An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of Guidance

REPORT

 

Saint Ailbe’s School

Rosanna Road, Tipperary Town

Roll number: 72480W

 

Date of inspection: 2 May 2008

 

 

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Ailbe’s School, Tipperary Town. 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, deputy principal and 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

 

St Ailbe’s School is situated on a well-maintained site which it has occupied for thirty years on the outskirts of Tipperary Town. Two hundred and thirty-one second-level students are enrolled, with an almost equal mix of boys and girls. Approximately twenty primary schools comprise the mixed urban and rural catchment from which students are enrolled. The school is inclusive, accepting all students who apply for entry and has, itself, been included in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) initiative. The school is part of the County Tipperary South Riding Vocational Education Committee (VEC) scheme and provides for the educational needs of second-level students through a full range of programmes in addition to the Junior Certificate and established Leaving Certificate programmes. The vision and leadership of senior management in managing the provision, in a relatively small school, of the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and Transition Year (TY) are highly commended. Similarly, the provision of a range of Post Leaving Certificate courses (PLCs) for adult students, the school’s early establishment of a parents’ council in 1983 and the recent introduction of tablet laptop computers as an aid to teaching and learning are indicative of the school’s commitment to innovation and development. The external appearance of the school is matched by the aesthetically decorated and well-maintained interior. The staffroom and classrooms provide an orderly environment in which the work and achievements of students are celebrated in visually pleasing displays. Specially designed notices celebrating the school’s success in winning the ‘Honda Formula 1 in Schools Technology Challenge’ were on prominent display at the time of the inspection and exemplified the celebration of students’ achievements.

 

Following the retirement of the previous guidance counsellor in 2007, it was decided by management, as a temporary solution to a pressing situation, to request the school’s School Completion Programme (SCP) co-ordinator, a qualified guidance counsellor, to fill the position for the current year. The school receives an ex-quota allocation for guidance of seventeen hours per week through the VEC from the Department of Education and Science. The service is most competently provided and it is clear that the experience and skills developed through the SCP are a vital component of the whole-school guidance programme. The full use of both resources in the 2008 – 2009 school year, to which senior management is committed, should prove to be of great value in the environment of collaboration and excellent communication observed in the course of the inspection. It is recommended that procedures for the formal appointment of a guidance counsellor and SCP co-ordinator be initiated as soon as possible to ensure the availability of the service to students at the beginning of the school year.

 

A meeting between the principal and guidance counsellor, attended in the course of the inspection, exemplified the depth of knowledge of individual students among members of staff. The meeting was also significant in demonstrating the versatile use of formal documents in the interests of clarity and progress. The primary purpose of the meeting was to initiate action on the part of the guidance counsellor as a result of a thoroughly detailed analysis of students’ performance in the mock examinations. It was clear that, not only were the results of the examinations listed but that possible reasons for poor performance, including personal and family factors, were known and considered in detail. It was reported by the principal that staff in general were aware of such factors and that a good system of communication, to which the principal was central, facilitated staff understanding of issues which affected student performance. It was also clear that the talents of all staff were well utilised, both formally and informally, in managing all aspects of the school and that relationships between staff, and between staff and students were very good.

 

The facilities for Guidance are good and include an office, well equipped with appropriate technology and storage facilities, a small library of guidance-related materials, such as college prospectuses, and access to information and communications technology (ICT) for individual work and for work with groups of students.

 

Collaborative practice is clearly in evidence in the school and is conducted with a commendable blend of formality and informality. This facilitates, and is facilitated by, ongoing communication at all levels. Referrals, for example, are managed by a ‘resource committee’, effectively a student-support team, comprising staff with core support functions. The documentation of interventions is excellent. Good communication in this team and with senior management ensures comprehensive review and evaluation, on an ongoing basis, of targeted interventions in support of students. Similarly, the year-head structure, based on clear responsibilities and regular, effective communication with staff and management, enhances the effectiveness of supports. Such practices are highly commended.

 

 

Planning and preparation

 

Guidance planning is ongoing at St Ailbe’s. Documents viewed in the course of the inspection showed clear evidence of good practice in relation to planning structures, records and review. Meetings are structured and efficient. Processes are well documented. The value of such practices in ensuring continuity in the guidance service is demonstrated by the smooth transition following the retirement of the previous guidance counsellor. One document, in two sections, outlines in some detail the Guidance and Counselling Service at St Ailbe’s School and the Action Plan for 2007-2008. This constitutes a good foundation on which to base the whole-school guidance plan.

 

It is proposed by staff and senior management that, in the medium-term, guidance planning priorities will include the involvement of parents in the guidance plan and programme and the development of formal links between the guidance department and other teams and subject departments. It is recommended that a small, time-limited task group be identified to manage the process of whole-school guidance planning. In the interests of efficiency, it may be possible to identify an existing team, or to create a sub-group of an existing team which might undertake such activity as an additional function. It is suggested that a representative of staff teams with core student-support responsibilities, such as the guidance counsellor and special educational needs co-ordinator, be among those co-opted to the recommended task group. Recent documents which relate to guidance planning and to Guidance in general are very useful in this respect and include Guidelines for second-level schools on the implications of Section 9(c) of the Education Act (1998) relating to students' access to appropriate guidance published by the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science (2005) and the National Centre for Guidance in Education (2004) document, Planning the School Guidance Programme. The Department of Education and Science website at www.education.gov.ie provides a template for whole-school guidance planning and links to other sites such as that of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) at www.sdpi.ie and the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE) at www.ncge.ie. The Review of Guidance, published on the web in 2006, is also available among the documents on the Department website and may be useful in raising consciousness of issues regarding guidance provision in the junior cycle and the involvement of parents in guidance planning and provision. The Draft Guidance Framework published by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) in 2007 provides a very good outline of the classroom elements of the whole-school guidance programme and it can be seen that existing collaborative practice at St Ailbe’s School might easily fit such a model. The modular diploma course in whole-school guidance planning provided by the NCGE is also commended for consideration in the context of the continuing professional development (CPD) element of planning.

