An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of Guidance

REPORT

 

Maria Immaculata Community College

Dunmanway, County Cork

Roll number: 76086P

 

Date of inspection: 25 February 2008

 

 

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Maria Immaculata Community College (MICC), conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. 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.

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

It is clear that the aim of MICC to provide an environment of care and guidance for all is being realised. Staff members are agreed that these characteristics are important to them and have been a major factor in the successful amalgamation of two schools to form the community college. Relationships with students and between staff are good. Guidance is deeply embedded in the life of the school. It is a whole-school process underlying the functions of various teams that are active in the school, such as the guidance team, the care team and the pastoral team. It is clear that the teams form the structure through which Guidance is delivered and that the delivery of personal, educational and vocational guidance as a developmental process is managed by those teams. The guidance counsellor and the chaplain are core participants and are members of the care team, the pastoral team and the whole-school guidance planning team.

 

The school caters for an enrolment of 536 second-level students and fifteen students in further education, from a largely rural background. It is reported by the principal that the enrolment is projected be relatively stable at about this level and will rise gradually from 2009 onwards. The current, ex-quota allocation for Guidance is twenty-four hours per week and will remain so, in accordance with Circular PPT12/05 which shows the allocation of hours for the provision of Guidance in schools and outlines the conditions of appointment of guidance counsellors. Fourteen hours and forty minutes of the allocation are used by the guidance counsellor, who is an assistant principal, teacher of Mathematics, co-ordinator of Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and of the Mathematics department. Six hours and forty minutes are timetabled for weekly lessons with students of Transition Year (TY), LCA and the established Leaving Certificate. The dedication of time to the school by the guidance counsellor and other staff is highly commended and it is noted that the time devoted to the practice of Guidance is well in excess of the timetabled and non-timetabled hours. It is recommended that the use of the full ex-quota allocation for Guidance be clarified in the context of the overall school plan and in the specific plan of the guidance service.

 

It is a commendable feature of Guidance at MICC that collaborative practice is the norm. This is particularly the case between the guidance counsellor and chaplain who, in their complementary roles, are at the core of Guidance in the school. Their membership of the middle-management and planning teams and their continuous interactions with staff and with senior management facilitate effective communication and rapid responses to the needs of students. Systems of communication in the school are very good. The informal, continuous elements of communication are very well complemented by records of high quality, especially of meetings, policies and procedures. The delegation by senior management of responsibilities which enable such good practice and the involvement of all staff, is highly commended.

 

Teamwork is clearly evident in the school. The guidance team comprises the guidance counsellor, chaplain and counsellors who attend the school on a part-time basis on placements from the Cork Institute of Technology. The care team comprises the guidance counsellor, chaplain, representatives of the School Completion Programme (SCP), the principal and deputy principal. The whole-school guidance planning team comprises the guidance counsellor, chaplain, a representative of middle management, the principal and deputy principal. The pastoral team comprises the year heads, senior management, the guidance counsellor, chaplain and SCP representative. Staff involved in the SCP comprise another team. Each team meets once per week. While the number of teams is large and meetings are regular and structured, the system appears to operate well as an integrated whole. Good communication is fundamental to the effective functioning of the system. The participation of the guidance counsellor and chaplain in most of these teams facilitates early identification and management of student needs. It is recommended that the special educational needs team be represented, as appropriate, in core student support meetings. Such representation is particularly desirable at meetings at which students at risk are identified and at which planning for student support, such as whole-school guidance planning, is undertaken. The school is commended for devoting considerable resources to a small class of students with physical and other disabilities. The supports given to these students in collaboration with agencies such as the Health Service Executive (HSE) are highly commended.

 

Collaboration among staff members has resulted in a comprehensive and well balanced guidance programme in support of students. Not only does the school provide the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate programmes but also the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), TY, LCA and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). In addition, the SCP extends student support into the community and outside the timetabled school day. The guidance team provides inputs to each of these through timetabled or planned intermittent contacts on a class, small-group or one-to-one basis. Staff involved in the provision of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Religious Education (RE) and other subjects contribute to the programme of classroom guidance where elements of these overlap with Guidance. The school, in its general guidance programme, has, in effect, anticipated the Draft guidance framework for second-level schools published in 2007 by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). Other formal supports available to students within the school are substantial. The guidance team collaborates with staff involved in provision for special educational needs and with, for example, class teachers and year heads in identifying and responding to the perceived needs of students. In addition to daily contacts, class teachers engage with their class groups during weekly tutorials and year heads through regular assemblies of year groups.

 

The facilities for Guidance are generally good. The guidance counsellor’s office is located centrally and is equipped with appropriate furniture and electronic technology, including a telephone and computer. The office contains a small library of guidance-related materials for use in class work and with individual students and is complemented by a guidance section in the school library. Displays of current guidance information are visible throughout the building. Access to information and communication technology (ICT) has been somewhat limited in the recent past due to technical difficulties with the internet service, and is of some concern. The provision of information is a fundamental element of Guidance. The availability of up-to-date information is essential to informed decision making, not only in the senior cycle but at all levels and not only to individuals but also to class groups. It should be ensured that filtered broadband internet access is available to students and staff as a matter of course.

 

The guidance team and senior management collaborate on an ongoing basis. It was pointed out by staff that, as the only school in the locality, such collaboration was necessary to ensure that, for example, as full a range of subjects as possible was available to students and that procedures, such as those for use in response to a crisis, were reviewed and updated regularly. Referrals to the guidance counsellor are well managed and referrals to outside agencies are mainly managed by senior management or, depending on circumstances, by the care team.

