Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Riversdale Community College
Blanchardstown, Dublin 15
Roll number: 70081V
Date of inspection: 21 September 2007
Date of issue of report: 12 March 2008
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Riversdale Community College. 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 the guidance counsellors and reviewed school planning documentation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and to the guidance counsellors. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Riversdale Community College is a long established post-primary school operating under the auspices of County Dublin Vocational Education Committee (VEC). It is a very inclusive school that caters efficiently with diversity and strives to meet the needs of all students. The school building and grounds are welcoming, well maintained and provide a comfortable learning environment for students. The school’s main feeder primary schools are located in Corduff and Ladyswell. However, schools in Mulhuddart and increasingly those in the newer surrounding suburbs that include Tyrellstown are also providing increasing numbers of prospective students.
New educational and social challenges are now presenting for Riversdale due to the influx of a diverse number of newcomer population groups to the area. The challenges include the necessity to plan and provide for the educational requirements of students who come from diverse language and educational backgrounds. Many of these young people require a significant amount of English language support and assistance to adapt to the educational system in Ireland. The school reports that these newcomers now make up about twenty-five percent of the total student enrolment. In addition, there is also an increasing demand for specific learning-support measures throughout the general student population. Good support and direction are being provided for the school by the VEC to address and meet these challenges.
Guidance is well developed in the school and is delivered by a team of qualified guidance counsellors who work closely together as a team to plan, manage and deliver guidance supports. There is a general allocation of twenty-two hours for Guidance based on enrolment. This is further augmented by the school’s participation in the Guidance Enhancement Initiative (GEI) that provides an additional eleven and a half hours for Guidance. This extra guidance allocation has enabled the school to expand guidance provision as a whole school support. The GEI was evaluated by the inspectorate in 2002. The school has fully complied with all the recommendations outlined in this report and has continued to develop a wide range of supports for students. The school is part of the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in our Schools (DEIS) initiative. Additional hours are therefore available for a number of other targeted student support measures that include individual counselling support when required. A very integrated whole- school approach to guidance is being adopted and new ways are being explored to improve and enhance delivery of support services to students. Individual counselling support is available for all students to address personal, educational or career issues. All of these interactions with students are managed and documented very effectively and sensitively. County Dublin Vocational Education Committee’s psychological service provides valuable support for the guidance team. Psychologists visit the school regularly and provide a wide range of supports for students. The referral of students to appropriate outside agencies for additional support is well managed and documented.
The guidance team plays a very active role in school life and works closely with a well-developed pastoral and student-support structure in the school to deliver a wide range of educational, personal and career supports. The guidance team plans, manages and implements a wide range of interventions that are tailored to meet students’ group and individual needs. These interventions include one-to-one and group guidance sessions that address personal, educational and career needs. Timetabled classes are scheduled for some senior-cycle groups that operate effectively within the framework of Leaving Certificate programmes. As the demands on available guidance time are growing it is recommended that the timetabling of more class contact with senior groups on a modular basis should be explored to build on existing good practices of guidance delivery.
Management is very supportive of Guidance and good liaison is maintained with all personnel dealing with pastoral and student support interventions. A high level of care for students is evident in the way that management and staff organise the available resources and get to know the students individually. Good contact is also being maintained by the guidance team with programme co-ordinators, tutors and subject departments. Internal referral systems are well managed. Parents are welcomed to the school for formal events, can make unscheduled visits and can liaise directly with the guidance team to support learning and other interventions for their children. Good linkages have been also established and are being maintained with a wide range of external agencies, third-level institutions, employers and enterprise support bodies.
Guidance delivery is facilitated through the provision of a main guidance office and a smaller room for individual sessions is also provided. These rooms are suitably located to maximise access for students and are well-equipped with good display areas for guidance materials, along with information and communication technology (ICT) and secure storage. Notice boards displaying up-to-date information about third-level colleges, career events and the Central Applications Office (CAO) are also provided in the corridors. Good facilities are available to the guidance team to access ICT for group guidance classes. The team has been consulted and involved in the development of the Critical Incident Response Plan for the school.
The guidance plan has been developed in co-operation with management and a wide range of staff. The plan is monitored regularly and reviewed annually. In a school with such diverse needs, the guidance plan aims to address a wide range of educational, personal and career needs as an integrated student-support mechanism with pastoral care. The plan contains guidance programmes for all year groups and school programmes. It is suggested however, that the guidance programmes for each year group should clearly identify linkages with all subjects and programmes and clearly indicate learning outcomes. In the course of this academic year, it is recommended that these changes should be discussed and incorporated in the whole-school guidance plan. This plan should then be presented to the board and made available to the whole-school community. As a further development of whole-school guidance planning taking place throughout the school, it is recommended that each subject and programme department, with assistance from the guidance team, consider ways to develop career information for students that show real linkages between their areas and higher and further education and career progression routes. This approach would support the full integration of guidance within a whole school context.
