An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
De La Salle College
Roll number: 64950O
Date of inspection: 3 and 4 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in De La Salle College, Waterford. 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. 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.
De La Salle College, Waterford is a large, Catholic voluntary secondary school under the trusteeship of the De La Salle Brothers. The school is located on extensive grounds near the centre of Waterford in a well-proportioned building of great character. The college was originally established in 1894 as a teacher training college. Despite the age of the building, it is in good repair and is well maintained. Among its many interesting features are a window by Harry Clarke and fine chapel decorated with scenes from the life of Jean-Baptiste de la Salle and accommodating a church organ. The school is run under the principalship of a member of the congregation although almost all staff members are lay teachers. The values of Jean-Baptiste de la Salle are strongly in evidence in the school and appear to have had a positive effect not only on the support of students but also on their conduct and on the range of curricular and extra-curricular opportunities open to them. The many talents of students, including musical, artistic and sporting talents, are celebrated and were brought, with justifiable pride, to the attention of the inspector. The school is effectively a boys’ school but caters for girls who wish to repeat the Leaving Certificate examination. Students come from a wide catchment area in and around Waterford city.
Student support is a clear priority in the school. A variety of structures and roles has been established in keeping with the guiding principle of holistic personal development. Weekly middle-management meetings are attended by the principal, deputy principals and year masters, one of whom is a guidance counsellor. The two guidance counsellors meet formally and informally on an ongoing basis. This is commended in that it facilitates the sharing of tasks, the development of skills and prompts reflection on current practice and planning issues. These structures and procedures enable effective communication to and from the guidance team, not only with management but also with other staff with student-support roles. The school affirms responsible behaviour both in its everyday dealings with students and in special awards ceremonies. Formal and informal referrals of students are made within this system of communication both to staff members, including the guidance counsellors, and to agencies external to the school as appropriate. Individual students may also self-refer to the guidance team. The leadership of the principal in delegating responsibility for the management of referrals, particularly to outside agencies such as the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), is commended and enables efficient and collaborative practice between those centrally involved in guidance, special educational needs, home-school-community liaison (HSCL) and chaplaincy.
The school has an allocation for Guidance of thirty-eight hours. The time is shared equitably between the guidance counsellors, both of whom have additional hours in subject teaching. It is noted that the hours devoted to Guidance by both guidance counsellors are well in excess of the allocation. The available time is well spent in providing a balanced programme of individual and group guidance to students throughout the school. The guidance team is conscious of the need to devote some of the available resources to students at all stages in their schooling and, particularly at the key transitional stages, namely, on induction, when choices are made at the end of the junior cycle and prior to leaving school. Students have access to a wide range of programmes such as the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), Transition Year (TY) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), and to a wide range of subjects.
Optional subjects for the Junior Certificate examination are chosen prior to entry to the school and following a process of consultation with primary schools in which the guidance team is closely involved. Some flexibility is incorporated into the process to enable students who find that their preferences have altered, to opt for alternative subjects. The participation of the guidance team in this process is essential to ensuring that the preferences of new students are catered for, that the information on which choices are made is readily available to them and that the school’s policy under which students are encouraged to develop their individual talents is supported. Optional subjects for the Leaving Certificate examination are chosen in third year and fourth year and the range of available subjects is compiled following consultations with the students.
The facilities for Guidance are good. Each guidance counsellor has an office, which is located conveniently and is equipped with appropriate technological and administrative equipment to facilitate their guidance functions and are suited to the practice of counselling. The extensive use of one of the school’s information and communication technology (ICT) rooms for classroom guidance is highly commended.
The school has engaged with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). The principal co-ordinates the process and has led it through the phase of policy formation into the phase of subject department consolidation. Guidance planning is progressing, both at whole-school and subject department level. A staff-development session took place at the beginning of the current school year under SDPI and focused on whole-school guidance planning. One outcome of that meeting was the identification of current guidance provision in the school using the definition of guidance as supporting students in their personal, educational and vocational lives. Another commendable outcome was the identification of staff members interested in participation in whole-school guidance planning. It is clear that the guidance team is aware of relevant documents in this regard and will use these in support of guidance planning. It is a heartening development that representatives of core support teams such as the chaplaincy, religious education (RE) department, social, personal and health education (SPHE) teachers and those involved in the co-ordination of provision for special educational needs have expressed interest in the process. It is recommended that a formal meeting of the task group be arranged at the earliest convenience to advance the process of whole-school guidance planning. It is suggested that the guidelines of the SDPI and the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE) be followed as they relate to, for example, the identification of short-term, medium-term and long-term planning, time-limited actions and some formality in the arrangement and recording of meetings. Useful information on the planning process is to be found in the NCGE document A continuing professional development programme for guidance counsellors in post-primary schools (2007), the NCCA Draft Guidance Framework (2007), the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science Review of guidance in second-level schools (2006) and Guidelines for second-level schools on the implications of Section 9(c) of the Education Act (1998), relating to students' access to appropriate guidance (2005). Further documents outlining the whole-school guidance plan are to be found on the SDPI website at www.sdpi.ie and on the Department of Education and Science website at http://www.education.ie.
