An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
St. Brigid’s Vocational School
Roll number: 71280J
Date of inspection: 20 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Brigid’s Vocational School, Loughrea, Co Galway. 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 the guidance counsellor. 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.
St. Brigid’s is a mixed vocational school located in the town of Loughrea that operates under the auspices of Co. Galway Vocational Education Committee. Students reside in the town and in the surrounding areas. The school provides a welcoming and supportive learning environment for students. St. Brigid’s has a long and proud tradition of providing a wide range of educational opportunities for students including those from minorities and those with special education needs (SEN). It operates a very open and inclusive enrolment policy for students living in its catchment area. The school reports an increasing number of newcomers in the school whose first language is not English, and for whom language support is being provided. It is also reported that teachers in the school work in a very collegiate way to support each other and any students who require extra assistance, to enable them to achieve their full potential. A wide range of programmes is provided for students in the school, including post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses.
Guidance is well established in the school and is viewed as a very important and crucial support for learning. A wide range of personal, educational and vocational supports is being provided throughout the school in a linked and integrated way. Guidance is delivered as an integrated model with counselling, and integrates fully with the school’s pastoral system and social personal health education (SPHE) provision. Due to the current enrolment of 599 students there is an entitlement of twenty four ex-quota hours for Guidance. At present the school is allocated eighteen hours for Guidance by the VEC to assist students’ learning and support their transitions. As this figure falls somewhat short of the allocation outlined in CL PPT 12/05, it is recommended that the board of management and Co. Galway VEC should review the amount of hours being provided for Guidance in the school.
In addition to Guidance, the school also has Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) service which provides supports for parents. The guidance counsellor manages the planning and delivery of Guidance in the school with co-operation from other staff. Guidance and counselling is provided for students in one-to-one, group and classroom sessions. A pastoral system operates in the school to oversee the management of students. The guidance service is fully integrated with the school’s pastoral system which is supported by a school care team. The care team is very active and includes the guidance counsellor. The team meets weekly to plan interventions for students and to manage the implementation of these plans. The care team includes management, year heads, Guidance, learning support, resource teaching and HSCL. It is responsible for assessing individual students’ needs, planning interventions and where necessary arranging referrals within the school for extra supports that include Guidance and/or counselling. Students who require extra support are referred to appropriate outside agencies, and these referrals are sensitively arranged and well supported. During the inspection visit, a short meeting was held with the HSCL co-ordinator to discuss how Guidance integrates with this service.
There is a good balance in the provision of guidance and counselling support between junior and senior cycles. Guidance is well planned and this guarantees that in conjunction with the school’s pastoral system all students and especially those who require extra assistance have access to targeted support when required in a whole school context. A well equipped office is provided for Guidance that is suitably located to facilitate students and parents accessing the service, and this room also houses the careers’ library. Well placed notice boards in corridors keep students well informed about career events and college application requirements. Group guidance sessions can be held either in classrooms or in the ICT rooms so students can avail fully of available guidance software and to access appropriate college and career websites.
The staff generally is reported to be very supportive of Guidance and teachers and are kept fully informed about guidance activities in the school and out-of-school visits for students to college open days and other career events. Good contact is maintained with homes and parents are welcome to visit the school for one-to-one consultations with the guidance counsellor. The guidance counsellor plays a very crucial role in linking with parents and meets them in groups to explain subject options and programme choices. Parents’ evenings are arranged to explain Guidance and how to support their children’s learning. Parent-teacher meetings are held to keep them fully informed about their children’s progress. Regular meetings are held between the guidance counsellor and management to discuss guidance issues and plan school-wide strategies. In addition, Guidance also takes an active role with a ‘local committee’ that meets regularly to link the school into the community. This committee includes the guidance counsellor, the HSCL co-ordinator and representatives of local statutory and non-statutory support agencies and groups. This close networking and linking with the local community is to be highly commended.
Good and effective planning is an activity that is prioritised in St. Brigid’s. A whole school Guidance plan is not yet completed. However, the plan is being developed and already many elements of the whole school plan have been compiled. In line with good practice, a guidance planning committee has been formed and areas for development have been identified and are now being prioritised. Information was gathered by auditing of students’ needs throughout the school. Guidance programmes for each year group from first year to post-leaving certificate have been developed. In the next stage of planning, a consultation with parents and students about what Guidance supports should be provided will also take place. This highly co-operative approach to the development of a whole school guidance plan is to be commended. It is therefore recommended, that following the completion of consultations that the whole school guidance plan should be assembled, presented again to staff, parents and students for review and then to the board of management as a planning document.
Parents are addressed by the guidance counsellor at the open night arranged each March for incoming first year parents. The students then attend for an induction programme and are informed about Guidance. A buddy system is operated by school prefects who are trained to provide ongoing support for new students and smooth their transition to the school. A taster programme allows first years to sample subjects before they select options with assistance from tutors, subject teachers and the guidance counsellor. This approach to providing information about subjects is to be commended as it allows students to make informed choices. The guidance programme for second year builds very effectively on the first year programme and links very satisfactorily with SPHE and religious education. Students are assisted to begin career exploration and assess personal strengths. When students are in third year they and their parents are assisted to make good subject and programmes choices for senior cycle or transition year (TY), and to prepare for the challenges of the Junior Certificate. During third year, Qualifax is introduced by the guidance counsellor to class groups to facilitate students to become fully au fait with this website and begin exploring possible career paths.
