An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Fingal Community College
Roll number: 70121H
Date of inspection: 15 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Fingal Community College, Swords, County Dublin. 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 the principal and deputy principal, with the guidance counsellor, with the counsellor, with the co-ordinator of the School Completion Programme and reviewed school planning documentation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, deputy principal and guidance counsellor. The board of management 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 of this report.
Fingal Community College is one of four schools in the village of Swords. There are approximately twenty feeder primary schools with less than half of the current student population of 555 coming from the village of Swords, the majority coming from areas such as Lusk, Donabate and north County Dublin. The school caters therefore for students from mixed backgrounds, rural and urban, and there are 126 newcomer students, representing twenty-two nationalities, attending the school. The principal reports that enrolment has been growing for the past twenty-two years and space is at a premium in the school at present. The school participates in the School Completion Programme (SCP).
Fingal Community College receives an ex-quota allocation of twenty-four hours per week from the Department of Education and Science for Guidance. Currently there is one qualified guidance counsellor who is timetabled for 17.9 hours per week to deliver Guidance. The guidance counsellor also teaches two periods of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and four periods of Business Studies. Another member of staff teaches the Vocational Preparation modules of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme using two and a half hours of the ex-quota guidance allocation. However, the school receives a specific allocation to provide the LCA programme from which provision of the Vocational Preparation modules could be taken. Therefore it is recommended that the school authorities ensure, as a matter of priority, that the total ex-quota allocation is used for the provision of Guidance in the next and subsequent school years.
The school employs the part-time services of a counsellor, funded by the School Completion Programme. A part-time chaplain also works in the school one and a half days per week. As Fingal Community College operates under the auspices of the County Dublin Vocational Education Committee (VEC), the school has the services of a designated psychologist from the Psychological Services of the Scheme. A trainee counsellor attends the school one morning per week and the guidance counsellor monitors the work of the trainee.
At the time of the evaluation the target groups for guidance provision were primarily senior cycle and third year students. Weekly guidance classes are timetabled in fifth and sixth years and for one class group in third year. Students from all class groups can make individual appointments with the guidance counsellor when needs arise.
Fingal Community College has good facilities for Guidance in the form of an office with laptop, computer, broadband access, phone, shelving and storage. The guidance office also houses a careers library and guidance materials and accommodates small group work. Students also have access to the computer in the guidance office for independent research and to improve this facility the guidance counsellor has made application for a new PC. An eye-catching guidance notice board and student project work are displayed on the walls outside the guidance office. The collaboration between the art and guidance departments in this regard is commended.
The care programme in Fingal Community College is based around the class tutor system, in collaboration with the year heads. The principal reports that a good, informal network operates in the school and the guidance counsellor states that a high level of knowledge of students among staff is a major strength in providing different support strategies. Year heads collaborate with the guidance counsellor and the counsellor also meets with the principal and the year heads to check on student progress. Concerns about students, written into the conduct book by teachers, are followed up by the year heads. It is recommended that the school now formalises the current structures by establishing a student support team with regular, minuted meetings. Such a collaborative approach would facilitate the transfer of information on students, ensure the early identification and provision of supports for students in need of extra assistance, consolidate the good work that is already being done by individuals and small groups and further enhance the good sense of care the school wishes to foster.
Links between management and the guidance department are maintained through informal meetings with senior management. Staff members are encouraged by management to make recommendations regarding the timetabling arrangements for their subjects and subject groups which are then considered when the school timetable is being compiled. While there is no specific budget allocated to the guidance department resources are provided as requested.
As the school has not yet developed a critical incident response plan, it is recommended that in the course of school development planning the school begins the formulation and documentation of its procedures to respond to critical incidents. In this regard networking with other local schools is suggested as such an approach would provide additional support and benefit all participants. Liaison with the VEC Psychological Service is also suggested in formalising the final draft of the plan.
