An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Loreto Community School
Milford, County Donegal
Roll number: 91500J
Date of inspection: 14 February 2007
Date of issue of report: 24 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto Community School, Milford, Co. Donegal. 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 principal, with the guidance counsellor, with the chaplain, home-school-community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator, co-ordinator of work experience and a teacher of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. 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 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.
Loreto Community School, situated outside the town of Milford, is now accommodated in a new school building which opened at the beginning of September 2006. The school is one of two schools in the town and caters for students from diverse, mainly rural, backgrounds. Currently there is an enrolment of 527, boys and girls. The principal expects numbers to increase next year. Approximately ninety per cent of students travel by bus from a wide catchment area of approximately twenty miles which encompasses the local areas of Milford, Kilmacrenan as well as the Fanad and Rosguill Peninsulas. While some of the primary feeder schools participate in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) initiative, Loreto Community School is not included.
The school receives an ex-quota allocation of twenty-four hours per week for Guidance from the Department of Education and Science (DES). The guidance counsellor works full-time to deliver the guidance and counselling provision and collaborates with the teacher delivering the vocational preparation modules of the LCA programme and the co-ordinator of work experience where some of the ex-quota guidance allocation is currently deployed. The school principal states that guidance is vital to students and reports that the guidance counsellor works well in excess of the required hours and is available at lunch time to meet with students. However, as the school receives extra allocations for both the LCA programme and the co-ordinator post, it is recommended that the school explores how the current ex-quota allocation of twenty-four hours can be deployed to the optimum level for guidance provision across the full student body.
Loreto Community School has the services of a full-time chaplain and HSCL co-ordinator and, commendably, there is a high degree of collaboration between them and the guidance counsellor. A member of staff with a qualification in counselling provides some counselling support to students in a voluntary capacity. The school does not have the services of a designated National Educational Psychological Services (NEPS) psychologist which delays student assessment and at present the school opens on a Saturday to facilitate a private psychologist to complete assessments.
Guidance provision is targeted primarily in senior cycle. Classes are timetabled in fourth and fifth year and a guidance module is provided in Transition Year (TY). Individual appointments and personal counselling are offered throughout the school. The guidance counsellor is part of the school transfer programme team for incoming first years. In addition to meeting new students on induction day the guidance counsellor visits all first year classes to introduce the guidance service and explain access and procedures. The guidance office is open during lunch time two days per week and students are invited to drop in or to make appointments. At the beginning of the second term the guidance counsellor surveys all first years on the settling-in process and will follow up with individual appointments as required. This level of commitment to student support is commended.
Loreto Community School has excellent facilities for guidance in the form of an office with computer, broadband access, phone, shelving and storage, situated across the corridor from the guidance classroom. The office also houses a well stocked careers library. Each classroom has four computers with broadband access. Currently the school library is being equipped and, when completed, a number of computer terminals will be available. It is recommended that the school explores the possibility of providing access for students to these computers outside class time to encourage independent learning and self-management skills. A large notice board outside the guidance office is regularly updated.
Access to the computer room for guidance classes is limited at present. As the most up-to-date information on courses is available on the internet it is recommended that the school reviews levels of access to information and communications technology (ICT) in the course of guidance planning. The demonstration room will be equipped presently to facilitate career talks by guest speakers.
There is a good sense of care for students in the school as evidenced by the supports, programmes and initiatives available to students. A care team of guidance counsellor, HSCL co-ordinator and chaplain has operated with regular weekly meetings for a number of years in the school. However, in the current school year this team has met only twice. Year heads meet weekly to discuss both pastoral and discipline issues. The principal, deputy principal and HSCL co-ordinator also attend these meetings. The school plans to arrange these meetings next year to facilitate the attendance of the guidance counsellor and chaplain as required. This is encouraged.
The principal acknowledges that while a whole school approach to student care is developing there is need to build on current practices. In this regard it is recommended that the school formalises the current care team structure in terms of time, meetings and keeping of records. Such a collaborative approach would facilitate both optimum attendance and transfer of information on students; it would further enhance the good work that is already being done and ensure that students at risk are identified and supported as early as possible.
Year heads meet all their students individually each year and refer students to the chaplain or guidance counsellor as appropriate. Class officers, subject teachers and parents also refer students to the guidance counsellor or the students self-refer.
Referrals by the special education needs department to psychologists are effected through the principal’s office in consultation with parents. The guidance counsellor liaises with parents and local GPs regarding referrals. The school reports good support from local GPs, however Health Service Executive (HSE) waiting lists result in delays in accessing relevant personnel.
It is commendable that Loreto Community School has had a team of staff members working on a critical incident response plan for the past two years. Members of Restore, the HSE North West service for schools, have addressed the whole staff and a plan of action has been drawn up. In preparing the final draft of the policy document it is recommended that the school would refer to support materials available from NEPS. Networking with local schools is recommended also as such collaboration will provide additional support and assist all participants.
