An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Skerries Community College
Skerries, County Dublin
Roll number: 76078Q
Date of inspection: 28 September 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 Skerries Community College 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 two days during which the inspector visited classrooms, viewed guidance facilities, interacted with students, held discussions with the principal, with the guidance counsellor, with the counsellor and with the chaplain. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, the guidance counsellor and the counsellor.
Skerries Community College, operating under the trusteeship of the County Dublin Vocational Education Committee (VEC), is the only post-primary school in the town. The school caters for students from diverse, mainly urban, backgrounds. Currently there is an enrolment of 920 girls and boys.
The guidance department in Skerries Community College comprises a fully qualified guidance counsellor and another full-time member of staff who is a qualified counsellor. Based on its enrolment of 920 students, Skerries Community College is entitled to an ex-quota allocation of thirty-six hours per week for Guidance from the Department of Education and Science. However, the principal reports that the current-year allocation received from Co. Dublin Vocational Education Committee (VEC) is thirty-three hours. This shortfall in the school’s ex-quota allocation for guidance should be addressed as soon as possible. The guidance counsellor delivers twenty-two hours of the guidance provision in the school. One-to-one and group counselling around personal issues is viewed by management as being very important and the school allocates the remaining eleven hours as well as some additional hours from the general teacher allocation to the qualified counsellor to work with students. The counsellor also co-ordinates the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme and the peer mentoring programme in the school. Given the numbers enrolled in the school and the requirements of Section 9 (c) of the Education Act 1998 which obliges schools to ‘ensure that students have access to appropriate guidance to assist them in their educational and career choices’, it is recommended that management reviews the balance in provision between career and educational guidance and personal counselling.
There are excellent facilities for Guidance in the form of two offices, one for the guidance counsellor and one for the counsellor, with broadband access, phone, shelving and storage. The guidance office also houses a well-stocked careers library. Three notice boards beside the guidance office are regularly updated to provide guidance-related information for students. There is a display area outside the office for leaflets and brochures. The school library is being developed at present and it will have a careers section.
Currently the school’s guidance programme is targeted primarily in senior cycle and in third year. Guidance classes are timetabled in Leaving Certificate year and the guidance counsellor borrows lesson periods from colleagues to deliver a guidance module in third year. Personal support and counselling are available throughout all year groups as need arises. Generally the guidance counsellor works with third, fifth and sixth year groups and the counsellor offers counselling to junior cycle and Transition Year (TY) students. However students may choose which counsellor to approach for personal counselling, thus allowing for continuity up through the years in school. As there is no formal guidance provision timetabled in junior cycle, in TY nor in fifth year it is recommended that the school reviews the current arrangements in order to ensure the optimum use and the most equitable deployment of the guidance resource across the total student population.
There are good information and communications technology (ICT) facilities in the school. However due to timetabling arrangements access to the computer room for guidance classes is limited. It is recommended that, when the school is reviewing the timetabling arrangements for guidance delivery, access to the school’s ICT facilities, including rooms with data projector, for guidance be given particular consideration. The library, when completed, will have a small number of computers, it is suggested that the school explores ways of providing independent access to these facilities for students to encourage individual research.
Commendably a student care team, consisting of senior management, chaplain, counsellor, learning support co-ordinator and attendance monitor teacher operates in the school. Currently the guidance counsellor is not a member of the team but has access to minutes and is fully briefed by the principal. It is recommended that regular meetings of the care team take place and be timetabled in order to facilitate the attendance of the guidance counsellor. The establishment of the Rainbows programme to support students is planned for next year.
Students are referred to the guidance counsellor or to the counsellor by senior management, year heads and individual members of staff. Currently all referrals are made verbally. In the course of guidance planning it is suggested that a referral form be devised for use by staff. Parents contact the school to refer students for extra support. Students may also self-refer. Referrals to outside agencies are effected through the office of the principal in consultation with parents.
Links between the guidance department and senior management are maintained through monthly meetings that take place separately with the guidance counsellor and with the counsellor. The attendance of both members of the guidance department at the one monthly meeting with the principal is recommended as this will facilitate a more structured and collaborative approach to the transfer of information, the support of students and the planning of guidance events and activities. Weekly meetings take place between the year heads and the principal and occasionally the guidance counsellor and/or the counsellor are invited to attend.
It is commendable that a critical incident response team has been established in Skerries Community College and that the school is formulating a critical incident response plan. In preparing the final draft of the policy document it is recommended that the school networks with other local guidance counsellors as such collaboration will provide additional support and assist all participants.
While there is no specific budget for the guidance department resources are provided as required.
