An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Baile Mhic Íre, Co.
Roll number: 70920O
Date of inspection: 26 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Ghobnatan. 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 guidance counsellors.
Guidance provision in Coláiste Ghobnatan is good. The values of community, culture and care are core elements of the school’s ethos and are fundamental to the positive relationships, which exist between, and among, staff and students. The school has an important role in maintaining and developing the rich cultural life of the area of which it is part, through not only the various activities that are the essence of school life but especially through the range of family and community relationships that are the fabric of that culture. It is a feature of guidance in the school that students and their families are known to staff, both formally and socially, and that the web of relationships extends to community institutions and enterprises of which staff, parents and students are part.
The school’s enrolment is relatively stable at 180 students. The allocation of eight hours for Guidance (Treoir) is made by the Department of Education and Science based on that enrolment. The allocation is being used fully for Guidance through timetabled guidance lessons and time for work with students individually and in groups. Two teachers are qualified guidance counsellors. Until recently, most of the allocation had been assigned to one guidance counsellor, who is shared with another school in the Vocational Education Committee (VEC) scheme. Both guidance counsellors are also teachers of other subjects. They include History, Geography, Physical Education (PE) and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE). The allocation of some guidance hours to the second guidance counsellor (comhairleoir treorach) is commended in that it broadens involvement in Guidance and facilitates a team approach to guidance planning and provision. Similarly, because aspects of the SPHE programme are part of the school guidance programme, the collaboration that was evident between the guidance team and the SPHE team is commended. It is noted that the school’s modular approach is in keeping with Department’s 2006 position statement on this issue.
Guidance lessons are part of the timetables of all year-groups. In addition to timetabled lessons, the guidance team provide planned intermittent inputs into all classes. Subject choice and study skills, for example, are given extra time in first year, third year and Transition Year (TY) by arrangement with, and with the co-operation of subject teachers. The Central Applications Office (CAO) (An Lár Oifig Iontrála) system and options in further education and training are dealt with in senior cycle classes and in evening sessions arranged for parents. These lessons and inputs are well documented. As an enhancement to the existing documents and to current collaborative practice, it is suggested that reference might be made in an additional column to the links between the topic to be covered and the programmes of other subject teachers. Influences and decisions, (Tioncur agus cinneadh) for example, is a topic in the school’s second year guidance programme and can be seen to have links to the SPHE and Religious Education (RE) programmes. Highlighting these links can have a useful function in encouraging collaborative practice and in broadening the scope of the guidance programme.
The guidance counsellors’ office is in a central location and is suited to individual and small-group work. The office is appropriately furnished for office, storage and display purposes. A small library of guidance-related information is available to students in the office and display boards are used throughout the building for current, summary information. The school is very well provided with information and communication technology (ICT). A wireless network is in operation. Broadband access to the internet is available throughout the school and its use is facilitated by the installation of a data projector in most classrooms and the availability and use of laptop computers by each member of staff. Each class is assigned to the ICT room for at least one session per week. Additional group and individual access by students to ICT is easily arranged in consultation with teachers.
The guidance team has deep-rooted links to the management of the school and to the community. The size of the school enables rapid, informal and ongoing communication. The needs of students are discussed and dealt with as a matter of course and regular staff meetings bring an element of due formality to communication. A number of staff members constitute a loosely formed student-support team. They include the guidance counsellors, chaplain, special educational needs co-ordinator, class tutors (comhairleoirí ranga) and a teacher who caters for some of the needs of female students. The work of these individuals is commended. Referrals to the guidance counsellors are made by individual staff members and by students’ self-referral. Referrals to agencies external to the school are managed by the principal in consultation with staff as appropriate. The principal reports some difficulty in catering for some students who have been identified as needing further educational or psychological assessment. It is reported that some such assessments have been funded by the school.
Guidance department planning and the resulting documentation are well advanced. Schemes of work are arranged in a coherent manner for each year group and are placed in the context of the school calendar and an overview of Guidance in its many aspects. It is a noteworthy feature of guidance planning that a regular survey is carried out of the guidance needs of students and of parents. This is very good practice and it can be a major factor in planning for the prioritised use of available resources of personnel, time and capital. The guidance programme provides inputs at all levels and in all programmes, including TY and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), as already outlined. The size of the school enables a personalised service to students in both the junior and senior cycles.
