An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Presentation Secondary School
Roll number: 64970U
Date of inspection: 14 May 2009
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Presentation Secondary School, Waterford. 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 and guidance counsellors. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Guidance provision at the Presentation Secondary School in Waterford is of very high quality and encompasses personal, educational and vocational guidance. Located in the western suburbs of the city, the school caters for nearly four hundred girls, most of whom have completed their primary education in a small number of local schools. Enrolment is now relatively stable and projections by senior management show a rise beginning in September 2010 when enrolment will be again over four hundred students. The school is a participant in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) action plan and was a successful applicant for the Guidance Enhancement Initiative (GEI).
The ex-quota allocation for Guidance by the Department of Education and Science is based on enrolment and is currently twenty-four hours per week. It illustrates the value placed on Guidance by the school that eleven further hours are allocated to Guidance from its own resources. The leadership of senior management in arranging this allocation is vindicated by the highly effective use of the allocation by the guidance department.
Two guidance counsellors are employed whose effective and complementary roles attest to the value of good relationships in a school. This is demonstrated by the network of supports and communication in the interests of students, both within the school and with outside agencies. A student-support team meets weekly. The guidance department is represented in visits to primary schools as part of the programme of induction. A whole-school guidance planning team representing a wide range of staff is active and there are ongoing and productive links with, for example, the institutions of further and higher education and training are ongoing and productive; such links are of particular importance in a school in which many students are the first generation of their families to attend courses of higher education.
Collaborative work within the school is ongoing and comprehensive and is firmly focused on the identified needs of students. Good practice in this regard includes annual evaluations by students of the guidance programme, the results of which are used to inform guidance planning. Similarly, the student support team is representative of a wide range of staff, including those involved in home-school-community liaison (HSCL), the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), attendance, and those employed as special needs assistants (SNAs). It is suggested that, in view of recent changes in the special educational needs department, this would be an appropriate time to include a representative of that department in the team, if practicable.
Timetable provision for Guidance is comprehensive, consisting of formally timetabled lessons each week with all senior-cycle classes and planned intermittent contacts with all other classes. In addition, close collaboration with, for example, the SPHE and RE departments ensures that the curricular components of those subjects which are common with Guidance are implemented as an integrated programme, in keeping with the curricular framework for Guidance proposed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) in its 2007 document, A Curricular Framework for Guidance in Post-primary Education. Guidance department involvement in the transition from primary school to post-primary school is considerable and adds to the developmental nature of the whole-school guidance programme. In this regard, it is also significant that one of the priorities identified in planning is a review and development of the induction programme for incoming students. The participation of the HSCL co-ordinator in this process ensures that the needs of parents are identified and catered for.
A balance has been achieved by the guidance department between work with class groups, work with individual students and collaborative work with staff. The resources and competencies appropriate to the provision of the guidance service are recognised by the guidance department whose personal counselling interventions are reported by the department to be brief and solution-focused. This is appropriate and is complemented by a range of external agents to whom students may be referred for more specialist interventions.
The department is well provided with facilities for Guidance. Each guidance counsellor has a personalised space from which to operate. These rooms are suited to the needs of a guidance counsellor and are equipped with the requisite office and electronic technology. The needs of students are clearly in mind in the provision of a comfortable waiting area that is bright, well decorated, and flexible enough to accommodate small groups. Wall space throughout the school is used effectively for the display of a wide variety of guidance-related information.
Communication is ongoing between the guidance department and other staff, and is an efficient combination of continual informal and very well structured formal meetings. The direct involvement of senior management in this process is open and transparent, and facilitates a reciprocal approach to the identification of the needs of students, to student support in general, and to guidance inputs into policy decisions and planning. Referrals are managed in the same spirit of collaboration. A standard, structured system of referrals to the guidance department operates effectively and is enhanced by the availability of a female and a male guidance counsellor. Referrals to external agencies are managed collaboratively by the guidance department, special educational needs department and senior management.
It is clear that the good practice referred to throughout this report is a result of, and a stimulus to, well-structured and documented planning processes. Both guidance department planning and whole-school guidance planning are of a very high quality and are characterised by emphasis on a process that incorporates review and evaluation in addition to the formation and implementation of plans. This is very good practice that is in keeping with the structure suggested by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). It is also a notable reflection of the value added to the personal skills of the guidance department by its participation in the modular guidance-planning course managed by the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE).
The practices of the school exemplify most of the elements of good practice identified by the Inspectorate in Looking at Guidance, published in April 2009. Where there are differences, they have been identified and, despite the recency of the report, have been discussed with a view to constructive change. The attitude to improvement in the guidance department is a healthy mix of confidence in its ability to deliver and openness to evaluation and new ideas. This is highly commended.
Both the guidance-department plan and the whole-school guidance plan show clearly that the outcomes of the process include a comprehensive programme of Guidance that is inclusive, and integrative. It is also clear that the needs of parents and students have been addressed, especially through the channels of HSCL and the student council, and that the co-operation of external agencies is effectively harnessed in the interests of students.
Continuing professional development is a key component of the effectiveness of the department. It is an ongoing consideration within whole-school guidance planning.
The two lessons observed in the course of the inspection showed creativity and expertise. Within the sixth-year group, classes have been timetabled for the same period each week. This has enabled a flexible approach to the division of the groups and has facilitated the use of the time slot to accommodate visiting speakers. This concurrent timing of lessons was used very effectively in one of the cases observed where the lesson was jointly conducted by both guidance counsellors, partly as a celebration of the transition from sixth year, and, partly, to present the results of an annual evaluation by students of guidance provision. Such an evaluation is highly commended. In another lesson, a recapitulation and synthesis was made of issues covered in previous lessons regarding the preparation of a career portfolio to be completed in September 2009.
Effective use was made of a data projector throughout both lessons. The atmosphere was relaxed but attentive and showed the value of the use of humour and of some light-hearted self-deprecation in engaging students, and in creating an atmosphere conducive to the transmission of ideas. This was especially apparent during a brief slide show. This showed images of staff and students in guidance-related events in the course of their schooling. Information that was presented was accurate and comprehensive and, in one case, included references to previous lessons, the Junior Certificate examination, the use of emails and to courses provided at a local post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) college. Supplementary materials of a high quality were presented to students in both lessons. These included a copy of the slides used in the presentations and a prepared pack of useful information for those leaving school. A commendably personalised approach was noted throughout. Questions were addressed to named students and to the group as a whole. An appropriate selection of higher-order questions was included. Students responded well to questions and sought clarification when needed.
Psychometric testing by the guidance department is in accordance with best practice. Tests of ability, literacy and numeracy are used as part of the induction process. The results are used to ensure that first-year classes are of mixed ability, for monitoring students’ progress and in the clarification of students’ subject, level, programme and career choices. Tests used are appropriate to the tasks. A test of ability, for example, administered in the spring prior to entry, has been standardised for use in Ireland, as has an aptitude test used in the course of the Transition Year (TY) programme. Collaboration between the guidance department and the special educational needs department provides continuity in the testing and monitoring processes. Further diagnostic testing is carried out by the special educational needs department with students whose results during the induction process indicate a potential to benefit from additional intervention. At a more senior level, and especially during timetabled guidance lessons, use is made of questionnaires and interest inventories, both paper based and on websites such as Qualifax, Career Directions and Careers Portal.
Record keeping, including the minuting of planning meetings and the recording of meetings with students is excellent.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
The quality of guidance provision and planning in the school is of such a high standard that, apart from some minor suggestions made in the body of this report, no further recommendations are warranted.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the guidance counsellors and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, December 2009