Referrals to the guidance counsellor are made by staff and/or parents; students can also self-refer. Referrals are made to the counsellor by the principal, year head or through a member of staff, using a ‘request for counselling’ form. Lists of students attending counselling are kept with the principal, the year head and in the school office. The counsellor meets weekly with students who are referred for counselling for six weeks approximately with a follow-up session after counselling has finished. Generally referrals to outside agencies are effected through the principal’s office in consultation with the guidance counsellor. Some year heads refer directly to the VEC psychologists through the principal’s office. It is recommended that in the course of guidance planning the school reviews referral procedures in order to develop a more structured approach. The principal reports that due to the high level of demand within the scheme access to the psychologists can be delayed.
Guidance planning has been initiated in Fingal Community College and to date good progress has been made, including a Guidance/Counselling Statement, a plan for each year group and schemes of work for the timetabled classes. However, this work has been completed, primarily, by the guidance counsellor. As Guidance is a whole-school activity it is recommended that a guidance planning committee/group led by the guidance counsellor be established in order to formalise the guidance planning process and to progress the guidance plan. Input from staff, parents, students and representatives of the local business community into the planning process is also recommended. A student needs analysis vis-à-vis provision and delivery of guidance should be carried out also to inform the planning process.
Fingal Community College has a transition programme in place for incoming first year students. This begins with an open evening, in October preceding entry to the school, during which a useful booklet with general information on the school, on subject choice, including brief descriptions of content and career relevance, is provided to all parents. The main transition programme is managed by the School Completion Programme (SCP) co-ordinator in collaboration with management and members of staff. This is followed by enrolment and visits to the feeder primary schools by two members of staff, who co-ordinate the learning support department, to discuss student needs with teachers. Relevant information is shared with the guidance counsellor. An assessment day is held when psychometric tests are administered by the guidance counsellor in collaboration with other staff members.
A detailed information session for parents of incoming students is hosted by the school in March with an input by the guidance counsellor on subject choice for the Junior Certificate examination. While this is commended completed option forms may have already been returned to the school by the time the session takes place. It is recommended therefore that a guidance input be included in the first information meeting for parents. In this regard parents could refer to the information now available regarding subject choice on www.qualifax.ie. It is also recommended that the school reviews the terminology used in communications with parents of incoming students in order to reflect the inclusive approach the school wishes to foster.
The SCP co-ordinator organises a separate meeting with newcomer parents in May to explain school procedures and structures in advance of admission in September. As there is a significant Russian population in the Swords area the SCP currently funds a teacher of Russian to teach in the school and the task of translating the school calendar and rules into the relevant languages is currently underway. The school hosts an international day in school and international evening for students and parents when displays of work, international dance and cookery take place. This level of commitment to parents and students is commended as a model of good practice in the integration of newcomers.
In June an orientation day is organised by the SCP co-ordinator in collaboration with the primary schools and one other of the post-primary schools. This co-operation is commended. Incoming students are shown the layout of Fingal Community College, timetables are explained and fun activities take place. At the time of the evaluation the SCP co-ordinator was working on a special programme to offer additional assistance to students who may experience particular difficulty during the transition period.
On the first day of the new school year the year head, class tutors and guidance counsellor meet with incoming students and the guidance service is introduced to first year students. The guidance counsellor attends all the year group assemblies at the beginning of the year and visits all first year classes to meet with students and to encourage them to visit the guidance office. It is recommended that the school explores the possibility of expanding the transition programme by providing individual meetings for first year students with a member of staff to support the settling-in process and by introducing taster classes to assist with subject and level choice.
As part of the School Completion Programme activities are organised during lunch-time, after school and during the holidays for groups of students from junior cycle to assist the settling-in process and encourage students to remain in school. A daily breakfast club is organised and supervised study is offered to sixth year students. An annual awards evening acknowledges and celebrates student achievement in both the academic and non-academic spheres. All of these activities to support students are commended.
