An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Carndonagh Community School
Carndonagh, County Donegal
Roll number: 91406R
Date of inspection: 13 May 2008
Subject inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Carndonagh Community School, Carndonagh, County Donegal. 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, held discussions with the principal, one of the deputy principals, the three guidance counsellors, the co-ordinators of the home-school-community liaison (HSCL) and School Completion Programme (SCP) departments and reviewed school planning documentation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, one of the deputy principals and the guidance counsellors. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Carndonagh Community School, operating under the trusteeship of County Donegal Vocational Education Committee (VEC) and the Catholic Bishop of the Derry Diocese, was established in 1973 and is one of four post-primary schools on the Inishowen peninsula. The school caters for students from diverse, mainly rural, backgrounds. Students come from fourteen feeder primary schools within a wide catchment area which stretches from Malin Head in the north to Buncrana in the south. The majority of students travel to school by bus. During the last decade Carndonagh Community School was the biggest post-primary school in the country with an enrolment of approximately 1600 students. Currently there is an enrolment of 884 and the principal expects numbers to increase next year to over 900 before levelling off. At the present time the school building is too big for the current enrolment and some of the different units are located quite a distance apart. All of this necessitates considerable movement by both staff and students in order to access specific on-campus facilities.
The school receives a total ex-quota allocation of 49.5 hours per week for Guidance from the Department of Education and Science (DES). This includes eleven hours for the Guidance Enhancement Initiative (GEI) and 5.5 hours through the Delivering Equality of Opportunity In Schools (DEIS) action plan. The guidance provision is delivered by a team of three qualified guidance counsellors, one of whom works full time in Guidance and co-ordinates the guidance department in the school. Each of the other two guidance counsellors also teaches in a subject area. The principal reports that Guidance is central to the supports provided for students and underpins the aspirations of the school which aim to nurture the growth and development of all its students.
Carndonagh Community School is included in the School Completion Programme (SCP). The school also has the services of a full-time HSCL co-ordinator, a full-time chaplain and the co-ordinator of the SCP who is based in the school. A designated psychologist from the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) visits the school on a regular basis and provides support for staff. There is excellent collaboration between all the key support personnel. While the principal states that the guidance counsellors work in excess of their allocation, the full guidance allocation was not timetabled at the time of the evaluation visit. It is recommended, therefore, that the total ex-quota allocation be used to deliver the guidance programme throughout the school in the next and subsequent years.
Currently, Guidance is targeted primarily in senior cycle and is timetabled for one period per week in Leaving Certificate year, in the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme and in the Transition Year (TY) programme. The guidance department collaborates with colleagues to provide a guidance input in each year group through the use of borrowed lesson periods for both class and small group work. Guidance is offered to small groups in response to specific needs or to provide career information. The school has moved towards increased provision in junior cycle. The guidance department collaborates with year heads and the SCP department to arrange courses in personal development and anger management provided by an outside facilitator in response to identified needs of small groups of junior cycle students. The guidance counsellors visit the post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) class groups to provide information on the guidance service. In the school year 2007/08 twenty-one students are taking the PLC courses and these students can arrange individual appointments with the guidance counsellors as required.
The guidance department reports a high demand for personal counselling throughout the school. While each class group has a nominated guidance counsellor, students seeking personal counselling have a choice of which guidance counsellor they wish to attend. Individual appointments and personal counselling are also provided throughout the school in response to referrals made by management and staff. School management and the guidance department have also arranged that the first period on Monday mornings is class-contact free for the guidance counsellors, thus enabling them to meet with students as need arises and to arrange appointments.
School management is supportive of Guidance and there are excellent facilities for Guidance in the form of a suite which includes three well-equipped offices with computer, broadband access, colour printer, phone and storage. The guidance department is also provided with a dedicated fax machine and a photocopier. A careers library with excellent display and shelving facilities forms part of the guidance suite. Senior students act as supervisors in the careers library. Carndonagh Community School has the services of a full-time librarian in the school library, the McKenna Library, who liaises closely with the guidance counsellors to assist students. Notice boards in the guidance suite and in the corridor provide guidance-related information to students and guidance notices are also displayed in the five staff rooms to inform staff of events and activities.
