An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Saint Fanahan’s College
Mitchelstown, County Cork
Roll number: 71040M
Date of inspection: 14 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Fanahan’s College. 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 counsellor. 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.
St Fanahan’s College is a small, co-educational second-level school situated close to the centre of Mitchelstown. One hundred and twenty-eight students are currently enrolled. The school is one of three in the town and is the town’s main provider of post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses. An additional eighty-six adult students are enrolled in PLC courses. The school is part of the scheme of the Cork County Vocational Education Committee (VEC) and caters for a mix of students from the urban area of Mitchelstown and from a rural catchment area bounded to the north by the Galtee Mountains. The ex-quota allocation for Guidance is eleven hours per week. The allocation is likely to remain at this level for the foreseeable future. Eight hours are allocated under Circular PPT12/05 and three hours are allocated for Guidance as a participant school in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) action plan. The post of guidance counsellor had been filled at the time of the inspection on a temporary basis due to maternity leave. The manner in which the allocation is used reflects a commitment to the individual student. The full allocation is used by a guidance counsellor, mainly for work with senior cycle students and with intermittent inputs into the junior cycle, and in the process of admission of new students. The support of the Home-School-Community Liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator and teachers of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) in the delivery of elements of the whole-school guidance programme is commended. The guidance counsellor is timetabled for two class periods per week with senior cycle students. The remainder of the allocation is devoted to work with individual students, with small groups, and with class groups, in co-operation with subject teachers, and as the need arises.
The facilities for Guidance are good. An office that is suited to good practice in Guidance is provided. The office has been equipped with electronic technology for the administration of the guidance service and for access to web-based information by the guidance counsellor and by students. A variety of storage facilities enables the display of information and the retention of materials requiring secure storage, such as test instruments and confidential information. A stock of materials, mainly college prospectuses, is available in the guidance office and some guidance information is visible on display boards in the school corridors. The office is located centrally in the school and is suited to counselling. It is suggested that, while ensuring confidentiality, some measure should be taken, such as the insertion of a small window in the door of the guidance office, to increase protection for both the guidance counsellor and clients. It is reported by staff that information and communication technology (ICT), essential to the retrieval of information for guidance purposes, is readily accessible to students in groups and as individuals, subject to the normal security conditions.
The school has established strong links with the community. Its contacts include local clergy and community support organisations as well as formal and social interaction with parents. As a small school, its processes are largely, and appropriately, informal and benefit from additional resources availed of through the DEIS action plan. Particularly commended is the work of the HSCL department and the special educational needs department. Both departments, in an environment characterised by change, have established collaborative practices in support of students with the guidance department, with staff in general and with parents. The support provided to new staff by existing staff members is noted and highly commended.
Referral systems are generally informal. Referrals to the guidance department are managed by means of a referral system in co-operation with teachers and using standard referral slips. Referrals may be made by staff, at the request of senior and middle management, and by students’ self-referral. This is commended. Referrals to external agencies are managed by senior management in collaboration with the HSCL, special educational needs and guidance departments.
The senior management team is commended for its leadership in involving the school with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and for delegating responsibility for the co-ordination of the process to a staff member. The structures proposed by the SDPI in its support materials, published both in paper form and on its website, are most useful in the advancement of whole-school guidance planning. Staff members at St Fanahan’s have engaged in a process of school self-review and have established two major planning priorities, namely, support systems for students under the general umbrella of DEIS, and the formation of an enrolment task group. Staff meetings are held monthly, at which, among others, planning issues are prioritised. It is good practice to have established small, time-limited teams that concentrate on individual elements of the school plan. One document seen in the course of the inspection was an excellent example of a structured approach to planning, using an Action Plan Template. The document outlined the tasks to be undertaken, by whom and with what resources. Of particular note was the inclusion of evaluative criteria to be used as indicators of the success of the proposed actions.
