An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta


Department of Education and Science




Subject Inspection of Guidance





Mercy Secondary School

Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath

Roll number: 63221U




Date of inspection: 23 and 24 October 2006

Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007






Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning






Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance



Subject inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mercy Secondary School, Kilbeggan.  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 the guidance counsellors. 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.



Subject provision and whole school support


Mercy Secondary School is a mixed post primary school that caters for students from Kilbeggan and a wide rural hinterland. Guidance is viewed by the school as a necessary resource to assist learning and provide support for students making transitions.  With a current enrolment of 383 students a total allocation of thirteen hours for Guidance is provided by the Department of Education and Science. The guidance counsellor role is shared with another voluntary secondary school in the area. The guidance counsellor presently works in Kilbeggan three days a week. A counsellor is also employed by the school and this extra resource provides an additional twelve hours of counselling support for students. Funding for this extra counselling is provided through the Westmeath Partnership Area Development Company. The guidance counsellor and counsellor make up the school’s guidance team. Together they plan and manage the delivery of Guidance and counselling for students with the support of other staff. Guidance is considered to be a whole school support for students and includes educational, vocational and counselling interventions.  Presently, the implementation of a new pastoral care system to include a limited year head and tutor structure is being explored. It is envisaged that Guidance, counselling and Home School Community Liaison will integrate fully with this new student management structure. As local demographic figures suggest that the school’s enrolment numbers are likely to increase, it is suggested that the school should consider exploring ways to employ a guidance counsellor full time in the school to provide full guidance support for all programmes in junior and senior cycles.


Timetabling for guidance delivery reflects a good balance between group and one-to-one sessions for senior cycle students. However, there is some imbalance in the current provision of guidance in junior cycle.  Students in junior cycle requiring assistance to address personal issues are referred internally by staff to meet school’s counsellor. However, there is a need to also provide on-going educational and vocational guidance support for students in junior cycle. Good links to external support agencies and bodies such as the National Education Psychological Service (NEPS), Youthreach, the local Health Board and medical practitioners are supported and maintained. Excellent on-going contacts with local third level and further education colleges are also fostered.


Facilities for guidance include a guidance office which is suitably equipped and which has access to Broadband. Notice boards are provided in the corridors to display details about college open-day events and other relevant guidance information. Students can seek an appointment to meet with the guidance team and access one-to-one assistance with personal issues or guidance enquiries. Access to information communication technology (ICT) is available to the guidance team and classes can be held in the school’s computer room.



Planning and preparation


A whole school guidance plan for the school has been drafted and is now being implemented across all year groups. Beginning in 2005, the staff received a briefing about Guidance and a group of interested teachers formed to draft of the school guidance plan with the support from the guidance counsellor. The completed draft plan has been presented to the board of management. Up-dates on progress made to the plan have since been presented at staff meetings.  It is recommended that this co-operative approach to planning should be maintained and that the guidance plan should be reviewed at the end of this academic year by the guidance team. A summary of any changes made to the plan should then be presented to the staff, parents and students for consultation and finally to the school’s board of management.  To further strengthen the guidance team, whose personnel can seldom meet due to timetabling arrangements, it is suggested that a few formal meetings should be convened each year to plan guidance provision in the school.


When students are transferring from primary school, the guidance counsellor and the school counsellor both facilitate students settling into the new school. The guidance counsellor assists in the assessment on incoming students to identify learning needs. The school maintains good contacts with all local primary schools and information on students’ particular needs is gathered. The guidance counsellor attends the parents’ information night to explain the role of Guidance and the range of supports that are provided and explain subject options. To further improve the support being provided for parents to make subject choices for their children, it is suggested that the literature being provided for parents should be revised. This should include more information about subjects and the possible career implications of choosing certain subjects or groups of subjects. In addition, the value of selecting non-traditional subjects on a gender equity basis should be emphasised. The redesign of this information for parents could be managed by the guidance team with support from the parents’ council. All information for parents should also be available on the school’s website.


Each first year student meets with the counsellor who explains what guidance supports are available and informs them about how to access counselling support when required. The first year guidance programme is fully integrated with Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE). This programme addresses personal development topics and includes inputs from the guidance counsellor encourages the development of good study skills and self-management. One-to-one counselling support is provided for those who require extra assistance to deal with personal issues or problems. The guidance programme for second and third years is also delivered through SPHE with some inputs from the guidance team.


Third year students have SPHE classes and also meet in small groups with a member of the guidance team to complete short career investigations. This is an excellent approach that assists them to gain a better understanding of their own interests and strengths and to make tentative explorations of what subject or career areas they might consider. However, it is important that students in junior cycle should be provided with even more inputs on career topics to support good career decision-making about possible subject choices for senior cycle. As time available for guidance in the school is limited, it is recommended that timetabled guidance classes for sixth year students could be swooped with third year groups after the Central Applications Office (CAO) process has been completed in February each year.


