An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Bandon Grammar School
Bandon, County Cork
Roll number: 62060R
Date of inspection: 13 May 2009
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Bandon Grammar School. 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 of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Guidance provision at Bandon Grammar School is in keeping with its mission to provide students with the opportunity to develop their potential and to encourage and guide them to a meaningful place in society. Founded in 1641, the school has had a long association with the Church of Ireland and aims to provide a broad education in a Christian context. The school is a co-educational day and boarding school in which 486 students are enrolled. Enrolment is growing and it is projected by management that more than five hundred students will be enrolled in the 2009 – 2010 school year.
The current ex-quota allocation for Guidance by the Department of Education and Science is seventeen hours per week. According to Circular PPT12/05, the ex-quota allocation for the school year beginning in September 2010 will be 24 hours per week, given the increased enrolment. It is indicative of the commitment of management to the support of students that an additional five hours have been allocated from the school’s resources. The allocation is used effectively in the provision of a Guidance service and programme that is appropriately broad, encompassing personal, educational and vocational guidance. The guidance department is well served by a guidance counsellor of long-standing in the school. In the light of the rising enrolment and in keeping with the mission to encourage members of the school to be life-long learners through ongoing commitment to improvement, a staff member has been identified to engage in training as an additional guidance counsellor. Such forward thinking is commended. It will present opportunities for the development of the guidance department in the context of current good practice, thus ensuring continuity, self-evaluation and improvement.
The support of students is characterised by collaboration among staff in a relatively informal, but no less effective, structure of supports that includes the guidance department, special educational needs department, Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Religious Education (RE) departments and staff involved in the management and support of students who participate in after-school study and of those who are boarders. Fifth-year students themselves are involved, following training by an external agency, in mentoring students in first year. A year-head and class-tutor system also operates as a link between the student-management and student-support systems of the school and is currently co-ordinated by the guidance counsellor. It was clear, in the course of the inspection, that relationships among staff are good and that the care and support of students is a normal element of all procedures and departments.
Students’ experience of Guidance is wide-ranging and includes the induction process, during which incoming students are assessed, and planned intermittent provision during the junior cycle, particularly in relation to subject and programme choice. A good balance has been achieved between work with class groups and with individual students. Most senior cycle classes are timetabled for one lesson of Guidance per week.
The facilities for Guidance are good. An office is provided and is equipped with the requisite administrative, storage and technological equipment. The office is situated in a room that forms part of the library suite. The library is well stocked, not only with books of a general nature but also with a comprehensive guidance section including two internet-linked computers, and is supervised by a librarian. This is good practice.
Contact between the guidance department and senior management is continual and is a combination of formal and mainly informal meetings. This facilitates a flexible process through which the needs of individual students are identified and through which responses are planned. Referrals to agencies external to the school, such as the Health Service Executive (HSE), the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) and counselling agencies, are managed in this context and are reported by the guidance department to be satisfactory. A standard system of referrals to the guidance department is in place and students may be referred by staff or by student self-referral.
The guidance department plan is comprehensive and includes references to the service and curricular elements of the programme. Whole-school guidance planning has been initiated and is progressing well. The school is commended for having used the format suggested by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) in the establishment of the process. The general body of staff has been involved. Needs have been identified and prioritised in the context of a broad view of guidance and student support. It is recommended, especially in the light of the school’s expansion, that the functions of the various supports be reviewed with a view to the formation of an integrated structure that includes not only the guidance department and the special educational needs department but also the pastoral care team of year heads and class tutors. The use of the term ‘whole-school student support planning’ has been found, in some schools, to be an acceptable compromise in the description of whole-school guidance planning for which extensive resources are available through the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE). These include Planning the School Guidance Programme (2004) and the modular whole-school guidance-planning course, run annually in various centres.
The guidance department is commended for having considered Looking at Guidance, recently published by the Inspectorate, with a view to its inclusion as part of both the guidance department and whole-school guidance planning processes. It is recommended that the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) document A Curricular Framework for Guidance in Post-primary Education (2007) be similarly considered, especially in relation to the inclusion of departments such as SPHE and RE in deliberations regarding the curricular elements of the junior cycle guidance programme, already identified as one of the planning priorities. It is recommended that, as an additional focus, short-term and long-term planning targets be included in the plans. These should be time-limited and, where warranted, delegated to planning task-groups, as suggested by the SDPI.
