An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Gormanston, County Meath
Roll number: 64420I
Date of inspection: 25 April 2008
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Franciscan College, Gormanston, 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 acting principal and with the guidance counsellor. 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.
Franciscan College, Gormanston operates under the trusteeship of the Franciscan Order and is situated in the former Gormanston Castle and demesne in County Meath approximately thirty kilometres north of Dublin. The school caters for a mix of full boarding and day boarding students with equal numbers of each. The school welcomes both boys and girls and there is a current enrolment of 549 students of which 53 are female. Day students come from a predominantly rural background from the surrounding areas. Approximately half of the boarding students come from outside the country, including a number of students on exchange from Germany and France. Day boarders come from five main local feeder primary schools and attend the school from 8.15 am until 7.30 pm daily and until noon on Saturdays as the school operates a five and a half day week with lessons timetabled on Saturday mornings. All students attend supervised study periods before classes begin and again in the evening.
The school receives an ex-quota allocation of twenty-two hours per week for Guidance from the Department of Education and Science. The guidance counsellor is timetabled to deliver fifteen hours and forty-five minutes of this allocation and also teaches five hours and twenty minutes of Economics. The guidance counsellor collaborates with another member of staff who co-ordinates the subject choice process for senior cycle. The school also has a long tradition of support being provided by the friars, the rector, the dean of residence, housemasters, senior management and, in more recent times, by year heads. While this provision serves a very important function in supporting the boarding structures in Franciscan College, Gormanston, it is essential that the school ensures that the total ex-quota allocation of twenty-two hours per week is used to deliver guidance to students in accordance with section 9(c) of the Education Act 1998. At the time of the evaluation visit the school did not have the services of a designated National Educational Psychological Services (NEPS) psychologist.
Currently guidance provision is targeted primarily in senior cycle. Weekly classes are timetabled in fifth year for the duration of the school year and from September to March for sixth year class groups. A guidance module is provided in Transition Year (TY) and in third year for students who wish to proceed directly to fifth year. During the first two weeks of the new school year the guidance counsellor visits the first year class groups to introduce the guidance service and to offer an input on homework and study skills. The guidance counsellor liaises with teachers of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) in first year. There is no formal class contact in second year. Individual appointments and personal counselling are offered to students in all year groups when requested. While the current trend towards a modular approach is commended it is recommended that the school reviews the imbalance that exists in guidance provision between junior and senior cycles.
Franciscan College has very good facilities for Guidance which are all accommodated in one of the buildings separate from the main college structure. The guidance suite comprises an office, a classroom and a demonstration room which accommodates large groups. The office is equipped with storage, telephone, laptop and broadband access. The classroom also functions as a careers library and is equipped with a data projector and screen. However, at present broadband access in not available in the classroom and applications to CAO are made by students using the laptop in the guidance office. It is recommended that the school prioritises installation of access to the internet in the guidance classroom. A career notice board within the guidance suite is regularly updated and the guidance counsellor also posts notices on the wall outside the office. It is suggested that a notice board be put on this wall. The office of the member of staff who organises subject choice in senior cycle is also located in this building and this facilitates the interaction with the guidance department. The guidance counsellor also displays notices in the staffroom to inform teachers of guidance activities.
Access for Guidance to the information and communications technology (ICT) facilities in the school is limited at present. Other than within computer lessons and through the laptop in the guidance office there is no additional access for students who may wish to do independent research. It is recommended that the school explores, within the planning process, how access to the ICT facilities for Guidance can be enhanced and formalised.
The care system in Franciscan College is based around the boarding and year head structures within the college and with the assistance of the class tutors in junior cycle. While there is no formal care team, informal networks operate within the school and the principal states that there are a number of people within the college whom the student can approach to discuss matters of concern. On entry to the college each student is assigned to a ‘clann’ which is under the care of a ‘caomhnóir’ (guardian) who performs the role of housemaster. There are five ‘clanns’ in the school and students remain within the same ‘clann’ for their entire time in the college. Each ‘clann’ has two prefects elected by the students and there are two college prefects/captains appointed by the rector and senior management. All prefects are members of the student council. Fortnightly meetings of each ‘clann’ and ‘caomhnóir’ take place where achievements are acknowledged and discipline issues discussed.
Year groups and class groups are separate from the ‘clann’ system which is divided horizontally across the student population. The dean of residence, the friars and the rector also form part of the care structures, especially for the boarding students. There is informal liaison between the year head, the ‘caomhnóirí’ and the dean of residence to share relevant information. However, in the main all these structures operate independently of each other and of the guidance department. The school has recently appointed a member of staff to look after the female students and informal meetings take place between this teacher and the guidance counsellor. Year heads work with students within the academic sphere and in discipline issues while the role of the ‘caomhnóir’ is primarily pastoral. The ‘caomhnóir’ is involved in the personal and social aspects of the students’ development and is the first point of contact with home in this regard. A local GP visits the school four times per week and three nurses are employed in the school infirmary.
