and integrated practice and the excellent leadership of senior management.
The school has an allocation of thirty hours for Guidance. The hours are being used efficiently for guidance inputs throughout the school by two highly qualified guidance counsellors whose working hours are well in excess of the allocation, demonstrating a commendable dedication to their work. The principal is also a qualified guidance counsellor. The allocation will remain at the present level for the school year 2007-2008 on the basis of the enrolment at the end of September 2006.
All students are in receipt of guidance on, at least, a planned intermittent basis. Sixth year classes are timetabled for one period of Guidance per week and all sixth year students have a scheduled meeting with a guidance counsellor during the year. All students have access to the guidance counsellors for individual or small group attention. The timetabling of fifth year classes for Guidance is being considered in the context of a review of guidance priorities. Some guidance provision for all year groups is co-ordinated by the guidance team in co-operation with subject teachers, particularly those elements of Religious Education (RE) and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) which are common to Guidance, such as decision making and personal development. Similarly, leadership training and social action projects for students are an important part of the guidance programme. These are delivered in a collaborative effort by teachers, guidance counsellors and management.
It is a characteristic of the guidance programme at Ardscoil Rís that its delivery is handled by a wide spectrum of staff. The guidance counsellors are effective managers of the programme, in collaboration with senior and middle management. The school operates a year head system. The integration of Guidance, special education and the RE departments, including the chaplaincy, into a well-planned and effective student support structure is very impressive. The efficient use of staff skills and talents enables some flexibility and this, in turn, is visible in the excellent documentation of the system. Students are also involved in the overall programme through the student council and other structures such as the recently introduced Encounter programme. The Encounter programme involves training for senior students in personal growth and spirituality over a number of days annually. Forty students participated in training days in October and March of the current school year. In addition, the school is involved in the India Immersion Project run under the auspices of the Christian Brothers and is a practical demonstration of the school’s interest in raising awareness of social justice issues. Three groups of students have each spent two weeks in Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, since 2002.
A very good balance has been achieved in guidance support for students at all levels. The programme documentation shows clearly the inputs into each year group in class, small group and individual guidance and counselling.
The facilities for Guidance are very good. Each guidance counsellor has an office equipped for guidance purposes with computers, broadband access, telephone and appropriate secure and open storage. A library of guidance related materials, including prospectuses and career information, is situated in one of the offices. Display boards are visible throughout the school and these are well used.
One computer room is currently available for group internet access. Timetabled access for Guidance is being negotiated in the context of planning for the extension to the school. The plans envisage an upgraded information and communication technologies (ICT) system which will be available to all class groups.
Formal and informal links with the special education team, chaplaincy and RE department and with management have already been mentioned above, and are very good. Evaluation of the guidance service is carried out by the guidance counsellors in the context of an annual review. The views of parents, management and students are sought and modifications are made to the programme in the light of their comments.
Referrals to the guidance counsellors are made by teachers, parents, year heads, senior management and by self referral by students themselves. Regular team meetings are held at middle-management level and students with support needs are also identified at these meetings. Referrals from the school to outside agencies, such as the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), are managed by the principal in collaboration with the guidance counsellors and special education co-ordinator. The availability of referral agencies in the region is reported by staff to be satisfactory.
The personal plan and programme of the guidance counsellors are excellent. The plan is based on the expressed values of the school and shows a clear understanding of Guidance in its various forms. Of particular interest is the manner in which Guidance is linked not only to subjects and programmes but also to the majority of school policies. It is also noteworthy that professional development and programme evaluation are highlighted as a natural part of the planning process. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) has recently published the Draft Guidance Framework (2007). Much of the thinking behind the document has been anticipated by the guidance team at Ardscoil Rís and for this the team is commended. The whole-school guidance plan is in draft form at present. It has been identified as a priority for development in the school year 2007-2008. The existing guidance department plan is very comprehensive and displays many of the features of a whole-school guidance plan. The consolidation and integration of guidance activities in the school is exemplified by the attendance of a member of the guidance team at Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) meetings and by the involvement of the SPHE co-ordinator as school development planning co-ordinator. It is recommended that the guidance-planning team be extended to include a small number of other interested staff partly to broaden the scope of the plan and partly to make the point that whole-school guidance is truly whole-school.
Students are well catered for at all transitional stages. An induction programme for incoming first years is run early in the school year and for their parents in early September. A member of the guidance team meets each first-year student during September and October. The guidance programme includes regular inputs into first year, third year and Transition Year (TY) during which subject and programme choices, including the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and TY are presented and discussed. Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) is not part of the school’s current programme. The inclusion of LCA has been considered in the context of the school’s planning reviews and such practice is commended. TY is optional but demand for the programme is high. Subject choice is based on student preference both in first year, during which year students choose Junior Certificate subjects and during third year or TY, during which students choose subjects for the Leaving Certificate examination. Both guidance counsellors attend open evenings run by the school for incoming first years, information evenings on subject and programme choice for parents and other guidance related events.
