An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Loreto Secondary School, St Michael's
Navan, County Meath
Roll number: 64370T
Date of inspection:† 23 April 2008†
Subject inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto Secondary School, St Michaelís, Navan, County Meath. 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, met with teachers, held discussions with the principal, with the guidance counsellor, with the counsellor and with two teachers engaged in student support. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and to the 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.
Loreto Secondary School, St Michaelís, is an all-girls voluntary secondary school which operates under the trusteeship of the Loreto Trust Board. The school is one of three post-primary schools in the town and caters for students from diverse, urban and rural backgrounds. Currently there are twenty-five feeder primary schools giving an enrolment of 782 including twenty-five international students and fifteen students from the Traveller community. Students come from the town of Navan and from the surrounding hinterland.
The school receives an ex-quota allocation of thirty hours per week for Guidance from the Department of Education and Science. The full-time guidance counsellor delivers twenty-two hours of Guidance and, since January 2007, a trained counsellor attends the school one day per week to offer counselling to students over a period of five hours. The school also provides time from within its general teacher allocation for three other members of staff to be directly involved in student support and the principal reports that there is now a whole-school approach to the delivery of Guidance in the school. It is now recommended that the school records on the timetable the total time provision allocated to Guidance. St Michaelís also has access to the services of a designated National Educational Psychological Services (NEPS) psychologist.
Management is very supportive of Guidance and St Michaelís has excellent facilities for Guidance consisting of a suite of two adjoining offices, a careers library area and space for small group work with four computer terminals which have intranet and broadband access.† The guidance office is well equipped with computer, broadband access, phone, shelving and storage. Guidance-related materials are housed in the guidance office while the other office, the student welfare office, is used by the counsellor and by members of support staff to meet with students. Notice boards with guidance-related materials and posters are displayed in the guidance area. A copy of the National Qualifications Framework on display there is an useful addition to the learning environment. A notice board in the staff room informs teachers of guidance activities and events.
St Michaelís has very good information and communications technology (ICT) facilities and each incoming student receives an individual user email account. The main computer room is available for guidance classes on a booking system and is open to students at lunchtime and outside class time. Students may also use the computers in the guidance suite. This approach is commended as it encourages students to engage in independent research and to develop self-management and time management skills. Excellent use is made by the guidance counsellor of ICT facilities in the school to deliver the guidance programme. The guidance counsellor has constructed a careers website for the school (www.careersireland.wordpress.com) which is accessible by students and their parents through the worldwide web or through the Google search engine. The time commitment of the guidance counsellor in the design and maintenance of this project is commended.
While guidance provision is targeted primarily in senior cycle with weekly timetabled classes in Transition Year (TY) and sixth year there is also a good modular approach to delivery for some class groups. The guidance counsellor offers a six-week guidance module in third year to provide information on subject and programme choice. Commendably the guidance counsellor also uses small group work in third year, in TY, in fifth and sixth years when students can access relevant websites and are encouraged to continue their own research. The guidance counsellor posts the lists of names and times of appointments in the staff room to inform teachers. While Guidance is not currently timetabled in junior cycle, the school is moving towards increased provision in first and second years and the school authorities are keen to have another member of staff apply for initial training as a guidance counsellor. Individual appointments and personal counselling are offered in all year groups as needs arise.
Commendably St Michaelís has developed an emergency response plan. The guidance counsellor is a core member of the crisis response team and co-ordinates the group. The school has developed networks with other local guidance counsellors. This collaboration is commended as it provides additional support and assists all participants. The school is considering an invitation by the Health Service Executive (HSE) to participate in its work in defining the role of the HSE Primary and Community Services in responding to a major emergency.
There is a very good sense of care in the school which is evidenced by the supports and interventions provided for students. The principal states that Guidance is very central to the school, reflecting the school ethos and its spirit of focusing on the potential of the individual. Promotion of positive self-esteem and confidence is important in the school. A system of positive discipline operates for students culminating in an annual prize-giving event to acknowledge and celebrate student achievement in both academic and non-academic spheres.
