An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Mullingar, County Westmeath
Roll number: 63290Q
Date of inspection: 25 and 26 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto College Mullingar, 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 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 of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Loreto College operates as a caring school and aims to provide for the educational and personal needs of all students. A range of educational and personal supports are being provided. Guidance is viewed as a valuable support for students making transitions and planning future progressions. The school currently has an allocation of thirty one hours for Guidance. Two guidance counsellors make up the guidance team and deliver Guidance through one-to-one sessions with students and timetabled classes. Guidance in junior cycle is delivered through the Social Personal Health Education (SPHE) programme. Students in senior cycle have timetabled classes for Guidance, meet in small group sessions and have one-to-one interviews with the guidance team. All students have access to counselling and can self refer for individual support from the guidance team. In addition, those requiring more long term personal counselling support are referred for private counselling by the school.
Each of the guidance team has an office and in addition a large room is provided to function as a careers’ library and resource area for Guidance on the first floor. This room can accommodate meetings between the guidance team with small groups or with individual students. However, this room presently has no access to Broadband and only one computer for use with students. The school staff reported that it is planned to have extra computers with Broadband access installed in this school year. To improve access for students to information on careers and college courses and encourage engagement in independent research, it is recommended that the career library’s facilities should be upgraded. It should be resourced to contain a number of computers connected to World Wide Web and a printer. Ideally, as the school is now in a growth phase with almost eight hundred students, some consideration should be given to relocating the present careers’ library to a part of the building that would provide better accessibility for students and parents. Ideally, the school should consider in future planning the creation of a dedicated guidance suite with good Information Communications Technology (ICT), information materials and display facilities for college notices and career events.
Parents of students enrolling in the school attend a parents’ night to become familiar with the school. To further improve this event and provide an opportunity to explain the role of Guidance to parents and the range of other supports that are provided, it is suggested that this open-evening should include a short assembly for parents before they tour the school building. This approach would facilitate introducing the guidance team and other staff who provide support, allow subject options to be explained and provide an opportunity for parents to meet informally. In addition, it is recommended that all information about Guidance and guidance programmes should be made available for parents and students on a school website, and details about visits to college open-days and career events should also be provided.
All students can access Guidance and counselling support to address personal issues on a one-to-one basis from the guidance team. Good contacts are maintained with local support agencies and bodies to facilitate the referral of students. The National Educational Psychological Service provides support and extra counselling support is provided through a visiting private counsellor.
A school guidance plan has been drafted to include an outline guidance programme for each year group and school programme. This plan has whole school support from management and staff. It is recommended that the guidance plan should be completed and reviewed at the end of this academic year. Any changes made to the plan should be presented to staff, parents and students for consultation and then to the board of management. It is suggested that the guidance programme for each year group should include some inputs on vocational topics. This would serve to encourage students, to begin considering a wide range of career options from the time they enter the school and become more proactive in making subject and programme choices for senior cycle.
The guidance team meets regularly to plan guidance provision and to liaise with the Transition Year (TY) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme co-ordinators. It is suggested that all such meetings between staff should be minuted and all decisions taken should be recorded. Guidance for first year students is delivered through the SPHE programme and includes a range of modules on how to settle into the school and develop good study and self-management skills. Students can access individual interviews with the guidance team to discuss personal or guidance issues. Guidance support for second year builds on the first year programme and includes modules on decision-making and time management. Students in third year are supported by the guidance team, by subject teachers and other staff to make appropriate subject and programme choices for senior cycle. Guidance inputs assists exploration of the TY, Leaving Certificate and LCA options. To facilitate students to begin exploring a wider range of career areas while still in junior cycle, and better inform the selection of subject and programmes for senior cycle, it is recommended that some additional guidance modules on career topics should be included in the second and third year programmes. These should be implemented in co-operation with the SPHE programme.
Guidance for the TY is delivered within the programme and guidance support is provided for the co-ordinator. However, it is recommended, that consideration should be given to the guidance team being timetabled to deliver at least part of the career investigation module. The co-ordinator of LCA works closely with the guidance team who provide inputs to the programme. All students in fifth year have one-to-one interviews with the guidance team to plan individual career paths and explore all available options. The guidance team also meets with students in small groups and in full class groups. As the time available to implement the guidance programme with fifth years is limited, it is recommended that ways should be explored to plan more group work with senior students, possibly based on career themes that are of common interest to a number of students to maximise contacts.
A number of visits to college open-days and careers events are arranged each year for student senior cycle. In addition, a panel of guest speakers are invited to address students on a range of topics. The Differential Aptitude Test (DATS) is administered and used to support individual interviews between the guidance team and students and assist in decision-making about career options.