The school has excellent facilities for information and communications technology (ICT). Students have access to computers in the guidance library and in the school library for independent research. The guidance department also has access to two conference facilities. One of these has cinema-standard sound systems, which accommodates presentations to large groups of parents and students and a smaller conference room with data projector, large screen, computer and broadband access accommodating sixty people. The latter facility is used by the guidance counsellors to deliver guidance presentations to classes and to smaller groups of students and parents. A school guidance webpage has been developed and the time commitment of the guidance department to the development and maintenance of this resource is highly commended. Access to the computer rooms for guidance classes is obtained through informal arrangements with colleagues. While this collaboration is praiseworthy it is recommended that in the course of school development planning the school explores how regular access to a computer room for guidance classes can be timetabled.
Carndonagh Community School is commended on providing all the second level curricular programmes and a wide range of subjects for students within the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate (Established) programmes. As part of the Transition Year option and to provide programmes to reflect the needs of students, the school offers a vocational TY (VTY) where the male students in fourth year, as part of a cross-border project, take vocational specialisms in Derry for two days per week. Building on the success of the programme the VTY will be extended next year and will be offered to all students, male and female, within the TY option.
There is an excellent sense of care for students in the school as evidenced by the supports and interventions available. Care of students is based around the class teacher and the year head systems with emphasis on a holistic approach to student development. Year heads remain with their year groups all the way up through the school. A student support team comprising a deputy principal, guidance counsellor, chaplain, special educational needs (SEN), SCP and HSCL co-ordinators meets weekly. One of the guidance counsellors attends on a rota basis. The meetings provide a forum for the transfer of information about students, the identification of their needs and the arranging of responses across the different support departments.
The pastoral care team which also includes the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) co-ordinator and representatives of the special needs assistants, resource teachers and ancillary staff meets once a term. The focus of this group is to support students and staff members who are experiencing difficulties of a personal nature, including bereavement. Five members of staff have completed training as facilitators to establish the Rainbows programme in the school. This programme will begin in September 2008 and the guidance department will collaborate with year heads to identify students who could benefit from attendance at the sessions.
Carndonagh Community School provides a daily breakfast club with a wide menu where students can attend before lessons begin. The homework club which welcomes all students operates two days per week and year heads, especially of third and fifth years, encourage and promote attendance. Students contribute a small annual fee and the school provides a light meal before the supervised study begins. Help with homework is provided as required and commendably parents have also provided assistance in the homework club.
The family support team was set up under the auspices of the SCP and meets weekly. As well as having representatives from the school, team members come from outside organisations with which the school has established strong links. This team provides support and interventions for families. The local education committee which includes representatives of students, parents, primary schools, community groups, HSCL co-ordinators from the primary schools, Juvenile Liaison Officer (JLO) of An Garda Síochána and the three guidance counsellors meets once a term. The focus of the group this year was the use of the ‘Bebo’ website by teenagers, the need for professional role models for students in the Inishowen area and how the school could address the current shortfall in the community of a variety of professional career areas.
In addition to the formal meetings, contact between all these support and care groups and their individual members is also maintained informally. All of these activities co-ordinated by school personnel to support students and their parents are highly commended.
Referrals to the guidance department are made by senior management, year heads, student support team, co-ordinators of SEN and HSCL. Parents are reminded at meetings or on the website of the availability of the guidance counsellors and self-referral procedures are explained to first year students. Commendably the guidance department has designed a referral form for use by staff members. Referrals by the guidance department to the NEPS psychologist are effected in consultation with senior management and parents. The school also liaises with the Health Service Executive (HSE) and with local general practitioners (GPs).
