An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Coláiste Pobail Naomh Mhuire
Cill na Mullach, County Cork
Roll number: 76067L
Date of inspection: 22 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Pobail Naomh Mhuire. 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 team. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Coláiste Pobail Naomh Mhuire has been a designated community college in the scheme of the Cork County Vocational Education Committee (VEC) since 1997. It became a co-educational school under the trusteeship of the Mercy Congregation in the 1980s on the amalgamation of the Mercy girls’ school and the boys’ school that had been run under unitary management. In the current year, enrolment exceeds two hundred students for the first time. Most students are from a rural background, having progressed through primary education in seven main feeder schools. It is reported by senior management that the community is very supportive of the school. It is noted here that the formal and informal support systems are of high quality and that there exists a commendable climate of self-review and commitment to good practice. Proposals are in place to relocate the school to a greenfield site close to the town. Although the buildings that accommodate the school are somewhat scattered, they are maintained to a high standard of decoration and cleanliness. The school participates in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) initiative into which is incorporated the School Completion Programme (SCP) and Home-School-Community Liaison scheme. A project worker has been recently appointed under the SCP and the school is currently engaged in target-setting for the programme.
The school is in a very favourable position with regard to the development of Guidance. The principal has been recently appointed; the guidance counsellor is newly qualified and has been a teacher at the school for a number of years; an effective home-school-community liaison co-ordinator has been appointed and the commitment to the support of students and their families is high. The school chaplain is an active member of staff as well as having parochial duties and is a significant member of the pastoral-care team, with a keen interest in upholding the core values of the school as a caring school in the Catholic tradition. The school’s holistic approach to Guidance is in keeping with the Guidelines for Second-Level Schools on the Implications of Section 9(c) of the Education Act 1998, Relating to Students' Access to Appropriate Guidance (2006), published by the Department of Education and Science. There is clear evidence of collaborative practice among staff and documentation observed in the course of the inspection was excellent.
The ex-quota allocation for Guidance is eleven hours, comprising the normal allocation of eight hours for a school of its size, and three hours as a participant in the DEIS initiative. The allocation will probably remain at eleven hours for the near future in accordance with Circular PPT12/05. The full allocation is not currently being used and it is recommended that this be addressed as a matter of priority.
Guidance is provided as an integrated programme, incorporating curricular elements and the service elements delivered by the guidance counsellor. The curricular elements of the programme are provided by a range of subject teachers, including the guidance counsellor, those who teach Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Religious Education (RE) and those involved in the implementation of programmes such as the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), Transition Year (TY) and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). The programme is well balanced between the junior and senior cycles, and the guidance counsellor’s time, although limited, is well dispersed between formally timetabled class contact, planned intermittent contacts with classes and in the delivery of the guidance service through work with individual students and with groups.
An office is provided for this work and the facilities include a computer with broadband internet access, a telephone and appropriate storage facilities. Access to information and communications technology (ICT) is reported by staff to be good, both for individual work with students and for group access to online information.
Communication with senior management is good. Continuous informal communication is the normal means by which information is transmitted. It is a commendable feature of communication in the school that appropriate formality is observed in the keeping of records. Documentation in relation to planning and policy issues, of meetings of staff, such as weekly meetings between class teachers and senior management, and of meetings with students, is of a high standard. This facilitates clarity in the process of management of students at risk and in the referral of students to outside agencies, normally managed by the principal and deputy principal in collaboration with the appropriate specialist staff member. It is desirable that, within the bounds of confidentiality, core members of the student-support team be kept abreast of contacts with, for example, the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), to enable integrated responses to the needs of students. In this regard, it is recommended that the core student-support team include the special educational needs co-ordinator. The guidance counsellor has established a clear system for the management of referrals within the school. These processes are commended.
The school is highly commended for its clear commitment to whole-school planning. The principal and guidance counsellor have recently attended the initial session of the modular diploma course in whole-school guidance planning managed by the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE). The school has also engaged with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). The existence of a guidance planning task group comprising the guidance counsellor, principal, the chaplain and the co-ordinators of special educational needs, home-school community liaison (HSCL) the JCSP, SPHE and three other staff members is a strong indicator of an integrated approach to Guidance and to student support in general. The participation of those with core student-support functions in the planning process is commended as an example of good practice.
The documentation of processes and plans is excellent and shows appropriate balance in the guidance programme between students in all year groups and at all levels in the school. The inclusion in the programme of elements of SPHE, JCSP and other subjects and initiatives is in keeping with proposals made by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) in its Draft Guidance Framework published in 2007. The overlapping functions of those involved in Guidance, chaplaincy, and in catering for the additional educational needs of students are well outlined. It may be predicted with confidence that, given the planning structures in place, both the planning and support processes will be well managed and that the outcome will be an efficient, collaborative and integrated system of supports for students.