Weekly meetings take place between the year heads and senior management. The ‘caomhnóirí’ meet with the principal once per term and, commendably, these meetings will be held monthly in the school year 2008/09. It is recommended that the school now explores how the guidance department can link formally with the year heads, the caomhnóirí and other key support personnel in order to establish a more structured care team with regular meetings which will provide an effective forum for the efficient transfer and sharing of information on students. Such a cohesive team approach to the care of students would further enhance the good work that is already being done by many individuals and would ensure that any students at risk are identified and supported as early as possible.
In the school year 2007/08 Franciscan College offers three of the second level curricular programmes namely, the Junior Certificate, the Transition Year (TY) and the Established Leaving Certificate programmes. Commendably the school offers a wide range of subjects in both junior and senior cycle. In the school year 2008/09 all senior students will study a total of eight subjects as Religious Education (RE) is being introduced as an eight subject for the Leaving Certificate. It is now timely for the school to re-visit whether the introduction of the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) would be advantageous to students.
Approximately seventy percent of students elect to take the TY programme. The school has decided to limit numbers taking the programme next year and is currently setting down and formalising criteria. This is encouraged and it is recommended that the school considers formalising the provision of a guidance module in third year for the school year 2008/09 with input on subject and programme options. More formal cross-curricular planning with the SPHE department would be beneficial in this regard. As the school does not offer currently an information session to parents of third year on subject and programme choice when students are deciding their options for senior cycle, it is recommended that the school now explores how such a session could be scheduled.
Subject choice for senior cycle begins with an open choice form given to students and bands are refined subsequently. The teacher working on subject choice liaises closely with management, with the guidance counsellor and with parents regarding options and levels. While there is flexibility to change, parents are required to inform the school if students wish to drop a subject or to change within the options.
Referrals to the guidance department are made by senior management, year heads, teachers, parents and by the nurses. Students may self-refer and year heads also refer students to the guidance counsellor when requested to do by parents. Referrals to outside agencies are effected through the office of the principal in consultation with parents. The school has a list of private psychologists and counsellors who work outside the school system and contact details are made available to parents as required. In this regard parents may also refer to the website information recently developed by the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE) in collaboration with the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) (http://www.ncge.ie/referralservicesdublin.htm). When necessary, referrals may also be made through the local GP in consultation with parents.
Franciscan College has established links with a number of outside agencies and organisations such as Meath County Enterprise Board, St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin, STEPS, Youthreach, FÁS, colleges of further and higher education and the local colleges of agriculture and horticulture. Links between the guidance department and senior management are maintained through formal meetings as required.
To date critical incidents and emergencies have been dealt with by the principal and the dean of residence supported by other college staff. It is recommended that the school establishes a crisis management team and begins the formulation of a critical incident response plan. In this regard useful information is provided in relevant material published by NEPS.
While there is no specific budget for the guidance department, resources are provided as required.
To date a good deal of work has been completed on guidance planning. However this work has been carried out primarily by the guidance counsellor in collaboration with the principal and with the school development planning (SDP) group. Sections of a draft plan have been formulated and programmes have been developed for first, third year and for senior cycle groups, with monthly schedules detailed for the delivery of programmes in senior cycle. Work with international students is regularly completed using small groups and individual appointments. Commendably the guidance counsellor has begun evaluating the guidance programme with sixth year and TY students. In order to build on the work achieved to date and to support the guidance department it is recommended that the school establishes a committee to progress the guidance plan. A student needs analysis would also inform the planning process and more formal cross-curricular planning with subject areas such as SPHE, Religion, PE and Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) would facilitate a whole-school guidance approach.
Prior to the start of the new school year and after incoming students have enrolled in the school Franciscan College hosts a familiarisation day when incoming students and their parents are invited to visit the college facilities and to meet with senior management and the year head of first year. A small number of first year students also attend to talk about their experience of transferring into Franciscan College. The school prospectus details clearly the relevant information on the school and its structures for incoming students. An induction day for first year students takes place on the first day of the new term.
Prior to entry to Franciscan College, first year students choose either French or German and taster classes are provided in all other optional subjects for the school year. This approach is commended as students are then enabled to make more informed choices of subjects for the Junior Certificate examination. Currently information to parents regarding subject options is provided on an informal basis and in response to individual enquiry. In order to assist students with subject choice it is recommended that a guidance input on subject and level choice be provided for both first year students and their parents when students are deciding on their options. In this regard parents could be directed to the information available regarding subject choice on Qualifax (www.qualifax.ie).
The TY programme is optional and at the time of the evaluation approximately eighty students were taking the programme. Commendably taster classes are also offered in TY and the programme includes an allocation of time for a panel of guest speakers to provide information on courses and career areas and visits out are arranged. Fifth and sixth year students may also attend the career talks. Programmes have been prepared and are being delivered to senior cycle students when students are prepared to make application to the CAO, to UCAS, to the post-Leaving Certificate courses (PLCs) and to training and apprenticeships.