Guidance planning has been informal to date. Some documentation has been assembled by staff, particularly in regard to the assessment of incoming students by the special educational needs department, and to the establishment of more formal collaborative practice by the HSCL department. These developments are commended. Guidance planning should progress on two interlocking levels, namely, guidance department planning, which is the responsibility of the guidance counsellor, and whole-school guidance planning, which is the responsibility of management and usually delegated to a guidance-planning task group. Among the many advantages of good department planning, and of its documentation, are the maintenance of continuity of systems and a clear understanding of the responsibilities of each participant. Documents should outline the roles and responsibilities of those involved in student support and should also outline the service and programme elements of Guidance. It is recommended that these be devised. The school’s critical incident management procedures are well developed and are a good example of how roles and responsibilities may be outlined in a document. It is recommended that this document be personalised so that the tasks identified may be more closely linked to individual staff members.
Support for students is at the core of good teaching. Effective student support requires whole-school participation in its planning, structures, and, particularly, in the recognition of such support as an essential component of good teaching and learning. In addition to senior management, staff members centrally involved in schools’ support structures include the guidance counsellor, special educational needs co-ordinator, chaplain or Religious Education (RE) department co-ordinator, and HSCL co-ordinator, and other interested staff, such as the SPHE department. It is recommended that some formality be applied to the co-ordination of student support to enhance existing good practice in the various support departments. It is also recommended that, as soon as is practicable, a whole-school guidance planning task group be formed to advance guidance planning and to plan the school’s supports for students as an integrated whole.
Whole-school guidance planning is now at a high level in many schools, following the publication of a number of documents in recent years in response to the Education Act 1998, which requires such planning. The success of the modular whole-school guidance planning diploma course being offered by the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE) attests to the current interest in the area. The publication of Looking at Guidance by the Department of Education and Science is imminent. This will provide further direction to inform the planning process and should be consulted when published. The use of whole-school guidance-planning materials available on the Department website at www.education.ie is also recommended. This site contains links to materials and templates published by the SDPI and by the NCGE, such as Planning the School Guidance Programme. Direct links to those websites may be established at www.sdpi.ie and at www.ncge.ie . It is recommended that whole-school guidance planning be initiated in the context of support-system planning using the structures proposed in these resources.
The guidance programme at St Fanahan’s College includes provision for students at the major transitional stages by means of collaborative interventions by the student-support team. The involvement of the HSCL and special educational needs departments is particularly noted in this interim phase of the guidance department’s development. The induction of new students is managed by staff and includes the co-operation of staff of feeder primary schools and of parents, especially in the identification of the additional educational needs of students. The guidance department programme includes, in addition to timetabled class contact with senior cycle students, inputs to other class groups on a planned intermittent basis.
One lesson was observed in the course of the inspection. A class of ten fifth-year students considered ‘My own place’, as part of the initial phase of the Preparation for the World of Work Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) Link Module. Students were seated in groups of two. One group was assigned the task of accessing local information available on the internet by means of a computer installed in the room. This use of ICT is commended.
The lesson was well planned. A prepared worksheet which focused students’ attention on the task to be completed was distributed. Instructions were given to students in their individual groups. It is probable that more general instructions to all students, in addition to the worthwhile communication with individuals, would have had a unifying effect on the performance of the class. Although a note was made of those present at the outset, the arrival during the lesson of four students had a somewhat unsettling effect on students’ ensuing concentration.
In a discussion nearing the end of the lesson, students were eager and alert. They showed an understanding of the relationship between their local environment, their personal views of the world and the relevance of these factors both to their vocational preferences and to their education.
In addition to in-school assessments, carried out at mid-term and prior to the Christmas, Easter and summer breaks, the special educational needs department assesses new students to identify those in need of further interventions. Students are assessed for literacy, numeracy and general ability. The documentation of this process and the collaboration of the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) are highly commended. Visits to feeder primary schools by staff are part of this process of induction of new students. Information gathered during these visits is augmented by information provided by parents during the admission process, which includes an open day in February and an activity day at Easter when potential students participate in activities organised in the school.
The tracking of students’ destinations after the Leaving Certificate examination is carried out by senior management.
Records of meetings with staff and with students in relation to guidance are in accordance with good practice.
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.
Published, June 2009