An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Chapel Street, Dundalk, County Louth
Roll number: 63880O
Date of inspection: 18 October 2007
report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Rís, 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 the principal and guidance counsellor. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and guidance counsellor.
Coláiste Rís is a co-educational school with a current enrolment of 494 students - 377 boys and 117 girls. Originally an all-boys school, it became co-educational in 1987. Students come from a wide catchment area both urban and rural, including Northern Ireland. The social backgrounds of the student population are mixed. There are sixty newcomer students and six students from the Traveller community currently attending. The school caters for all levels of ability and approximately fifty of its students have special educational needs.
The school receives twenty-four ex-quota hours for Guidance from the Department of Education and Science. Twenty-two of the hours are allocated to Guidance and the programme is delivered by a qualified guidance counsellor. Discussions took place during the evaluation with the principal and the guidance counsellor on how the additional two hours might be used for guidance activities. Guidance is timetabled for Transition Year (TY), fifth and sixth years. Guidance is not timetabled for junior cycle but, by arrangement with individual subject teachers, the guidance counsellor accesses classes to deliver some elements of the guidance programme. The remainder of the programme is delivered on an individual basis or in small groups.
The school participates in the Junior Achievement Ireland programme and is linked to the Dublin Institute of Technology through the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) scheme. It has close links with the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), the National Council for Special Education, the Dundalk Employment Partnership and the Society of St Vincent De Paul. The school participates in the Cool School anti-bullying programme.
The guidance counsellor is a member of the care team which meets formally every week. The guidance counsellor and the home-school-community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator also meet formally every week and the guidance counsellor accompanies the co-ordinator on home visits if appropriate. Links with management are through the care team meetings and on a regular informal basis. There is no formal contact between the guidance counsellor and the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) teachers but the guidance counsellor plans to establish contact this year. It is recommended that this contact be established as there are common elements in SPHE and Guidance and the delivery of these should be planned collaboratively.
Students are referred to the guidance counsellor by members of the care team or by class teachers or they may self refer. The guidance counsellor provides short term personal counselling if required but refers students to outside agencies if longer term counselling is required. The school reports that it receives an excellent service from the local NEPS psychologist and from the Dundalk Counselling Service to which it refers students. Students are also referred to the Child and Family Centre in Drogheda; this takes place mainly through local general practitioners (GPs).
Facilities for Guidance are adequate. The guidance counsellor has an office with computer, internet access, secure storage and shelving for guidance-related materials. There is a display board for guidance-related notices in a prominent area of the school. A classroom is shared between the guidance counsellor and a subject teacher. This arrangement is not satisfactory as it does not facilitate easy access to guidance materials when required and does not have the information and communication technology (ICT) facilities which are an essential element of the guidance programme. The most up-to-date information about third level and further education and training courses is available on the internet and students need to have access to relevant websites to access this information and to carry out career investigations. Many of the students plan to attend higher level colleges in the United Kingdom and the directory and application system of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) are available on-line only. It is essential therefore that students have more access to ICT and it is recommended that access to the new ICT facilities which have been installed in the school be made available for guidance purposes. It is also recommended that a small number of computers be installed in the classroom where guidance classes take place.
There is not a fixed budget for guidance. However, funding is provided upon request.
The NEPS psychologist has provided an in-service input for the staff on the development of a critical incidence response policy. The policy is being developed but is not yet completed.
Work has commenced on the guidance plan, all of which has been undertaken by the guidance counsellor. The work completed provides an excellent base for the further development of the plan. It is recommended that a working group/committee be established to develop the plan further. The group/committee should be led by the guidance counsellor and should include representatives of staff, parents, students and relevant sections of the community. It is recommended that the following documents be consulted by the working group/committee: Guidelines for Second Level Schools on the Implications of Section 9(c) of the Education Act 1998, relating to students’ access to appropriate guidance, published by the Inspectorate and Planning the School Guidance Programme, published by the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE). A template, designed to assist schools in developing their guidance plan is available on the Department’s website www.education.ie.
The guidance counsellor attends an open night for incoming students and their parents and makes a presentation on the role of the guidance counsellor. Parents and students are invited to meet with the guidance counsellor if they wish, prior to entry to the school. At the open night, there is a presentation on subject choice and the initial choices of subjects are made in the May preceding entry to the school. It is recommended that the practice of requiring student to make subject choices at this early stage be reviewed and that the school considers providing taster modules in optional subjects for a period during first year. Students need to make informed choices in relation to subjects, based on experience, knowledge, aptitude and interest rather than on perceptions or other factors, such as gender. It is also recommended that, at the open night, parents and students are advised to access the module Leaving Cert. and Junior Cert. Subject Choice on the Qualifax website which provides information on the long term implications of subject choices.
The guidance counsellor meets all first years in a class early in the year. A survey is carried out to ascertain how they are settling into secondary school and if they are experiencing any difficulties. The students are reminded that they can meet with the guidance counsellor on an individual basis if any difficulty arises. The guidance counsellor continues to meet the students in small groups throughout the year and, through arrangements with subject teachers, provides classes on topics such as bullying and study skills. An anti-bullying week is held each January. It is planned to re-initiate a mentoring programme for first years.
The guidance counsellor delivers a few whole-class guidance lessons throughout the year to second year students. During these classes students are introduced to careers. It is recommended that there should be more guidance classes for second year students. In second year, students make important decisions about the subject levels they take for the Junior Certificate and they need to begin to consider future options and to relate their subjects to these options. They should begin to undertake career investigation and research and should be introduced to relevant websites such as Qualifax and Career Directions. Guidelines on how research should be conducted might be provided early in the year with students required to undertake a research project on a career of their choice as the year progresses.
