An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
St Joseph’s Secondary School
Rush, County Dublin
Roll number: 60343T
Date of inspection: 30 November 2007
report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Joseph’s Secondary School, Rush, County Dublin. 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, met with teachers, held discussions with the principal and deputy principal and with the guidance counsellor. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, the deputy principal and the guidance counsellor. The board of management was given an 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 of this report.
St Joseph’s Secondary School, a co-educational voluntary secondary school, operates under the trusteeship of CEIST (Catholic Education, an Irish Schools Trust). The school is the only school in the town and caters for students from diverse, urban and rural backgrounds. Student numbers in the school have been growing for the past few years and currently, there is an enrolment of 455 girls and boys, including thirty newcomer students. The school has ten main feeder primary schools with students coming from the local area and from as far afield as Balbriggan to the north and Donabate and Portrane in the south.
The school receives a total ex-quota allocation of twenty-two hours per week for Guidance from the Department of Education and Science. This includes a whole-time equivalent (WTE) allocation of 0.25 for the Guidance Enhancement Initiative (GEI) and a WTE allocation of .23 through the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) action plan to combat educational disadvantage. St Joseph’s has participated in the School Completion Programme (SCP) for a number of years and the school provides an allocation of an additional four hours for counselling, funded by the SCP. Currently the school guidance team comprises two qualified guidance counsellors, one of whom was appointed this year and works full-time to deliver the guidance provision. The other guidance counsellor attends the school one day per week and works as a counsellor to provide four hours counselling for students. They work together in close collaboration. The school has the services of a designated National Educational Psychological Services (NEPS) psychologist. At the time of the evaluation St Joseph’s had just been invited to participate in the Trinity Access Programmes (TAP) an intervention programme to encourage students to remain in school and to continue on to further and/or higher education. The guidance counsellor is the liaison person between the school and Trinity College, Dublin (TCD).
Currently guidance provision is targeted primarily in senior cycle with weekly timetabled classes in Transition Year (TY) and in fifth and sixth years, including the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) class groups. The guidance counsellor borrows class periods from colleagues to provide a guidance module in third year. Individual appointments and personal counselling are offered in all year groups as needs arise. In light of the imbalance in guidance provision between junior and senior cycle students it is recommended that, in the course of guidance planning, the school reviews the current timetabling arrangements to ensure the best possible and most equitable deployment of resources across the whole student body.
Management in St. Joseph’s is very supportive of Guidance and there are excellent facilities for Guidance in the form of an office with computer, broadband access, phone, data projector, use of a laptop for classes, shelving and storage. The office also houses a careers library and guidance-related materials are available in the school library. At present the library is being refurbished and the guidance counsellor is planning to arrange access to the computers there for students to facilitate independent research. This is commended. Two notice boards provide guidance-related information for students. A guidance notice board in the staff room offers information to staff on guidance events. A notice outside the guidance office explains how students may make appointments to meet with the guidance team and a box is provided to receive name slips and suggestions regarding the guidance service from students. All these efforts to facilitate access to the guidance department are commended. At present both the guidance counsellor and the counsellor work out of the same office. In the course of guidance planning it is suggested that the school explores whether the provision of separate, individual accommodation is necessary.
The guidance counsellor states that information and communications technology (ICT) facilities in the school are good and access to the computer room for guidance classes is available by arrangement with colleagues. Students have supervised computer access at lunchtime three days per week. It is recommended that the school explores and formalises access to ICT facilities for guidance delivery within the planning process.
There is a good sense of care in the school which is evidenced by the supports and programmes provided for students. A student care team was established last year. The guidance counsellor and the SCP co-ordinator lead the care team and commendably minutes are recorded. Meetings are held on Mondays before lessons begin and the group is currently working on an anti-bullying policy in conjunction with the Cool School programme. The guidance department works closely with year heads and class tutors. Both the guidance counsellor and the special educational needs co-ordinator attend the scheduled meetings of the year heads as needs arise. Ongoing contact is also maintained informally. This collaborative approach to student support is commended.
Referrals of students to the guidance department for counselling and extra support are made by senior management, year heads, tutors, subject teachers, special educational needs assistants (SNAs) and parents. Students may also self refer. Student attendance records are monitored by the school and protracted, or regular, absences are followed up and students referred to the guidance team as required. Commendably, the guidance counsellor has explained procedures at staff meetings and has devised a referral form which is available in the staff room. The wider use of this form by staff members when referring students to the guidance department is encouraged.
Links between the guidance department and senior management are maintained through weekly, scheduled meetings and through informal, ongoing contact.
Commendably, St Joseph’s has established links with a number of support agencies and organisations where both students and their families can receive support. For example representatives form the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) have visited the school to meet with the care team and have provided group work for second year students. Drama workshops with a focus on positive behaviour are offered to first and second year students. Referrals to outside agencies are effected through the office of the principal in consultation with parents and the guidance department. The documenting of all the procedures through which the school liaises with a number of organisations to provide extra assistance for students and families is recommended. When all the referral procedures are fully documented they should be included in the school guidance plan.
