An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta


Department of Education and Science



Subject Inspection of Guidance



Coláiste Mhuire

Mullingar, Westmeath

Roll number: 63270K


Date of inspection: 17 May 2007

 Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007







Subject Inspection report

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning


Summary of Findings and Recommendations




Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance

Subject Inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Mhuire, Mullingar.  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 the 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.




Subject Provision and Whole School Support


Coláiste Mhuire is a voluntary secondary school for boys located in Mullingar. It was previously a Christian Brothers’ school. There is a current enrolment of 579 students, which includes one Leaving Certificate repeat class.


Coláiste Mhuire prides itself on the wide range of subjects it offers students and on its caring ethos. Guidance is viewed by management as an essential support for learning, for those making transitions and for supporting students with personal issues and concerns. A whole-school approach to Guidance is being fostered to support its full integration into all subjects and school programmes. The school currently has an ex-quota allocation of 24 hours for Guidance. This allocation is facilitating the expansion of Guidance throughout the school and the provision of additional educational and personal supports for students. All ex-quota guidance hours must be used only for Guidance and allocated in accordance with the whole school guidance plan. 


Guidance is being effectively managed and delivered and integrates very well with the school’s year head system and pastoral care structures. Guidance is delivered using a wide variety of modes including timetabled classes, one-to-one guidance interviews and group sessions. However, there is presently some imbalance in the provision of Guidance between junior and senior cycles. It is recommended that this imbalance be addressed through the timetabling of Guidance themes in junior cycle in conjunction with the social personal and health education programme (SPHE). The school has a care team that meets regularly to discuss and plan particular interventions for students. The Guidance department plays a valuable role in this team, liaises with staff and works with the school chaplain to provide tailored interventions to meet students’ needs. All students can access individual personal counselling support when required. It is reported that an increasing number of students are now seeking assistance to address personal issues and concerns.


A well equipped office for Guidance is provided. This room is suitably located and is accessible for students and parents. An effectively organised careers library is provided in a lobby area outside the guidance office which facilitates direct access for students in senior cycle to peruse third level college brochures and information about courses. The school library is situated next door to the guidance area and group guidance sessions can be held in this room. Notice boards in the corridors provide information for students about college open days and career events.


The use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is being promoted throughout the school and guidance classes can be timetabled in the computer rooms. Management is supportive of the development of Guidance in the school. Good links have been established internally and externally with all relevant external agencies to facilitate the referral of students for extra support and assistance. Contact with the National Educational Psychological service is maintained. However, due to available resources the school reports that only a very small number of individual educational or psychological assessments can be completed each year. Parents are kept well informed about all issues relating to their children and are invited to visit the school and meet with management and staff.



Planning and Preparation


Planning is judged by the school to be an essential support for learning and teaching. The guidance plan is being developed with support management and a wide range of staff. The guidance plan is very detailed and outlines provision for each year groups and school programme. The draft plan has been distributed to staff for consultation and will soon be presented to parents and students. This whole school guidance plan should be finalised and then presented to the board of management as a school planning document.


Students transferring to Coláiste Mhuire from feeder primary schools are assisted by guidance staff to choose subject options and have their learning needs assessed. An open evening for the parents of incoming first years is arranged. At this meeting a wide range of staff explain how the school operates. The guidance service available is explained and parents receive information about subjects and are alerted to the possible career implications for their children of selecting certain subjects or combinations of subjects.


An induction programme for first years is supported by Guidance. Throughout junior and senior cycles students receive good assistance to settle into the life of the school and become effective independent learners. The Social Personal and Health Education programme provides support for students to develop good time management and study skills, with inputs from Guidance. All students are free to meet with the guidance counsellor to discuss subject choices and advice on any other educational, vocational or personal concern. However, the current guidance programme for junior cycle does not contain specific guidance inputs for second year classes. In order that students have the opportunity to begin exploring career areas while still in junior cycle, it is recommended that some additional vocational guidance themes be introduced for second and third years in co-operation with the SPHE programme.


A number of sessions are held with third year classes to assist them to make subject and programme choices for senior cycle. The Differential Aptitude Test (DATS) is administered to all third years and the results are used to guide students towards a better understanding of personal aptitudes and interests. It is highly commendable that a guidance newsletter is issued  twice annually to parents. This informs them about subject options for senior cycle and the possible career implications of selecting certain subjects or groups of subjects.  The newsletter also provides advice about the importance of choosing the correct levels at which these subjects must be taken to satisfy the requirements of colleges through the Central Applications Office (CAO) for entry to colleges in Ireland and the United Colleges Application Scheme (UCAS) applications for colleges in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

The guidance programmes for senior cycle are well developed and are being fully implemented to support successful transition to third level and further education. Students in fifth year are given the opportunity to play the Real Game as a tool to develop their awareness of the adult world and employment. The content of the guidance programmes is very well planned.  Students are encouraged to explore a wide range of future options and to consider the most suitable individual career paths. Every student is provided with opportunities to meet one-to-one with the guidance counsellor to discuss personal choices. Access to college information is provided through use of ICT and the careers’ library. Visits for students to a number of third level colleges are arranged each year and a panel of outside speakers are also invited to visit the school to provide information on careers.