The care system is based around the year head and class tutor system in close collaboration with student support personnel. The student support team consists of a combination of the emergency response team and year heads. The support team meets formally once a term and minutes are recorded. The support team also meets with the NEPS psychologist at intervals during the year. Year heads meet weekly with the principal and deputy principal. Commendably the guidance counsellor attends some of these weekly meetings when information regarding students is transferred and discussed. It is recommended that minutes of all these meetings regarding student support be recorded.
As the need arises year heads schedule a meeting of the teachers of individual students. Two of the three members of staff directly involved in student support are also year heads. One of these teachers is an assistant principal who operates as the co-ordinator of St Michaelís home-school links programme.† Another member of staff with a qualification in psychodrama co-ordinates the peer mediation, student leadership and the Rainbows programmes within the school. Self-help groups, such as the Ďseedlingsí group to support bereavement, are formed for short periods to deal with specific issues and problems as they arise.
All of the training for students in bullying awareness, mediation and leadership is provided in-house by the co-ordinator, assisted by another member of staff. The co-ordinator also provides ongoing support and arranges formal meetings with the senior prefects and the peer mediators who co-ordinate the schoolís bullying awareness week. Regular, ongoing contact is maintained informally between the guidance counsellor and other key support personnel. The guidance department also works closely with year heads, class tutors and programme co-ordinators. This level of commitment to student support is commended. Weekly meetings take place between the guidance counsellor and the counsellor and they both meet regularly with the co-ordinator of the Rainbows programme.
Referrals of students to the guidance department for counselling and extra support are made by senior management, year heads, class teachers, subject teachers, key support personnel and parents. Students may also self-refer. Year heads refer students to the counsellor using a timetable list that is provided by the counsellor in the school office or students may also drop in to the student welfare office. The counsellor reports good connection with the year heads regarding students. Referrals to outside agencies are effected through the office of the principal or deputy principal in consultation with parents, year heads and the guidance department. Year heads maintain records of students and of all referrals made.
Links between the guidance department and senior management are maintained through formal and informal meetings and through ongoing daily contact. Timetabling of guidance classes and events is discussed with the principal. The guidance counsellor is very involved in class placement and the setting up of class groupings in first year. There is close collaboration between the deputy principal and the guidance counsellor regarding subject choice for senior cycle.
It is to be commended that St Michaelís has established links with a number of support agencies and organisations where both students and their families can receive support. The school offers the Rainbow programme to students experiencing loss or bereavement. School prefects are nominated by their year group and receive training in building leadership skills. In addition to their prefect duties, the school prefects act as mentors to first year classes and work with junior cycle students and the peer mediation team. Senior students volunteer to participate in the peer mediation programme and offer peer mediation and peer support for junior students, especially for those students experiencing difficulty in peer relationships. Seminars in study skills are arranged for examination year students and personal development seminars are organised for students in second and fifth years.
Strong links have been established with a number of institutes of further and higher education.
While there is no specific budget for the guidance department resources are provided as required.
Guidance planning is ongoing in the school and, to date, a good deal of work has been completed. This has been done primarily by the guidance counsellor in collaboration with the principal and other members of staff, especially student support personnel and programme co-ordinators. A copy of the draft plan has been emailed by the guidance counsellor to all staff members for comment and for information and a copy is available in the staff room. This collaboration is commended and it is recommended that the school now builds on the work achieved and establishes a planning committee which will support the guidance department and enhance the whole-school approach to Guidance that the school is fostering. A student needs analysis would now be opportune to inform the planning process. Programmes have been developed for all year groups and, commendably, evaluation of the guidance programme is being done by the guidance counsellor with the involvement of students and parents.
St Michaelís has in place a transition programme for incoming first year students, managed by the co-ordinator of the home-school links programme in close collaboration with the student support team. A school brochure provides clear and detailed information on the school for prospective students and their parents. The transition programme begins with an open evening for prospective students and their parents when school facilities are visited and presentations by school personnel are delivered. This is followed by an information evening for parents of newly enrolled students and by assessment tests.
The home-school links co-ordinator liaises closely with the year head of first year and with senior management regarding students and co-ordinates any financial assistance provided to parents in the form of grants. The co-ordinator also attends the school when the book grant is being distributed, meets with parents and assists with uniform and book purchasing. Letters have been prepared by the home-school links co-ordinator which are issued to keep parents of incoming students informed at the different stages of the transfer programme. During the first term all parents of first year students are invited to an individual meeting with the home-school links co-ordinator to discuss any issues or concerns they may have regarding the transfer of their daughters into St Michaelís. This level of commitment is commended.