Guidance planning has been initiated in the school in that both the guidance counsellor and the counsellor have completed a detailed account of current provision and a guidance policy has been drafted by the guidance counsellor. However collaborative planning is essential and, therefore, it is recommended that the school establishes a sub-committee to progress the guidance planning process. Given the current resources available and the need to provide guidance across the total student population the school needs to determine priorities.
Information to support this work on planning is available in publications such as Planning the School Guidance Programme, issued by the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE), Guidelines for Second Level Schools on the Implications of Section 9 (c) of the Education Act, relating to students’ access to appropriate guidance, published by the Department of Education and Science and the Department’s template for guidance planning, available on www.education.ie. Cross-curricular planning between the guidance department and other subject and programme areas such as learning support, SPHE and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) would enhance the planning activities. It is also recommended that input from the student council, parents and from representatives of the local business community be sought. A student needs analysis would also inform the planning process. As the school provides considerable access to personal counselling the development of a counselling policy is recommended as part of the guidance plan.
Skerries Community College has a transition programme in place for incoming first year students. The counsellor liaises closely with the co-ordinator of the programme and prospective students and their parents are shown around the school by the senior management team. The school hosts an information session for parents of incoming students. It is recommended that a guidance input on the import of subject and level choice be included in this session. In this regard parents could also be directed to the information about subject choice available on www.qualifax.ie. Students choose their subjects before entering first year. It is recommended that the school explores the possibility of providing sample/taster classes as this approach would assist students to make more informed choices. Students are welcome to arrange an appointment with the guidance counsellor to discuss any concern regarding subject choice when they come into first year.
On the first day of term the roles of key support personnel are explained and students meet with their tutors and their mentors. The counsellor co-ordinates the mentoring programme through which groups of five first year students are linked to a mentor from TY or fifth year. A welcome booklet has been designed with information for first year students. As there is no mention of Guidance in the current edition it is recommended that a paragraph on the guidance department be included. Commendably each first year student and all new students are offered an individual interview with the counsellor as part of the settling-in process.
In second year individual interviews are offered to students on request, as need arises. Group work is provided for a small group of second year students by the counsellor in collaboration with the psychologists from the VEC Psychological Services. The guidance counsellor is very involved in the process of subject choice and in the absence of timetabled access, borrows class groups in third year to introduce and administer the Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) and explain subject and programme choice for senior cycle. Skerries Community College offers a very wide choice of subjects in senior cycle. However this year subjects were organised into bands with students choosing from pre-arranged bands. It is recommended that the school ensures that the new arrangements do not limit subject choices for students and that all students are enabled to consider all subject options.
Commendably the guidance counsellor organises an information session for students and parents on subject and programme choice for senior cycle. Students are then given four handouts by the guidance counsellor containing information on what the DATs measure, a chart of essential subjects for various courses, results of their aptitude tests and a copy of a PowerPoint presentation on subject choice for senior cycle. Individual appointments are scheduled for all third year students and parents are welcome to meet with the guidance counsellor to discuss options. The guidance department, in collaboration with parents, works with students considering early school leaving. Students are encouraged to remain in school and individual appointments are offered.
The Transition Year programme is optional in Skerries Community College and currently three class groups are taking the programme. Guidance is not offered in TY. However the guidance counsellor visits classes to provide handouts on subject choice and to offer individual appointments. In the course of school development planning it is recommended that the school considers the introduction of a guidance module in the Transition Year programme.
Guidance classes are not timetabled in fifth year. However the guidance counsellor provides individual appointments to students who wish to discuss subject choice or to provide personal counselling. The guidance counsellor liaises closely with the co-ordinator of LCVP and students visit the guidance counsellor for information while preparing the career investigation section of the link modules. Weekly guidance classes are timetabled for each sixth year group and a minimum of three individual appointments are offered to each student. Given the time demand this entails it is recommended that the school reviews the current timetabling arrangements to ensure that the available guidance resource is equitably distributed among students and guidance classes are introduced earlier than the Leaving Certificate year.
Information is provided in sixth year on a wide range of career options and students are prepared for application to CAO, UCAS, post-Leaving Certificate (PLCs) courses and for application to training courses. While the guidance counsellor arranges a visit to the Higher Options Conference for sixth year students, attendance at other specific career events is organised by the students themselves. While this can assist the development of self-management skills it is recommended that the school, in collaboration with parents and students, develops a policy on student attendance at career events. The guidance counsellor organises a study skills seminar for sixth year students who wish to attend.
Students are encouraged to identify their strengths and talents. Excellent handouts with relevant graphics, lists of website addresses, notes and aids for CV and interview preparation are provided also by the guidance counsellor as support for Leaving Certificate students. An information session for parents of Leaving Certificate students is organised by the guidance counsellor to assist with college and training applications. During the two weeks following the issuing of the Leaving Certificate results in August the guidance counsellor operates a helpline for students and their parents and also contacts individual students regarding results and career plans. This level of commitment to students and their parents is acknowledged and commended.