Carndonagh Community School is commended for having engaged with a number of outside agencies to provide information and support for students for example the training and employment authority Foras Áiseanna Saothair (FÁS), NEPS, County Donegal Enterprise Board, SPECTRUM, the HSE, local business, colleges of further and higher education. Co-ordinators of TY, LCA, LCVP and PLCs have well established networks of local employers to whom students apply for work experience. The annual Inishowen Future Options conference, with upwards of forty college and training organisations participating, is arranged and managed by the school’s guidance counsellors in collaboration with the other three post-primary schools in Inishowen. This exhibition was set up to provide an opportunity for students from all the schools and from the YouthReach centres in Inishowen to attend a careers fair because of the distances students have to travel to attend similar type events organised nationally.
Links with senior management are maintained through weekly and ongoing, informal contact. One of the deputy principals has overall responsibility for co-ordinating student care, support and interventions and in this capacity meets with key support personnel in the various teams that work with students and parents. The three guidance counsellors have the facility to meet with the principal weekly to discuss issues such as subject choice, timetabling of Guidance and planning of events. A tentative calendar of events for the new school year is drafted annually at the end of May. This forward planning approach is commended.
Guidance planning began in Carndonagh Community School in 2004 and is now at a very advanced stage. The full-time guidance counsellor takes on the task of co-ordinating and documenting the process. The work done by the guidance department in planning and in recording and documenting the planning process is a model of good practice. The work to date has been carried out primarily by the guidance counsellors in collaboration with the principal, deputy principals, programme and subject co-ordinators, NEPS psychologist and key support personnel in the school. A student needs analysis was completed during the first year of planning and the guidance counsellors state that guidance provision to the year groups was prioritised from the results. The guidance team meets weekly and minutes of meetings are recorded.
Detailed programmes and schemes of work have been developed for each year group including students with special needs. The guidance department plans to work with the co-ordinator of the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) in the school year 2008/09 to develop a JCSP Statement of Achievement in the area of Guidance which will form part of the JCSP Portfolio of Achievements. This innovative approach to student support is commended and the school plans to make the template available to other schools where the JCSP is offered.
The guidance plan documents how the guidance department links and communicates with other personnel who care for and support students. There is excellent collaboration and cross-curricular planning with colleagues in the subject departments to deliver aspects of the guidance programmes. For example, the guidance programme is delivered through the SPHE department to class groups who do not have timetabled guidance classes, the chaplain and the guidance counsellors work closely together, and teachers in the Home Economics department liaise with the guidance department to deliver modules on budgeting, basic cookery and living-away-from-home skills as part of the life-skills programme for senior students. This collaborative approach to support students is commended.
A guidance planning group, the Guidance Review Group, was established last year. This group consisting of sixteen members of staff meets yearly to review and assess the planning progress. Evaluation of the guidance service has been carried out by the guidance counsellors over the past four years. Surveys have been completed by staff groups and parents online, students have completed an online evaluation of the guidance provision. Plans are in place to include an evaluation by the board of management and employers. A research consultant has been identified who will carry out a further detailed survey of students and parents. This inclusive approach is commended and the results will inform guidance provision.
Commendably the school has a critical incident response team which meets once a year and a critical incident response plan has been ratified by the board of management. The full-time guidance counsellor drafted a suicide prevention plan which was presented to staff and a parents’ guide to suicide was written to inform and support parents. In the course of the review of the critical incident response policy document it is recommended that the existing collaboration with the other post-primary schools and guidance counsellors be formalised and included in the plan.
Carndonagh Community School has a well developed transition programme in place for incoming first year students which is co-ordinated by the HSCL co-ordinator. The programme begins with a visit to the feeder primary schools by representatives of staff and students. The school brochure provides clear information on the school, school structures, student support personnel, subjects, programmes and activities available to students. An open evening is hosted by the school during which demonstrations and displays from all areas and departments in the school are arranged and TY students act as guides for prospective students and their parents. An information session with presentations on key aspects of school life is provided.
Locally based information sessions for parents and incoming students are also held by senior management, guidance counsellor and HSCL co-ordinator in five separate locations to facilitate attendance. This level of support is highly commended. The transition programme includes two further half-days of familiarisation with the school campus together with some sample classes. An induction day in August allows first year students to meet with key school personnel and commendably there is a peer mentoring system which enables senior students to help first years settle in over the course of the year.