The majority of students now transfer directly from junior cycle to TY or senior cycle. This important move for individuals is being promoted among students and parents by management and staff. Students in TY and senior cycle have access to well constructed and vibrant education and guidance programmes that facilitate the development of good learning and coping skills. These programmes aim to support students to become independent learners, to explore personal strengths, interests and opportunities and to develop good decision-making skills. As they move through senior cycle, planned guidance interventions effectively assist students to develop clear goals and individual career paths. Guest speakers are invited to the school to inform students about the world of work and higher education opportunities. Visits to a range of educational institutions are arranged, and students attend a number of college open days and career events.
TY and LCVP both include modules that deal with career investigations and exploration of the world of work. They also offer opportunities for students to engage in work experience, which is carefully supported and monitored. Guidance integrates very effectively with these programmes and good expertise is provided for students to enable them to avail fully of work experience opportunities. Students are advised through Guidance to explore a wide range of careers and to also seek advice on career planning from subject teachers, year heads, parents and past pupils. All students have access to one-to-one Guidance and counselling support throughout senior cycle. Particularly clear documentation has been prepared in the school for senior cycle students on subject options and the links between certain subject groupings and third level courses. Students are encouraged to discuss subject options and to engage actively in decision-making. The school revises regularly the grouping of subject options for senior cycle. It is suggested that all information about options and groupings of subjects should be placed on the school’s website to inform the wider school community including parents.
It is reported that an increasingly high number of students are now progressing successfully from the Leaving Certificate to higher education. Many of these are now availing of third level college access programmes which are actively promoted and supported by the school. Others transfer directly to employment or to further education courses or apprenticeship training. Of particular note in the guidance programmes is the way that local employers and businesses play such a valuable role in supporting sessions on mock interviews for students and providing valuable feedback on performances. This high level of involvement by the business community in the life of the school is to be highly commended. Students in PLC are also included in guidance provision in the school and receive good assistance to make successful transitions. A separate guidance programme has been designed to meet their specific needs.
Effective networks have been established and are being maintained with all relevant local and national support agencies. The school has good information communication technology (ICT) and facilitates access for students to make full use of this resource. Good access to ICT with Broadband is enabling students to explore accurate information about third level and further education progression and to make full use of career websites.
The attendance of the guidance counsellor at personal counselling supervision sessions and to avail of all career personal development opportunities is facilitated.
In the course of the subject inspection, one scheduled sixth year Leaving Certificate class was visited. The topic chosen for the lesson was about how to adopt suitable interview techniques. 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 for the class was in evidence and viable learning objectives were established from the outset with students. The topic of interviewing was well introduced. Good brainstorming of the topic from the beginning of the session was used to good advantage to make sure that all students understood the content of the lesson. In addition, good use was made of the overhead projector and informative support materials were supplied. Targeted questioning of students was deployed effectively to elicit good responses. These responses were listened to and students’ ideas were built upon very effectively in the progress of the discussion.
Throughout the session, students were actively engaged, demonstrated very competent communication skills and could make useful contributions to the discussion. Excellent rapport between staff and students facilitated a free and interesting discussion to take place. Excellent classroom management and of the time available for the class was in evidence.
The school also facilitated the completion of a short questionnaire on Guidance, which is being administered in 50 second level schools throughout 2006/2007. This questionnaire aims to gather the views of senior cycle students about the Guidance they are receiving in schools. It is anonymous and invites a sample of senior cycle students in each of the schools included in this survey to respond to a series of questions about the Guidance provision in their school. They are also asked to comment on how useful and informative they have found the range of inputs that have been provided on careers and educational opportunities. Furthermore, the questionnaire invites them to state what changes they consider would improve the school’s guidance programmes and to suggest what type of programme would give maximum benefit to students in senior cycle.
Appropriate and purposeful use is being made of assessment modes, tests and other instruments to assess students’ learning and individual needs. In Guidance, assessment is used very effectively to assist students to explore individual aptitudes and plan suitable career paths. The school guidance plan documents the range of tests administered and all interest inventories. The suitability of tests is reviewed regularly within the school. It is advised that reference should be made to the Circular Letter 0008/2007 on testing in schools, which is available at www.education.ie to assist with the selection of tests for Guidance and learning support. It is also suggested that administration of the AH2 and the AH3/4 tests should be phased out and that more suitable tests should be considered. The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATS) is administered to all students and they receive individual feedback on their results. This is being used effectively to assist students to make subject and programme choices in senior cycle. Other aptitude tests and interest inventories are selected and administered to meet particular students’ needs. Full use is being made of Qualifax to explore course options using ICT.
Good records of all one-to-one sessions held with students and of all follow-up actions to be taken are fully minuted. Individual student files are compiled and stored appropriately to provide maximum individual support on an ongoing basis. All meetings held with staff and management are recorded. The initial destinations of all students leaving the school are being mapped annually to inform school planning.
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 counsellor and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.