An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Roll number: 62440E
Date of inspection: 23 January 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject
Two hundred and three boys are enrolled. Under the terms of Circular PPT12/05 the school is entitled to an allocation of eleven hours for Guidance for the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 school years. It is reported by the principal that the projected enrolment is stable at about this level. It will be important, from the perspective of Guidance, that the enrolment will remain above two hundred to maintain the current allocation.
The guidance counsellor is a permanent, whole-time teacher with responsibilities for teaching English and Geography in addition to being timetabled for ten hours and forty-two minutes of Guidance. The hours are well used and it is noted that the actual time devoted to Guidance is far greater than the allocation. One class period per week is timetabled for TY Guidance and two periods for the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). The remaining hours are used for a variety of guidance purposes, including one-to-one work, planning meetings and inputs into junior-cycle and senior-cycle classes at times of critical decision making.
The use of pastoral care as a general approach to the education of boys in the school is commended. A strong Christian ethos is underpinned by staff involvement in and support of the system of care and guidance. A system of class tutors has been established and is co-ordinated by a team with the notable involvement of the religious education department and of the chaplain, the local parish priest. Support for students with special educational needs and in personal, social, educational and vocational decision making is a normal feature of life in the school and a shared sense of responsibility is in evidence. Teachers spoken to reported that most students were known to them and the impression given was that of a large family in which responsibilities and rights are respected. More formal, guidance-related, curricular inputs are also in evidence in the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), LCVP and TY programmes. The guidance counsellor is in regular communication with teachers of these programmes both as guidance counsellor, as programme co-ordinator and also as teacher. In addition, a good balance has been achieved through the development of a well-planned programme, in the provision of Guidance to all year groups in classes, small groups and one-to-one settings.
Communication within the school is mainly on an informal level but is very good. The established planning structures lend the desired level of formality to communication both within groups and among them. The involvement of the principal as leader and as the hub of communication within the school is commended. In the context of future development, the existing planning structures will enable smooth transitions and the potential for more formal channels of communication in accordance with the needs of the school.
A centrally located office is designated for the use of the guidance counsellor and is used for administrative and for counselling purposes. Some modifications have been made, in keeping with child-protection guidelines, such as the insertion of a small window in the door. It is well equipped with technological supports, including broadband access, and secure storage facilities. A well-stocked guidance library is also situated in the room. Displays of guidance-related materials and posters are visible throughout the school in classrooms and in corridors. Access to the internet is possible on an individual basis in the guidance office and on a group basis in the information and communication technology (ICT) room. Access to these facilities is reported by the guidance counsellor to be satisfactory.
Links with the pastoral care team, chaplain and special education co-ordinator are at a regular and relatively informal level, and are good. Similarly, communication with senior management is continual. It is recommended that some formality be brought to the co-ordination of student support in general by the introduction of meetings of the co-ordinators of these areas on a regular basis and in keeping with the high standard of meeting practice already in existence in the school. Members of the current guidance-planning task group might, on completion of its school-development-planning brief, be invited to participate in the planning activities of the recommended student-support team as the need arose.
Referral systems in the school are effective. Constant informal contact between the guidance counsellor, senior management and staff ensures that students at risk are quickly identified and dealt with. Contact with students confirms this. Students felt that presenting issues came quickly to the attention of teachers. They also felt that teachers were effective in dealing with issues and that most issues could be dealt with at subject-teacher level. Cases in which referrals to outside agencies are warranted are managed by the principal in collaboration with the guidance counsellor, and with the co-ordinator of special education where the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) is involved. The guidance counsellor operates a standard system of appointments whereby students may self-refer or be referred by staff. Records of appointments are kept. The system is operating well.
Excellent work has been done in the preparation of the guidance plan. The work has been carried out in accordance with the guidelines of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). A task group with responsibility for development of the guidance plan was formed and the group has performed its functions to an impressive standard. Clear documentation was kept of the process of meetings and decision-making. Regular consultation took place with interested staff members. The definition of Guidance was commendably broad and included educational, social and personal, and vocational guidance and counselling. The resulting documentation is clear, embraces the whole school and is at an advanced stage in the process of ratification by the board of management.
The programme outlined in the proposed whole-school guidance plan encompasses the range of student experience, from pre-entry to post-leaving, including programmes with high guidance content such as SPHE, TY and LCVP. It also includes those elements of the programme of the pastoral team which overlap with Guidance, such as responses to critical incidents, personal support of students and policy issues related to admission, bullying, substance use, and student management. Because of the core nature of these activities in support of students, it is recommended that the guidance counsellor and the co-ordinators of special education and of the pastoral team form a small student support team and that the team should meet regularly to plan and discuss issues of common concern. The guidance counsellor’s personal plan and programme reflect a strong supportive presence at each of the major transitions in a student’s schooling. There is evidence of involvement during the transition from primary to secondary school, during first, third and fourth years when optional subjects are chosen and in the senior cycle when training courses and occupational choices are made.