The school’s facilities for Information Communication Technology (ICT) are reported to be somewhat out-dated and inadequate to meet the needs of a growing school in an era of technological development. It is also reported that a full class group cannot be accommodated with twenty six computers in the ICT room to access college websites or make full use of available guidance software. This issue needs to be addressed urgently, as it is hindering the development of the guidance programme in senior cycle and the preparation of students for third level. Presently, guidance information that is being sought by students on college courses is downloaded and then photocopied by the guidance team. While this practice is laudable, it serves to waste valuable guidance time and does not encourage students to gain viable skills in sourcing information directly. In addition, students applying to third level colleges through the United Colleges Application System (UCAS) and to the Central Applications Office (CAO) are unable to complete these applications in the careers’ office online as it has no access to Broadband.
Good contacts are being maintained with local and national third level colleges, with further education providers and local business.
In the course of the inspection visit, three classes were visited, a first year SPHE class, a fifth year Leaving Certificate class and a fourth year class. The methodologies selected to present and develop the topics in each class were appropriate to the age and developmental level of the students. Good planning was in evidence in all classes. The topic chosen for each of the lessons was delivered effectively. A good classroom atmosphere prevailed in each instance, and the students were very attentive. Suitable materials were researched and provided to support learning. A good classroom atmosphere prevailed throughout all the sessions to support good learning outcomes. However, the use of more active methodologies could be planned for use with students in senior cycle to allow for more active engagement.
Guidance for junior cycle students is delivered through a planned module of six to eight lessons in conjunction with the Social Personal Health Education programme. The first years are being assisted to settle into the school and to develop good learning skills so that they can learn effectively. Guidance is supporting the SPHE programme by providing lessons on how to self-mange, develop good study skills, and deal with issues such as bullying. Very effective use was made throughout the lesson of brainstorming ideas and encouraging students to communicate clearly. Active listening was in evidence. The ideas expressed by students were built upon and all were encouraged actively to take turns and contribute to the discussion. Advice was given to students on how to plan coping strategies and look for support from peers and staff. Students were all fully engaged in active learning and interacted well together. As a follow on to this lesson it is planned to develop this theme.
The guidance class for the fourth year group concentred on how to complete the CAO application process. The students were actively engaged in learning. To further improve understanding of this process and add to students’ understanding of college requirements, it is recommended that a copy of the National Qualifications framework should be supplied to students at the next lesson.
During a session held with fouth year students a short questionnaire on Guidance was introduced and completed. This questionnaire is being administered by inspectors of Guidance in 50 second level schools throughout 2006/2007. The aim of this survey is to gather the views of senior cycle students on Guidance. It is anonymous and invites a sample of senior cycle students in each of the schools included in this survey to respond to a series of questions about the Guidance provision in their own school, and to comment on how useful and informative they have found the range of inputs on careers and educational opportunities that have been provided. Furthermore, the questionnaire invites them to state what changes they consider would improve the schools’ guidance programmes and to suggest what type of programme would give maximum benefit to students in senior cycle.
Students enrolling in the school are assessed to ascertain their learning needs. The stated purpose of this initial assessment is to identify students who require extra learning support. The guidance team plays an active role to support this assessment process. Presently, the range of tests being deployed is appropriate. However, it is suggested that the suitability of the range tests being used should be reviewed regularly, and where available only tests with norms appropriate to the Irish population should be selected. A short questionnaire is being supplied by the guidance team to sixth class primary teachers for completion. This requests any relevant information about each student enrolling in the school. This is a commendable practice, as it facilitates the smoother transfer of information about students and good continuity between primary and second level support provision. To further enhance this information gathering exercise, it is suggested that details of any other educational assessments completed by pupils in fifth and sixth classes and personal achievements should also be sought to add to individual educational profiles. The school supports the guidance counsellors to meet parents on enrolment night and students when they come to the school for induction.
A flexible approach to assessment is being adopted by the guidance team. A range of interest inventories, the Differential Aptitude Test (DATS) and other aptitude tests are being administered. Students receive feed-back on assessments. There is evidence of good record keeping in the careers’ library and a separate file is maintained for each student.
The school reports that students completing their education are transferring successfully to a wide range of third level and further education courses. However, the initial destinations of all students leaving the school are not being formally mapped. It is therefore recommended that the initial destinations of students should be recorded annually. In order to complete this task, a variety of methods could be explored including the use of email and mobile phone texting. Information gathered on the colleges and courses being selected by students should be used to inform parents, subject selection and on-going guidance planning.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Guidance Team is pleased to note the following strengths identified in the evaluation:
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the
inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the
We wish to advise that the following changes have been made in the provision of the guidance service based on your recommendations:
We wish to thank you for your time and effort in providing an evaluation of the guidance services in our school and we acknowledge the recommendations therein made by you.