The transfer of students from primary school to post-primary school is very well managed. Individuals’ needs are assessed to ascertain their learning and other needs. It is recommended however, that as the guidance team is professionally trained in assessment, it should have a greater involvement in the selection of suitable tests and the transfer and induction process for students into the school. Information about suitable tests for schools can be accessed in CL 0009/2007 which is available at www.education.ie. The guidance team assists students and parents at all the transition points to consider options and make informed decisions. Throughout junior cycle, students have access to guidance support which is delivered in conjunction with the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme. Students considered to be at risk of leaving school early are particularly targeted and receive support to plan their transitions to senior cycle. The motivation of students to reach their full potential and remain in education is a particularly good feature of the guidance support being provided throughout the school. In third year students explore subject and programme choices and receive encouragement to make informed decisions.
Good opportunities are provided for students throughout Transition Year (TY) and senior cycle to develop their personal interests, explore options and plan possible individual career routes. The guidance programmes for fifth and sixth years are comprehensive and are designed to be flexible to meet emerging needs. The full range of Leaving Certificate programme options are available in the school. The guidance service supports all senior-cycle programmes in imaginative and creative ways. Students are facilitated to develop a good knowledge of personal strengths, adopt an active role in accessing information on possible careers and to take full advantage of all the facilities the school can offer. Staff is very supportive of students anxious to transfer to third-level and further education/training and a wide range of extra learning supports are facilitated, when required. The provision of this level of support to encourage each student to reach his/her potential is highly commendable. The career exploration and work-experience modules in senior cycle are well managed and monitored by the guidance team to maximise students’ successes.
Students are encouraged to visit a number of third-level and further-education colleges to view facilities and opportunities and attend career events such as FÁS Opportunities and Higher Options. Good contacts have been established with third-level college access programmes and with all relevant external bodies. To expand students’ knowledge about adult life, a number of guest speakers visit the school and a full list of these is included in the guidance plan. As the school is located near the campus of Blanchardstown Institute of Technology, good links have been established with this college and with a range of other colleges in the greater Dublin area. It is reported that due to all the efforts being made by the school to increase students’ awareness of career opportunities more and more students are now opting to continue their studies after completing the Leaving Certificate. Guidance is made available for students in senior cycle in using a range of methodologies including one-to-one interviews and small and large group sessions. The school has been very active in supporting good links and developing new contacts with local businesses, employers, industries and with groups such as Young Achiever. Working in a very integrated way with management and staff these outside experts have contributed hugely to the life of the school, and to the development of a true community focus for Guidance.
Parental support is valued by staff and parents are invited to meet with the guidance counsellors to discuss their children’s issues. Information sessions are arranged annually for the parents of students making transitions. At these events they receive information from the guidance counsellors about subject options, education programmes and career options. Guidance also plays an important role in providing professional advice and expertise in the area of curriculum development and the selection of subject options. The school is very supportive of staff seeking to avail of in-service training and the participation of guidance staff in all continuing professional development opportunities and personal supervision is actively supported. This is to be commended.
In the course of the inspection visit one senior-cycle lesson was attended. The methodologies selected to present and develop the topic were well chosen and appropriate to the age and developmental level of the students. Good advance planning of the lesson was in evidence and the topic was well introduced. Support materials were supplied for students and were used effectively to build on lesson planning. However, it is suggested that expected outcomes should be firmly established with students from the very beginning of lessons to provide a good scaffold for learning and a way for students’ to monitor their individual achievements. Good use was made of a self-assessment instrument during the lesson that facilitated students to gain good insights into their own personal interests.
All students were actively engaged during the session and demonstrated good listening and attention skills. The classroom atmosphere was conducive to effective learning. Good reference was made from the outset to previous learning sessions. Questioning was used to good effect and responses and ideas were built upon to promote understanding of the chosen theme. Students displayed an ability to listen and respond effectively to the teacher and to peers. Previous work completed by students is stored in individual folders that demonstrate good progression and continuity in learning.
Classroom management was excellent with students displaying an orderly approach to learning. Follow up of the theme in a future lesson was signalled at the end of the session. However, to provide more continuity between weekly guidance lessons some task for completion by students should be set to consolidate learning between sessions.
Appropriate use of assessment is made in the school to assess learning and individual students’ needs. The guidance team should play a more important role in the initial assessment of students entering the school. The draft school guidance plan documents the range of tests being administered. It is advised that it should also mention the ways that testing outcomes are deployed with students. Therefore, reference should be made by the school to the current Circular Letter 0009/2007 on testing in schools, which is available at www.education.ie. The list of tests that accompany this circular could provide ideas for the selection of tests to be administered. Very appropriate use is being made of the Differential Aptitude Tests (DATS) in senior cycle to assist students to make career and other decisions.
Good records of all one-to-one sessions held with students and of all follow-up actions to be taken are maintained. Individual student files are compiled and stored appropriately to provide maximum individual support. The initial destinations of all students leaving the school are being documented informally. It is recommended that all students’ initial destinations should be mapped formally to inform school and guidance planning and to raise students’ and parents’ expectations of achievement and provide valuable role models of achievement for the whole- school community.
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.