Loreto Community School has introduced a healthy eating policy and the canteen offers healthy options for breakfast, at break and lunch times. Parents are informed of the Centre for Talented Youth in DCU and literature is made available. A book rental scheme is in operation for all junior cycle students and a book grant is provided to all eligible applicants. While there is no specific budget for the guidance department resources are provided as required.
In the current year a small group of staff members led by the guidance counsellor has been established to work on the guidance plan. Liaison has already taken place with the student council to examine student support. This is commended. To date, work completed includes detailed programmes for third year, TY and senior cycle classes. Information to support this work on planning is available in publications such as – Planning the School Guidance Programme, issued by the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE), Guidelines for Second Level Schools on the Implications of Section 9 (c) of the Education Act, relating to students’ access to appropriate guidance, published by the Department of Education and Science and the Department’s template for guidance planning, available on www.education.ie. Input from parents and from representative(s) of the local business community into the planning process is recommended. A student needs analysis vis-à-vis provision and delivery should be carried out also to inform the planning process.
Loreto Community School has engaged with the local HSCL cluster of schools to provide a transition programme for incoming first year students. This is commended. The programme begins with an open evening for prospective students and their parents during which input is made by the guidance counsellor on Guidance and the role of the guidance counsellor. Sixth class pupils are afforded the opportunity to mix together over a period of six weeks before entering the second level schools; timetables and procedures are explained, questions answered and fears about the transition allayed. The HSCL co-ordinator reports strong collaboration between schools and good feedback on incoming students from primary school teachers.
Students also visit the school to complete pre-entry tests. The guidance counsellor attends the induction day held at the beginning of the school year when roles of support personnel are explained to students. Other support personnel also visit first year class groups and explain roles. In order to avoid unnecessary overlaps it is recommended that these supports be collaboratively planned through the care team at the beginning of the year. Loreto Community School also operates a support system where senior prefects bring any concerns about first years to the attention of the staff. The school is planning to set up a mentoring system next year between the current TY students and incoming first years. All of these activities to support the transfer of students are commended.
The school provides sampling of all subjects during first year and classes are of mixed ability. These practices are commended as they assist students in making informed choices for the Junior Certificate. The year head for first year has carried out an open choice survey of first year students to begin subject choice for Junior Certificate. The guidance counsellor and year head will now collaborate to work on survey results and progress subject choice.
Loreto Community School hosts an information evening for parents of first year in September. This provides an opportunity for parents to raise any issues or concerns they may have and to receive feedback from teachers on how students are experiencing the settling-in process. It is recommended that the school also uses this opportunity to inform parents of the import of subject and level choice and of the restrictions that result from, for example, not studying a modern language. In this regard parents could be directed to the information now available regarding subject choice on www.qualifax.ie. The guidance counsellor is available to meet with individual parents during the information evening or meetings are arranged for later. This level of support for students and parents is commended.
Currently the guidance counsellor has no class contact with second year students. In third year the guidance counsellor borrows two double periods to provide a module on subject and programme choice for senior cycle. Excellent handouts on subject level requirements as well as relevant exercises are prepared for students by the guidance counsellor and a questionnaire is administered. Addresses of relevant websites are given so that students can access information and individual appointments are arranged with the guidance counsellor to discuss choices.
Subject teachers collaborate to provide information on subject content and there is wide consultation between the guidance and the special education needs departments. This collaboration is commended. The school also hosts an information session with a team approach for parents of third year students on subject choice, the TY option and the three Leaving Certificate programmes. Handouts are prepared for parents and individual appointments may be made with the guidance counsellor. This support is commended. The HSCL co-ordinator collaborates with the guidance counsellor to support students considering leaving school before completion of Leaving Certificate.
The TY is optional and at present there are two class groups. Guidance is timetabled for half-year modules. The main aim of the module is to develop research skills and each student presents a careers research project at the end of the term to the class group. The school awards prizes for the best researched career project. It is suggested that these projects could be made available for reading by all students in the school library. Students may arrange individual interviews with the guidance counsellor as required and all TY students participating in the cross-border initiative Knowledge of Enterprise for Youth (KEY) are interviewed by the guidance counsellor.
Guidance classes are timetabled in pre-Leaving and Leaving Certificate years (fourth and fifth years). In fourth year there is a focus on career research. Students present their project work to their class group culminating in information on approximately twenty careers. The guidance counsellor supports this work with extra information as well as preparation, briefing and de-briefing for the annual careers seminar organised by the Donegal branch of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC). In fifth year the focus is on choice of post-Leaving Certificate options. The guidance counsellor prepares a number of templates, handouts, notes, aids for reference writing and interviews for senior cycle students. This level of commitment is commended.
The guidance counsellor provides individual interviews for the LCA Year One students, liaises with the LCA teacher to organise visits and guest speakers and delivers the LCA guidance module in Year Two. It is recommended that collaborative planning take place between the guidance counsellor, teacher of vocational preparation modules and co-ordinator of programmes to streamline procedures and thus avoid possible overlaps. Guidance classes are timetabled for the LCVP students to facilitate the completion of the career investigation section of the programme. The guidance counsellor also takes responsibility for all the portfolio work with students and assists with the programme interviews at the end of the course. In the course of guidance planning it is recommended that the school examines how other members of staff could contribute to these activities thus ensuring the enhanced availability of the guidance counsellor for core guidance work.