Meeting the special educational needs of students is a priority for the school in accordance with its educational policy and aims, and one which has been successfully embraced by staff. Recent changes in the responsibilities of staff in this area provide interesting opportunities for the development of existing collaborative practice between the guidance and special educational needs departments. Developments in the provision for special educational needs on a national level, which have been rapid, show the desirability of such collaboration. It is recommended that, in the light of the expertise of the special educational needs team in the area of learning and teaching, consideration be given to the establishment of a collaborative process between that team and the guidance team in the preparation of applications for reasonable accommodations in State examinations. It is also suggested that the identification of areas of common interest between the guidance, special educational needs, HSCL and chaplaincy teams be one of the short-term tasks of the guidance-planning group and that one possible outcome might be the formation of a small student support team which would identify student needs in collaboration with senior management.
A comprehensive programme of guidance interventions for all year groups, including pupils of primary schools who are about to enter De La Salle College, has been developed by the guidance team. The programme is notable for its breadth and inclusion of elements of SPHE, Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE), the JCSP and other inputs with significant Guidance components such as the LCA and TY, which is optional in the school. It is also of interest in that it reflects the thinking behind the Draft Guidance Framework recently published by the NCCA. It is recommended that the timing of the various aspects of the programme be incorporated into future drafts to facilitate similar planning on the part of other staff and to ensure that the importance and effectiveness of the overall programme in support of learning and teaching be highlighted. The inputs of the guidance team at middle-management level help to ensure a guidance and student support perspective on issues related to curriculum planning and development.
The guidance team anticipates that the role of parents in Guidance will become more formalised through participation in the school planning process. Parents are already involved through membership of the board of management and various ad hoc initiatives in the school, as well as participation in the active parents’ association and attendance at parent-teacher meetings. Parents also attend information sessions organised in relation to, for example, entry to the school and subject and programme choices. The development of the school website, which in now in train, will provide further opportunities for communication with parents and for information sharing.
The school has extensive links with the community and with external organisations and institutions. Elements of the guidance programme are managed and presented in collaboration with, for example, employers who facilitate students on work experience, training and educational institutions who visit the school and who welcome students to their institutions. Many organisations provide information and speakers in their areas of expertise not only for the guidance team but also for subject departments such as RE and SPHE whose syllabuses share common elements with Guidance.
The school management facilitates and encourages continuing professional development. The timetables of the guidance counsellors are arranged to enable attendance by at least one at the monthly meetings of the local branch of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC). The participation of the guidance team in the activities of the IGC and in professional counselling support provided by the IGC in co-operation with the Department of Education and Science is commended.
Two lessons were observed in the course of the inspection, one with a fifth-year class and one with a sixth-year class. The conduct of the lessons was very good. The room used in both cases was an ICT room and the available technology was used effectively during the lessons. The value of broadband internet access in the provision of guidance information was amply demonstrated during the lessons. It is also notable that, with broadband and with a technically well-maintained ICT system, the technology has become unobtrusive and facilitative of efficient teaching and learning. Students were familiar with established routines such as roll call, procedures for logging in to computers and the formation of small groups, each of which was managed with minimal formality and effort. Lessons were introduced as parts of series of lessons on, for example, safety at work, and were completed within the allotted time. The content and pace of the lessons was appropriate to the levels and interests of students and summaries were presented by the teachers before the lessons ended.
Materials were well prepared and appropriate to the topics – a review of the CAO handbook, and preparations for a Safe Pass course. The handouts used were relevant and were introduced with good timing during the lesson. In one class, each student had a computer-based folder in which materials for this and previous lessons were saved and stored. In another class, each student possessed a folder in which handouts and other materials were retained. Good use was made of questions, which were frequent and were directed both at individuals and at the classes in general. The relationship between teachers and students was good and students appeared to be comfortable in seeking clarification and advice. Teachers were familiar with the names and interests of students and were able to relate relevant aspects of their presentations to specific students. The atmosphere during the lessons was calm and students remained attentive and co-operative throughout. Students demonstrated a good grasp of the material and of the personal implications of vocational decisions.
The school is commended for its arrangement of mixed-ability classes in first year. A range of psychometric tests is administered to incoming students in March prior to entry. These instruments are used to determine the individual talents and needs of students in the areas of numeracy, literacy and general ability. This information is used to identify those whose scores indicate a need for further diagnostic testing and in devising educational plans for those with special educational needs. Subsequent monitoring of students’ progress, especially in first year, is also carried out with the aid of the assessment results. The collaboration of teachers in feeder primary schools, the guidance department, the special educational needs department and staff in general is a laudable feature of the process of induction of new students and is particularly obvious in this area.
Aptitude tests are administered to students in third year and TY. The results of these tests are used to aid students individually and in groups to identify talents and to match their talents to potential choices of subjects, programmes in the senior cycle and, ultimately, as an aid to the identification of post-leaving opportunities during fifth year and sixth year. Also used for the same purpose during the senior cycle is a variety of interest inventories including those associated with the internet-based Qualifax and Career Directions programmes.
The records kept by the guidance department are used, managed and stored in accordance with good practice. Records are kept of meetings with students and with staff on issues of relevance to Guidance. This practice provides a good foundation for the recording of the work proposed under whole school guidance planning and is commended.
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.