An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of Guidance

REPORT

 

McEgan College

Macroom, County Cork

Roll number: 71030J

 

Date of inspection: 1 May 2008

 

 

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

School Response to the Report

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in McEgan College, Macroom. 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 was given the 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

 

McEgan College was founded in 1934 and is named after the Bishop of Ross, Boetius McEgan, executed by Cromwellian forces in 1650. The school is situated in the grounds of Macroom Castle, in the centre of the town, and caters for second level students from the town and its rural environs. Approximately thirteen primary schools are the main providers of first-level education to students who subsequently enter McEgan College. The school also provides further education, through its post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses, to a current cohort of eighty-four students. It is a school in the scheme of the Cork County Vocational Education Committee (VEC). Enrolment has been relatively stable in recent years and the number of students now enrolled is 128. It is reported by the principal that projected enrolment is increasing and that the number of new students being accepted for entry in September 2008 is significantly higher than in previous years. The principal and deputy principal act collaboratively as an effective senior-management team and their qualities as communicators, relationship builders, and administrators are clearly evident in the school’s systems.

 

The school receives an ex-quota allocation for Guidance of eight hours per week from the Department of Education and Science through the VEC. An extra three hours per week were added to the allocation when the school was accepted for participation in the DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) initiative in 2007. Other elements of DEIS from which the school has benefited were the appointment of a home-school-community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator, School Completion Programme (SCP) co-ordinator and project worker. The allocation is used efficiently to provide a service that is balanced, comprehensive, and collaborative.

 

The work of the guidance counsellor is spread throughout all year groups in accordance with a well-designed plan that incorporates personal, educational, and career guidance. A good balance has been achieved between work with individual students, with small groups and with classes. The guidance counsellor is formally timetabled for one lesson of Guidance per week each for the Transition Year (TY) and sixth-year classes. Intermittent Guidance inputs are planned for each year group at times appropriate to its development. The main inputs into first year, for instance, occur at induction during the first week of the first term, in the spring when Junior Certificate subjects are chosen, and, on an ongoing basis, in collaboration with teachers of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE). In addition, there is a strong guidance element to the process prior to, and during, the induction of new students. This includes an open evening, visits to feeder primary schools, and an information evening for parents during the days immediately following entry. Documents observed in this regard, and concerning all of the school’s processes and planning, were of a high quality and showed a clear understanding of the needs of parents and students.

 

Facilities for Guidance are good. An office, appropriately equipped with electronic communication and storage equipment, is provided and incorporates a small, but well-stocked, library of guidance information. Broadband access to information is available in the office and facilitates work with individual students and with small groups. Access to information and communications technology (ICT) for larger groups and for supervised individual students is arranged in the computer room. The ICT system is reported by staff to function well. Materials, posters and notices displaying guidance information are visible throughout the building and further illustrate the pervasive nature of Guidance in the school.

 

Excellent practice was observed in the course of the inspection at a meeting of the student-support or care team. The meeting was attended by senior management, guidance counsellor, chaplain, co-ordinators of HSCL and SCP. The special educational needs team was represented by the deputy principal, who is a member of that team. The meeting considered the needs of students at risk and made decisions as to the actions to be taken in their support. The meeting was efficiently conducted and it was obvious that the students being considered were familiar to team members. The role and functions of each team member were clear. The best interests of students were a priority for the team, in full accordance with the school’s mission to care equally for all. The meeting exemplified the school’s emphasis on Guidance and student support, and the central role of core student-support staff in the enhancement of teaching and learning. In addition, it was clear that informal contact between senior management and the guidance team was ongoing and that effective use was made of these formal and informal contacts to deal with current and longer-term issues.

 

The school’s systems of communication and referral are very good. Clear guidelines have been devised in this regard and are reported by staff to operate effectively. Students may be referred to the guidance counsellor through the care team, or by teachers, parents, or peers. A peer-mentoring system is planned for initiation at the beginning of the next school year in collaboration with the student council. The system is to be co-ordinated by the SCP project worker and the guidance counsellor and will be based on the Foróige-sponsored ‘Big Brother, Big Sister’ project. Referrals to agencies external to the school are managed by senior management in collaboration with staff as appropriate. Communication with parents is ongoing, both formally, through school reports, parent-teacher meetings and well-designed information literature, and informally by personal contact with parents as the need arises.

 

 

Planning and preparation

 

Whole-school guidance planning is at an advanced level and reflects the planning structures and procedures in place generally in the school. Documents observed in the course of the inspection reveal that subject department planning in the school has reached that level at which learning and teaching are prioritised for development. This is highly commended as evidence of an ongoing commitment to school self-review and evaluation. A guidance planning team meets regularly and has produced an excellent draft guidance department plan which shows clear evidence that this plan will form the basis of the whole-school guidance plan. Mention is made, for example, of those elements of the guidance programme that are delivered by staff other than the guidance counsellor. Elements of the SPHE programme that are common to Guidance and issues such as study skills, lifeskills, and relationships are clearly identified in this context. Proposals for the curricular elements of the whole-school guidance programme are contained in the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) Draft Guidance Framework (2007). The documents provided in the course of the inspection show that the direction of guidance planning at McEgan College is clearly in line with those proposals. The inclusion in the plan of a section outlining links with subjects, with outside agencies and with school management, including the board of management, and of a section outlining the implications for Guidance of school policies and administrative functions, such as reasonable accommodations, are highly commended.