 

The balance between the guidance counsellor’s involvement in individual and group work and between work with students in the junior cycle and senior cycle is very good. This work entails collaboration with teachers of subjects such as Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Religious Education (RE) and is commended. Transitions are well managed and provision in this regard is exemplified by the procedures in place for the transition from primary schools to St Ailbe’s. These include a technology and science day for fifth classes and sixth classes of feeder primary schools, a science quiz, an open evening and a period of induction prior to the start of formal lessons at the beginning of first year. The school’s approach to subject choice is commended. Students study all available subjects during first year, a process which enables informed choices of subjects for the Junior Certificate examination.

 

Communication with parents and parental involvement in school processes are encouraged by senior management. On the day of the inspection, parents of JCSP students were present in the school to view their children’s impressive display of work resulting from a Make a Book project. As a further illustration of ongoing school activities, a ‘no uniform day’ was also in progress as a fundraising activity to support two students who are to participate as helpers to people with disabilities during a pilgrimage to Lourdes. Linkages with the wider community outside the school are very good and are exemplified by the readiness of local business and industry to facilitate students in gaining work experience while involved in programmes, such as the LCA and LCVP. The school also provides PLCs in childcare and pre-nursing. Students on these courses benefit in their work-experience placements from the strong links which have been established between the school and employers.

 

 

 

 

Teaching and learning

 

During the lesson observed, a mixed group of students from the LCA1 and LCA2 classes participated in an interesting session on the topic of the interview. The lesson began with the appropriate formalities regarding attendance, the scope of the lesson and the location of the lesson as part of a series pertaining to the job-application process. Clear instructions were given at the outset as to the methods to be used during the lesson. These included role plays, group discussion and some formal inputs regarding the conduct of interviews in general. This is good practice. An instruction sheet was distributed to students which outlined the roles to be played during the exercise. The reassurance given to students before the exercise began was supportive and facilitative. Similarly, account was taken of the potential emotional responses following role play and teacher feedback was given with gentleness and good humour.

 

The atmosphere during the lesson was relaxed and good classroom management was clearly based on the existence of positive relationships. The classroom was arranged to facilitate the role play, which took place at the head of the room, and its observation by other students who were seated individually at desks.

 

Students showed commendable insights into the procedures and processes of interviewing when asked to comment on the performance of their peers in the designated tasks. It was clear that not only were students aware of the methods used in interviews but that they were also aware of the personal characteristics of attitude and presentation which are important factors in a successful interview. The mature manner in which students used tact and personal observations is also commended and reflects a high level of respect for peers and teachers.

 

It is noted, from conversations with staff and management, and from the literature provided in the course of the inspection, that staff at St Ailbe’s have a most positive attitude to the use of innovative teaching methods and technologies. The introduction of tablet laptop computers with wireless broadband access for use especially in Mathematics, Science and languages exemplifies the atmosphere of leadership and openness to innovation which is apparent in the school. Similarly, the concept of home learning is a feature of the whole-school approach to homework. A co-ordinated policy in this regard, which emphasises research and practical tasks as the main elements of students’ work after school, has been applied. This learning does not necessarily involve written work and has been found to be effective where, for example, students are asked to consider designs and processes in preparation for future lessons. Another, highly commended, innovation is the use of monitoring sheets to outline the desired outcomes of structured interventions by subject teachers. These interventions demonstrate a high degree of collaborative practice, guided by the special educational needs department and reviewed regularly by that department and by senior management.

 

 

Assessment

 

Psychometric assessment of students is carried out through collaboration between the guidance and special educational needs departments. The purpose of these assessments is to aid in the identification of students in need of extra learning and other supports and in monitoring student progress, especially in first year. Other assessment instruments are used, especially in TY as aids to students in clarifying course and career interests. Such instruments include those linked to the web based Qualifax and Career Directions.

 

Attention to detail in record keeping and in the format of documents is commended. Good practice was identified, for example, where documents were dated, the date of ratification of policies by the board of management was noted and a date was proposed for the next review of policy. Such good practice was observed to be the norm in relation to all documents seen, including student profiles and records of the initial destinations of past students, presented in the course of the inspection.

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • The school provides a very good service of guidance and support for students.
  • The school is inclusive and celebrates the achievements of students.
  • Innovative and flexible approaches to teaching and learning are encouraged.
  • The leadership of senior management is clearly influential in all aspects of the school.
  • Collaboration among staff is widespread.
  • Good communication and relationships exist at all levels.
  • Processes are well documented.
  • Meetings are structured and efficient.
  • The school buildings and environment are well maintained and decorated.

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:

 

  • It is recommended that procedures for the formal appointment of a guidance counsellor be initiated as soon as possible to ensure the availability of the service to students at the beginning of the school year.
  • It is recommended that procedures for the formal appointment of a School Completion Programme co-ordinator be initiated as soon as possible to ensure the availability of the service to students at the beginning of the school year.
  • It is recommended that a small, time-limited task group be identified to manage the process of whole-school guidance planning.

 

 

A post-evaluation meeting was held with the guidance counsellor, the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed. 

 

 

 

 

Published, October 2008