An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Pobalscoil na Tríonóide
Roll number: 91513S
Date of inspection: 3 and 6 November 2008
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Pobalscoil na Tríonóide. 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 two days 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 guidance counsellors. 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.
Pobalscoil na Tríonóide is a large school on the outskirts of Youghal. It opened in September 2006, following the amalgamation of the town’s three post-primary schools, hence the trinity to which the school’s name in part refers. The buildings of the original schools, Coláiste Eoin, Loreto Secondary and Christian Brothers’ School, were abandoned in favour of a modern, two-storey structure on top of the hill overlooking the town, and visible from the crest of the Youghal Bypass. Students come from a wide catchment area and from a mix of urban and rural backgrounds. The board of management is representative of the trustees of the amalgamated schools. The religious ethos of those schools has been maintained as an important part of the life of the new school. The guidance team has a central role in this ethos in ensuring that the aims of the school to provide a supportive, caring environment in which teaching and learning may be facilitated, are upheld. The amalgamation appears to have been successfully managed through a process of communication, consultation, and collaboration in which staff of the three schools were involved. Two years later, most of the support systems have been put in place, planning is ongoing and the development of the school as a vibrant centre of learning is at the heart of the planning process.
The school has an ex-quota allocation for Guidance of fifty-five hours per week. The allocation includes twenty-two hours under the Guidance Enhancement Initiative (GEI), eleven hours each from two of the original schools. Schools gained entry to the initiative, and were allocated additional hours for Guidance, based on proposals for planned interventions to retain students, to increase participation in science and technology or to counter the effects of disadvantage. The allocation is well used by three guidance counsellors to provide an effective and comprehensive guidance service to students. It is noted that the view of Guidance espoused by the team is commendably broad, and in accord with Department of Education and Science guidelines as to the nature and scope of Guidance in the realms of personal, educational and career guidance. Collaborative practices are well established in the school. The involvement of senior management, and staff in general, in the planning and provision of Guidance is highly commended.
Guidance lessons are timetabled for senior cycle classes for one class period per week. These lessons are timetabled to be taught in the information and communications technology (ICT) rooms. This is good practice. The Be Real Game has been introduced for Transition Year (TY) students on a pilot basis and it is reported by the team that students have engaged well with the project. It is suggested that, given the broad remit of Guidance, inasmuch as is possible, the term Guidance be used in official references to the area, in the timetable for example, in place of terms such as careers or career guidance. Junior cycle classes are in receipt of Guidance through planned intermittent inputs by the guidance team, arranged in co-operation with subject teachers. The collaboration of teachers of subjects such as Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Religious Education (RE) in the provision of elements of their subjects which are common to Guidance, is commended. The team is conscious of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) Draft Guidance Framework (2007) and has identified some current imbalance in guidance provision for students in the junior cycle. It is recommended that whole-school guidance provision in the junior cycle be reviewed and it is recommended that any needs identified in the course of such a review be addressed by the whole-school guidance planning team.
A good balance has been achieved in the provision of the guidance service to all classes. One document entitled Student management and administration, seen in the course of the inspection, outlined the respective responsibilities of each member of the guidance team by clear reference to individual class groups. It is an interesting implication that the inclusion of Guidance in this scheme is indicative of an integrated whole-school system in which the support and guidance of students is complementary to their management. Greater penetration of Guidance into the whole-school arena is one of the stated current aims of the guidance team. Such integration is commended and indicates openness on the part of the school to this aim.
The current facilities for Guidance are very good. Each guidance counsellor has the use of an office that is equipped appropriately for guidance purposes and is suited to the practice of counselling. Equipment includes ICT and storage facilities for the range of materials used by guidance counsellors. This includes secure storage for test materials and confidential information. ICT is used for individual and small-group guidance in the guidance counsellors’ offices and for larger groups in one of the four well-equipped ICT rooms. The timetabling of guidance lessons for these rooms is commended. It is reported by the team that access to these facilities for more intermittent purposes is readily arranged in consultation with the ICT co-ordinator. The school library and information centre is in the process of development and plans are in place to include a section of guidance-related information.