Again, through arrangements with subject teachers, the guidance counsellor delivers a guidance programme to third years. The programme covers subject choice for senior cycle, the world of work, third level education and the importance of the Junior Certificate. All third year students are also met in small groups where their subject options are discussed. At a parents’ evening the Transition Year (TY) coordinator makes a presentation on TY which is optional in the school. Students who wish to take TY make an application to do so and are interviewed by the principal, deputy principal and TY coordinator. If a student is not accepted into TY, parents may request an interview. Third year students are introduced to Qualifax and Career Directions and undertake the interest tests that are included on these websites. All prospective early school leavers are met and advised accordingly.
It is recommended that guidance classes for junior cycle students be timetabled as, throughout junior cycle, students need to be assisted in developing self-management skills. These include: study skills, time management, coping with stress, awareness of own learning style, teamwork skills, examination technique, understanding the value of education and connecting it to life in society (personal, social and economic). They need to understand the importance of subject choice and level of study, to be introduced to independent learning and to learn to use ICT as a tool to access guidance related information. Some of these topics can be delivered in conjunction with SPHE.
There is a timetabled guidance class per week for TY. A wide range of topics is covered during the year including the Central Applications Office (CAO) system, CV preparation, apprenticeships and further education opportunities. A six week programme on Personal Economics is organised with Junior Achievement Ireland. Students undertake work experience during the year and visit third level colleges. Individual students are met as required.
There is a timetabled guidance class each week for fifth years. The programme for the year is broad and includes a focus on personal, educational and career issues. Students undertake the Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) and attend career events and, for those who are interested, they attend college open days and spend a faculty day at the Dundalk Institute of Technology.
There is a weekly timetabled guidance class for sixth years. The sixth year programme builds on what has been covered in fifth year. In the first term a career information evening is organised by the guidance counsellor for all sixth year students and their parents. Students attend college open days, including Queens University Belfast, the local FÁS centre and career events. Speakers from third level colleges, colleges of further education, FÁS, the Defence Forces and Institutes of Technology make presentations in the school. All sixth year students are met individually at least twice and are assisted with CAO and UCAS applications. Over twenty students applied through UCAS in the last academic year and it is estimated that close to twenty will apply in the current year. This involves a considerable input from the guidance counsellor who is responsible for providing the required academic references and predicted grades required by UCAS.
The comprehensive nature of the guidance programme for senior cycle students is commended. It is recommended however, that the school reviews the programme with a view to using the additional two hours of the allocated ex-quota guidance hours for tasks that do not necessarily require the direct input of the guidance counsellor, for example, organising outside speakers and visits to outside events. This would also provide the guidance counsellor with more time for the delivery of the guidance programme in junior cycle.
The school has a parents’ and friends’ committee but this has no role in the guidance programme. The guidance counsellor meets parents at parents’ evenings, at the other guidance related events and individually upon request. It is recommended that at the guidance planning meetings mechanisms to involve parents in the delivery of the guidance programme be explored. For example, parents might be involved in organising the careers information evening, sourcing outside speakers and speaking themselves about their own careers.
There are well established links with the community and outside bodies. These include third level institutions both in the Republic and in Northern Ireland, colleges of further education, FÁS, businesses and employers, the Dundalk Employment Partnership, the Society of St Vincent De Paul.
The guidance counsellor is facilitated to attend continuous professional development (CPD) events. The guidance counsellor is also supported to participate in the professional support for counselling initiative and this is commendable.
A sixth year guidance lesson was observed. At the beginning of the class, students were reminded about open days but most of the lesson was devoted to the provision of information on grants and other financial supports available for third level and further education. Given the sensitivity of the topic the guidance counsellor presented all information to the entire class. Relevant handouts had been prepared and were distributed. These covered all the required information, including eligibility conditions, concerning the financial supports available for third level or further study. The comprehensive nature of the lesson content is commended.
The whiteboard was used to highlight the main providers of grants, the procedures for applying and when application should be submitted. Other schemes of financial support and scholarships available were also highlighted. No student was asked any questions and all information was provided to the entire class. However, questions were invited and replied to in a factual but sensitive manner. Students were invited to meet with the guidance counsellor on an individual basis should they need any further clarification or have any questions. All were advised to pass on the handouts to their parents.
While the nature of the content of the class did not facilitate a great deal of interaction, all students displayed an interest in the topic and engaged fully. There was evidence of mutual respect between guidance counsellor and students and the sensitivity which the guidance counsellor displayed in dealing with the topic in a classroom situation is commended.
The guidance counsellor is currently reviewing some of the tests used heretofore. The use of the AH2 has been discontinued and alternatives are being considered. The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) are administered to fifth years and to the TY class. Students undertake the interest inventories which are on the Qualifax and Career Directions websites.
The guidance counsellor maintains files on all students. Files on students attending outside agencies are kept in the school secretary’s office.
Students’ initial destinations are tracked and students are invited to come back to the guidance counsellor for advice if required. Contact is also made each year with students whose achievements in the Leaving Certificate were not in line with their expectations.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
· All of the ex quota hours for guidance provided by the Department should be used for that purpose.
· A working group/committee, representative of the school community, should be established to further progress the guidance plan which should be ratified by the board of management and included in the school plan.
· The current practice of requiring students to choose optional subjects before entering the school should be reviewed. Taster modules should be provided in optional subjects to ensure that students make their subject choices based on experience, interest and aptitude.
· There should be greater balance between the guidance provision for junior and senior cycles. There should be timetabled classes for Guidance in the junior cycle.
· Some elements of the current guidance programme should be introduced earlier, for example, career investigation and the introduction to relevant websites.
· Greater access to ICT facilities for guidance purposes is required.
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the principal and guidance counsellor at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published June 2008