An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Our Lady’s College
Drogheda, County Louth
Roll number: 63850F
Date of inspection: 30 January 2008
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Our Lady’s College, Greenhills, Drogheda Co. Louth, 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 one day during which the inspector visited classrooms, viewed guidance facilities, interacted with students, held discussions with the principal and guidance counsellors and reviewed school planning documentation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and to the guidance counsellors.
Our Lady’s College is a single sex girls’ school with a current enrolment of 881. This number has remained constant for some years and the school has traditionally accepted all applications. However, due to an increase in the number of applications for the current academic year approximately thirty applicants had to be refused a place in the school. A majority of the students come from the town of Drogheda but there are students from rural areas also attending. Students come from mixed backgrounds. The school caters for all levels of ability and there are currently a significant number of students attending who have special educational needs.
Our Lady’s College receives forty-four ex-quota hours per week from the Department of Education and Science for Guidance and all of this allocation is used for that purpose. Two qualified guidance counsellors deliver the guidance programme. The provision between junior and senior cycles and between class guidance and individual counselling is balanced. The guidance programme is planned in collaboration with other subjects and aspects of the programme are delivered by teachers of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Religious Education, Home Economics and Physical Education. One of the guidance counsellors is co-ordinator of SPHE. The aspects of the programme that are delivered by other subject teachers are set out in the guidance plan. This collaboration is commended.
While all year groups receive class guidance, this is not reflected in the timetable. With the exception of Transition Year (TY) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) which are timetabled for weekly guidance classes, all other groups receive guidance lessons in class periods that are time-tabled for other subjects by arrangements with the teachers concerned. It is recommended that guidance classes be reflected on the school’s timetable. While classes in the junior cycle may be delivered on a modular basis, senior cycle students should have guidance classes on a regular basis and they should be timetabled accordingly.
The school has a strong system of student care and support and there is a formal staff meeting held every September to discuss issues around student support. There is a dedicated student support/pastoral care team which comprises the principal, deputy principals, year heads, the guidance counsellors, the home-school-community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator and chaplain. While the team meets formally every six weeks, informal meetings are held more frequently if required. The guidance counsellors also attend meetings of the special needs team. This level of communication is commended. Students are referred to the guidance counsellors through the care team, by members of staff, parents or they may self-refer. As appropriate, students are referred to a number of outside support services including Health Service Executive (HSE) services, community and private agencies and local general practitioners (GPs). The guidance counsellors reported that external supports are limited and that long waiting lists apply to the public services in particular. There has been no assigned psychologist to the school from the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) since 2006.
The school participates in the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) programme. However, it is not certain whether the programme will continue to operate in the school due to a change in the school’s designation. The school participates in Junior Achievement Ireland. A mentoring programme for first year students has been introduced and the school is assisted in its planning and delivery by representatives from Foróige. A number of Transition Year (TY) students have been trained as peer mentors by the HSE. These students delivered a programme on substance misuse to first-year students during SPHE classes in January and will deliver the programme to sixth-class pupils in the local primary schools. This initiative is commended.
Each guidance counsellor has an office, a laptop computer, internet access, shelving and storage facilities. There are two display boards for guidance-related materials, and both are well located. While most other subject teachers have a base classroom, there is no dedicated classroom for Guidance. Students have access to the two computer rooms for guidance classes, but there are no dedicated computers which can be accessed at other times for guidance purposes. As most of the up-to-date information about courses and career opportunities is available on the internet, it is essential that student have ready access to information and communication technology (ICT) to research and obtain relevant information. It is recommended that some computers be installed in the careers library and that a guidance classroom be provided for class guidance. A small number of computers should be installed in the classroom to facilitate research and information gathering on courses and careers. Students should continue to have access to the ICT rooms for particular guidance classes as required.
A critical incident policy has been developed. It has been developed in cooperation with two other schools in the town and it provides for the sharing of support should a critical incident occur in any of the schools. This collaboration is commended.
The process of guidance planning in Our Lady’s College provides a model of good practice. Initially, the guidance counsellors attended workshops on guidance planning organised by the local branch of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) and facilitated by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). Following this, volunteers from the staff were sought to work with the guidance counsellors on the plan. A representative group, which included the principal, was formed and this group met weekly to progress and develop the plan. During the initial phase of the planning consultation took place with students, the student council and parents. A session on guidance planning which included workshops was held for the whole staff and facilitated by the SDPI. A report on the outcomes of the workshops was prepared by the facilitator. This whole school approach to the development of the guidance plan is commended. It is now recommended that representatives of the parents, students and wider school community be co-opted onto the planning group.
The core guidance plan was completed by the planning group in early 2007 and was submitted to the board of management for approval. Having discussed it at a number of meetings, the board approved the plan in mid-2007. The plan sets out the aims and objectives of the guidance programme in Our Lady’s College and links them to the school’s mission statement. It describes the role of the guidance counsellors, the procedures for meeting students and parents and procedures for referring students to outside agencies. It describes the aims and objectives of the guidance programme for each year as well as the methodologies to be applied and the resources to be used. The general clarity of the plan and, in particular, the way in which the cross-curricular delivery of the guidance programme is set out is a particularly commendable feature. However, the number of classes of Guidance for each year is not set out clearly either in the plan or, as already indicated, on the school’s official timetable. All classes of Guidance should be reflected both in the plan and on the school timetable.
In reviewing the plan, it is recommended that some aspects of the programme be introduced earlier. Students need to begin the process of understanding the relationship of academic learning to life generally and to the world of work as early as possible in their school life. It is recommended, therefore, that junior cycle students undertake simple projects which would serve as an introduction to career investigation and research. The use of ICT and other forms of research is recommended. This would include interviewing adults about specific careers as well as those in other life situations such as working in the home and in the community.
