An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
An Mhainistir Thuaidh, Corcaigh
Roll number: 62531H
Date of inspection: 21 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Gaelcholáiste Mhuire, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. 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 team.
Gaelcholáiste Mhuire is commended for its well-organised approach to the support of students. Informal systems are in place that cater for the individual needs of students in the context of a system of student management that fosters responsible action based on clearly stated values. In addition to its philosophy of education as a school under the Edmund Rice Schools’ Trust (ERST), Gaelcholáiste Mhuire has a particular mission as a school that educates through the medium of Irish. It was clear that both sets of values are being fulfilled. The promotion of responsible behaviour has clear results in the high levels of order, cleanliness, and visually pleasing decoration visible throughout the school during the inspection and is a clear fulfilment of its vision of “promoting full personal and social development in caring Christian communities of learning and teaching” (ERST Charter). The ability of students to converse through Irish and the extensive use of Irish language signage, posters and other displays, which were demonstrated during the inspection, is commended, displaying, as it does, a firm commitment to the promotion of the language.
The pastoral care system of the school embodies much of what is defined to be Guidance in documents published in recent years, including those of the Department of Education and Science, such as the Inspectorate (2005) Guidelines for Second-Level Schools on the Implications of Section 9(c) of the Education Act 1998, Relating to Students' Access to Appropriate Guidance and the Review of Guidance in second-level schools (2006). The systems are largely informal with a strong emphasis on communication which is effective and ongoing and in clear conformity with the school’s core values. A year head and class teacher structure has been established and regular, informal meetings between these staff members take place.
The school has an ex-quota allocation for Guidance of thirteen hours per week. Eight hours and five minutes of this allocation can be clearly identified in the provision of an excellent career guidance service by senior management to students. Two periods per week are timetabled for career guidance with sixth-year students and six hours and forty minutes for career guidance to individual and small groups of students. The use of the remainder of the allocation is less clear and this must be addressed in the context of whole-school guidance planning, as recommended below. Reference is made particularly to page four of the 2005 Guidelines where Guidance is viewed as three separate, but interlinked areas of personal, educational and career guidance, where counselling is seen to be a key part of the school guidance programme and where the school’s planning obligations are outlined. It is suggested that staff who are qualified in Guidance are a valuable resource that might be included in the recommended planning process. In recent years, the enrolment has grown by almost forty percent and this, among other factors influences the need to plan for continuity in the provision of the whole-school guidance programme.
Mention has already been made of the excellent career guidance provided by the deputy principal. The service also includes, in addition to timetabled class contact, intermittent contact with other classes by arrangement with subject teachers, and individual and small group contact with students that is comprehensive, thorough, and ongoing, and includes follow-up contacts with students after the Leaving Certificate examination. Other elements of Guidance are being provided by staff in general, particularly by those who are class leaders (cinnirí bliana) and whose functions include the care and welfare of students, and those whose curricula include elements in common with Guidance. The whole-school guidance curriculum incorporates many such elements and assumes collaboration among those providing them, as envisaged in the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) (2007) Draft Guidance Framework. Whole-school guidance planning assists in the clarification of these roles and responsibilities in the provision of the curricular and support aspects of the Guidance programme.
Although they are in the office of the deputy principal, the facilities for Guidance are very good. The office is equipped with appropriate storage facilities and is suitable for work with individuals and with small groups. Display boards are placed on walls throughout the building and are used extensively for the display of guidance-related materials such as posters, college lists and notification of open days. Access to ICT for individual and group guidance is readily arranged in the designated ICT rooms and each student is provided with an individual account enabling controlled access to the school’s ICT facilities.
The school has achieved a commendable blend of formality and informality in its systems of communication and referrals. This is ongoing and effective and facilitates the blend of informality and responsibility which is characteristic of the school. Issues related to the support of students are dealt with in this context, which is inclusive of staff at all levels. There is currently no co-ordinator of special educational needs. It is recommended that, in view of the importance of this area, a co-ordinator be appointed. Such an appointment should also facilitate the formation of an effective whole-school guidance planning team which should include, at least, a representative of management, guidance, special educational needs and chaplaincy or pastoral care. In its initial stages, members of this team might also act as the student support team among whose responsibilities might be rapid response to the day-to-day needs of individual students which may be beyond the competencies of non-specialist staff.
