An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Coláiste Mhichil, Sexton Street, Limerick
Roll number: 64200R
Date of inspection: 4 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Mhichíl, Sexton Street, Limerick. 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 held discussions with the principal and guidance counsellor, viewed guidance facilities, visited a classroom, interacted with students 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.
Coláiste Mhichíl is a single sex boys’ school with a current student enrolment of 520. The school is located in Limerick city and most of its students come from the local area. It has five main feeder schools. There are fifty Newcomer students, from approximately fifteen countries, attending the school as well as six students from the Traveller community. The school caters for all levels of ability and currently there are over sixty students with special educational needs attending. Students are streamed in junior cycle. The school is included in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) scheme.
Coláiste Mhichíl receives 27.5 ex quota hours from the Department of Education and Science for Guidance. Currently only 12 of these hours are allocated to Guidance. The school has a qualified guidance counsellor who teaches a subject in addition to delivering the guidance programme. The school’s attention is drawn to Section 9 (c) of the Education Act 1998 which requires a school to use its available resources to ensure that students have access to appropriate guidance to assist them in their educational and career choices. It is recommended that with immediate effect, the hours provided for Guidance be used for that purpose.
There is a weekly timetabled class for sixth years, all other Guidance classes are borrowed and are not reflected on the timetable. The remainder of the time allocated for guidance is used to meet with students on an individual basis, mainly for educational and career guidance. The school has good contact with the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) and engages the services of a counsellor to provide personal counselling as required. The counsellor also delivers a programme in self development. There is a care team comprising the guidance counsellor, Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) teachers, the Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) teacher, and Religious Education (RE) teachers. The team meets formally every week to discuss individual cases. This is commended. Records of the meetings are kept by the HSCL teacher. Links with management are informal.
The guidance counsellor meets with each year group at least twice per term and meets individual students as required. The school’s participation in outside initiatives and programmes augments the guidance programme. It participates in the University of Limerick (UL) Access programme, in the Junior Achievement programme and in the Limerick City Based Education Initiative. In addition to the opportunities provided by participation in these initiatives, students in the school can win scholarships to higher education and bursaries throughout their second level schooling in Mathematics and Science which are provided by benefactors of Coláiste Mhichíl.
Outside speakers deal with issues such as suicide prevention and drugs awareness. Art Therapy is also provided. Referrals to the guidance counsellor are made on an informal basis and are made to outside agencies through the principal.
The facilities for Guidance are very good. There is a well appointed office with an adjacent classroom. The office is well equipped with a computer, internet access, and shelving and secure storage for files. The classroom has good shelving and is well stocked with guidance related materials. A display board for guidance notices is located in a central area of the school. Access by students to ICT for guidance purposes is limited.
There is no critical incident response policy in place but the principal reported that the development of one during this academic year is a priority for the school.
The guidance counsellor has commenced the development of a guidance plan. All work on the plan to date has been undertaken by the guidance counsellor only. It is recommended that a working group/committee be established to develop the plan which should form part of the whole school plan. In addition to the guidance counsellor, other members of staff, representatives of parents, students and relevant sections of the community should become members of the committee. It is recommended that in the course of the development of the plan the following documents be consulted; 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 of the Department, 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 participates in an open night for prospective students held in October each year. This is followed by an assessment day which is held when applications for places have been received by the school. Students are assigned to classes based on the results of a number of tests administered by the guidance counsellor on the assessment day. It is recommended that this practice be reviewed. Research evidence indicates that students develop holistically from assignment to mixed ability classes. Students choose their optional subjects before they enter first year but the school reports it is flexible and facilitates students as much as possible if they wish to change their subjects in first year. It is recommended that the school consider providing taster modules in all of the optional subjects during first year so that students can make their choices based on knowledge and experience of all available subjects. It is recommended that students and their parents be referred to the module on the Qualifax website which provides comprehensive information on the long term implications of subject choice in junior cycle.
The guidance counsellor meets with first years twice each term. The role of the guidance counsellor is explained and topics such as homework, study, subject choice and the importance of this for subsequent educational and career choices.
Second year students receive at least two classes of guidance per term. The topics covered include; study skills, motivation, identification of personal goals and planning for the future.
Third year students receive at least three classes of guidance per term. The guidance programme for third years includes an introduction to career websites, - Qualifax and Career Directions. There is an emphasis on programme and subject choice for senior cycle. Students undertake a Career Inventory. Information about third level institutions, colleges of further education and apprenticeships is provided.
None of the Guidance classes in junior cycle are timetabled but are facilitated by subject teachers.
Transition Year (TY) students receive one class of guidance per week. This class is not timetabled and is facilitated by subject teachers. The programme implemented in TY is comprehensive and builds on the programme undertaken in the junior cycle. Students are prepared for work experience and undertake an in-depth career investigation. They attend career events, college open days and attend career talks given by guest speakers to the school.
Classes for fifth year students are also facilitated by subject teachers. The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) class is linked to a local business which introduces the students to the world of work. Students undertake one in-depth career investigation and at least two other investigations. They attend career events and college open days and are provided with information about the Central Applications Office (CAO) system, Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses, apprenticeships and other training opportunities.
The sixth year programme builds on the work of previous years. In addition, students undertake the Differential Aptitude Tests (DATS) and interests inventories, prepare CVs, make applications to the CAO, colleges of further education, apprenticeships and training bodies. They are also provided with information on grants and finance available for higher education or further study. All sixth year students are met individually at least once during the year for educational and career guidance.