A number of students submit applications to UK colleges through the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS). The guidance counsellor prepares students to complete the application, has devised a handout to elicit information on students from subject teachers and completes the reference section of the form. In the course of guidance planning it is recommended that the school explores how other members of staff could contribute to this time-consuming activity.
Senior students attend open days and other career and course information events in colleges in the Republic and in Northern Ireland. Students are encouraged to make individual arrangements to attend events of specific interest to them. This is commended as it helps students develop self-management skills. Representatives from colleges and training organisations visit the school to provide talks and visits out are organised for students. Senior students have access to videos, QualifaX and Career Directions.
The guidance counsellor is a member of the school’s curriculum development group which has been active in the school for a number of years. An ongoing review of subjects and supports takes place which has resulted in changes in policy such as the introduction of subject sampling offered during first year and the establishment of science as a core subject in junior cycle. The guidance counsellor reports ongoing collaboration with senior management regarding subject choice through formal and informal meetings.
The school reports an open-door approach and good contact with parents. Year heads and class officers maintain regular contact with parents. The guidance counsellor attends all parent/teacher meetings and provides an input into all information sessions for parents.
The guidance counsellor co-ordinates the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) programmes through which Loreto Community School is linked to NUI Maynooth, St Angela’s College Sligo and Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT). Through the access programme students attend workshops on modern languages in LYIT to assist with oral examinations. The HSCL and the guidance counsellor collaborate to co-ordinate the special awards offered to third year students by the access programme to enhance awareness of higher and further education and increase uptake.
Apart from links established with industry through the work experience programmes the school also liaises with a number of organisations to provide information and support for students. These include the HSE, FÁS, Fáilte Ireland, Donegal Enterprise Board, Donegal Local Development Company, the Co Donegal Vocational Education Committee (VEC), local and cross-border youth projects and the local gardaí. This networking is commended. The guidance counsellor has completed in-service with the Association for Higher Education Access and Disability (AHEAD), the voluntary association which seeks to promote improved access for persons with disabilities to third level education.
The guidance counsellor is a member of the IGC. The school facilitates attendance at local and national in-service, relevant guidance events and the local professional development sessions to support counselling.
In the course of the evaluation one LCVP Year Two class group was visited. The lesson was very well planned and structured. Commendably there was evidence of good continuity with previous lessons. The aim of the lesson, which was clearly explained to students, was to consider how marks are awarded for CV presentation as part of the LCVP portfolio requirements. Students were given a sample CV which they were asked to score. Working in pairs and using the LCVP marking scheme the task was to agree the marks allocated. During the pair work the guidance counsellor went around the class encouraging students, affirming effort and answering questions. High levels of attention were given to individual students and the guidance counsellor also engaged in whole-class teaching in order to provide information, explain and check understanding.
Students were positively affirmed and encouraged and there was a high level of student engagement in the discussion that followed the task. CVs, previously completed as homework, were then returned to students with corrections and amendments. The guidance counsellor went around explaining marks and corrections as students reflected on their efforts and amended their work. A deadline for final submission of completed CVs was then negotiated. Commendably, cross-curricular links were encouraged by the arrangements for students to complete the word processing of their work in the ICT class.
The last period of the lesson was devoted to feedback from students on their progress on completing the report on ‘My own place’ section of the LCVP link modules. Students added businesses and services to the lists of fellow students from their ‘own place’. The pace and content of the class was appropriate to the class group.
A variety of methodologies was employed including use of the whiteboard, handouts, pair work, discussion, questions and answers. A friendly and relaxed class atmosphere and good working relationships were evident. Good rapport and mutual respect were evident between the guidance counsellor and students. Students were given autonomy to decide on the submission date of work. The good practice of roll call at the beginning of the lesson and homework assignment was noted.
The guidance counsellor processes results of pre-entry tests and records them in spreadsheets. The tests used include Mathematics Competency and Group Reading Test 2. The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) are administered to pre-Leaving Certificate students and feedback on results is provided individually to students in their final year. Given the lapse of time it is suggested that the school reviews the timing vis-à-vis administration and feedback. Interest Inventories used include the Rothwell Miller Interest Blank which is completed in TY, the Connolly Interest Inventory which is administered in pre-Leaving year and the interest inventories within Career Directions, QualifaX and UCAS, which are used with Leaving Certificate students.
Tracking of Leaving Certificate students is done by the guidance counsellor. An annual survey is completed and statistics circulated to staff and board of management by the guidance counsellor. Past students are welcome to return to school or to meet with the guidance counsellor for further information and support.
The guidance counsellor maintains student profiles from first year onwards and records of test scores are maintained in individual folders. Senior students complete academic information and interest forms as they prepare for individual interviews with the guidance counsellor.
The following are the main strengths 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 principal and the guidance counsellor at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.