 

The school is also commended for providing most of the available major programmes, including the SCP and HSCL, already mentioned, the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), TY and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). In addition, Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses in Art, Community Care, Childcare, and Business currently cater for over eighty students. In the light of the school’s success in implementing these programmes and given the thought and expertise that has gone into their planning and provision it is recommended that further consideration be given  to the introduction of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme as a further enhancement of the high-quality service already in existence.

 

Commendable systems are in place to support students in their decision-making. The guidance counsellor is at the core of these systems and operates in an environment of strong support from, and communication with, staff and senior management. Although the school is small and much communication is informal, appropriate structure has added to the effectiveness of planning and the functioning of meetings. Relationships with parents are reported to be good, being facilitated by the size of the school and regular formal and informal contacts between them and staff. Similarly, positive linkages with the wider community facilitate the implementation of programmes such as work experience and arrangements for visiting speakers, not only for Guidance but also for subjects with common elements such as SPHE, Religious Education (RE), Physical Education (PE), and Home Economics.

 

It was noted during interactions with students in the course of the inspection, and in the observation of students’ interactions with staff, that students and staff responded with mutual respect and courtesy, and that relationships appeared to be in keeping with the school’s mission.

 

Professional development is encouraged and facilitated by senior management. Such commendable practice enables guidance counsellor participation in organised events such as college open days and in professional counselling support funded by the Department of Education and Science and organised by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors.

 

 

Teaching and learning

 

The lesson observed in the course of the inspection was well planned and managed. The aim of the lesson was to inform a TY class about the range of higher education, further education, and training courses available to students after the Leaving Certificate. The lesson was one of a series covering the entry requirements for courses at various levels on the National Framework of Qualifications. A number of handouts were distributed at appropriate times during the lesson and included summaries of entry requirements, master charts of entry requirements for a number of occupations and third-level courses and information on choosing a course. The lesson began with a roll call and some announcements, followed by a clear introduction to the topic that included allusions to previous learning. Samples of college information were consulted by students in support of the information supplied in the handouts. Students were asked to complete simple tasks, such as the identification of courses for which Mathematics are a requirement. It was clear from the responses of students that the lesson was well gauged to their requirements and that the manner of delivery of the information was stimulating, enabling a high level of student engagement.

 

Students were identified by name and it was clear that relationships in the classroom were positive. Students responded well to questions, instruction, and directions as, for example, when asked to read handouts, to respond to the materials and to complete written tasks. The questions asked of students were appropriate to their level of maturity and understanding and included a well-balanced mixture of higher and lower-order questions. Responses to queries from students in clarification of points raised during the lesson showed appropriate understanding of the issues and expertise in the management of relevant information. Students were relaxed and attentive throughout the lesson. In a discussion about a recent visit to University College, Cork, students showed that they were well informed and had a clear understanding of the purpose of the visit.

 

 

Assessment

 

Assessment practices in the school are very good. The ongoing collaboration in this regard between the guidance team and the special educational needs team is highly commended. A comprehensive battery of psychometric tests is administered to incoming first-year students in the spring prior to entry. The test results are used to monitor students’ progress, particularly in the junior cycle, and in the determination of their individual needs. Further diagnostic testing is carried out by the special educational needs team following the initial assessments, particularly in literacy and numeracy. It is recommended that consideration be given to the use of test instruments that have Irish norms. Further details of current tests may be found in documents linked to Circular 0099/2007 regarding grants towards the cost of test materials for use in second level schools available on the Department website at www.education.ie.

 

Formal clarification of students’ career decisions begins during TY and continues throughout the senior cycle. The process is enhanced by the administration, scoring, and interpretation of aptitude tests, especially in TY, and by the use of a number of interest inventories as appropriate. The web-based Qualifax and Career Directions are also used, both for their general information and for their career interest and preference inventories. This is indicative of the school’s productive use of ICT not only as an aid to students’ decision-making but also as an important gateway to information and to the general administration of Guidance.

 

Record-keeping is of a high standard and is in keeping with the high calibre observed in other school documentation. Particularly commended are records of meetings with students and staff, and guidance-planning documents, which are maintained by the guidance counsellor, and listings of students’ initial destinations, which are compiled by the deputy principal.

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • Guidance and care of students is of a very high standard.
  • The principal and deputy principal are effective leaders.
  • An excellent care team meets weekly.
  • The guidance counsellor and other core care staff are members of the care team.
  • Guidance is a whole-school process.
  • Whole-school guidance planning is at an advanced level.
  • A guidance planning team meets regularly.
  • There is clear evidence of collaborative practice.
  • School development planning has entered the phase of teaching and learning.
  • Planning and administrative structures and documentation are clear and formalised.
  • Communication systems are good.
  • Although the school is small and much communication is informal, appropriate structure has added to the effectiveness of planning and other meetings.
  • Relationships with parents and students are good.
  • Students are courteous and engage well with teachers.

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:

 

  • It is recommended that consideration be given to the use of test instruments that have Irish norms.
  • It is recommended that further consideration be given to the introduction of the Leaving Certificate Applied programme.

 

 

A post-evaluation meeting was held with the guidance counsellor and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

Published, December 2008

 

 

 

 

Appendix

                                                                                                    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 school views the possible introduction of the Leaving Certificate Applied programme positively and will continue to plan for its introduction. However, staffing levels and the recent government budget mean it is not possible at present.

 

The school continues to look at using test instruments with Irish norms. However, we have found that these tests are often not suitable.