An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Nagle Rice Secondary School
Doneraile, County Cork
Roll number: 62210K
Date of inspection: 23 April 2009
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Nagle Rice Secondary School, 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, deputy principal and guidance counsellor.
The school has a relatively small enrolment of 245 students from a mainly rural background. A drop in enrolment since 2006, when thirteen hours were allocated by the Department of Education and Science for Guidance, has resulted in a concomitant drop in the allocation to eleven hours. On current projections and in accordance with Circular PPT12/05, the allocation as of September 2009 will be eleven hours and is likely to remain at this level in the coming years.
The allocation for Guidance is used effectively by qualified personnel. The guidance department comprises one guidance counsellor, whose timetable includes one lesson per week with each of the fifth-year and sixth-year classes, in both the established Leaving Certificate and in Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). The context in which these assignments were made has altered and it is suggested that consideration be given in the course of guidance planning to a shift in emphasis to students in the junior cycle, especially since, in addition to timetabled lessons, much work with individual students is done in the course of the senior cycle. Work with the junior cycle students is planned and intermittent and all students may consult the guidance counsellor individually. The school’s view of Guidance is in keeping with Department guidelines and includes inputs of personal, educational and career guidance. The role of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) has developed in recent years and it is recommended that, particularly in the formalisation of the whole-school guidance curricular programme, the inputs of the SPHE and other departments are included.
The guidance counsellor also teaches English and History and, with a special duties teacher post of responsibility, is the school’s programme co-ordinator and class tutor. These additional duties add complexity to an already complex role, but, because relationships are good and because communication with staff and management is effective and ongoing, a commendable balance has been achieved among formally timetabled work in Guidance, work with individual students, and work with other groups of students by arrangement with staff. Similarly, collaboration is ongoing with the special-educational-needs department, with the teacher responsible for home-school liaison, and with year heads and class tutors. It is notable that the commendable work of home-school liaison is carried out with the support of the parish and that much of the visitation of homes occurs during the school holidays.
Much of the communication in the school, including that between the guidance department and senior management, is informal and ongoing. This facilitates rapid responses to the needs of students and staff and to the development of some documents of importance to Guidance and to student support in general. The procedures to be used in crises have been documented and are a good example of how a formal approach may be used to describe and to advance practice, and to clarify roles and responsibilities. It is recommended that a similar approach be taken to the formalisation of links among the various supports for students available in the school. It is recommended, for example, that a small student-support team be formed. Such a team should be structured to enhance current practice in dealing with the immediate needs of students by formalising roles and responsibilities of, for example the guidance counsellor, special-educational-needs co-ordinator, home-school-liaison co-ordinator, and middle and senior management. In addition, the team should identify and prioritise areas for improvement through the school development planning process and, in order to enhance communication, should formalise links with, for example, the system of year heads and class tutors, SPHE and with external agencies, such as the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS).
The facilities for Guidance are generally good. Space is used well. The office is well-appointed and furnished with office and technological equipment appropriate to the practice of Guidance. Many examples of guidance related materials were observed throughout the school. Posters and notices were seen on boards placed on walls throughout the building and a cabinet containing brochures and prospectuses was in place near the door of the guidance office. While broadband internet access is available to staff and students in many parts of the building, the download speeds of the link to the guidance office are slow. It is recommended that, in view of the importance of current information in the delivery of an effective guidance service, particularly in the areas of course choice and decision making, the link to the office be upgraded as soon as is practicable. Similarly, it is suggested that proposals be made in the guidance department plan for the use of the information and communication technology (ICT) room for some guidance lessons. This would facilitate timetable planning and would obviate the need for the ad hoc arrangement of lessons.
Good relationships and communication exist between the guidance department and senior management. This enables continual contact and consideration of guidance issues, and is commended. Communication would be further enhanced by the guidance counsellor’s participation in the weekly middle-management meeting. This would form a useful link between the school’s disciplinary and student-support systems, and is recommended. The school has compiled a clear critical-incident-management plan. The guidance department plays a central role in the procedures outlined in the plan. This is commended. Links with external agencies, and with the student council, are managed in a collaborative context. It is reported by staff that these links are satisfactory and that a range of services may be called upon when needed. Internal referrals are managed by the guidance department by means of a standard referral slip and in collaboration with teachers.
Guidance department planning is ongoing and well documented. The school has engaged with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and departmental planning in general has been an outcome of this engagement. A template has been applied effectively to outline the service and programme delivered by the guidance department. It includes the programme for all year groups, including the cohort entering the school for the first time, and is current, showing the timetabled provision for the 2008–2009 school year. Other staff involved in the delivery of aspects of the guidance programme in collaboration with the guidance department includes the SPHE teachers, a staff member who manages the process of students’ subject choices and the home-school-liaison co-ordinator. It is suggested that the inclusion of a review of the previous year and proposals for the development of Guidance would augment the value of the plan as an aid to the school in devising the developmental section of the school plan.