Parents are encouraged and welcomed to contact the guidance department as required. When students present for counselling support, the counsellor meets with parents prior to deciding the form of counselling intervention to offer. Commendably the school liaises with a range of outside agencies and organisations to provide information and support for students and parents.
Both guidance counsellor and counsellor are committed to continuous professional development and are members of the relevant professional bodies. The school facilitates attendance at local and national in-service, relevant guidance and training events. The guidance counsellor is a qualified counselling supervisor and provides group professional development sessions for fellow guidance counsellors. The guidance counsellor and the counsellor attend individual professional sessions to support their counselling work in the school.
In the course of the evaluation two sixth year guidance classes were visited. The lessons were well prepared and structured and the content was appropriate to both groups. However, given that this is the first time that guidance has been timetabled for sixth year classes, it is recommended that the school reviews delivery arrangements so that guidance classes are provided to students earlier in their school career.
A variety of methodologies was evident during the lessons, for example, use of the CAO handbook, questions and answers, overhead projector, feedback from students on a visit to an Institute of Technology. Good links were made with previous lessons and continuity was maintained by reference to the next lessons.
A friendly and relaxed class atmosphere and good working relationships were evident. Good rapport and mutual respect were evident between the guidance counsellor and students. Commendably students were positively affirmed and encouraged. The good practice of recording student attendance was noted.
Testing in Skerries Community College is conducted primarily for diagnostic purposes and to assist students to identify their strengths. The counsellor administers the AH2/3 tests and the Gap Reading Test to incoming students prior to entry. Results are used, in conjunction with information received from the primary schools, to form classes and to identify students in need of extra support. Since the AH2/3 do not have Irish norms and have not been updated in recent times it is recommended that the school reviews the use of these tests. In this regard the school should refer to the Circular Letter 0099/2007 and the accompanying information regarding tests on the Department website (www.education.ie). It is also recommended that the school ensures that all psychometric testing is carried out by staff members who have completed appropriate training.
Third year students complete the DATs to assist with subject choice for senior cycle. Sixth year students complete the DATs to assist with course and career choices. There is ongoing collaboration between the guidance and special educational needs departments regarding the results of tests. The Porteus and the Mooney Problem Checklist are used with junior cycle students to identify students in need of extra support.
Interest inventories used include the Rothwell Miller Interest Blank, the MUASIC and the inventories available on the QualifaX, Career Directions and UCAS websites. During the course of school development planning the school should consider the formulation of a testing policy to include the purpose of testing, the instruments used, the person(s) charged with administering specific tests, the person(s) who will have access to results and the procedures for communicating these results to students and parents.
Tracking of Leaving Certificate students is done by the guidance counsellor and lists were provided to the inspector. In-depth surveys have been carried out by the guidance counsellor and detailed analysis completed on uptake of CAO offers. An analysis of points obtained vis-à-vis national norms is also completed as well as comparisons of TY and non-TY students and on a gender basis. Past students are welcomed to return to school or to meet with the guidance counsellor for further information and support.
Both the counsellor and the guidance counsellor record and maintain notes and individual files for students. Commendably appointment cards have been devised for student use and to inform teachers.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There are excellent facilities for Guidance in Skerries Community College and a well established guidance service operates in the school.
· The school invests resources from its general teacher allocation in providing one-to-one and group counselling support to students.
· Guidance planning has just been initiated in the school.
· There is a good sense of care for students in the school.
· Work is ongoing on the school’s critical incident response plan.
· In collaboration with the primary schools a transfer from primary school programme is in place.
· Excellent handouts and aids to support students are prepared by the guidance counsellor
· A helpline is provided by the guidance counsellor for students and parents after the Leaving Certificate results are issued.
· A friendly relaxed atmosphere with good rapport and mutual respect was observed between the guidance counsellor and the students during the lessons visited.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
· It is essential to have a collaborative approach to guidance planning and therefore it is recommended that the school establishes a sub-committee to progress the planning process.
· It is recommended that the school reviews the current delivery arrangements for Guidance and the balance in provision between career and educational guidance and personal counselling across the total student population in order to ensure the best possible and most equitable deployment of resources.
· The school should review access to ICT facilities to support guidance delivery.
· A guidance input for first year parents regarding the import of subject and level choice is recommended as students decide their options for junior cycle.
· It is recommended that the transition from primary school programme be extended to include subject sampling/taster classes.
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the principal, the guidance counsellor and counsellor at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.