A team has recently been established in St Joseph’s to develop a critical incident response plan. In formulating the policy document it is recommended that the school networks with other local guidance counsellors as such collaboration will provide additional support and assist all participants. The school should also refer to support materials available from NEPS.
While there is no specific budget for the guidance department resources are provided as required.
Guidance planning has been initiated in the school. A planning group is being established and the guidance counsellor has completed background planning work. An outline programme of guidance activities and class contact on a monthly basis for the current year has been developed. An audit of guidance provision and a review are planned for the end of the current school year. Information to support work on guidance 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. It is recommended that input from staff, the student council, parents and from a representative of the local business community be sought. A student needs analysis would also inform the planning process. As counselling is important in the school and two staff members are engaged in providing counselling support for students it is recommended that the school develops a counselling policy, as part of the student care system. On completion, the policy should be ratified by the board of management and included in the guidance plan.
St Joseph’s has in place a transition programme for incoming first year students, co-ordinated by a post of responsibility holder who visits the feeder primary schools. The learning support co-ordinator visits the primary schools to speak with teachers of sixth classes. St Joseph’s reports good feedback from the primary schools and this allows the school to prepare support, as necessary, for incoming students. The transfer programme begins with an open evening for prospective students and their parents when demonstration lessons are offered. Students choose their subjects for the Junior Certificate examination before entry to St Joseph’s. The school hosts an information session for parents of incoming students on the import of subject choice. In this regard parents could be directed to the information available regarding subject choice on www.qualifax.ie. In May each incoming student, accompanied by his or her parent, attends an individual interview in the school and subject choices are discussed. The school states that there is flexibility to change subjects during September. In order to assist students with subject choice it is recommended that the school considers providing taster classes for first years so that they can make more informed choices of subjects and levels.
An induction day is held at the beginning of the new school year. Sixth-year students act as monitors (mentors) to first years, interacting with students, attending organised activities and calling the class rolls. The year head meets each first year student individually and students identified as needing extra support are referred to the guidance department. Plans are in place between the SCP and the guidance departments to deliver a study skills programme to first year students before the end of the first term. All of these activities to support students and parents are commended.
Guidance is not timetabled in junior cycle and the guidance counsellor borrows class periods to visit year groups as needs arise and to introduce the TAP. Second year students visit TCD when the college provides information on medical and related courses as part of the TAP. It is suggested that cross-curricular planning with subject areas such as Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) would prove mutually supportive in the delivery of the SPHE and the guidance programmes.
The deputy principal co-ordinates subject choice for senior cycle. Subject teachers offer information to students on subject content and the school hosts an information session for parents and students. An input is provided by the guidance counsellor and the co-ordinators of TY and the LCA. Subject teachers are welcome to offer an input on their specific subjects. It is suggested that the school formalises this so that information is provided to students on all subject areas. Parents are welcome to make appointments with the guidance counsellor to discuss individual choices. Commendably the guidance department is preparing a pack and an information booklet on subject choice to assist students and parents.
Students considering early school leaving are referred to the guidance department. Students are encouraged to remain in school and individual appointments are offered to students and parents to discuss options. The Transition Year programme is optional and may not run in a year when only a small number of students opt for the programme. At present there is one class group. Students begin an exploration of the world of work and career areas, complete interest inventories, prepare for work experience, develop skills in project presentation and job selection techniques. Work is carried out on the import of subject and programme choice.
Appropriate guidance programmes are delivered in senior cycle. A panel of guest speakers provides information on courses and career areas in fifth year and students explore the options available to them after the Leaving Certificate. Individual appointments are offered to students to discuss choices and options post Leaving Certificate. Students attend college open days and other career and course information events. The guidance department has identified a need to develop a policy on attendance at open days and career events. In this regard input from students and parents is recommended. Students are prepared to make application to the CAO, to UCAS, to the post-Leaving Certificate (PLCs) courses and to training and apprenticeships.
Seminars on study skills and examination techniques are offered to Leaving Certificate students as well as information on financial supports and grants available to students. The guidance department is planning to re-introduce the practice of mock interviews for senior students. The school participates in the STEPS programme and the guidance department is keen to build links with third level colleges and training institutions. The guidance counsellor co-ordinates the school’s activities as part of its participation in the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) with TCD. Information on the Access programme is provided to students and parents. An information session for parents on career choice, CAO application and procedures is planned for later this term. Individual appointments are arranged for parents as requested.