A guide to subject choice for incoming first years which includes information on course content, suitability to students, progression to senior cycle and career notes, has been developed by the guidance department. This document is provided to the feeder primary schools, to parents and it is available on the school website. In the course of guidance planning the school could consider whether an oral presentation by the guidance department on the import of subject choice would be helpful for parents. Incoming students choose thirteen subjects, three of which are from a pre-set band. In the course of school development planning the school should consider the current arrangements for subject choice for incoming students and explore the possibility of providing further subject sampling with a more open choice of subjects.
Worthwhile links have been developed with the primary schools and the community school newsletter is routinely sent to the feeder schools. Plans are in place for discussions between the primary school principals, sixth class teachers and the co-ordinators of English, Gaeilge and Mathematics in order to ensure continuity for incoming first years. Based on results of pre-entry tests, information from primary school and individual consultation with parents, incoming students are considered for placement in the JCSP class in first year. The JCSP class groups have an anchor teacher who teaches two or three subjects to the class group; this is good practice.
As well as meeting first year students on induction day the three guidance counsellors visit all first year students in October to introduce the guidance service. A module on subject choice is provided in the second term as students drop two subjects at the end of first year. All of this support to ease the transfer from primary school is highly commended. Students and their parents may make individual appointments with a member of the guidance team at the end of first year and at the beginning of second year if they have any issues of concern regarding subject choices for the Junior Certificate examination.
Students at risk of not completing the Leaving Certificate are identified by the year heads, by senior management or through the student support team. Key support personnel work with the year head and parents to encourage students to remain in school. Workshops are offered by the guidance and the SCP departments to students who decide to leave. Through the SCP the school engages with the Inishowen Partnership, County Donegal VEC and the Department of Social and Family Affairs to offer summer activities to students. Some of these courses also continue throughout the year. Students have participated in music technology and tuition in collaboration with the VEC and the local radio station where students have availed of access provided to recording equipment. These links provide excellent opportunities for students to explore their talents and consider possible career areas.
Within the Guidance Enhancement Initiative (GEI) the school has concentrated on addressing early school leaving and promoting links with local business. The GEI has been very successful in achieving these aims through a collaborative approach among staff, between school and parents and through an excellent and comprehensive range of activities organised by the school. During the four years of the GEI activities have been reviewed, evaluated and revised. The guidance department reports that absenteeism has also reduced significantly and initial destination statistics show that degree courses in science and business are the top two of the list of degree courses chosen by Leaving Certificate students in Carndonagh Community School, thus pointing to the success of the GEI.
Appropriate guidance programmes have been developed and are delivered to senior cycle and third year students. The guidance department has considerable input into subject choice arrangements for senior cycle and decision making by students. As well as the guidance module offered in third year, students are obliged to attend the information session on programme and subject choice hosted by the school for parents. Excellent PowerPoint presentations have been prepared to provide information to parents. Subject teachers also provide information on subject content and commitment required. It is suggested that the school considers formalising and consolidating all these supports into a subject choice week when information is readily available to students. Parents are welcome to make appointments and information regarding choices is available on the school guidance website.
The SPHE co-ordinator collaborates with the guidance department to organise two focus days for fourth year (Leaving Certificate year one) students in March to offer information on courses available after the Leaving Certificate. As well as talks by guest speakers from colleges and training organisations students choose three presentations to attend from a list of nine. Students also complete interest tests during these days.
Senior students are prepared to make application to the Central Applications Office (CAO), to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), to the post-Leaving Certificate (PLCs) courses and to training and apprenticeships. The guidance counsellors attend the school in August after the Leaving Certificate results and the CAO offers are issued to answer any queries students may have.
A guidance page for parents is included in the school magazine edited by one of the guidance counsellors and published twice per term. A wide range of documents in the form of templates, handouts, notes, aids for reference writing and interviews has been prepared by the guidance department as support for senior cycle students. Memos containing information on guidance events, scholarships and funding for further and higher education, courses and training opportunities are prepared by the guidance department, displayed on the notice boards and distributed regularly during the school year to senior students. The content included, the time commitment involved in the compilation and production of these information sources for students and parents is highly commended.