Commendable collaboration with other staff members with student-support roles is ongoing. The school provides support for students with special educational needs, has a care structure of class tutors [comhairleoirí ranga] and has a chaplain. It is recommended that responsibilities and roles of all staff with student support functions be noted as part of the whole-school guidance plan in a manner similar to the roles outlined in documents related to the care system [córas cúraim] and the responses to critical incidents. It is also recommended that documents in which these roles are outlined be updated regularly to take account of staff changes
School development planning has been in process formally in the school since 2005. Subject department planning is the current phase in which the school in engaged. This is a useful vehicle to exploit for guidance planning purposes, with the proviso that Guidance, in addition to being a guidance department issue, should be an integral part of the whole-school plan as envisaged by the Education Act 1998 and in subsequent publications. Recent documents which relate to Guidance planning and to Guidance in general, are commended for the attention of all staff. They include the [An Chomhairle Náisiúnta Churaclaim agus Measúnachta] National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA, 2006). Discussion paper: A curriculum framework for guidance in post-primary education, the Inspectorate (2005) Guidelines for second-level schools on the implications of Section 9(c) of the Education Act (1998) relating to students' access to appropriate guidance and the National Centre for Guidance in Education (2004) document Planning the School Guidance Programme. [An Chigireacht (2005) Treoirlínte do Scoileanna Dara Leibhéal ar Impleachtaí Alt 9 (c) den Acht Oideachais 1998, a bhaineann le rochtain mac léinn ar sholáthar treorach cuí agus Pleanáil Clár Treorach na Scoile foilsithe ag an Lárionad Náisiúnta um Threoir San Oideachas (2004)] A template and guidelines for guidance planning is available under School Policies and Plans in the Education Personnel section of the Department website at www.education.ie .
Classes in first year are of mixed ability and exposure to all available subjects is given to students during that year. This practice is commended. Students have the opportunity to consider their preferences for optional Junior Certificate examination subjects and to make informed choices during first year. The arrangement of available optional subjects for the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate programmes is based on the preferences of students. TY is optional and approximately fifty percent of students avail of the programme. All fifth-year and sixth-year students participate in the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and those who are eligible sit the final examination.
The involvement of parents in the guidance process is encouraged by the school. Staff familiarity with most parents and participation in community initiatives facilitates ongoing communication in this regard and is to the benefit of students, parents and the school. The support of parents is reported by the principal to be invaluable and is evident in parental and community support for programmes such as work experience and in the arrangement of trips to open days and information events.
Continuing professional development (CPD) for guidance counsellors is a necessary element of their work and is provided now mainly by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) [Institiúid na gComhairleoirí Treorach] and by the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE). The IGC, of which the principal guidance counsellor is a member, provides CPD as part of its monthly meetings. Professional counselling support is also organised for guidance counsellors by the IGC with funding from the Department. CPD is also a core element of school planning and the NCGE is currently providing a modular course in whole-school guidance planning. The importance of the information-gathering aspect of the work of the guidance counsellor may be inferred from the long list of guidance-related events, which is continually updated and is available on the Qualifax website at www.qualifax.ie . It is recommended that a guidance counsellor be facilitated to attend monthly IGC meetings to avail not only of the CPD provided but also of the links to guidance events and personnel.
The lesson observed was taught in the school’s ICT room. It is a tribute to the skill of the teacher that a minor technological impediment was speedily overcome at the beginning of the lesson and a topic, the CAO system, was introduced seamlessly as an alternative to that originally intended. The advantages of broadband technology in the delivery of a guidance lesson were well demonstrated in the course of the session. Easy access to a wide range of information, from colleges and training institutions and from the CAO itself, and the ability of students to carry out personalised course and career searches made the lesson a productive one for them. Good use was made of questions directed at individual students and it was clear that the students were on good terms with, and were known to, the teacher. Each student sat at an individual workstation and was directed throughout the lesson as to which websites to visit and as to where further information might be sought. Students were allowed some flexibility to carry out their own searches under the direction of the teacher. Advice was regularly sought by students and this was given while the teacher moved between workstations.
It was clear that much work had been completed in previous sessions and that knowledge accumulated in this session would be used productively on future occasions. Students were familiar with the technology and were engaged with the process of course and career choice. The atmosphere in the classroom was relaxed, yet students were absorbed in the work.
All incoming students are placed in mixed-ability classes. This follows a process of induction, which includes assessments of general ability and competence in reading. The assessment of incoming students is a collaborative effort of the guidance and special educational needs departments. The results of the assessments are used to monitor student progress, especially in first and second year and to identify students who may need further diagnostic assessment in literacy and numeracy. The test instrument that is currently used for the assessment of general ability is now dated. It is recommended that a more recent test, standardised on an Irish sample, be used in its place. A list of tests has been recently added to information regarding the Test Grant Scheme in Circular 99/2007, which is available on the Department website at www.education.ie .
The Social, Personal and Health Education programme continues the process of induction in association with staff in general and includes modules on study and settling in to the new school. A more general induction programme for parents and new students begins in sixth class and includes information sessions for parents and prospective students, an open evening and visits by the principal and other staff to feeder primary schools.
Interest inventories such as those embedded in Qualifax and Career Directions are used during lessons in the senior cycle to help students to clarify career decisions.
The destinations of students who have left school are tracked by staff based on information gathered relatively informally in the community. Good communication and record keeping ensures an accurate estimation of the career paths of all who have left the school.
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, November 2008