An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Tullamore, County Offaly
Roll number: 65610S
Date of inspection: 14 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Choilm, Tullamore. 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 guidance counsellor 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 guidance counsellor. The board of management of the school 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.
Guidance Provision and Whole School Support
Coláiste Choilm is a voluntary secondary school for boys that operated under the auspices of the Irish Christian Brothers’ until 1999. The school has a current enrolment of 489. Students live in the town and in the surrounding areas. Enrolment in the school has increased over the last five years from just 290 students in 2002. There are three main local feeder primary schools and students also come from a large number of small rural schools in the hinterland of Tullamore.
The provision of Guidance in the school was last inspected in 2002. This inspection was conducted as part of a thematic evaluation of Guidance in all post-primary schools and centres of education in the Tullamore area. During this inspection, the school facilitated the inspector to meet with a group of parents and a number of students to record their perceptions about Guidance. Parents praised the school’s commitment to the provision of Guidance and providing a range of holistic approaches being adopted to support students. They also suggested ways in which the existing guidance programme could be improved. In particular, parents were anxious that during the transition from primary school students should get more support from Guidance, to make appropriate subject choices and be informed about the possible career implications of selecting or not choosing certain subject options. Improved contacts with third-level institutions were also recommended. The students interviewed praised the range of careers information being provided and echoed the views of parents that more Guidance should be available to support all transitions. In addition, they identified the need for more individual counselling to be made available for students requiring this level of support.
The current inspection of Guidance was designed to investigate the way in which the guidance service had developed in the intervening five years, and ascertain how the recommendations contained in the previous report have been implemented. In the interim, the school has had to respond to change. The student population has grown to 489 and the school community has had to respond to the challenges posed by this increase. Due to these enrolment trends, the school now has an allocation of seventeen ex-quota hours for Guidance. These hours are being used to deliver a range of educational, personal and career supports for students. The methodologies deployed include, timetabled guidance classes, one-to-one guidance sessions with students, visits to third-level institutions, support for students engaging in work experience and meetings with parents. The school has endeavoured to address all issues identified in the 2002 report on Guidance. Current timetabling for Guidance is flexible and responsive to the needs presenting in the school. It reflects a fairly good balance of provision between junior and senior cycles.
The guidance counsellor plans, manages and delivers Guidance with support from a counsellor who provides one-to-one counselling for students wishing to address personal issues. Good support for guidance and counselling is provided by management and the school’s pastoral care system and student supports are viewed as priorities for the school. The student support team, which includes Guidance, meets weekly to discuss students who require additional supports. The guidance counsellor liaises with management and other staff to manage appropriate interventions for students. Those identified as requiring additional support are referred for counselling and can avail of a lot of additional supports for learning. However, as the school reports that enrolment is due to expand, planning for the further development of guidance services should now take place in advance of this expansion. It is therefore recommended that the appointment of a full-time guidance counsellor be considered to oversee the development of the expanding guidance and counselling services.
A dedicated office is provided for Guidance with good accessibility for students and parents. The office is well resourced with storage space and full broadband access. Notice boards for the display of information about college open-days, other career events and application requirements are also provided in accessible locations in the school. All students have access to Guidance, to one-to-one counselling support when required, and to information and communication technology (ICT) in the ICT room. However, good and regular access to ICT for the exploration of college and career websites and guidance software is now crucially important for all senior cycle students planning transitions to third-level or to further education. It is therefore recommended that the school explore the possibility of designating a resource area with ICT for Guidance. This facility could provide an area for group Guidance sessions to be held and for the display of Guidance materials, and would facilitate students under supervision to explore websites and avail fully of all guidance software possibilities.
The school has drafted a critical incident plan with the involvement of the guidance counsellor. The referral of students for support within the school operates efficiently and the referral of students for extra assistance to outside agencies is handled sensitively and effectively.
It was recommended in the 2002 inspection report that a guidance plan should be developed to meet the needs of all students including those in junior cycle. This plan has since been developed and now includes guidance provision for each year group and school programme. There has been good engagement with planning generally by the school community and a school plan has been developed. It is recommended that the guidance plan be revised to contain aims and objectives that are fully in line with the school plan. The guidance plan should be reviewed annually and adjusted to meet emerging needs. A survey of students’ and parents’ views about guidance needs should be conducted frequently to inform this up-dating and to ensure that full utilisation is made of this valuable resource.
Beginning when students enrol in the school, information about students’ needs is gathered from primary schools so that planning for educational and other needs can take place. The guidance department plays a valuable role in this transition process and provides information for parents about available subject options and the possible career implications of choosing certain subjects. Parents are free to discuss subject options with the guidance counsellor who attends all parents’ events. This level of support for parents during this transitional period is to be commended. It is recommended that students and their parents be referred to the module on the Qualifax website www.qualifax.ie entitled: Leaving Cert. and Junior Cert. Subject Choices which provides comprehensive information on the long-term implications of subject choices in junior cycle.
The school guidance plan contains an outline programme for each year group and programme in junior and senior cycles. This plan itemises the themes and areas to be completed. To expand this plan further, it is recommended that learning outcomes for each section should be included and communicated directly to students, as this would allow them to become more engaged and focused on their own learning. The linkages between Guidance and all school programmes should also be included. The guidance plan should be available to parents on the school’s website www.colaistechoilmtullamore.ie. Further assistance with completing the guidance plan can be accessed from the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) www.slss.ie and the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE). 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 amended school guidance plan should be presented to staff, parents and students for consultation and then to the board of management.