In second year there is no timetabled class contact for Guidance. The guidance counsellor teaches SPHE to one class group. Last year work on behaviour modification was provided for a small group of second year students. This is commended and the wider use of group work to support guidance and counselling delivery is encouraged. In third year one class group is timetabled and the guidance counsellor borrows class periods from colleagues to provide a guidance module to the other three class groups. Emphasis is placed on decision-making skills, programme and subject choice. It is recommended that the school reviews timetabling arrangements to address the current imbalances in provision between junior and senior cycles and to ensure equity of access to all students.
Subject options begin with an open choice and the guidance counsellor has devised a career questionnaire to encourage students to carry out independent research. Individual appointments to discuss subject choices are offered to students as required. The guidance counsellor provides relevant information on colleges and courses for subject teachers to discuss with students during subject choice. This collaboration is commended. As choices are refined a chart of options is prepared by the guidance counsellor for school management. The school reports that every effort is made to accommodate student choices and the SCP funds tuition in some subject areas to enhance the options offered to students. The school hosts an information session for parents of third year students on programme and subject choice and a detailed booklet on senior cycle options and student supports is provided to parents and students. The collaboration of the guidance and art departments to produce both of these booklets, senior and junior, is commended.
During third year a panel of guest speakers provides information on personal, social and vocational education topics. In conjunction with the year head, teachers of SPHE and resource, the guidance department organises information sessions for students on study skills and examination techniques. Any student considering leaving school prior to completion of the Leaving Certificate is offered an appointment with the guidance counsellor to discuss options.
Fingal Community College offers a very wide range of subjects in senior cycle and two Leaving Certificate programmes, namely the Leaving Certificate (Established) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programmes. It is recommended that the school explores the possibility of introducing the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) to provide another option to students. Due to pressure of space the school does not offer the Transition Year programme at present.
Topics covered in fifth year guidance lessons include research and information on career areas as well as the development of job search, interview and study skills. All students are obliged to compile a portfolio of relevant materials during the year and make a presentation on one career area to the class group. Other areas covered include preparation for the world of work and self-esteem building. These topics are further developed in sixth year and students prepare for applications to UCAS, CAO, apprenticeships and traineeships. The world of work, coping skills, grants and scholarships are discussed. Students are offered individual guidance appointments, attend open days and visits out are arranged. A panel of guest speakers is invited in to offer information and advice to students. The inclusion of past students on this panel is commended as it maintains contact with past students and provides excellent role models for senior students.
The school hosts an information session for parents of Leaving Certificate students to discuss CAO application and options post Leaving Certificate and to offer information on grants. Past students are encouraged to keep in contact with the school and are welcome to return for information and/or support. A number of newcomer students are withdrawn from guidance classes to attend resource teaching. It is recommended that the school explores how arrangements could be put in place to facilitate these students to attend guidance classes with their peers.
The guidance counsellor delivers the LCA guidance module, co-ordinates the work experience module and visits all work placements. In the course of school development planning it is recommended that the school explores how other members of staff could contribute to these activities thus ensuring the enhanced availability of the guidance counsellor to carry out core guidance work.
Broadband was installed during this school year. However the guidance counsellor reports limited access to the computer rooms for some groups for Guidance. The guidance counsellor has use of the data projector for Guidance and arranges with other teachers to access the computer room for guidance classes. It is recommended that, during the school development planning process, the school reviews timetabling arrangements to provide optimum access to information and communications technology (ICT) facilities to meet guidance needs.
The guidance department wishes to promote an open door policy for parents. The guidance counsellor attends all parent/teacher meetings and parents are welcomed to arrange individual appointments and efforts are made by the guidance counsellor to facilitate parents after school hours, if required. The counsellor reports good communication with parents of students attending for counselling, beginning with the consent form signed by parents before sessions begin.
Fingal Community College is commended for engaging with a number of outside agencies and organisations to support students. The guidance counsellor reports good support from Swords Youth Service and the Swords Youth and Resource Centre. The school participates in the Schools’ Business Partnership initiative through which senior students apply for summer work experience in companies in Dublin’s financial service sector. This initiative will be extended next year to include junior cycle students. Through the third-level access programme the school is linked with Dublin City University (DCU) and the Institute of Technology in Blanchardstown.
