An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Kanturk, County Cork
Roll number: 71000A
Date of inspection: 2 December 2008
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Treasa. 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.
Coláiste Treasa, situated close to the centre of Kanturk, is a school of medium size which caters for post-primary students from the town and its rural environs. The school also offers a post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) course in European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) and Secretarial Skills. The school is inclusive, admitting all students of appropriate age who have completed their primary education. Approximately fifteen primary schools are the main providers of first-level education to students who subsequently enter the school. It is a school in the scheme of the Cork County Vocational Education Committee (VEC). According to the principal’s address to parents in its literature, “Care is a central component of school life at Coláiste Treasa, with each student being accepted for what he/she is.” This report supports that claim.
The number of students enrolled in the current year is 419. The ex-quota allocation by the Department of Education and Science for Guidance is twenty-two hours, five of which are allocated to the school as a participant in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) action plan. It is anticipated that the allocation for the 2009-2010 school year will remain at this level, in accordance with Circular PPT12/05. Two guidance counsellors are employed in a job-sharing capacity, and form the guidance department. The ex-quota allocation is used efficiently, on a 50:50 basis, by the guidance counsellors. Commendable collaboration in the guidance department is exemplified by the so-called handover meeting that is arranged each week to ensure continuity in the service.
Transition Year (TY) and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) fifth-year students are timetabled for Guidance for one lesson per week. The guidance programme for other students is delivered by the guidance counsellors on a planned intermittent basis. The programme is well balanced between the various year groups and caters well for students at the main transitional periods of their schooling, such as the transition from primary to post-primary schooling. Collaboration with staff of the special educational needs department and of subjects such as Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Religious Education (RE), is ongoing and substantial. It is noted that much of this work occurs at times when teachers are not formally timetabled, and is further evidence of the commitment of staff to the ideals of the school regarding support for students.
All students study all subjects in first year. Students’ choices of subjects thereafter are based on their preferences. The school arranges its timetable to enable the best fit possible. In addition to the established Leaving Certificate course, the TY programme and LCVP are also available as options for students. The guidance programme shows a good balance between provision for students in class groups and as individuals at all stages in the school.
The facilities for Guidance are good. An office is well furnished for guidance purposes with the requisite technological and office equipment. It is reported by staff that access to information and communication technology (ICT) is easily arranged for class groups, and for individual students, and that this access is always supervised. This is good practice and brings the advantages of rapid access to guidance-related information to all interested students. Supplementary information is displayed on notice boards on the corridor walls and in some classrooms. The school has a library. It is suggested that some supplementary materials, such as available prospectuses and guidance information sheets, could be placed in a designated area in the library as an additional attraction to students whose interest or skills in ICT might be lacking. It is noted that the development of the library is among the priorities identified by the guidance-planning team.
The school has a student-support team comprising the guidance counsellors, senior management, and the home-school-community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator. It is recommended, as a further enhancement of current good practice, and in recognition of the importance of integrated student supports in achieving high quality engagement with learning, that a member of the special educational needs team should be included in the student-support team. The occasional and informed inputs of the local clergy into the work of the team are commended as adding dimension to the team’s work in support of the school community. Materials provided by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) include a meeting-record form and its use is suggested as a simple means of enhancing the formality associated with meetings.
Communication was observed to be based on effective relationships in the school. This facilitates guidance inputs into curricular and other discussions among staff and management. Similarly, effective relationships enable the operation of a system of referrals to and from the guidance department that is collaborative and transparent. Referrals to external agencies are arranged by senior management in collaboration with the guidance and special educational needs departments. It is reported by staff that the school is well supported in these referrals and that a number of local and regional agents are involved, including general practitioners, counsellors, the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) and the Health Service Executive (HSE), thus integrating the available in-school and community supports. This is commended.
The school has engaged with the SDPI and maintains links with its regional co-ordinators. The school has been represented by a member of the guidance team on the modular whole-school guidance-planning course organised by the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE). Good planning practice was observed in the school’s formal and informal processes in support of students. These include close contact between the guidance department and programme co-ordinators, the involvement of the guidance department in the planning process of those programmes and of subjects such as SPHE that share curricular components with Guidance, reviews and analyses of the needs of junior cycle and senior cycle students, and ongoing informal self-review. It is recommended that the laudable practice of reviewing the needs of students be developed through, for example, the formal co-operation of the students’ council and of the parents’ association. The identification of post-of-responsibility duties that are compatible with the work of the guidance counsellor, such as the compilation of statistics regarding those students who have left the school, and the management of the access programme for students wishing to enter third-level education, display a commitment on the part of senior management to integration and efficiency in the management of the school. By highlighting this, it is also symbolic of an awareness both of the value of the various supports for students and of the value of planning the provision of those supports. It is suggested, in view of the emphasis placed on care and support of students, that the school’s mission statement be included in the whole-school guidance plan. The guidance-planning templates published by the Department on its website at www.education.ie provide a useful model for this purpose. Looking at Guidance (2009), recently published by the Inspectorate, and available in the Inspectorate section of the Department website, will aid the ongoing self-review observed in the practices of the guidance department and is commended to the attention of interested staff.