The guidance team co-operates with the co-ordinator of LCVP in providing inputs both from the team itself and from visiting speakers as the need arises. The school does not provide the Leaving Certificate Applied programme. It is recommended that consideration be given to the inclusion of the programme in the senior cycle in view of changes in the general student profile.
The ICT resources of the school are used extensively in Guidance. The current guidance plan includes a request that the ICT room be available for guidance classes. This is a desirable development in that the content of the guidance programme at senior level relies on accurate, up-to-date information, particularly in its vocational guidance elements. It will also lay the foundation for more extensive use of the planned new facilities. The use of the Facility Options software in the processing of subject choices is considered by the guidance team to be most helpful, particularly in that it is available to the team on the school’s internal network. The resource is also helpful in ensuring a strong role for the guidance team in curriculum planning, in addition to the ongoing collaboration with senior management in this regard. The value of a wireless network has been noted in other schools and might be considered in planning for the ICT provision in the proposed school development.
The parents’ council is reported by the guidance team to be actively involved in support for the school. The council has organised team-building sessions at an activity centre for the newly-entered first year students, a drug-awareness session for members of the council and was instrumental in organising a careers night for senior students. The significant role of parents in the school is commended. The guidance team is available to parents by appointment and by telephone. Opportunities to inform parents of the guidance activities of the school have been exploited fully. The school’s newsletters and information leaflets contain much up-to-date information on the school’s guidance programme and plans. Information leaflets in the Ardscoil Rís Annual Guide are under review and it is suggested that recent guidance documents be consulted as part of this review, particularly in relation to the integration of the school’s care and support systems. These documents 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 and the Review of Guidance published by the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science in 2005 and 2006 respectively, and the NCCA Draft Guidance Framework (2007). Similarly, literature published by the Irish Association of Pastoral Care in Education is recommended for further consideration of the roles of the class teacher and year head.
The school has commendably strong links with the wider community in addition to those mentioned above in relation to India. Local employers have been generous in their support for the work-experience programme of TY and LCVP the careers night, mock interviews and other guidance-related initiatives. The student council nominates students in various categories for the Bank of Ireland Awards and the scheme is co-ordinated in the school by a guidance counsellor. TY students participate in a social-placement scheme for five days during which they assist in the provision of services by various social service agencies such as the Adare Alzheimer’s Day Care Centre and Enable Ireland. The collaboration of staff across the disciplines is recognised and commended.
The commitment of the guidance team to continuing professional development, including counselling supervision, is clear and is highly commended.
Two lessons were observed in the course of the inspection and, although disparate topics and levels of maturity were observed, teaching practice was uniformly good. Teachers had good relationships with class groups and proceeded through the lessons in a planned and orderly manner. Lessons began with a short reflective activity, such as a prayer, followed by a roll call and ended with a summary of the material covered and indications as to further development of the topic. In one case the beginning of the session entailed a review of previously presented information about the Central Applications Office (CAO) application system and teacher responses to student enquiries about the details of the scheme. Other topics included stress management and coping with examinations.
Good use was made in all cases of classroom resources. The whiteboard was used effectively to record and categorise student responses and an overhead projector was used during one lesson. Handouts were well prepared, distributed unobtrusively and used to good effect during the lessons. The use of questions is particularly commended. Appropriate questions at different levels of complexity were asked of students generally and individually. Students responded with obvious understanding having analysed the issues in accordance with the promptings of the teachers. Students also responded with questions of their own in clarification of the issues and showed, by the relevance of the questions, a good grasp of the topics. In looking at stressors associated with examinations it is suggested that practical examples from examination papers and from examination literature, including the State Examinations Commission website could be used as illustrations of points being made. Examples might include the use of a data projector to show paper layouts, marking schemes or the rules for examinations.
The atmosphere in classes was calm and orderly throughout. Students were attentive and keen to ask questions. On all occasions students responded quickly to the directions of teachers and showed interest in the issues being dealt with.
Classroom management was effective. Teachers moved throughout the rooms, addressed students by name and encouraged participation. In one class students were requested to form small groups and to discuss aspects of the topic in short sections. This active approach is commended for adding variety and interest and for enhancing student engagement.
The Differential Aptitude Tests are administered to all students during TY or fifth year. The tests are used to inform the personal and vocational decisions then being made by students and are also used in the context of follow-up individual sessions with the guidance counsellors during which test results are interpreted and a discussion of their implications takes place. The Career Interests Inventory is administered during third year and web-based inventories such as those associated with Qualifax and Career Directions are used with senior-cycle classes.
The vocational destinations of students who have left school are tracked by the guidance team and it is reported that the majority of students find placements in further and higher education. Record keeping and the documentation of meetings with staff and students are excellent.
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 counsellors and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.