The guidance counsellor is a member of the team of staff members which visits the feeder primary schools to meet with teachers before students enter St Michaelís. The school reports good feedback. This information is then collated by the home-school links co-ordinator and this allows the school to prepare support, as necessary, for incoming students. A well-developed induction programme is delivered at the beginning of the new school year when first year students meet with class teachers, year head, designated senior prefects, peer mediators, student support teachers and with the guidance counsellor. A copy of the first year handbook is provided to each student. Class tutors continue the induction programme into the first term. Class tutors teach Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) and another subject to their tutor classes. This ensures daily contact with their tutor groups.
St Michaelís offers a good range of curricular programmes namely, the Junior Certificate, the Transition Year, the Leaving Certificate (Established) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). An excellent range of subjects is offered at both junior and senior levels. Prior to entry to St Michaelís incoming students choose two subjects from French, German and Business Studies and one from either Science or Home Economics. There are no taster classes offered in these subjects. Taster classes are provided in the other optional subjects, Music, Art and Technical Graphics and students choose one of these subjects at the end of first year. While the school states that there is flexibility to change subjects during the course of the first year it is recommended that the school reviews the current pre-entry subject choice arrangements so that all students are encouraged to consider as wide a choice as possible and non-traditional choices are fostered.
The guidance counsellor visits all first year classes to introduce discussion on careers and individual appointments are offered to students to assist with subject choice. While information on subject choice is available on the school guidance website, it is recommended that the school offers a formal information session for parents of incoming students on the import of subject choice. In this regard parents and students could also be directed to the information available in the section ĎLeaving Cert and Junior Cert Subject Choiceí on the QualifaX website (www.qualifax.ie) and on subject content on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website (www.ncca.ie).
Subject choice for Leaving Certificate begins with an open choice and options bands are refined subsequently. A booklet on senior cycle options which includes information on subject content, programme requirements, points system, career links and relevant website addresses has been compiled by the guidance counsellor for students and parents. The guidance counsellor collaborates with the year head to support any student considering leaving school before completion of the Leaving Certificate. Students are encouraged to remain in school and, for those who decide not to, options and plans are discussed.
Appropriate programmes have been developed and are delivered in senior cycle. All TY students complete a careers project. At the beginning of the new school year all fifth year students attend a self-evaluation, self awareness and group dynamics session in the Navan Education Centre facilitated by the guidance counsellor and the co-ordinator of student supports. This is commended as a means both of helping the integration of students who have completed the TY with those who are coming directly from junior cycle and of introducing the senior programmes in Guidance. Students in the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) class groups consult with the guidance counsellor during their completion of the career investigation section of the link modules.
Senior students attend college open days and other career and course information events. Commendably the guidance department has in place protocols and is in the process of developing a policy for student attendance at open days and career events. It is recommended that input from students and parents would be useful in finalising the procedures and formulating the policy document.
The guidance counsellor is a member of the SPHE team and there is good collaboration between the SPHE and the guidance departments. It is recommended that this networking be formalised to include planning meetings at the beginning of the year and, subsequently, as required. The guidance and the religious education (RE) departments collaborate to facilitate a weekly time slot for guest speakers. Attendance is compulsory for TY students and sixth years may attend talks of specific interest to them.
Parents are encouraged and welcomed to contact the guidance department as required. The guidance counsellor attends all parent-teacher meetings and provides an input into all information sessions for parents. During the first term a parentsí evening is arranged by the parentsí association to provide an opportunity for first year parents to meet with other first year parents as well as parents of other year groups and to discuss any concerns they may have regarding the transition of their daughters from the primary school. The parents association also offers parenting courses for parents of teenagers.
St Michaelís hosts an information session for parents of third year to explain the programme and subject options available in senior cycle. Parents of Leaving Certificate students are invited to an information session on career pathways, options available after the completion of the Leaving Certificate, applications to further and higher education, grants and fees. In the past the guidance counsellor has also provided group work for parents as required. An input from the guidance department is included in the biannual school newsletter to parents. All these activities to support parents are commended.