A document seen in the course of the inspection is particularly commended. The document entitled What is whole-school guidance? was presented to staff at a meeting in February, 2008. It exemplifies the good planning practice of the guidance department. It shows a clear understanding of the broad nature of guidance, and of the planning process of using task groups to achieve time-limited, achievable ends. The document also shows the added value of the school’s participation in the NCGE guidance-planning course and its resultant group of interested staff sharing the responsibility for whole-school guidance planning. The guidance-planning team is representative of a broad range of staff and has identified a number of priorities, in accordance with good planning practice. The identified priority for the current year is the introduction of a mentoring system for younger students. A group of TY students are being trained in student leadership in preparation for their roles as mentors. The involvement of a number of community agencies in this development, including An Garda Síochána, Kerry Diocesan Youth Service and those mentioned elsewhere in this report, is highly commended. It is recommended that, in view of the importance of this work, the whole-school guidance-planning team endeavour to meet formally on a more regular basis.
The school receives support from a wide variety of local and regional organisations and businesses. Bodies such as Foróige and an integrated rural development company (IRD), IRD Duhallow, the HSE and the institutions of further and higher education and training provide visiting speakers at the request of staff members. It is reported by staff members that local businesses are generous in their support for the work experience component of the LCVP. The cross-curricular collaboration of staff in the establishment and maintenance of these links and supports is commended.
Continuing professional development is encouraged and facilitated by management. Such professional development events have included suicide intervention skills training, attended by four staff members and Rainbows training for staff who may deal with students who experience loss or grief. Whole-school events have included presentations on suicide awareness and Assessment for Learning (AfL). Both guidance counsellors are members of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) and a member of the team attends IGC meetings and sessions of professional support for counselling managed by the IGC with funding from the Department of Education and Science.
Good practice was observed in the course of the lessons attended as part of the inspection. Two TY classes engaged in discussions and other preparations for impending work experience. The topic was relevant and timely, and the lessons were a culmination of a process of preparation that had begun as early as students had committed to participating in TY. Plans for the lessons were well prepared, structured and co-ordinated, with similar formats operating for both sessions.
The lessons began with a brief settling-down period during which the roll was called, the lessons and their context were outlined and reference was made to the process to date. Following a brief review of proposed work placements, students were asked to form small discussion groups. This was done quickly and students engaged with ease with the tasks set for the groups. The tasks included the perusal of a work-experience logbook, the sharing of ideas regarding the process of arranging work experience and the clarification of outstanding issues. The logbook distributed to students was a useful focus for some of the discussion and prompted questions by students that were relevant and showed that ideas presented in previous lessons had been well assimilated.
Following the group discussions, students were requested to report the outcomes to the classes in general. Skilled use of questions facilitated this process and good use was made of the whiteboard to record the points made by students in response. Students were affirmed in their responses and further questions were posed, mostly of a higher order, which prompted additional discussion. The discussion was well guided. It was clear the issues were well understood by staff and that students had engaged well with the process. It was particularly noted that the local community featured prominently in the discussion and that the support of those providing work experience and other supports was acknowledged.
A review of the use of standardised and other test instruments is among the priorities identified in the course of whole-school guidance planning. The use of a standardised test of general ability is being considered in the context of the current assessment procedures for incoming students. The special educational needs department administers tests of literacy and numeracy in collaboration with the guidance department and other staff. It is considered by the guidance department that an assessment of general ability will enhance the information on which students’ progress is monitored and on which mixed-ability classes are formed. This is good practice. The collaboration of the guidance department and special educational needs department in this regard is commended.
The guidance department utilises a range of other instruments, such as interest inventories, especially in the senior cycle. These include web-based instruments associated with websites such as Qualifax, Career Directions and Kiwicareers and other, paper-based, inventories. Students use the instruments to clarify personal, educational and career decisions and the results are discussed during one-to-one interviews with members of the guidance department.
Record-keeping by the guidance department is of a high standard and includes the initial destinations of students after the Leaving Certificate examination, records of meetings and student profiles.
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 counsellors 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