Our Lady’s College promotes the study of Science by its students and provides opportunities for students to become familiar with the various branches of science from first year. These include visits to relevant organisations and events, links to third level institutions and participation in the STEPS programme. Science is also a core subject for first year students. In 2007, approximately two-thirds of students took Science for the Junior Certificate, the majority at higher level, and a majority of students took a science subject for the Leaving Certificate. However at senior cycle, a majority took Biology while only a small number took Physics. In the current year the number taking Physics in senior cycle has increased. The school plans to introduce a Technology subject. The promotion by the school of Science and Technology is commended, given the current and predicted national need for skilled personnel in the science, engineering and technology (SET) sectors.
Parents play an active role in the life of Our Lady’s College. The guidance counsellors endeavour to involve parents in their daughters’ subject and other decision-making activities and they welcome individual parents to meet with them should they have any concerns in relation to their daughters’ progress or personal development. Presentations are made by the guidance counsellors at parent evenings on subject and programme choices, third level, further education and training courses. Members of the parents’ council assist in the organisation of an annual career event on subject options and careers exploration for parents and students of third year and TY. The event is organised annually by all of the second-level schools in Drogheda and is hosted by one of the schools on a rotational basis. Parents frequently assist students in preparation for work experience. This involvement of parents in the guidance programme is commended. It is recommended that parents of first years be referred to the module on the Qualifax website Leaving Cert. and Junior Cert. Subject Choice, to assist them in becoming fully informed about the long-term implications of subject choice and level of study of particular subjects.
The guidance counsellors have established links with a wide range of employers, third level institutions, colleges of further education and training bodies. All of the links between the guidance service and external services and organisations are set out in the guidance plan. This is commended. Students attend external career events and college open days for which they prepare in advance. Each student is required to provide feedback on the use she made of the visit and its value in terms of future choices.
School management supports the continuing professional development (CPD) of the guidance counsellors who attend events organised by the local branch of the IGC as well as other relevant events. Both guidance counsellors are availing of the professional support for counselling co-ordinated by Monaghan Education Centre.
Two guidance classes were observed, a third-year and a TY class. Both classes were held in an ICT room. The TY class had been on a visit to Dublin City University (DCU) and the students were required to complete a questionnaire about the visit during the first part of the class. This was followed by an exercise which required the students to carry out a search on courses that require a science subject, using the Qualifax website. Having carried out the search the students completed a questionnaire prepared by the guidance counsellor. The questions included some which required factual knowledge, such as the specific science subject required for certain courses or the courses that require the study of science subjects at higher level, as well as others that sought personal opinions about science subjects. This combination of questions provided the students with variety and maintained their interest. During the time that the students were carrying out the research, it was possible to circulate and have individual discussions about their areas of interest. Students appeared to enjoy the tasks set and engaged fully with the activities. A high level of maturity and independent learning was displayed by all students.
The third-year class was also held in an ICT room. A data projector was used to demonstrate to the students how to carry out career research using a number of websites. Students then commenced individual research. They were supplied with a handout to assist them in undertaking the research. The handout Careers Research Form gave the addresses of relevant websites and provided detailed instructions on how to use two of the websites, Career Directions and Qualifax. The form also included questions to be completed by each student as homework. The class atmosphere was relaxed and students worked independently and confidently. The level of maturity displayed during individual conversations and observed during the lesson was impressive.
The use of the AH2 test for incoming students has been discontinued and it is planned to replace it with the Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT) 3. The Group Reading Test 2 is also administered. These tests are used to identify students with learning needs. The Non Reading Intelligence Test (NRIT) is administered during first year to those students identified with learning needs who may require a psychological assessment
In third and subsequent years, students undertake a number of interest inventories.
The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) are administered in fifth year. The results of the DATs are given to students on an individual basis and are also available to parents.
A file is set up by the guidance counsellors on each student. The files include individual profiles, results of assessments and records of meetings with a guidance counsellor. The files are maintained by the guidance counsellors in secure filing cabinets in their respective offices.
The initial destinations of students are tracked and it is planned to track each cohort again in the expected year of qualification. A list of the initial destinations of all students who left the school in 2007 was provided which indicated that the majority were pursuing third level, further education or training courses.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is a whole-school commitment to the provision of Guidance for all students in Our Lady's College and there is balance of provision between junior and senior cycles.
· Two qualified guidance counsellors deliver the guidance programme.
· All of the ex-quota hours provided by the Department of Education and Science for Guidance are used to provide a comprehensive guidance programme to students in all year groups.
· The school has developed a detailed guidance plan. A planning group, representative of the school staff contributed to the development of the plan. The School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) provided a session on guidance planning for the school staff.
· There is excellent cooperation between SPHE, Guidance and other subject areas.
· There are formal links between the guidance counsellors, the principal and other school staff. The guidance counsellors attend a formal meeting of the care team every six weeks and informal meetings are held as necessary.
· The school promotes the uptake of science subjects and is planning to introduce a technology subject.
· There is balance between class guidance and individual counselling.
· The school has well established contacts with local support services, higher and further educational establishments and businesses.
· Parents are well informed about guidance issues and members of the parents' council assist the guidance counsellors in the organisation of an annual career event for third and Transition years.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· There should be a dedicated classroom for Guidance. A small number of computers should be installed in the classroom.
· Computers should be installed in the careers library to facilitate students’ access to the most up-to-date information about courses and career opportunities.
· Representatives of students, parents and relevant sections of the community should be included in the guidance planning group.
· Guidance classes should be clearly indicated on the school timetable.
· Senior cycle students should have regular timetabled classes of Guidance.
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.