Good use is made ICT. Students have access to broadband internet during one-to-one sessions with the guidance counsellor and group access is readily arranged in the ICT room in co-operation with the ICT co-ordinator. Similarly, computers are extensively used in programme planning, the arrangement and recording of meetings and in drawing up the guidance plan.
Continuous contact with senior management facilitates guidance inputs into curriculum planning, particularly during the process of student subject-choice. The process at the school is based on student preference. The school endeavours to provide a range of subjects which matches expressed preferences to available subjects. The guidance counsellor is co-ordinator of the process and is closely involved in any proposals for modification by students’ of their choices of subjects and levels. The guidance counsellor is also in a position to advise management on emerging trends in student preference and in external factors such as course requirements.
Parents are formally involved in student guidance through participation in arranged meetings at the main stages of transition. The guidance counsellor makes presentations and is available to parents at meetings arranged at those stages. During the year of student entry to the school, for example, a series of meetings is arranged to inform parents and prospective students as to the nature of the school and the procedures and policies in place. Explanatory notes have been written by the guidance counsellor and other staff and these are distributed to parents. Similarly, meetings are arranged to inform parents of subject and programme choices, particularly during first year, third year and TY.
The wider community is involved in the school’s guidance programme and it is reported that this involvement is generous and supportive. The work-experience programme is an example of community involvement which is enhanced by good planning and procedures on the part of the school. Links have also been established with the training and educational institutions such as FÁS and the colleges of further and higher education. These institutions provide speakers to senior classes and facilitate the contact between interested students and relevant staff in the institutions through open days and personal visits.
The guidance counsellor is involved in continuous professional development in both the administrative and personal aspects of the profession such as the guidance planning modular course of the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE) and in training in Reality Therapy. Such good practice is commended and the value of such development is admirably demonstrated by the effectiveness of the work.
One lesson was observed in the course of the inspection. A sixth-year class was given a final summary of the Central Applications Office (CAO) procedures in preparation for the imminent closing date for application. The use of an electronic slide presentation by laptop and data projector is commended and a printed version of the slides proved useful in overcoming some initial difficulties with the technology and showed versatility on the part of the teacher. Good use was made of the slide prompts. Additional comments by the teacher ensured that the presentation was relevant and contemporary. Questions were well used during the lesson and were sensitive to varying levels of student comprehension. References to previous lessons and presentations by visiting speakers helped to provide a framework for the lesson and were integrated into it as a matter of course.
The atmosphere in the classroom was friendly and relaxed and the presence of the inspector did not appear unduly to influence the course of the lesson. Students were seated at tables which were arranged so that the screen onto which the images were projected was visible to all. The teacher checked that all students could see the screen prior to the presentation.
Students remained engaged throughout the lesson. Clarification of issues raised in the presentation, such as the importance of the order of preference of courses on the application form, was dealt with in an informed manner and student questions showed engagement with those issues. Assessment of the students’ knowledge of the terms used was well interspersed in the lesson. Student responses during the lesson and in conversation with the inspector demonstrated familiarity with the application process and displayed practical use of the information in their personal choices.
Assessment practices have been reviewed recently and the timing of the assessment of incoming students is being changed in the current year to March prior to entry. Incoming students had prior to this been assessed in the early days of September in first year. This proved to be unsatisfactory in that the results of assessments had not been available as a monitoring device in the early days of secondary schooling. Assessments of general ability and of reading ability are carried out on all incoming students using the Drumcondra Reasoning Test and the Neale Analysis of Reading Ability. The tests are administered by the guidance counsellor and co-ordinator of special education, and the collaborative effort involved in this and in the subsequent process of monitoring and student support is commended.
The Differential Aptitude Tests are used in fifth year in conjunction with a range of interest inventories in the senior cycle in support of student decision making. The results of such instruments are communicated to students on an individual basis and in accordance with good professional practice.
The destinations of students who have left school are tracked by the guidance counsellor.
The quality of planning has already been mentioned in this report and one of its associated benefits is the quality of record keeping. Records are kept of meetings with individuals and with groups of students and of staff. Meetings are convened and recorded in accordance with standard procedures and follow-up meetings are well recorded.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· A strong sense of ownership and commitment to values-based education is in evidence.
· Communication at all levels is clear, open, informal and effective.
· The values of care and development expressed in the Edmund Rice Charter are well demonstrated in the school’s guidance programme and plan.
· The whole-school guidance plan and programme are comprehensive and well informed.
· The plan and programme of staff directly involved in the guidance and care of students are similarly comprehensive and well informed.
· Very good planning systems have been established in the school.
· The success of planning is evaluated with reference to the charter.
· The whole-school guidance plan is at an advanced stage in preparation for ratification by the board of management.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the guidance counsellor and the co-ordinators of special education and of the pastoral team form a small student support team and that the team should meet regularly to plan and discuss issues of common concern.
· It is also recommended that the content of meetings be recorded in keeping with current practice in relation to meetings of planning groups.
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.