With the progress of whole-school guidance planning and of subject department planning, and in keeping with its mission, supports for students are considered by the school to be core components of learning and teaching. This is consistent with the current focus by the SDPI on teaching and learning. It is suggested that, in the context of the integrated approach to the support of students already recommended, some formal reference should be made in subject-department plans to the supports available to students. In addition to the whole-school guidance planning team, it is suggested that a small student-support team be formed, incorporating key staff in student support and management, whose functions would include the rapid identification and response to the immediate needs of students, and the overview of whole-school guidance planning. NEPS favours a meeting with such a student-support team at an early stage in the school year to plan interventions in collaboration with senior management, the guidance department and special educational needs department.
A bias in favour of the senior cycle has been identified in the course of whole-school guidance planning and proposals have been put forward to address this in the coming school year. Such review followed by action is commended. Otherwise, the programme of the guidance department is spread through most year groups, with inputs particularly at the main transitional stages. These include the induction of new students, subject choices in Transition Year (TY) which is compulsory at Bandon Grammar School, and in preparations for life after school through formal guidance lessons in the senior cycle, including the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). The scheme of optional subjects for the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate examinations is based largely on the preferences of students and is under regular review. This is commended.
Senior management is conscious of the need, as a boarding school, to keep parents informed of students’ progress both academically and socially. This is achieved through regular parent-teacher meetings attended by the guidance department, newsletters to parents, information sessions regarding subject choice and college applications, and by the encouragement by the school of regular contacts between the guidance department and parents. The assistance of parents in the arrangement of mock interviews for senior students is commended. Similarly, the assistance of the local community in facilitating students’ placements on work experience and in the arrangement of a bi-annual careers evening, managed by the deputy principal and other staff, is also commended.
Senior management encourages and facilitates guidance department attendance at events of continuing professional development, particularly those organised by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, of which the guidance counsellor is a member. This is good practice.
The lesson observed in the course of the inspection was one of the final guidance lessons for this sixth-year cohort. The main topic of the lesson was a summary of the communications, from the CAO (Central Applications Office) for example, to be expected by students in the coming months. The lesson was well planned. The computer room was used and students sat at individual workstations. This was appropriate to the content of the lesson that included a final perusal of the CAO website so that students might identify any outstanding issues regarding their applications. A handout was used effectively during the lesson to enable students to assess their potential for success in their course aspirations.
Following a roll call and introduction, the lesson proceeded at a steady pace that enabled students to follow the clear instructions that were given. Students were at ease and responded well to questions and prompts. It was clear that students were familiar with the technology and had absorbed well the content of previous lessons. The information imparted during the lesson was accurate, and well-considered questions were used throughout. The requests of students for individual attention were responded to and the room format facilitated easy movement from student to student.
Students were co-operative and remained engaged during the lesson. Questions asked by students showed their interest in the issues being dealt with and were respectful in tone. The lesson ended with the printing of the material generated. Despite the number of students involved, this was carried out efficiently and within the timetabled period.
The use by the guidance department of a psychometric test of general ability that has been standardised for use on an Irish population is commended. The results of the test are used to assist in the placement of students in mixed-ability classes and in monitoring progress, particularly in first year. Use is also made of the results to identify students who may be eligible to participate in programmes run by the Centre for Talented Youth in Ireland and those for whom reasonable accommodations may be sought in the State examinations. Tests of literacy and numeracy are administered by the special educational needs department in collaboration with the guidance department. These are used as a screening device in the identification of students whose additional needs may be catered for, following further diagnostic assessment, by the special educational needs department. The special educational needs department is commended for having made immediate enquiries, following a suggestion in the course of this inspection, about the support available to the department from the Inspectorate.
A well-considered range of other test instruments is used by the guidance department, particularly in the senior cycle. These include interest blanks and questionnaires designed to elucidate students’ thinking on career choices, both in paper form and electronically. The use of current versions of materials by the guidance department is good practice.
The facilities for the storage of records are appropriate to the high standard of record-keeping observed during the inspection. Such records include planning documentation and records of meetings with staff and students. Students’ initial destinations after the Leaving Certificate examination are recorded by the guidance department and are summarised in the annual yearbook published by 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 counsellor 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 2009