An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Castlepollard Community College
Castlepollard, County Westmeath
Roll number: 71420W
Date of inspection: 1 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Castlepollard 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 other staff 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.
Castlepollard Community College operates under the aegis of County Westmeath Vocational Education Committee (VEC). The present school, which is situated on the outskirts of Castlepollard opened in 2005. Previously the school was located in the town on a site that did not afford any room for further development or expansion. The school is now sited in a beautifully elevated setting and offers modern and well-designed accommodation. The well-kept grounds include playing pitches and a sports hall that cater for a range of sports. The school now has an impressive entrance hall, spacious corridors, high glass ceilings that provide ample natural light and good facilities for learning.
The current enrolment is 163 students. This number includes 53 adult students who are engaged in lifelong learning and completing a number of Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses. The remainder of the students are drawn from primary schools in Castlepollard and from a wide range of small rural schools in the vicinity. Very close links are fostered and maintained with local feeder primary schools to promote what the school can offer to prospective students and aid their smooth transfer into first year. The numbers enrolling in the school declined gradually over a period of years. It is hoped however, that in the future, numbers may again increase as demographics in the area show an upward trend. The schools’ population is small and accordingly each student receives a lot of individual attention and support to reach his/her full potential. A small but committed group of teachers works closely together in a very collegiate way to implement the school’s aim of providing effectively for students’ needs. The present student cohort now includes some newcomer students who have moved to live in the locality. It is reported that many of these require some assistance with language supports in English. Meeting these needs is proving somewhat challenging as no small rooms for one-to-one or small groups are available in the building. The school is participating in the School Completion Programme (SCP) and in the Delivering Equality of Opportunities for Schools (DEIS) initiative.
As it is only recently constructed the school is extremely well equipped for the delivery of practical subjects and has good information and communication technology (ICT). The school aims to increase the use of ICT in all subjects and to make it available to all teachers. It is reported that a number of teachers have been facilitated by the VEC to acquire laptop computers. This is commendable, as it is reported that many of these teachers now include ICT inputs into lesson planning and programme delivery. All classrooms have access to broadband. As the school and the VEC are promoting the use of ICT, it is recommended that, as resources permit, a laptop computer be supplied to the guidance counsellor for the delivery of Guidance in Castlepollard Community College and Columba College. This would facilitate improved record keeping of contacts made with students and promote easier access to information on careers and education courses for progression.
Based on current enrolment figures, the school has an allocation for Guidance of eleven hours per week. The guidance counsellor’s time is shared between two schools operated by the VEC, Castlepollard Community College and Columba College Killucan. The present timetabling arrangements for the guidance allocation locates the guidance counsellor for just one day a week in Castlepollard Community College. It is recommended that the school and the VEC urgently review these arrangements and that the full allocation of eleven hours for Guidance be made available to the school. A more equitable division of the guidance time would guarantee that the guidance counsellor was available to students at least two days a week in each school. This change would provide more continuity in the provision of Guidance to students.
Guidance in Castlepollard is delivered with support from another teacher who works with students doing the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), and deals with guidance queries on the days when the guidance counsellor is not in attendance in the school. This team approach to Guidance is to be commended.
As a result of the DEIS initiative the school can now also facilitate some additional one-to-one counselling assistance for students. This counselling is delivered by a professionally trained counsellor who visits the school each week to meet with students who have been identified by staff as requiring assistance to address personal issues or concerns. Good liaison is maintained by this counsellor with management and staff. Relevant information about students is shared appropriately and sensitively. This team approach towards the provision of guidance and counselling support is to be commended. It is recommended however, that a regular meeting of all staff who organise and provide support for students should be arranged. This should take place a few times each term to discuss students who are experiencing difficulties, plan suitable strategies and the actions to be undertaken with students and with parents. This team should include the home-school-community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator and guidance team members.
No dedicated office is available for Guidance due to space restrictions in the building. One-to-one guidance interviews and guidance classes with groups take place in the school library where guidance materials and information about courses and entry to third-level and further-education colleges are also displayed. As this is the only space available for Guidance, it is suggested that a corner of the room be developed for Guidance in which one-to-one interviews with students could be conducted. Suitable furniture for guidance work and a secure filing cabinet for students’ files could be located in this area. When resources permit, a data projector should also be made available for Guidance classes in the library.
The school has developed a critical incident response plan in consultation with the Guidance counsellor.
The school is engaged in school development planning and a range of appropriate policies have been developed. The school guidance plan has now been drafted with support from staff. A draft guidance programme for junior and senior cycle has been developed. It is recommended however that the guidance plan contain whole-school elements such as ways that Guidance links with the Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and the Religious Education (RE) programmes. It should reflect a better balance of guidance provision between senior and junior cycles and include inputs about career topics for junior cycle students. In addition, a full list of all assessment instruments applied to students should be included in the plan.
Further assistance with completing the guidance plan can be accessed from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) www.sdpi.ie and the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE). Two documents may also be consulted that have been circulated to schools, Planning a School Guidance Programme (NCGE 2004) www.ncge.ie and Guidelines for second level schools on the implications of Section 9c of Education Act 1998, relating to students’ access to appropriate guidance (DES 2005) www.education.ie. It is recommended that, at the end of the next academic year, the amended school guidance plan be presented to staff, parents and students for consultation and then to the board of management. This plan should be updated annually to address new and emerging needs in the school. Information about how to develop a curricular framework for Guidance and about how it can be integrated with all aspects of the school curriculum may be accessed from The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie.