Good collaboration among the members of the guidance team, and between the guidance team and other members of staff with support roles, enables rapid and effective responses to the needs of students. Members of the guidance team are also members of other teams, such as the middle-management team, and attend their meetings. These include the student management and support team, comprising the guidance counsellors, chaplain, special educational needs co-ordinator, deputy principal and discipline co-ordinator. The role of discipline co-ordinator, again admirably, integrates the pastoral element of the school’s ethos and its promotion of responsible behaviour. The management of students is effected by the promotion of good behaviour in an affirmative climate of good relationships. The attendance of one of the guidance team, who attends as year head, at the weekly middle-management meetings is commended, adding, as it does, another important link in the system of communication between the guidance team and management.
The school’s referral systems are linked to these teams. They operate in a context of clear guidelines and appropriate formalities, such as the use of guidance appointment slips. Referrals to agencies outside the school, such as the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), are managed collaboratively by senior management and members of staff with support roles.
Pobalscoil na Tríonóide is one of those schools in which it is clear that guidance practice and planning are parts of an integrated whole-school system. Guidance planning, in all of its departmental, whole-school, personal, educational and vocational aspects, is of a very high standard. This is reflected in a balanced guidance programme that incorporates inputs into all year groups and to students at levels from the individual to that of the large group. The core characteristics of good leadership, good communication and good relationships were very much in evidence during the inspection. The school has developed rapidly through the process of amalgamation and it is clear from planning documents and from meetings with staff, that among the factors in the successful transition have been, and continue to be, reflective practice, rapid positive responses to identified needs and clear documentation of processes and structures. The school has engaged with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and various inputs for staff on developmental planning, such as the development of the year heads’ system, have been arranged. It was clear that the school’s ethos of guidance, support and care strongly influences the practice of staff. It was also clear that planning is an ongoing and dynamic process. A student-support team is very active and includes, among its functions, rapid responses to the daily needs of students, the identification of whole-school issues and communication of these issues to staff involved in student management, school management and planning. The team comprises the three guidance counsellors, special educational needs co-ordinator, chaplain, discipline co-ordinator and deputy principal. The inclusion of the deputy principal and discipline co-ordinator helps to ensure that the school’s commitment to the support of students and to the promotion of responsible behaviour is system based and brings the school’s available services to bear on any issues as they arise. In addition, the group is an integrated microcosm of the teaching and learning, pastoral, student management, and Guidance and support functions of the school. This shows a real understanding of the connection between the provision of a safe, supportive environment, a disciplinary system that is affirmative, and effective learning and teaching. It is highly commended.
The composition of the whole-school guidance planning team is also commended as demonstrating an approach to guidance planning that is inclusive of all staff. Four subject teachers and a year head form the team, in addition to the guidance counsellors and discipline co-ordinator. Members of staff show an interest and a flexibility of approach that, on the one hand utilises individual talents and, on the other, recognises the benefits of good planning leading to action. Records of guidance planning, as with all aspects of Guidance, are kept with meticulous care and show a high regard for good practice in this regard. Among the current priorities of the team are the further development of the Guidance remit of all staff, and the further integration of the school’s support and disciplinary systems. Evidence of ongoing action with regard to planning was the recent appointment of the SPHE co-ordinator, from among the guidance team, and consideration of the functions of the student-support team. Similarly, professional development of teachers of SPHE has been facilitated by the regional co-ordinator of SPHE. It is recommended that whole-school guidance provision in the junior cycle be reviewed in the light of such developments as recommended above. In all of its other aspects, guidance planning, and planning for the inclusion of a guidance perspective on whole-school planning, is clearly evident. Examples include the extensive use of ICT in the course of guidance lessons, both formally timetabled and those arranged intermittently, consultation between the guidance department and management in curriculum planning, and the involvement of students, parents and the wider community in the planning and provision of services to students. It is suggested that the school’s web site is a good vehicle for the dissemination of information and resources and that its development might be considered in the course of whole-school guidance planning.
Documents relating to surveys of students about their guidance and support needs and to the inclusion of the student voice through, for example, the student council and SPHE, indicated commendable action on the part of the guidance team to include students in guidance processes. The current development of the school’s library is under discussion and provides a good opportunity for guidance planning in this regard, especially for student access to digitally based guidance resources. It is recommended that current planning for the library and information centre include provision for student access to web-based guidance-related information.