Through discussion at staff and school planning meetings the school has developed draft procedures for attendance by sixth year students at college open days. The school organises transport to certain events. The guidance counsellor collaborates with the deputy principal to prepare information regarding dates of open days for parents and lists of dates are sent home. In collaboration with their parents students may then decide which events to attend independently or accompanied by parents. It is recommended that these draft procedures now be built on with input from the student council and the parents’ association to formulate a policy document concerning attendance by all groups of students at open days and other career and course information events.
Parents are encouraged and welcomed to contact the guidance department as required and individual appointments are arranged on request. A presentation on the TY options is offered to parents on the morning of the third year parent-teacher meeting. The guidance counsellor attends all the parent-teacher meetings and provides information by letter to parents of sixth year regarding CAO and UCAS application. It is suggested that the school explores the possibility of providing a guidance information session on career choices and application procedures to training and higher and further education for senior cycle parents.
The guidance counsellor is a member of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC). At the time of the evaluation the timetabling schedule did not allow the guidance counsellor to attend the local in-service or the local professional development sessions to support counselling. The school is aware of the current difficulty and arrangements will be put in place next year to facilitate attendance. The guidance counsellor has completed Modules 1 and 2 of the continuing professional development for guidance counsellors in Whole School Guidance Planning organised by the NCGE. This level of commitment is commended.
In the course of the evaluation one fifth year class group was visited. The good practice of roll call at the beginning of the lesson was noted. The focus of the lesson, which was accommodated in the guidance suite, was the introduction of PLC courses as an option for students upon completion of the Leaving Certificate examination. The content of the lesson was well planned and structured and was appropriate to the group.
A good variety of methodologies was used including the whiteboard, a careers publication, discussion, question and answer, PowerPoint presentation, individual work, handouts, worksheet, copies of prospectuses from a number of the PLC colleges and feedback from students. Reference was made to relevant websites, including the QualifaX website and students were encouraged to do their own research as access to the internet was not available in the room. Ready access to the internet in the classroom would enhance guidance delivery.
As the classroom also functions as a careers library, guidance-related materials were displayed and were at hand for use during the lesson. Commendably the lesson began with students identifying what they already knew about the PLC sector. Copies of a college prospectus were used to explain the difference between the higher and further education sectors and the ladder of progression was discussed. Students completed a worksheet with the help of prospectuses from some of the PLC colleges. The lesson concluded with a brief recap of the key points and notice of upcoming summer courses was given to students.
A friendly and relaxed class atmosphere and good working relationships were evident. Students were encouraged to ask questions, seek clarifications and to make individual appointments with the guidance counsellor for more detailed information on courses and options. There was good involvement and participation on the part of students. Good rapport and mutual respect were evident between guidance counsellor and students.
The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) are administered to TY students to assist them with identification of strengths and aptitudes and subject choice decision-making. Individual feedback is provided to students. Interest inventories such as Career Interest Inventory (CII) and those available on the QualifaX, Careers Portal and UCAS websites are used with senior cycle students to assist career and course choices.
In the course of school development planning it is recommended that the school considers formulating a testing policy. In this regard the school could refer to the Circular Letter 0099/2007 and the accompanying information regarding tests on the Department’s website (www.education.ie).
The guidance counsellor maintains student profiles and records of meetings as students attend the guidance department, beginning usually in TY. Appointments are noted in the appointments diary and records of guidance meetings with students are maintained in individual folders and stored in the guidance office. It is suggested that locking devices be affixed to the cabinets to ensure that all confidential materials may be stored securely. Minutes of all formal planning meetings and action plans are recorded.
Tracking of Leaving Certificate students is done informally by the guidance department using statistics form the CAO office, feedback from individual colleges and information from students. The display of information on student initial destinations within the school could help to further encourage and motivate current students. Past students are welcomed to return to the school or to meet with the guidance counsellor for further information and support.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There are good facilities for guidance delivery in the Franciscan College.
· Guidance planning is advancing in the school and to date a good deal of work has been completed.
· While guidance delivery is timetabled in senior cycle solely the school is moving towards greater modular provision.
· The school offers a number of supports for students which include senior management, dean of residence, friars, nurses, year heads, class tutors, ‘caomhnóirí’, and guidance counsellor.
· Draft procedures for the attendance of sixth year students at open days and career events have been developed.
· The school offers a wide range of subject options in both junior and senior cycles.
· Subject sampling is provided in first year and in TY. Information regarding the TY programme is provided to parents of third year students.
· In the lesson observed a friendly and relaxed class atmosphere and good working relationships were evident.
· There was good involvement and participation on the part of students. Good rapport and mutual respect were evident between guidance counsellor and students.
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 principal and with the guidance counsellor at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published November 2008