The guidance counsellor is a member of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC). The school facilitates attendance at local and national in-service, relevant guidance and training events and the local professional development sessions to support counselling. The guidance counsellor is also a member of the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP).
In the course of the evaluation one TY group was visited and the inspector was also present at two small group sessions of fifth year students. The TY lesson was accommodated in the computer room and the group work took place in the guidance area with access to computers. In all cases the content of the work was well planned and paced and was appropriate to the groups. The aims of the lesson and the groups were explained to students at the outset. The good practice of taking the roll was noted and, in the case of group work, the guidance counsellor also recorded attendance by stamping the student journals.
The focus of the TY lesson was the return of the student work experience diary and project followed by the researching of courses. A good variety of methodologies was used including the use of handouts, individual and pair work, discussion and use of the internet. Students were given a handout with ten questions and asked to research the answers using the school guidance website and other relevant websites. This is an effective introduction to the use of internet-based research within the careers area.
The small group sessions were the first in a series of four with the fifth year students to explore interests and career choices. The results of the previously completed Connolly Occupational Interests Questionnaire were returned and explained to students and a handout provided for follow up work. Students were introduced to the school guidance website and the content with relevant links was explained. Students were encouraged to learn from each other and to discuss the content of the handout with parents and older siblings.
A friendly and relaxed atmosphere and good working relationships were evident in both groups and in the lesson. Discipline was maintained in a positive manner and students were at ease to ask questions and were positively affirmed and encouraged. There was good participation and engagement on the part of the students. Good rapport and mutual respect were obvious between guidance counsellor and students.
Prior to entry into first year incoming students take school-devised tests in English, Gaeilge and Mathematics and the Non-Reading Intelligence Test (NRIT). Using test results and feedback from the primary schools the guidance counsellor and the home-school links co-ordinator collaborate to set up first year class groups and to identify students needing additional learning support.
Interest inventories such as the Rothwell Miller Interest Blank, Career Interest Inventory (CII) and those available on the QualifaX, Career Directions and UCAS websites are used with senior cycle students to assist career and course choices. The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) are administered in fifth year. Results are communicated to students and parents via letters posted home. Students and parents are welcome to contact the guidance counsellor for further information and for individual appointments as necessary.
Commendably protocols have been developed for meetings with students and with parents. Both the guidance counsellor and the counsellor maintain records of meetings with students. The guidance counsellor uses a stamp on the student diary to record attendance. The counsellor records student attendance and monthly lists are provided to the guidance counsellor and to the principal. Student profiling begins as students attend the guidance department. All records maintained by the guidance counsellor are stored in folders in a locked filing cabinet. Information notes stored by the counsellor are in coded form. The guidance counsellor also has access to student files via the schoolís intranet.
Tracking of Leaving Certificate students is currently done in September by the guidance counsellor. A list of initial destinations is prepared on a class-by-class group basis and copies provided to the principal and displayed in the staff room. The guidance counsellor has also compiled statistics on employment figures in Ireland on a sector basis for the period 2002-2006. This approach is commended as the information gathered could encourage and motivate current students. Past students are welcomed to return to school or to meet with the guidance counsellor for further information and support.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ A well organised and well established guidance service operates in St Michaelís and a whole-school approach to guidance delivery and student support is being developed.
∑ The school has excellent facilities for guidance provision and very good use is made of ICT facilities for guidance delivery.
∑ Guidance planning is very well advanced in the school.
∑ As well as timetabled guidance classes, good use is made of small group work and a modular approach to delivery maximises student access to guidance services.
∑ There is good sense of care for students in the school and a wide range of supports and interventions provided for students.
∑ There is worthwhile engagement with outside organisations and programmes to support students and their parents.
∑ An emergency response plan has been formulated and a crisis response team has been established.
∑ The school offers a broad range of subjects at both junior and senior levels.
∑ In collaboration with parents and the primary schools the school has a transfer programme in place to assist students in making a successful transfer from primary to post-primary school.
∑ In the lesson and the group work observed, a friendly and relaxed atmosphere prevailed and good working relationships were evident. Good rapport and mutual respect were evident and there was good participation and engagement on the part of the students.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development the following key recommendations are made:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the principal and the guidance counsellor at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published October 2008