An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Mater Christi Secondary School
Cappagh, Finglas, Dublin 11
Roll number: 60852R
Date of inspection: 22 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mater Christi Secondary School. 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 acting guidance counsellor 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 acting guidance counsellor. 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.
Mater Christi is a voluntary secondary school for girls operating under the auspices of the Sisters of Charity. The school has maintained a long tradition of being fully inclusive and providing a high quality of support for students. Some years ago a fire destroyed much of the school buildings. The school has since been sensitively restored and students now have a bright, spacious, well-maintained and well-equipped environment for learning.
The current enrolment totals 197 students. It is reported that for a number of years enrolment in the school declined. However, this trend is now changing due to a renewed demand for post- primary places in the area. An increased number of prospective students have enrolled to enter first year next September. Very close links are fostered and maintained with local feeder primary schools to promote the school and aid the smooth transfer of students. The student cohort presently includes girls from the Traveller community and newcomer students from a wide variety of countries. Meeting the needs of these students is a priority for the school and they are well integrated into all aspects of school life. The stated aim of the school is to provide whatever supports each girl requires to assist her full participation in education.
The school is participating in the School Completion Programme (SCP) and the Delivering Equality of Opportunities for Schools (DEIS) initiative. Support provided by the SCP has assisted staff to promote and plan targeted responses to meet individual students’ needs. The development of such a wide range of comprehensive and integrated approaches to address students’ welfare and educational needs is to be commended. This emphasis on providing targeted care, based on individuals’ needs, could provide a model for other schools dealing with similar challenges. Management and staff are to be complimented for the diligence displayed in providing such a wide range of learning and other supports for students.
Management acknowledges that Guidance is an essential support for students. Due to a recent retirement of a staff member the school currently has no trained guidance counsellor. However, a teacher with expertise in this area has been appointed to take on this role in an acting capacity. Guidance in the school is managed and delivered by this teacher with support from other staff. School management is supportive of teachers accessing additional training and engaging in continuous professional development (CPD). Appropriate training in guidance is now being sought for the acting guidance counsellor in a number of third-level colleges.
The school has an allocation of eleven hours for Guidance and these hours are augmented by the school from its own resources to a total of 15.4 hours. Guidance is delivered as an integrated model with counselling, using a range of group and one-to-one methodologies. All students can access guidance or counselling support upon request. Guidance is available to all year groups and in particular to those making transitions. In addition to Guidance, the SCP funds extra personal counselling supports for students in the school. This service is delivered by a visiting professional counsellor who works one-to-one with students who wish to explore in-depth personal or family issues. Information about students requiring support is shared appropriately and sensitively between staff to support their participation in school. The focus of the school’s care provision is to assist students to learn personal coping skills, and to be facilitated to access assistance to address personal issues which may provide obstacles to learning.
The school is adopting a collegial approach to providing care for students. A very effective care team has been established which includes the home-school-community liaison co-ordinator (HSCL), representatives from management, heads of year groups, teachers involved in pastoral duties, SCP and Guidance. This team meets formally weekly to discuss students who have been identified as requiring extra targeted support. Interventions with students are discussed and appropriate actions are planned. All meetings are minuted and records of all contacts with students and parents are maintained. This is good practice. Members of the care team work hard to identify and assist students who may be in danger of dropping out of school or require particular interventions. The referral of students for extra professional help within the school and to outside agencies is effectively supported and managed.
Through intensive liaison with parents, the school has established excellent links with families in the area including parents of Travellers and of newcomer students. Parents are encouraged to visit the school regularly and to contact management about any problem their children may be experiencing. This is commendable.
A dedicated office has been provided for Guidance with good accessibility for students and parents. The office is well resourced with storage space and has full broadband access. Notice boards for the display of information about college open-days, other career events and application requirements are also provided in the school. As the guidance office was recently re-located it is recommended that these notice boards be placed nearer to the present office. Students have good access to information and communication technology (ICT) to explore college and career websites.
Regular contact between Guidance and management is maintained. It is reported that management is very supportive of whole-school Guidance. A critical incident response plan has been developed with support from Guidance.
The school is engaged in school development planning and a range of appropriate policies have been developed. The guidance plan has now been drafted with support from staff. It is reported that a small planning group is now meeting to further planning objectives for Guidance and to identify priority areas for development. Draft guidance programmes for junior and senior cycle programmes have been developed. It is recommended that the guidance plan contain more whole-school elements, include more inputs about career exploration for junior cycle students and provide more details about linkages with the Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Religious Education (RE) programmes. Learning outcomes for each year group should also be included. Further assistance to complete 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) www.ncge.ie. 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 this academic year, the draft school guidance plan be made available to staff, parents and students for consultation. Following this consultation the guidance plan should be presented to the board of management. The plan should be updated annually to address new and emerging needs.
Guidance is provided for students making the transition from primary school to Mater Christi. Each student is interviewed in first year and regular contact is maintained by the guidance team with all classes throughout junior cycle. Information events are arranged for parents of incoming first-year students. The guidance team attends these and other meetings that are arranged for parents to explain how the school operates and the implications for students of choosing subject options. This is effective practice. It is recommended that students and their parents be referred to the module on the Qualifax website www.qualifax.ie Leaving Cert. and Junior Cert. Subject Choices as this provides comprehensive information on the long-term implications of making subject choices in junior cycle.