As sixth year students have to make vital personal decisions about careers and must select suitable third level and further education courses, it is recommended that guidance be timetabled for all sixth year classes in the autumn term. This could be provided by adopting a modular timetabled approach to guidance delivery in senior and junior cycles. Students who are participants in the repeat Leaving Certificate class also receive group and individual assistance to mange their learning and plan viable pathways into third level.


The guidance counsellor is facilitated by school management to engage in personal continued professional development, to attend monthly counselling supervision sessions and all relevant careers events.


As previously mentioned, ICT is provided to support subject teaching and Guidance. It is now increasingly important for all students in senior cycle to have regular access to ICT to explore a wide range of college courses and career options. It is therefore recommended that some computers with access to broadband should be installed in the school library, which is adjacent to the guidance office to facilitate full use of available guidance software and the World Wide Web. This would also enable individual students to make applications online under the supervision of the guidance counsellor to UCAS for UK courses and the CAO for colleges in Ireland. In addition, it would be advisable to timetable some guidance classes for senior cycle groups in rooms where data-projectors are available. This would allow guidance themes to be presented using a wider range of up-to-date methodologies.



Teaching and Learning


In the course of the subject inspection, two scheduled fifth year Leaving Certificate classes were visited. The sessions concentrated on providing an opportunity for students to discuss and share their experiences of attending the college open day in University College Dublin.


The methodologies selected to present and develop this topic were well chosen and appropriate to the age and developmental level of the students. Good advance planning for the classes was in evidence and viable learning objectives were established from the outset with students. The lessons were well introduced and contributions by students were invited and built upon in the discussions that ensued. Good brainstorming of the topics from the beginning of the sessions was used effectively to engage all in the discussions. In addition, good use was made of the overhead projector and informative support materials were supplied. Targeted questioning of students was deployed effectively to elicit good responses. However, the delivery of topics to senior cycle students that require the display of complex information could be even more effective if a laptop computer and a data projector were used instead of an overhead projector.


Throughout the sessions, students were actively engaged, demonstrated very competent communication skills and could make useful contributions to the discussion.  Excellent rapport between staff and students facilitated a free and interesting discussion to take place. Excellent classroom management and use of the time available for the classes were in evidence.





Appropriate and purposeful use is being made of assessment modes, tests and other instruments to assess students’ learning and individual interests. In Guidance, assessment is used very effectively to assist students to explore individual aptitudes and plan suitable career paths. The school guidance plan documents the range of tests administered and all interest inventories. The suitability of tests is reviewed regularly within the school. Reference should be made to the Circular Letter 0008/2007 on testing in schools, which is available at to assist with the selection of tests for Guidance and learning support. It is recommended that the use of the AH2 test be discontinued.  The school is planning to introduce the Cognitive Ability Test instead of the AH2 in 2008.


The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATS) is administered to all students in third year and they receive individual feedback on their results. The DATS is being used effectively to assist students to make subject and programme choices in senior cycle. Other aptitude tests and interest inventories are selected and administered to meet particular students’ needs. Full use is being made of Qualifax to explore course options using ICT.


Good records of all one-to-one sessions held with students and of all follow-up actions to be taken are fully minuted. Individual student files are compiled and are stored appropriately to provide maximum individual support on an ongoing basis. All meetings held with staff and management are recorded. The initial destinations of all students leaving the school are being mapped annually to inform school planning.



Summary of Findings and Recommendations


The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:


·         Guidance in the school is well developed and is supported by management and staff

·         Guidance and counselling support is available for all students

·         Good facilities are provided by the school to support the delivery of guidance

·         The school guidance plan is being developed



As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:


·         As senior cycle students require assistance to explore the widest range of third level and further education options possible and develop individual career paths, it is recommended that a  timetabled weekly class should be provided for sixth years in the autumn term

·         It is recommended that all ex-quota guidance hours should be timetabled only for Guidance

·         It is recommended that the school guidance plan should be finalised and presented to the board of management

·         To assist students in junior cycle to begin exploring possible career options and interests it is recommended that some vocational guidance themes should be introduced for second and third years in co-operation with the SPHE programme



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.