 

Planning and preparation

 

There is a strong ethos of planning and review in the school. A whole-school guidance planning team has been established and the team has developed a school guidance plan which is now in its fourth draft and which has been prepared with assistance from the regional co-ordinator of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). The team meets weekly. Documentation of programmes and procedures is of a high standard. It would be a useful addition to the plan to include the short-term, medium-term and long-term developments which have been prioritised in the course of guidance planning, both at whole-school and at guidance-department levels. It is suggested that these developments be time limited and that individuals be identified whose responsibility it would be to bring tasks to completion. The SDPI website at www.sdpi.ie contains very useful information regarding the review, design, implementation and evaluation of plans and suggests structures for planning at all levels.

 

Guidance is timetabled for TY, LCA, fifth-year and sixth-year classes. In the junior cycle the guidance counsellor meets classes on a planned, intermittent basis and, in collaboration with the chaplain, meets individual students on a systematic basis, especially in first year. In collaboration with staff and senior management, the guidance counsellor has a significant role in the commendably thorough process of transition from primary school and induction into MICC. The process includes visits by the guidance counsellor to the fifth and sixth classes of feeder primary schools, a visit by pupils of those schools to MICC, an open evening for pupils and their parents. The participation of senior students as mentors to those new to the school is commended. All incoming students are assessed for skill in Mathematics and reading. Classes in first year are of mixed ability, and a small class of eight students with additional learning needs is composed of students from a range of year levels.

 

The system of Junior Certificate subject choice is proposed for review in September 2008. It is suggested that consideration be given to a system based on choice following experience of available subjects. Other priorities identified for review and planning include a focus on the promotion of responsible behaviour through a reward scheme and on student motivation. Such developments are indicative of the school’s progress through the planning process and its readiness for consideration of the core areas of learning and teaching. Leaving Certificate subjects, in addition to Gaeilge, English and Mathematics, are chosen in the late spring of third year or of the optional TY. The range of subject options is based on polled student preferences and every effort is made to match preference and available subjects. Parents of third-year and TY students are invited to meet the guidance counsellor to discuss progress, options and aspirations. Parents are also involved in the school through the parents’ association, through attendance at meetings organised by the school in relation to induction, subject choice, progression from second-level school and through parent-teacher meetings. Parents are encouraged to contact the school when in need of information or to share information.

 

Strong links have been established between the school and the community and are used extensively to provide speakers for a wide range of subjects, especially SPHE, RE and Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE). Visits to the school by representatives of various providers of further and higher education and training are an ongoing feature of the guidance programme. Groups of students attend events such as career exhibitions and college open days.

 

The guidance counsellor is a member of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors and engages with continuing professional development organised by the Institute and by other organisations, such as the LCA support service as appropriate. A commendable feature of continuing professional development at MICC is the sharing of staff expertise through presentations made to colleagues on topics such as Asperger’s syndrome.

 

Teaching and learning

 

One lesson with a fifth-year class was observed in the course of the inspection. The topic of the lesson was the Central Applications Office (CAO) system and the computer room was used to enable access to the online application system. Each student was seated at an individual work station. Following some formalities, such as a roll call and introductions, the lesson was conducted in a relaxed, informative manner. The room layout enabled movement between students and this was used effectively to guide students, to check progress and to respond to individual queries. Students were familiar with the technology and responded very well to instructions. The appropriate website was quickly found by all students without difficulty. Clear directions were given throughout the lesson and students were encouraged to seek further web-based information once the initial site had been found. Good use was made of questions, many of a higher order. Students were addressed by name and responded in a respectful manner. Students showed by their responses a good understanding of the materials being perused and sought further information when needed. The information provided to students was accurate and clearly presented.

 

Students were calm and receptive throughout the lesson. It was clear that a commendable relationship had been established with students. Management in the classroom was unobtrusive and consisted mainly of brief enquiries to students as to progress and understanding. The lesson was relevant to the needs of students and this was demonstrated by their attention to the task of information gathering and familiarisation with the system.

 

Assessment

 

Students about to enter MICC from primary schools are assessed for reading ability and mathematical skills in March prior to entry. Classes are of mixed ability, except for one small class, and the results of the assessments are used for monitoring and diagnostic purposes with a view to the analysis of student needs and to the efficient targeting of resources to provide support for students with learning and other difficulties. Further diagnostic assessments are carried out by the special educational needs team to ensure appropriate interventions in support of student learning in cases where these are deemed appropriate. Students are identified by the team in a manner which is sensitive and confidential and the school’s resources are assigned to satisfy the prioritised needs.

 

Aptitudes are assessed in fifth year. The practice of communicating the results to students in one-to-one sessions is commended. Interest inventories, both paper based and web based, are also used during timetabled classes at senior level and in the context of student decision-making. Qualifax, the Irish database of courses, and Career Directions are accessed by students using the school’s computer network and during individual consultations with the guidance counsellor. Students who have left the school are tracked by the guidance team in cooperation with staff. All meetings with individuals and groups are noted. Records are stored securely. Current good practice in relation to assessment and to record-keeping is commended.

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • The guidance programme is comprehensive and well balanced.
  • Guidance and care of all students is a high priority for the school.
  • Communication regarding student guidance and support is very good.
  • Significant responsibilities have been delegated to staff by senior management.
  • There is a strong ethos of planning and review.
  • Relationships with students and between staff are good.
  • Documentation of programmes and procedures is of a high standard.
  • Meetings are structured and recorded.
  • Strong links have been established between the school and the community.

 

As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:

 

  • It is recommended that a representative of staff involved in supporting students with special educational needs be included at meetings at which students at risk are identified and where planning is being undertaken for whole-school approaches to student support.
  • It should be ensured that broadband internet access is available to students and guidance staff.
  • The time allocated to Guidance should be clearly outlined in the guidance plan.

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the guidance counsellor, chaplain and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

Published, December 2008