The plan for career guidance has been commended above. Much is also being accomplished in the school in support of students’ personal, social and educational development. The size of the school facilitates the involvement of parents and this is accomplished not only through the regular parent-teacher meetings but also through close contacts between senior management and staff and parents. Similarly, contacts with, for example, the institutions of further and higher education and training and with past students of the school, are used productively in the interests of students. The Lehane Scholarship is an example of the generous support of past students.
The school has had some engagement with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and it is recommended that this be further explored and expanded. The structures proposed by the SDPI and its support materials, published both in paper form, and on its website, are most useful in the advancement of whole-school planning. The use of whole-school guidance-planning materials also available on the SDPI website, at www.sdpi.ie is also recommended as are similar materials and templates available on the Department website at www.education.ie. In the longer term, consideration might be given to engagement with the modular whole-school guidance planning diploma course being offered by the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE). In the interim, Planning the School Guidance Programme available at www.ncge.ie is a good guide to the process. It is recommended that a task group be formed in the context of the structures proposed by the SDPI to initiate the process of whole-school guidance planning.
The plan should include a review of current accommodation for Guidance in the short to medium term and should incorporate details of current processes that are operating well, such as the transition of students from primary schooling to second level, from junior cycle to senior cycle and from school to life beyond it. Elements of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and of Transition Year (TY) with implications for guidance planning, such as decision-making, the work experience programme and career investigation should also be included, as should the involvement of the parents and links with the wider community. Whole school guidance planning should also include a review of channels of communication and a structure to ensure continuing effective communication with middle management and senior management especially in the context of a growing school.
Most policies developed by schools have implications for Guidance. Guidance counsellors, for example are often involved in admission procedures such as induction, parents’ information sessions, and assessment. Similarly, because of the recognised need for continuing professional development (CPD) of guidance personnel, the guidance plan should also make reference to the school’s CPD policy and should make provision for professional counselling support and attendance at regular CPD events such as those arranged by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors. It is considered good practice that these policies and their guidance implications be included in the process of guidance planning and that policies be dated to facilitate their identification for review purposes.
Two lessons were observed in the course of the inspection and each exemplified good practice in differing ways. Senior cycle students, a class of TY students and a class of sixth-year students, participated in the lessons. In one classroom, students sat in a large circle of chairs and discussed work experience. In the other, the class was more formally dispersed at individual tables to consider the CAO third-level application system and, in particular, to examine the documentation that is an important part of the system. In both cases the arrangement of students was appropriate to the task and enabled the efficient progress of the lesson. Students participated in a role-play in one lesson and showed a commendable command not only in their engagement with the topic but also in their role-playing capacity.
Good use was made of handouts and other materials to complement the presentations made by teachers and the structure of the lessons was enhanced by the use of standard formalities such as roll call, and by clear outlines of work already covered and work yet to be completed. It was clear from their responses that students understood the tasks presented, such as a consideration of the implications of work outside of school and of the long-term implications of courses chosen. Students were known and referred to by name. Effective use was made of this knowledge, especially in one instance in which students’ attention was checked regularly by the mention of names.
It was clear that the promotion of responsible behaviour in the school in general had a beneficial effect on student engagement in the classroom. Students responded well to the instructions given and answers to questions revealed a thorough understanding of the issues. The use of a mixture of questions, many of a higher order, is commended and students rose to this challenge.
Prior to entry, students are assessed for competency in Gaeilge, English and Mathematics. The results of standardised assessments carried out in primary schools are also obtained from some schools. No standardised assessment of general ability is carried out. It is suggested that such an assessment, as part of the process of admission of new students, would be a useful addition by facilitating the ongoing monitoring of students’ progress and of ensuring the formation of mixed-ability classes based on reliable information. Information regarding the tests available may be found as an online link to Circular 0099/2007 regarding grants for the purchase of test materials.
The records kept by individual staff involved in student support are in accordance with good planning practice and show due regard for confidentiality. The destinations of students are tracked in detail by the deputy principal and the support of students after the Leaving Certificate examination is of a very high standard. Meetings with individual students are noted and student profiles are well managed. Notes of meetings regarding the care, support and management of students are kept by the rapporteurs of those meetings. The formalities associated with the planning process are well documented in the planning materials referred to above and, given current good practice in this regard, it is anticipated that such materials will be used effectively in the course of the recommended planning process.
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 guidance team 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 2009