The programme which is currently being delivered in classes to each year group forms a good basis for a comprehensive, developmental overall guidance programme. Some aspects of it should be introduced earlier, such as an introduction to the world of work, career investigation, introduction to Qualifax and other career websites. The aspects of guidance which overlap with the SPHE curriculum should be planned in collaboration with the SPHE teachers and linked to the guidance programme. Pages 9 and 10 of the Department’s guidelines list some of the overlapping aspects of SPHE and Guidance. It is essential that students are provided with timetabled classes from first year to ensure that they receive a developmental guidance programme. This will also provide the guidance counsellor with a structured framework in which to deliver the planned guidance programme to every year group.
The school has a parents’ council and the principal and deputy principal attend its meetings. While the council supports a number of the school’s activities it has no direct role in the guidance programme. It is recommended that parents be encouraged to play an active role in the guidance programme and should be represented on the guidance planning group/committee. Parents can also contribute by helping to organise career events in the school and by making presentations or providing information about their own careers.
The school has well established links with the wider community including NEPS, third level institutions, training agencies, colleges of further education, businesses and Youthreach. This is commended.
The guidance counsellor does not attend the meetings of the local branch of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) nor personal supervision (professional support for counselling) provided through the IGC.
Two classes were observed during the visit, a sixth year and a TY class. The focus of the sixth year class was on third level choices and decisions to be made in preparation for leaving school. From the content of the lesson and the method of delivery, it was difficult to ascertain whether all of the students aimed to go to higher level education or what were their areas of interest. All parts of the lesson, including all of the courses covered, were directed at all students. It would have been more appropriate to divide the students into groups based on their interests and plans and to provide the information that was relevant for the members of each group. The lesson included an overview of the CAO application system which is relevant only to those students who intend to apply to the CAO. The overhead projector was used during the lesson but it was very difficult to read the overheads which were in manuscript.
Questioning and discussion were limited throughout and while some students engaged in the class, many did not. The final part of the class dealt with motivation but a negative approach was adopted with a concentration on the negative outcomes of lack of motivation rather than on the positive outcomes of motivation.
While it would appear that this was a revision class, it was not clear how much work had already been completed by the students in relation to their third level, further education or training choices. Much of the content of the class could have been completed by the students themselves using ICT or the relevant prospectuses, directories and materials which were readily available in the classroom. Students should be assisted to develop self management skills which should include independent research and investigation. In order to facilitate this approach, students should have access to ICT and it is recommended that computers with internet access be installed in the guidance classroom or that students have adequate access to the ICT facilities in the school for guidance purposes.
The TY students had been to a careers exhibition and were required to provide feedback on the event. The students were highly motivated and most had researched their areas of interest at the event. There was excellent engagement and the maturity of the students was impressive. The class could have been more effective if every student was firstly required to complete an assignment, perhaps in the form of completing a questionnaire, on the value of the event for him and the learning outcomes of the day. This would ensure that every student was facilitated to get the maximum value from attending the event. The discussion could have followed the evaluation exercise.
The following tests are administered to the incoming first years: Otis Lennon Mental Ability Test, Cloze Reading Test and a Mathematics test. The results of these tests are used to assign students to classes. It is recommended that this practice be reviewed and that tests be used only to determine the learning needs of students and as a guide to ascertain their achievements to date. It is also recommended that the revised list of tests, which is available on the Department’s website, be consulted.
The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATS) are administered to sixth years and the results are fed back to the students in the course of the individual interview. It is recommended that these tests be administered earlier, either in third year or TY, as an awareness of their aptitudes can assist students in the course of making subject choices for the Leaving Certificate and during career research and investigation.
The Rothwell Millar Interest Blank and Career Inventory are administered to third and sixth years.
The guidance counsellor maintains files on all fifth and sixth years. These include records of examination results. Files on all students are maintained in the main office. Records of the care team meetings are held by the HSCL teacher.
A record of students’ initial destinations after leaving school is held by the guidance counsellor who obtains the information by phoning students.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· Coláiste Mhichíl provides its students with a caring environment.
· The school strives to motivate students to maximise their potential.
· A good basis for the development of a school guidance plan has been established.
· Facilities for Guidance are very good and with the addition of ICT for students would be excellent.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· All of the ex quota hours provided by the Department for Guidance should be used for that purpose. This recommendation should be implemented immediately.
· A working group/committee should be established to support the development of the guidance plan. The group/committee should include the guidance counsellor, representatives of the staff, parents, students and relevant sections of the community. The plan should form part of the whole school plan.
· The critical incident response policy should be progressed in the current year as planned.
· Guidance classes should be available for students in all years and should be recorded on the timetable.
· There should be a formal referral system for individual counselling. This could be developed in collaboration with the year heads.
· Much of the information about courses, careers, training, colleges and organisations is available on the internet. Students should therefore have access to ICT facilities in order to access this information. It is recommended that adequate access be made available.
· There should be collaboration between the guidance counsellor and the SPHE teachers in the planning and delivery of the overlapping aspects of both areas.
· The current practices of streaming and choosing optional subjects prior to entering first year should be reviewed.
· The guidance counsellor should be facilitated to attend continuous professional development (CPD) events.
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.