This year the school is piloting the Real Game in Transition Year (TY). This new approach to the delivery of guidance themes will enable students to explore life and career opportunities using highly interactive methodologies. The guidance programme also includes the administration of interest tests and exploration of websites such as Qualifax to support subject and course choices.


Guidance in fifth and sixth year encourages and assists students to begin taking responsibility for their own learning. Through the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), a range of appropriate guidance topics are delivered and the careers investigation module is completed. It is recommended that as guidance expertise is available in the school, all LCVP guidance inputs should be delivered by the guidance counsellor. Students are also facilitated to make Central Applications Office (CAO) and United Central Applications (UCAS) applications to third level colleges. Students who wish to avail of apprenticeship training are also supported. Web-based research on a number of career areas is actively supported throughout senior cycle. All students in senior cycle meet individually with the guidance counsellor to discuss and plan viable career paths. To support decision-making, the guidance programme for senior cycle also includes a range of guest speakers who are invited to address students to give insights into the world of business and third level education. In addition, visits to a number of colleges and career events are facilitated each year.


Good access to the school’ computer room for guidance classes is facilitated and a data projector is available for making presentations. Parents are encouraged to become fully informed of all transition opportunities at parents’ information evenings. It is suggested that all information supplied about transition routes to third level and post Leaving Certificate courses should also be accessible for parents and students on the school’s website.


The school supports the guidance counsellor to attend personal supervision sessions, to avail of continual professional development opportunities and attend career events.



Teaching and learning


In the course of the inspection visit, three classes, a third year, a fifth year and a sixth year class were visited. The methodologies selected to present and develop the topics in each class were very appropriate to the age and developmental level of the students. Good planning was in evidence in all classes and viable learning objectives were established from the outset of the lessons.  The topic for each lesson was well introduced and delivered. Suitable materials had been researched and were provided to support learning. A good classroom atmosphere prevailed throughout all three sessions to support quality learning outcomes for students.


The third year group had previously completed an interest inventory to assist decision-making and the findings of this exercise were effectively brainstormed during the class. The students were encouraged to share their own profile information and to consider a wide range of possible career options. A good rapport was evident between teacher and students. This approach to career exploration is praiseworthy as it facilitates students to develop a good understanding of personal interests and attributes. To further progress this work, it is recommended that even more inputs on career topics to support subject and programme decision-making for senior cycle should be provided for third year students.


The fifth year group explored the prospectus for the University of Limerick and were informed about how to make full use of the information supplied by the college. Some of the students had attended the college open-day and shared their personal experiences with the group. Students displayed a good understanding of how to select possible course options and could discuss the value of selecting certain courses or programmes. Good use was made of the text and of extra materials prepared and supplied by the teacher to support active learning by students. Of particular note was how the students engaged effectively with the teacher and made use of the lesson to discuss their own subject choices. 


A short session was held with sixth year students, during which CAO options were discussed and a short questionnaire on Guidance was completed. This questionnaire, which is being administered by inspectors in 50 second level schools throughout 2006/2007 during subject inspections. It aims to gather the views of senior cycle students on Guidance.  The questionnaire is anonymous and invites a sample of senior cycle students in each of the schools included in this survey to respond to a series of questions about the Guidance provision in their school, and to comment on how useful and informative they have found the range of inputs on careers and educational opportunities that has been provided. Furthermore, the questionnaire invited them to state what changes they consider would improve the schools’ guidance programmes and to suggest what type of programme would give maximum benefit to students in senior cycle.





Students enrolling in the school undergo an assessment process to ascertain learning needs.  The guidance counsellor plays an active role to support this process. The stated purpose of this initial assessment is to identify students who require extra learning support. It is suggested therefore, that all assessment tests chosen for this process need to be reviewed annually. Only tests that have norms compatible with Irish students and suitable for those whose first language may not be English, should be administered. To further support the assessment process, it is also suggested that when liaising with primary schools all details of assessments completed by pupils in fifth and sixth class should be sought to add to individual educational profiles. The school supports the guidance counsellor to meet students on enrolment and when they visit the school for induction. The school adopts a flexible approach to assessment and appropriate use is being made of assessment instruments for all students.


There is evidence of good record keeping in the guidance office. All meetings held with students and referrals made to outside agencies are fully recorded. 


Good use is also being made of ICT in guidance classes to explore a range of careers websites, Career Directions, Careers World and Qualifax. Students are actively encouraged to explore all college websites to ascertain information on courses. Interest inventories are also being administered widely to assist individual career-path development, and where available good use is being made of web-based instruments to further investigate interest areas and career possibilities.


The initial destinations of students leaving the school are being recorded only informally. It is recommended that the initial destinations of all students leaving the school should be formally mapped to inform management and staff about the selection of subject options, and the school guidance plan. It is suggested that the information on sixth years’ destinations could be gathered by the school each year using email and mobile phone texting contacts.



Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:




As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:



Post-evaluation meetings were held with the guidance counsellor, the school counsellor and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.