To further develop the existing guidance programmes for students in second and third year, it is recommended that some additional inputs on career topics be planned and included. This could be completed through co-operation with the SPHE programme. Introducing topics on careers would encourage students to begin exploring a range of possible career avenues well in advance of making individual subject and programme choices for senior cycle, and the level at which these subjects should be studied. Engaging in career exploration would also encourage dialogue between students about possible career routes, and enable them to become more informed about how to achieve personal goals through accessing further and higher education. The use of ICT could be deployed to assist students with their research and websites such as Career Directions www.careerdirections.ie and www.careersportal may be found useful.
Students in third year are assisted to develop study skills and examination techniques and explore subject and programme choices. The Transition Year (TY) is not currently on offer to students. However, as the school is encouraging more and more students to complete the Leaving Certificate, the option of providing TY should be kept under constant review by the board of management. It has been found in other similar schools that TY provides a valuable extra year for students wishing to progress into higher education.
The number of students completing the Leaving Certificate has steadily increased and now most students make the transition from junior cycle to senior cycle. Students can choose to do the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) or the Leaving Certificate (Established). A comprehensive guidance programme is developed for each of these options and students are assisted to complete career investigations and avail of work-experience opportunities. As well as receiving Guidance in groups, students are also interviewed individually to explore a wide range of career options and develop individual career paths.
Those wishing to make the transition to third-level education receive good one-to-one and group assistance to explore all viable course options and to make applications to the Central Applications Office (CAO) for entry to universities and colleges in Ireland. It is reported that an increasing number of students are now successfully accessing third-level education. Active participation by the school in the third-level Access Programme with Dublin City University (DCU) has facilitated the smooth transfer of students into a number of third-level colleges and enabled them to make full use of the extra learning supports provided by this programme while still in school. Students in the school have good access to ICT to explore college websites and make their applications to the CAO via the internet. Those choosing routes into Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses, to FÁS (the National Training and Employment Authority) training or directly to employment are also facilitated in every way to make good personal choices. Parents are kept fully informed through the school’s newsletters which are issued throughout the year, at parents’ events and through one-to-one meetings arranged with staff. Visits to colleges are arranged for students and they also attend the local career exhibition organised in the area and FÁS Opportunities annually. Strong links with local business groups and with local companies have been forged. These links are being exploited creatively to provide structured visits to companies and provide very worthwhile work experience opportunities for students. Guest speakers from industry also visit the school to address students and provide valuable insights into the world of work. It is particularly praiseworthy that all students in senior cycle do work experience. Guidance supports students to take full advantage of these opportunities. This is exemplary practice.
In the course of the inspection one LCVP lesson with a sixth year group was attended. The methodology selected to present and develop the lesson topic was well chosen and was very appropriate to the programme, to the age and to the developmental level of the students. The lesson took place in an extremely well-appointed ICT room with good networking facilities and Broadband access. Good advance planning of the lesson was very much in evidence. The topic was well introduced and delivered. Students received clear instructions and one-to-one support was supplied when required throughout the lesson. Questioning was used to very good effect to elicit the students’ understanding of the assignment to be completed. Well-chosen support materials were supplied and were used effectively to build on lesson planning. The lay out of the room was excellent and conducive to learning and the students were encouraged to make full use of the available technology to complete the set assignment. Learning goals and the outcomes to be achieved were well established at the beginning of the lesson and this approach provided a good scaffold and structure for effective learning to take place. A particularly good feature of the lesson was the way that students worked at their own pace to achieve personal outcomes.
All students were very actively engaged during the session. They demonstrated maturity, good listening, competence in ICT and collaborative skills. They also displayed good knowledge of the lesson topic and explored the websites included in the assignments very expertly. Good rapport was evident between the teacher and students throughout the lesson.
Classroom management was excellent with students displaying an orderly approach to learning. Follow up on the lesson was signalled at the end of the session and students’ completed work was saved digitally and in hard copy formats.
Appropriate use is being made in the school of assessment procedures to assess students’ learning and other needs. Aptitude tests, school entrance tests and psychometric instruments are administered to students to assist them to explore learning needs and career interests. The school guidance plan documents the tests and other instruments that are selected. However, reference should be made by the school to the current Circular Letter PPT 0008/2007 on testing in schools, which is available at www.education.ie. This could stimulate ideas about the choice of new tests or interest inventories for use with students.
Good records of all one-to-one sessions held with students and of all follow-up actions to be taken are maintained. Individual student files are compiled and stored appropriately to provide maximum individual support. The initial destinations of all students leaving the school should be documented formally each year. The information gathered about these destinations could be then used to inform school and guidance planning. Guidance is available to students who have left school and require advice about career choices. This approach is to be commended as the school exhibits a deep duty of care towards all its students, and recognises that some of them may need extra support to make successful transitions.
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 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 23 October 2008