The guidance team are members of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) and participate in continuing professional development provided by the Institute. This is good practice.
The teaching observed in the course of the inspection was uniformly good. Good relationships had been established with students that facilitated the transfer of information and students’ receptiveness to direction and questions. In all cases, lessons had been well planned, materials were to hand and good use was made of available resources.
Lessons were well structured. The initial phase included a roll call, announcements, a review of past lessons and a declaration of the aims of the lessons. Students were familiar with the procedures in use and settled quickly at their desks or, where used, at computer workstations. The materials used were suited to the classes of fourth-year and fifth-year students visited. Good use was also made of the whiteboard, the data projector and the internet during the lessons. Teachers and students were familiar with the technologies and their use did not intrude in the delivery of the lessons. The topics of the lessons were work experience, in the case of two fourth-year classes, and arrangements for a careers evening in the case of the fifth-year class. In each case, it was clear that teachers possessed a comprehensive knowledge not only of the issues involved, but also of local and regional factors that impinged on them. In one lesson, students were asked to visualise a local street and to imagine the occupations of those working in the various businesses there. In another, good use was made of a data projector and handouts to illustrate points being made about the arrangement of the careers evening, and in a third, students accessed the Qualifax web site under skilled direction. References were made throughout the lessons to the relevance of the material to experiences in other subjects such as SPHE, and to programmes such as the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). This commendable practice relates current work not only to more immediate experience but also to the outcomes of schooling.
Good relationships with students enabled the conduct of lessons without recourse to any obvious management strategies. Students were constantly attended to, questions were challenging and required thought, and an easy manner facilitated students’ responses. First names of students were used in the lessons. The atmosphere was calm and attentive throughout.
Good practice in Guidance has been commended already in this report. Procedures and processes for the assessment of students are similarly commended. In addition to the school’s standard term-end assessments, the guidance department collaborates in, or organises, the assessment of students. Assessments are arranged especially at times of transition, from primary school to post-primary school and from junior cycle to senior cycle, for example. Collaboration between school departments, and a high standard of record keeping are characteristic of the practices observed. The guidance team is involved in the assessment and induction of students newly entering the school, in collaboration with the special educational needs department. Areas assessed include non-verbal reasoning, literacy and numeracy. The process is part of a well-developed programme of supports for first-year students, that is clear and very well structured, again exemplifying the thoroughly documented and well-formalised approach of the guidance team to all of its work. Classes are of mixed ability in first year and the results of the initial assessments, which are carried out in March prior to entry, are used to ensure the mix of abilities and to monitor students’ progress, especially in the early years of the junior cycle. The special educational needs department administers additional diagnostic tests to students whose test results, and the outcomes of discussions with feeder primary schools, indicate a need for further interventions by that department.
A range of interest inventories is used by the guidance department, especially with students in the senior cycle. These include resources available on the Qualifax and Career Directions web sites and are supplemented by materials and resources available on the Careers Portal and other web sites. This reflects the uncomplicated availability to ICT facilities in the school and the planned timetabling of guidance lessons in ICT rooms, resources now essential to the delivery of many aspects of the guidance programme.
The initial destinations of students were tracked at the time of the inspection with the same eye to detail in record keeping that was observed in all other aspects of the work of the team.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the guidance counsellors and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, June 2009
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management of Pobalscoil na Tríonóide welcomes the publication of Department of Education and Science subject inspection of guidance carried out between 3rd / 6th Nov ’08.
The Board takes note of the positive comments regarding whole school support for the provision of guidance in the school.
The Board compliments the guidance team for the collaborative practices that are highlighted in the report.
We are very glad of the approval and recognition of the facilities available for guidance, including IT and Multi Media.
Overall guidance planning, provision, and evaluation are highly commended in the report.
Board members congratulate everybody involved in the provision of guidance at a whole school level.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Senior school management has already met with the guidance team to review whole school guidance provision at junior cycle level.
A commitment has been given that needs identified in the course of this review will be addressed by the whole school guidance planning team.
School Authorities are committed to the provision of student access to web based guidance – related information, when a library and information centre are fully established in the school.
The Board is committed to the provision and support of a guidance programme that adapts to emerging needs in the school.