School systems are enhanced by staff familiarity with, and involvement in, the wider community. The support of the community for programmes such as work experience for TY and LCVP students is acknowledged by senior management. It is clear from documents seen in the course of the inspection that planning for the involvement of other external agencies, such as the institutions of further and higher education and training, is ongoing and effective.
Regular contact is maintained with parents throughout the process and the appointment, in September 2007, of a full-time home-school-community liaison co-ordinator facilitates the holistic approach to the support of students that is a feature of the school. An induction programme for incoming students has been devised and it is anticipated that the recent appointment of a project worker under the School Completion Programme will further enhance the current collaborative practice of staff in this regard. It is an interesting feature of the induction that parents are invited to the school in the early stages of first year to engage with teachers and to aid staff in planning for additional student needs.
Contacts with feeder primary schools and with parents are regular and planned, especially in relation to the induction of new students. The schools are visited during the term prior to entry by the guidance counsellor and other teachers. An innovative feature of these visits is the use of an almost entirely visual presentation which shows the day-to-day activities of the school in photographic form. An open night is arranged in February each year and the principal and deputy principal meet new students individually, with their parents, in May prior to entry. First-year students are introduced during induction to the Buddy system whereby TY students act as mentors to their younger schoolmates. The involvement of students in the process is commended, as is the decision by the school to access training in this important area through the Cloyne Diocesan Youth Service.
Current planning priorities include the clarification of the roles of the class teacher, a post equivalent to that of year head in larger schools, and the completion of the arrangements for, and documentation of, the school’s response in the case of a critical incident. It is recommended that this be ratified as soon as is practicable. Other priorities include strategies for involving parents in the implementation of policies such as the homework policy and the anti-bullying policy, and subject teachers’ role in aiding students’ subject choice. Such plans are commended in that they encourage collaborative practice and help to broaden the concept of Guidance to a whole-school level. Documents seen in the course of the inspection, including a draft policy on record-keeping, indicate that the process of policy review is undertaken with a high degree of consultation with parents, staff and students. In the course of a recent review of the school’s code of discipline, for example, a questionnaire was used to elicit the responses of the three groups to aspects of the policy. This is good practice.
The school encourages and facilitates continuing professional development. The decision by the VEC to fund the participation of a member of staff in postgraduate professional guidance training is highly commended. Similarly commended is the school’s ongoing participation in experiential training in whole-school guidance planning.
One lesson was observed in the course of the inspection. A first-year class was being prepared for decisions regarding the subjects to be selected for the Junior Certificate examination. The lesson was one of a planned series during which students were guided to seek, obtain and examine information about the personal, educational and career implications of subject choice. During the lesson observed, it was clear that students had engaged well with the topic and had, as directed, accessed internet-based information and had sought information from parents and other adults about their areas of interest.
The lesson was well planned and had a clear focus on the topic. The aims of the lesson were stated at the outset following a roll call and some informal checking as students settled. The music room, used for the lesson, was decorated with pleasing displays of posters, notices and musical instruments. Students appeared to be comfortable and responded well to direction and to questions. Student management was unobtrusive and natural, aided by the use of first names and by a clear plan for the lesson. It was clear from their impressive responses that some students had researched thoroughly their areas of interest and had, even at so early a stage, the capacity to present their findings with confidence and coherence. The extensive use of higher-order questions is commended and students showed by their considered responses the efficacy of such questions in the context of Guidance, particularly where issues of personal interest, talent and ability are being explored.
The school’s assessment plan and policy is in the process of development following the new appointments in management and Guidance. It is proposed by staff that current assessment practice be incorporated into a new plan that will involve collaboration between the guidance and special educational needs departments and the inclusion of management and other staff in the process. Current practice involves visits by the special educational needs co-ordinator to feeder primary schools in May with a view to continuity of provision to identified students. All incoming students are assessed for literacy and numeracy in the process of induction and further diagnostic testing is carried out by the special educational needs department to elucidate the additional needs of students identified in the process.
It is proposed by staff that further formal assessment is to be carried out during TY by the administration of an aptitude test. The guidance programme at senior level includes reference to the use of interest inventories and web-based resources such as Qualifax and Career Directions. These comprehensive and current sources of information are highly regarded and their use is commended.
It is noted that the school’s assessment practices include assessments of students’ progress in all subjects at approximately five-weekly intervals. This is followed by formal reporting to parents and is commended as another example of good practice.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the guidance team and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, March 2009