Students attend college open days and other career and course information events both locally and in Northern Ireland. The guidance department compiles and refines lists of the most relevant open days from the Calendar of Career Events for students. The school has developed a student attendance at career events policy. Commendably, input from parents has been included and input from the student council would now be opportune. The school participates in the Science, Technology and Engineering Programme for Schools (STEP) and the Science Roadshow.
The full-time guidance counsellor co-ordinates the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) programme through which the school is linked to the National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM). As part of the access programme the school engages with NUIM in the awards scheme offered to third year students in Science, Mathematics and languages and senior students participate in the preparation for oral examinations in modern languages available in the Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT). Notwithstanding all these worthwhile developments it is recommended that within the guidance planning process the school reviews the current imbalance in guidance provision between junior and senior cycles.
The guidance department promotes an open door policy to accommodate parents who wish to contact the guidance counsellors. There is good collaboration and liaison between the guidance department and the parents’ committee to organise and prepare for guidance events. The guidance counsellors attend parent-teacher meetings. Parents of Leaving Certificate students are invited to a presentation on applying to colleges of further and higher education and information on grants is offered in collaboration with County Donegal VEC. Parents are invited to attend all presentation of certificates to the students. The school hosts an awards evening, to which parents are invited, to acknowledge and celebrate student achievement in both academic and non-academic spheres.
The guidance counsellors are members of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) and the school facilitates attendance at relevant guidance events, local and national in-service and the professional development sessions to support counselling. Carndonagh Community School has recently become a member of the Northern Ireland Schools Career Association (NISCA).
In the course of the evaluation one LCA year one (fourth year) class and one TY class were visited. The LCA class was a single lesson period and the TY class was a double lesson period. In both classes students had individual folders to maintain their work and the folders were stored by the guidance counsellors. The good practice of taking the roll was noted in both class groups. The focus and aims of the lessons were well explained to students and the pace and content of the lessons were appropriate to the class groups. The LCA group was all female as the boys are taking the vocational specialisms as part of the VTY and were doing practical work on the day of the visit. The TY class group had been using the 'Be Real Game' where students take on the role of adults in a fictitious town.
There was evidence of continuity with previous lessons and good contextualising of present learning through links made with everyday activities and career areas, reference back to past learning, situations and events. This approach is commended. Terminology was clearly explained and written on the whiteboard. A variety of methodologies was used in the lessons including questions and answers, worksheets, handouts, use of the whiteboard, overhead projector, pictures and photographs, forming teams, group and individual work by students. In the course of group and team work the guidance counsellors went around encouraging participation, helping individual students and answering queries. The guidance counsellors used questioning to check understanding. Good use was made of comment and discussion.
The ‘Be Real Game’ involves interactive methodologies to facilitate student learning and excellent use was made by the guidance counsellor of local and international examples to explain concepts and ideas. As this was the last class of the year the second of the double lesson periods was given over to team games based on skills. Success in the quiz and in the games depended on speed of solution and this was based on team work, recognising and using the talents and skills of the individual members of the team. There was excellent collaboration among students and good-natured competition between teams. An evaluation sheet was distributed and students were asked to complete an evaluation of the learning to date.
A friendly and relaxed class atmosphere was evident in both lessons. Students were at ease and received encouragement and were very well affirmed for their work efforts. Participation and engagement on the part of students were excellent. Good rapport and mutual respect were evident between guidance counsellors and students.
Carndonagh Community School is developing a testing policy and consultation between the SEN and the guidance departments regarding testing is ongoing. This collaborative approach is commended.
Incoming students attend Carndonagh Community School in January prior to entry to complete the Secondary Screening Test. Both the SEN and the guidance departments collaborate to administer and score the tests. The Probe Interest Inventory is used with second and third year students. Second year students may choose to complete the Eirquest test with particular focus on subject choice for Leaving Certificate. Students may make individual appointments with the guidance counsellors to discuss the outcome of the tests.