Parents are encouraged and welcomed to contact the guidance department as required. At the beginning of the current school year the school hosted a general parent meeting to introduce the new guidance counsellor, explain the guidance service and referral procedures. Commendably a leaflet on the role of the guidance department and the guidance service has been prepared for all stakeholders. The guidance counsellor attends all parent/teacher meetings and provides an input into all information sessions for parents. The school hosts an awards evening, to which parents are invited, to acknowledge and celebrate student achievement. The school journal which is the main channel of communication with parents provides useful information for students as well as study tips, a copy of the school code of conduct and the school agreement which is signed by the principal, the student and the parents.
The guidance counsellors are members of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC). The school facilitates attendance at local and national in-service, relevant guidance and training events and the local professional development sessions to support counselling. Commendably, the guidance counsellor also links in with fellow guidance counsellors via a webpage to share resources.
In the course of the evaluation one fifth year class group was visited. The focus of the lesson was self-awareness and the development of interview skills. The content of the lesson was well planned and was appropriate to the group. The lesson began with a recap of what had already been completed in previous lessons regarding job selection procedures and techniques. The aims of the current lesson were then explained to students, handouts were provided to the group and reference made to the computer class where students will develop their CVs. This cross-curricular approach is commended.
A variety of methodologies was used including handouts and discussion, pair and individual work, matching of skills and personal qualities with specified jobs, use of the overhead projector, feedback from students and questioning targeted at individual students. The guidance counsellor used the opportunity of pair work to distribute individual student folders and to provide help to students as required. Questioning was used to check understanding and initiate comment and discussion. It is recommended that more time be included in the planning of lessons to facilitate the explanation of new terminology. The use of students’ current knowledge of the world of work and their experience of part-time job interviews could be exploited also to further engage students in their own learning. Commendably a recap of the work of the lesson was provided by the guidance counsellor at the end of the lesson period.
A friendly and relaxed class atmosphere and good working relationships were evident. Students were positively affirmed and encouraged. Students were diligent, there was excellent participation on the part of students and a good deal of work was completed within the lesson period. Good rapport and mutual respect were obvious between guidance counsellor and students.
School-devised tests in Irish, English and Mathematics are completed by incoming first year students and the guidance counsellor administers the Non-Reading Intelligence Test (NRIT) to identify students needing extra support. The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) are administered to fifth year students to assist them with identification of strengths and aptitudes. Interest inventories such as Career Interest Inventory (CII), Career Decision Making (CDM) and those available on the QualifaX, Career Directions and UCAS websites are used with senior cycle students to assist career and course choices.
In the course of school development planning it is recommended that the school considers formulating a testing policy. In this regard useful information and support for testing procedures could be sourced within IGC branch in-service. The school could also refer to the Circular Letter 0099/2007 and the accompanying information regarding tests on the Department’s website www.education.ie.
Tracking of Leaving Certificate students is done by the guidance department using statistics from the CAO system. Past students are welcomed to return to school or to meet with the guidance team for further information and support.
The guidance counsellor maintains student profiles and records of meetings with students from first year onwards as students attend the guidance department. Record forms for guidance meetings with students in each year group are maintained in individual folders and stored in a filing cabinet. The guidance counsellor also maintains a folder to record day-to-day meetings and notes. Minutes of guidance department meetings are recorded as are e-mails and notes of meetings with the principal, year heads and SCP co-ordinator. Appointment slips have been developed by the guidance department.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is excellent support for Guidance from school management. Facilities for Guidance in St Joseph’s are good and effective procedures for guidance provision and delivery are being established in the school.
· Guidance planning has been initiated in the school. A planning group has been set up and an audit of provision is planned for the end of the current school year.
· There is good sense of care for students in the school. A student care team has been established.
· There is worthwhile engagement with outside organisations and programmes to support students and their parents.
· The guidance department is building networks both within and outside the school.
· A group has been established to work on the school’s crisis management response plan.
· In collaboration with parents and primary schools the school has a transfer programme in place to assist students in making a successful transfer from primary to post-primary school.
· Information regarding subject and programme choice is provided to parents.
· In the lesson observed a friendly and relaxed class atmosphere prevailed and good working relationships were evident. Students were diligent in their work. Good rapport and mutual respect were evident between guidance counsellor and students.
As a means of building on the strengths and to address the areas for development the following key recommendations are made:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the principal, the deputy principal and the guidance counsellor at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published September 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The BOM of St Joseph’s Secondary School, Rush is very heartened by the findings of this Inspection. The BOM congratulates the guidance counsellor on establishing a rapport with pupils and staff in a few short months after his appointment. The BOM would also like to acknowledge the swift response of the principal and deputy principal to the recommendations within the report. The BOM notes the commitment of the Guidance Department to the mission of the school.
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 management and guidance team have implemented all recommendations in the report – except the recommendation to provide sampling of subjects. We do not have sufficient resources at the moment. We found the process of inspection to be useful and affirming. It also accelerated the rate of systemic development within the school.