Parents receive advice and support from the school when their children are making transitions. Students receive a lot of assistance from staff when deciding on the subjects they should choose in junior and senior cycle and the level at which these subjects should be taken. Students and their parents should be referred by the school to the information module on the Qualifax website: Leaving Cert. and Junior Cert. Subject Choice www.qualifax.ie. This site provides comprehensive information about the long-term implications of subjects chosen by students in junior cycle.
Teachers from Castlepollard visit many of the feeder primary schools to meet with prospective students and their teachers. The school is very inclusive and enrols all students living in the catchment area who wish to attend. Information about students’ learning or other needs is compiled with support from the primary schools and parents so that appropriate supports can be put in place for students in advance of their arrival in the school. Parents of the incoming first-year students attend a dedicated meeting where they are informed about all aspects of the school and meet with staff. The NCCA will soon issue Junior Certificate subject fact sheets which will be useful for parents and students. These will be available on its website www.ncca.ie. Students attend an induction programme and receive good assistance from staff to settle into the school.
Through first, second and third year, Guidance is provided to students on an occasional basis by borrowing time from subject teachers. Educational and career guidance is provided with an emphasis on supporting students’ personal development and learning competences. It is suggested however that greater links between Guidance and the SPHE programme be forged so that topics such as decision making can be taught in a more collaborative way. The guidance programme for second-year students needs to be augmented to include some topics about careers. A focus on encouraging students to engage in career exploration should be promoted. Beginning an investigation about careers in second year would facilitate students to start considering possible career avenues well in advance of making decisions about subject choices for senior cycle. It would enable them to become more aware of all the opportunities open to them and raise their expectations about achieving personally. Students need to be assisted to understand the relevance of taking subjects at higher level for Junior and Leaving Certificate to achieve personal career goals. Third-year students and their parents are assisted to make subject choices and to progress successfully into senior cycle.
Senior cycle students receive focussed and valuable assistance from staff to develop competences in learning and to complete LCVP career investigations and work experience assignments. Work experience is monitored by staff so that students can benefit fully from engaging in the world of work. All students have access to individual guidance and counselling support throughout senior cycle. Good links are maintained with local employers and visits to third-level colleges and career events for students are arranged. The school has excellent ICT facilities and as all information about careers, third-level and further-education colleges is now available on the world wide web it is recommended that more Guidance lessons be held in the school’s computer room. This would encourage students to take ownership of their own career path development. Websites such as Qualifax, Career Directions www.careerdirections.ie, Careers Portal www.careersportal.ie and other available sites should be fully exploited with senior cycle classes to encourage interactive learning.
The school is very supportive of teachers attending in-service training, career events and personal supervision sessions. This is commendable.
In the course of the inspection, one final-year Leaving Certificate group was visited. The lesson was held in the school library. The methodologies selected to present and develop the topic were appropriate to the age and developmental level of the students. Advance planning for the lesson was evident. Good use was made of the overhead projector and informative support materials were supplied to students. However, it is suggested that most guidance lessons with a Leaving Certificate group should make maximum use of the school’s available ICT to encourage students to access information directly. The topic of the lesson was well introduced and some brainstorming with students took place at the outset. In addition, students’ opinions were sought and targeted questioning was deployed to elicit good responses. These responses were listened to and students’ ideas were built upon effectively in the process of the discussion. It is recommended however, that viable learning objectives always be established with students from the beginning of lessons. This will assist them to concentrate on achieving and recording learning outcomes.
Throughout the lesson students listened attentively, demonstrated good understanding of the topic and made useful contributions to the discussion about completing the CAO change of mind form. However not all students are choosing this transition route to third-level education. It is advised therefore that after February it may be preferable to divide the final year Leaving Certificate class into two groups in order to provide more targeted guidance support for those who are aiming to go on to third-level education, and those who are choosing further education or apprenticeship routes.
Respectful rapport between teacher and students and good classroom management were evident. Students’ work was stored in folders. This demonstrated that the guidance programme is being consistently implemented.
Appropriate and purposeful use is being made in the school of assessment modes, tests and other instruments to assess students’ learning and individuals’ needs. In Guidance, assessment is used effectively to assist students to explore individual aptitudes and plan suitable career paths. The school guidance plan however does not document the range of tests administered and this should be addressed. The suitability of tests should be reviewed regularly by staff. It is advised that reference should be made to the Circular Letter 0009/2007 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 suggested that administration of the AH2 test should be phased out and that more suitable tests should be considered. Good use is also being made of the Non–Reading Intelligence Test (NRIT). 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 choices in senior cycle. Other tests and interest inventories are selected and administered to meet particular students’ needs. Good use is being made of Qualifax to explore third-level and further-education and training options. It is recommended however, that students be introduced to more career and all college websites to further widen their horizons regarding the opportunities for transition available to them.
Good records of all one-to-one sessions held with students are being kept and 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. The initial destinations of all students leaving the school are being mapped annually to inform school planning. This is good practice and is to be commended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Guidance is delivered using a whole-school approach.
· Guidance is available one day a week to students in the school.
· Students can access one-to-one counselling support to address personal issues.
· A guidance plan has been drafted.
· The initial destinations of students are being mapped to inform future planning.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the full allocation of eleven hours for Guidance be made available to the school. The allocation should ideally be distributed over two days in the week. This will ensure more continuity of provision and support for students.
· It is recommended that a laptop computer be provided for Guidance, as resources permit.
· The school guidance plan should be developed in line with the recommendations in the body of this report.
· The guidance programmes for second-year and third-year students should include some inputs about career topics. It is recommended that more use should be made of ICT to encourage students in junior cycle to engage in career exploration.
· As testing is an essential element of guidance support for students, it is recommended that the list of tests administered be included in the school guidance plan.
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.
Published November 2008