The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) are administered to TY students to identify areas of strength and to assist career choice. The guidance department has developed a results sheet which includes a brief explanation of each test and allows students to compare their own individual abilities and strengths. Results are also discussed individually with students. Fourth year students may take the Centigrade test or the Rothwell Miller Interest Blank. Other interest inventories used include the Careers Interest Inventory (CII) which is used to assist students with subject choice as well as those available on QualifaX, Careers Portal and UCAS websites. The guidance department has developed a glossary to explain occupations and terms used in interest and aptitude tests for use by students when completing tests. This level of support for students is commended.
The guidance department has developed very good record-keeping systems. A student profile form has been devised and profiling begins in fourth year. The guidance team also has access to student school reports, attendance records, timetables and contact details via the school’s e-portal system. Appointment slips and a weekly appointment sheet have been developed. Guidance counsellors maintain records of all appointments with students. All records of appointments and of test results are maintained in locked filing cabinets. Online records and details of online applications are password protected. Details of lesson content are recorded by the guidance counsellors and attendance records for each guidance class are maintained in roll books. Minutes of meetings with staff groups are recorded and maintained. The school has agreed an archives retention policy.
Tracking of initial destinations has been completed by the guidance department every second year and plans are now in place to survey each cohort. Statistics are based on official figures from colleges in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland and on a telephone survey. An article on student destinations with graphs is published and is displayed on the guidance notice board, in the annual school magazine and on the school website. This approach is commended as it provides encouragement and further motivation to current students.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· Carndonagh Community School has a very well established guidance service delivered by three qualified guidance counsellors in collaboration with other colleagues.
· There is good support from school management for Guidance and the school has excellent facilities for guidance delivery.
· Guidance planning is very well developed in the school and the planning progress is excellently documented.
· A Guidance Review Group has been established and evaluation of the guidance service is ongoing.
· Guidance programmes and schemes of work have been developed for all year groups.
· There is a very good sense of care in the school, effective teams and informal networks operate in the school to support students and parents. Innovative approaches to student support are developed in the school.
· The school offers all the second level curricular programmes and a wide range of subjects in both junior and senior cycles.
· The school has excellent facilities for ICT and these are efficiently used in guidance delivery.
· The school has engaged with a wide range of outside agencies and organisations to support students and parents.
· Records of the GEI within the school are maintained and the initiative has been very successful in achieving its original aims.
· A number of handouts have been prepared by the guidance department to assist and support students.
· In collaboration with the primary schools, the HSCL and the SCP departments a transfer programme is in place to assist students in making a successful transfer from primary to Carndonagh Community School.
· The lessons observed were very well planned and a positive, friendly class atmosphere obtained.
· Good rapport and mutual respect were evident between guidance counsellors and students.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development the following key recommendations are made:
· The school should ensure that the total ex-quota allocation of 49.5 hours per week is used to provide guidance.
· In the course of school development planning the school should explore the provision of timetabled access to ICT facilities for guidance classes.
· While the school is moving towards increased provision in junior cycle it is recommended that the school explores ways of addressing the imbalance in provision between junior and senior cycles.
· The school should review the current arrangements for subject choice for incoming first year students with regard to pre-set options and the provision of subject sampling.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal, one of the deputy principals and the three guidance counsellors at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed
Published October 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management wish to record their appreciation for the courtesy and professionalism of the Department Inspector during the inspection process. This was very much a positive and non-invasive experience and the interaction between the school staff and the inspector was characterised by mutual respect. The report has validated the commitment of the school to providing a comprehensive guidance programme and the Board welcome the findings.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The school management and the Guidance Department have considered the Report and the recommendations.
The school is currently utilising its full ex-quota allocation to provide guidance.
The school is examining how it may timetable access to ICT facilities for guidance classes and recognises the demands on access to ICT rooms.
The school continues to explore opportunities to extend the provision of guidance to junior cycle.
The school is reviewing the subject choice options for incoming first year students.