Throughout junior cycle, students can access individual Guidance and counselling support. To deliver the guidance programmes in junior cycle, group sessions are arranged with the support of other staff. These programmes are carefully planned to meet students’ needs, facilitate personal development and support the promotion of good learning skills. Some exploration of vocational areas takes place within these programmes. However, as it is vitally important that students are given every opportunity to begin exploring the fullest range of career interests while still in junior cycle, it is recommended that the guidance programme for third year be revised and that a number of additional vocational topics be included. Investigation of a number of different careers and employment environments would enable students to begin discussing personal interests. It would also facilitate more in-depth exploration of subjects for senior cycle based on informed research. Guidance in junior cycle should always be planned and delivered in conjunction with the SPHE programme to prevent overlap and duplication of themes. Third-year students are currently well informed and assisted to make programme choices for senior cycle and select appropriate subjects. This is to be commended.
Students in senior cycle have access to a comprehensive range of guidance supports. Students in transition year (TY) and in senior cycle receive a lot of individual and group support from Guidance to explore third-level and further education options and to plan personal career paths. Students in TY are assisted to plan work experience and to gain valuable insights from engaging in this activity. Fifth- and sixth-year students are facilitated to successfully complete career investigations as part of the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Visits to college open days are arranged and guest speakers are invited to address students about relevant career areas. It is recommended that the guidance programmes for senior cycle should include aims and objectives, a full list of themes to be completed, agreed learning outcomes and a detailed list of all topics to be addressed by guest speakers. Students should receive for reference outlines of the planned guidance programmes which should be placed in their diaries to guarantee continuity and clarity.
Students wishing to make the transition to third-level education receive good assistance both individually and in groups to explore viable options and to make applications to the Central Applications Office (CAO) for entry to universities and colleges in Ireland, and the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) for application to third-level colleges in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. Visits to college open days and other career events are encouraged and sponsored.
Students have access to ICT and can make applications to the CAO via the internet. Those choosing routes into Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses and to FÁS apprenticeships are also facilitated in every way to make good choices. Parents are kept fully informed at parents’ events and through one-to-one meetings with staff.
In the course of the inspection one sixth-year lesson was visited. The methodologies selected to present and develop the topics were well chosen and appropriate to the age and developmental level of the students. Suitable methodologies were chosen to allow for variety of delivery and to maximise participation by students. A respectful and good rapport was evident between staff and students.
The lesson concentrated on stressing the importance of students achieving full value from attendance at college open-days. A hand out giving information about dates of events had been prepared and was distributed. This was designed to enable students to document the information they received and pinpoint areas that may require further research. The topic was well introduced. The good and informative support materials added value to the lesson. All students were actively engaged throughout the session and were encouraged to partake in the discussion of this topic and to exchange information about their personal experiences of attending these events.
Good advance planning was in evidence and viable learning objectives were established from the outset. Students were given clear information about how to use the CAO website and were encouraged to begin completing their individual applications to the CAO before the deadline of February 2008. Good reference was made to the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) to guide students to choose appropriate course levels. This can be accessed at www.nqai.ie. To further enhance learning and independent learning by senior cycle students it is suggested that more relevant materials such as the NQF poster, and a diary of college open-days should be displayed in the classroom. It is further suggested that guidance lessons for these groups, for at least part of the year, should be timetabled in an ICT room to allow students to have full access to relevant websites.
Classroom management and atmosphere was excellent. Very good learning was in evidence. The students listened attentively, carried out tasks in an orderly manner and full use was made of available time to complete tasks and assignments.
Good use is being made of assessment modes, tests and other instruments to assess students’ learning and individuals’ needs. In Guidance, assessment is used effectively to assist students to explore individual aptitudes and plan suitable career paths. The school guidance plan documents the tests administered and some interest inventories used. The suitability of tests is reviewed regularly. It is advised that reference should be made to the Circular Letter 0008/2007 on testing in schools, which is available on the Department of Education and Science website at, www.education.ie to assist with the selection of tests for Guidance and learning support. This would allow the school to choose some additional instruments such as the Differential Aptitude Tests (DATS) which could be administered to students to assist personal choices. The introduction of some new interest inventories should also be considered. Qualifax www.qualifax.ie is being used for the exploration of personal interests using the interest inventory and to access information about third-level and further education and training options.
Good records of all one-to-one sessions held with students are kept and all follow-up actions planned are fully minuted. Individual student files are compiled and 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 not being mapped formally annually. It is suggested that this should be undertaken to inform school and guidance planning.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· A guidance plan has been developed and guidance programmes have been developed for each year group and programme in the school.
· The school values the contribution that Guidance makes in providing support for learning and transitions, and assistance to address personal issues.
· Students have access to both individual Guidance and counselling support when required.
· The school has a student support team that plans and arranges delivery of additional supports for students. Guidance plays a valuable role in this group.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· As the school now has a whole-school plan, it is recommended that the school’s guidance plan should contain aims and objectives that correspond directly with this plan.
· When the school guidance plan has been amended to include new aims and objectives, a full list of themes for each year group and learning outcomes, it is recommended that it be then presented to staff, parents and students for consultation and then to the board of management.
· The school is undergoing a phase of expansion. It is therefore recommended that the appointment of a full-time guidance counsellor should be considered to oversee the development of the expanding guidance and counselling services.
· The guidance plan should be revised annually. It is recommended that a short survey be undertaken annually with students and parents to ascertain that guidance needs are being addressed.
· To augment the guidance programmes currently planned for third-year students, it is recommended that more vocational topics should be introduced in conjunction 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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of management welcomes the Guidance Inspector Report and acknowledges the thorough and courteous nature of the inspection process. The Board is very satisfied with the Guidance provision as outlined in the report.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
Cognisant of the fact that Colaiste Choilm has a rapidly expanding student population, the Board intends to ensure that the Guidance Provision is adapted and enhanced to facilitate this expansion. This will be done through the ongoing development of the school plan.