The guidance counsellor is a member of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC). The school is pleased to facilitate attendance at national and local in-service and at the professional development sessions to support counselling.
In the course of the evaluation one fifth year LCA and one sixth year class groups were visited. The aims of the lessons were explained clearly to students. The fifth year lesson began with a recap of the previous lesson and continued with the topic of interview techniques. This linked well with the main objective of the lesson which was preparation for a visit by the group to a FÁS Training Centre. An explanation of traineeships and the phases of apprenticeships were provided by the guidance counsellor followed by a general discussion and question-and-answer session with the students. Students then worked to prepare questions to ask the manager of the training centre during the visit and feedback was obtained on the content of questions. The good practice of providing student folders was noted.
In the course of discussions good reference was made to items such as the Safe Pass Course and the FÁS website. Students contributed information regarding their experience of having attended interviews. This is commended as students are encouraged to draw on their own learning experiences. Students were at ease to ask questions and seek explanations and the content of their queries indicated good engagement with the topic.
The sixth year lesson began with updates on new third-level courses being introduced, the Safe Pass course which the school was arranging, open days and the CAO change-of-mind system. Commendably students were encouraged to check the guidance notice board for relevant notices. The main topic of the lesson was third-level grants systems. Given the time of year this was an appropriate choice for a sixth year group.
Handouts were provided to students containing general information on college fees, grants including addresses and phone numbers of awarding bodies. A photocopy of the previous year’s grant application form was provided to each student. An explanation of application procedures and essential accompanying documentation was provided followed by discussion and question-and-answer.
Information was provided on the free college fees system and the procedures involved should a student not pass examinations at the end of a first year. Good reference was made to student services fee, transfer to another course and support services within colleges. Commendably students were invited to return to speak with the guidance counsellor should they be unhappy with their choice of course or apprenticeship. Students applying for Level 8 courses were invited to give their names and addresses to the guidance counsellor who will visit the Fingal County Council offices and place them on the database from whence grant application forms will be issued in July. As all of the class group may not apply for grants it is recommended that group work with relevant students might be more beneficial to students. Such an approach would also facilitate further explanation of the application form which is quite lengthy and detailed.
The pace and content of the lessons were appropriate to the class groups. Good use was made of targeted questioning. In both lessons the noting of salient points and new terminology on the board is recommended. The potential of websites such as www.fas.ie. and www.education.ie to explore and access up-to-date information could be exploited.
A positive, friendly class atmosphere obtained and in general there was good participation and engagement on the part of students. Good rapport and mutual respect were evident between guidance counsellor and students.
The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) are administered in third year to assist with subject and level choice. The Rothwell Miller Interest Blank is completed in fifth year to assist with course and career choice. Students have access to interest tests on websites such as www.qualifax.ie. and www.ucas.com. The guidance department has identified a need for a testing policy in the school. In this regard liaison with the VEC psychological services is encouraged and useful information regarding tests and testing is provided in Circular Letter 0008/2007 available on the Department’s website at www.education.ie.
Student profiling begins in fifth year. The guidance counsellor maintains notes of records of meetings with students, mainly from third year upwards. Counselling notes, letters and forms of referral are stored in filing cabinets. No minutes of the weekly meetings between the counsellor and the guidance counsellor are recorded.
Tracking of student initial destinations is carried out informally by the guidance counsellor with the use of the CAO lists, information from siblings and through contact with past students. It is recommended that the school explores ways of developing and formalising the current practices.
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 principal, deputy principal and guidance counsellor at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
Thank you for the favourable report which mentioned the “good facilities for Guidance and Guidance Planning”. We are happy that you noted “the range of supports provided to assist students and parents”.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Two members of staff are now providing support on an individual basis to all First and Second Year classes in consultation with the Guidance Counsellor. Timetabling arrangements have been made to better facilitate Junior Cycle students’ access to Guidance/Counselling. As recommended, we are forming a Care Committee. The computer room and facilities have been made available to the Guidance Counsellor for 20 out of 44 weekly lessons for both individual and classroom use.