Whole-school guidance planning has not yet been initiated as a formal element of school development planning. To date, such planning and development have been on an informal basis. The collaboration of staff in this regard is commended and such collaboration should be an effective foundation in the formation of more structured links between the various elements of the programme of whole-school guidance and supports for students. It is recommended that a whole-school guidance-planning task group be formed to advance the whole-school guidance-planning process. The group should be constituted in the manner of task groups recommended by the SDPI. It should be relatively small and should comprise representatives of the main guidance and student-support interests in the school, such as the guidance department, management, special educational needs and home-school liaison. It is a principle of good planning that provision is made for the inclusion of students and parents in the planning process. It is good practice to include other interested members of staff to ensure a whole-school approach to student support and to acknowledge the important contribution of subjects such as Religious Education, Physical Education and Home Economics to the curricular elements of the whole-school guidance programme as anticipated by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) in its 2007 document, A Curricular Framework for Guidance in Post-primary Education. The role of SPHE is of particular importance in the delivery of those components of its syllabus common to Guidance, especially in the junior cycle. It is recommended that the formalisation of links between the guidance department and the SPHE department be considered in the context of whole-school guidance planning.
Further information on the guidance planning process may be found in the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE) document, Planning the School Guidance Programme (2004), available on its website at www.ncge.ie. Looking at Guidance, published by the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science in 2009, and available on the Department website at www.education.ie , outlines many examples of good practice in Guidance and is an essential reference in the process of whole-school guidance planning.
Most parents are known to staff and informal contact is frequent. Formal contact with parents is planned annually and comprises parent-teacher meetings attended by the guidance counsellor, meetings of the parents’ association and through commendable home-school liaison. Formal and semi-formal presentations are made by the guidance department throughout the year on issues such as subject choice and induction. Parents are encouraged to contact the guidance counsellor, and consultations take place by telephone and by appointment.
Extensive links have been established with agencies external to the school. The work-experience programme for LCA and Transition Year (TY) operates effectively in co-operation with local and regional employers. Links with the access programmes of third-level colleges have been of benefit to school leavers and staff collaborates in the arrangement of visiting speakers on topics such as bullying and healthy living. The role of NEPS is acknowledged by the school. It is recommended that the practice be initiated of meeting the designated psychologist at the beginning of the school year to review needs and to plan interventions for the coming year.
A firm commitment to continuing professional development (CPD) is in evidence in the plan of the guidance department. Currently, most CPD for guidance counsellors is delivered by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) either as part of regular branch meetings or, using funds allocated by the Department of Education and Science, in the arrangement of professional counselling support. Provision should be made to enable the guidance counsellor to attend sessions of continuing professional development arranged by the IGC.
The lesson observed, about the process of seeking work, was one of a series leading to the completion of a career investigation by students.
The lesson was well planned and executed. Students were seated in the school’s lecture theatre, a room with tiered seating and a permanently installed data projector. Although this seating arrangement allows little flexibility, for example for the formation of small discussion groups, it was appropriate for the purposes of this lesson, delivered effectively as a presentation interspersed with questions. Some movement was possible and this was used well in adding variety to the presentation. Announcements were made at the outset and were followed by an overview of previous sessions during which the letter of application and the curriculum vitae were analysed. The use of recent newspaper advertisements was effective in bringing relevance and immediacy to the lesson.
It was clear from interactions during the lesson that good relationships had been established and that students were at ease. Students were addressed by name in the course of the various interactions. Questions were appropriate to the cohort and included a variety that demanded some analysis. Responses were affirmed, and it was noted that such affirmation enabled further enquiry by students seeking clarification of the issues being discussed. It was also clear from their responses that some students had integrated the content of the lesson into existing knowledge and experience. Reference was made, for example, to similarities between the types of interview being discussed and those currently used in various television programmes.
The lesson was delivered at a brisk pace necessitated by the exigencies of the timetable. Although this precluded their more active involvement, students were engaged throughout. Assessment of students’ understanding was made by regular requests for confirmation by the class and by individual students that the lesson content was clear. These interventions were effective in adding to students’ engagement in the lesson.
Collaboration between the guidance department and special-educational-needs department is ongoing and relatively informal. The assessment of incoming students for literacy, numeracy and general ability is carried out in the early stages of first year with the collaboration of the guidance department. This process, and the diagnostic testing that follows, is managed by the special-educational-needs department. It is recommended that consideration be given to the timing of the assessment. Useful information may be gathered in the course of assessment that may be of value not only in monitoring students’ progress but also in ensuring the placement of students in classes of mixed ability. It is suggested that this information would be better gathered prior to entry in order to avoid unnecessary movement of students following placement. It is also recommended that use be made of a psychometric test of more recent vintage than that currently in use for the assessment of general ability and that the test be based on Irish norms.
Tests are administered by the guidance department in accordance with a soundly based programme, outlined in the guidance department plan. An aptitude test is administered to students in third year and the results are used in the course of individual interviews as an aid to decisions regarding students’ choices of programme, subjects, and career paths. A range of other inventories and questionnaires is used throughout the senior cycle for similar purposes. These include web-based materials associated with websites such as Qualifax and Career Directions, normally used in the course of lessons conducted in the computer room.
Good practice was observed in the guidance-department’s record keeping. Systematic notes are kept of meetings with students and of meetings with parents on matters relating to Guidance. Records are stored securely. The initial destinations of students after the Leaving Certificate examination are noted by the guidance department and are used to inform guidance lessons, staff meetings and presentations to parents. Such good practice is an underlying feature of effective planning and its continuation in whole-school guidance planning is recommended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths, the following key recommendations are made:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the guidance counsellor, with the principal and with the deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, April 2010