An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Cashel, County Tipperary
Roll number: 65300D
Date of inspection: 11 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Rockwell College. 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 deputy principal and guidance counsellor. The board of management was given the 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 to this report.
Rockwell College was established in 1864 by the Congregation of the Holy Spirit as a secondary school and seminary. It is a sister school of Blackrock College in Dublin. The Congregation was founded in 1703 by Claude-François Poullard des Places after which the current trustee body, the Des Places Educational Association is named. The buildings are very well maintained and retain many of the attractive features of Victorian architecture. The school is co-educational and caters for day students and for boarders, who are housed in adjacent buildings which were used until recently as an agricultural college. The contribution of the Holy Ghost Fathers to the school remains very much in evidence although the school is now under lay senior management. Support for students through the core areas of Guidance, chaplaincy and special educational needs is a strong feature of the school. A number of priests who are retired teachers serve in a voluntary capacity as active members of the school’s commendable student support system. The school’s philosophy of education is detailed in its mission statement. This includes many statements with particular relevance to Guidance such as;
Particular attention is given to fostering the development of each student’s gifts, together with growth in self knowledge and self esteem in a harmonious development of the whole person.
The school’s Pastoral Care Draft Policy is a brief outline of pastoral care as an approach to education based on Christian values of care and direction. In some respects, the school’s use of the term ‘pastoral care’ is synonymous with Guidance as outlined in the Inspectorate’s 2005 document Guidelines for Second-Level Schools on the Implications of Section 9(c) of the Education Act 1998, Relating to Students' Access to Appropriate Guidance.
The school receives an ex-quota allocation of seventeen hours for Guidance. In the current year, enrolment has risen to 514 students. In consequence, the allocation for the school year beginning in September 2008 will be twenty hours per week, in accordance with Circular PPT12/05. The allocation is being used effectively in providing a broad programme of Guidance, especially to senior cycle students. All sixth-year classes are timetabled for a Guidance lesson once in a three-week cycle. Fifth-year classes and Transition Year (TY) classes are timetabled for a weekly lesson. Guidance for other students is on a planned, intermittent basis and includes one-to-one and small -group counselling sessions. Particular emphasis is given to guidance provision at times of transition, such as the transition from primary school to secondary school, at the latter stages of first year when Junior Certificate subjects are chosen, and in third year and TY when subjects are chosen for the Leaving Certificate and for the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). In addition, there is ongoing consultation between the guidance counsellor and other members of the guidance or pastoral team which comprises the principal, deputy principal, guidance counsellor, two chaplains, two teachers involved in school responses to special educational needs, a Physical Education (PE) teacher and the co-ordinator of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE). The formation and constitution of this team, as representative of core staff in support of students, is commended. Documents related to the functions of the team show that many of its responsibilities lie in the domains of personal, educational and vocational guidance and that those functions are widely spread and balanced among staff in general. It is noteworthy that those involved in the team have active roles in facilitating transitions and in the promotion of social awareness. Students in TY, for example participate in a programme of visits to a nearby special school and members of the Society of St Vincent de Paul visit people confined to their homes.
Rockwell College has close links with Duquesne University in the United States of America, a leading Catholic university founded by the Congregation of the Holy Ghost. Some student teachers of the University take part in ten-week placements in the school as part of their training and participate as active resources in the areas of academic and social development and in provision for students with special educational needs.
The facilities for Guidance are good. An office is equipped with the technology and administrative equipment appropriate to the practice of Guidance. Facilities for the storage and display of materials, including sections in two libraries, are also appropriate to their functions. Information and communication technology (ICT), the use of which is essential to the information-giving elements of the guidance counsellor’s programme, is accessible by staff and individual students in the guidance office. Access to ICT for group Guidance has been somewhat limited. A suite of new equipment has been installed recently and it is recommended that the guidance plan incorporate proposals for the use the new ICT facilities for guidance purposes.
Referral systems within the school and to external agencies are good. As a boarding school, there is a necessity to ensure that referrals, particularly for medical attention, are always possible and that procedures are well known and clear. Informal referrals are ongoing and the school’s system of deans and tutors is a vehicle by means of which flexible responses are made by a variety of staff to the needs of students. Referrals to the guidance counsellor are made through the deans and tutors, through the middle-management and senior-management structure and by students’ self referral. Referrals to external agencies are managed by the principal and deputy principal in collaboration with the guidance counsellor and special educational needs co-ordinators, and in consultation with parents.
Policies, procedures and general information are well documented. It is noted that such documentation is highly regarded in the school and that considerable attention has been devoted to the processes underlying them. This was particularly the case in documents produced in the course of whole-school planning activities. Documents detailing a number of policies and programmes, including the guidance counsellor’s programme and draft plan, were seen in the course of the inspection. It is clear that the documents describe current practice and form the basis of a more comprehensive plan. It is suggested that, in future drafts, the documents would include the results of some analyses of needs and should incorporate strategic plans for the short, medium and long term. It is also suggested that the plans should incorporate provision for evaluation of outcomes on a regular basis, in line with the guidelines of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), and should clarify the guidance roles of staff with significant guidance functions. In relation specifically to whole-school guidance planning the documents should clarify the links and overlaps that exist between programmes and subjects. The plan should be related to the school’s mission. It is suggested that documents be dated, to facilitate the identification of those for which review is appropriate. Policy documents, in particular, should be marked with the date of ratification by the board of management.
The document entitled The School Guidance Service that was provided prior to the inspection provides a very comprehensive foundation on which to develop the whole-school guidance planning process. It is clear that a major role envisaged for the guidance counsellor is that of service manager. It is also clear that a plan based on the document will involve the formation of a task group for whole-school guidance planning, a review of the school’s current provision of supports for students and the formation of a plan which clarifies and integrates the functions of staff with major and minor functions in Guidance, support and care. It is recommended that such a time-limited task group be formed to direct whole-school guidance planning in the context of existing structures for school development planning within the school and through the SDPI. Useful information in regard to guidance planning is to be found under the Education Personnel tab on the internet home page of the Department of Education and Science at www.education.gov.ie and in guidelines issued by the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE) in Planning the School Guidance Programme (2004). The NCGE also manages a modular diploma course in guidance planning.
It is suggested that the extra allocation referred to above under subject provision and whole-school support, will provide some opportunity to engage with some of the recommendations of this report, particularly as they relate to planning. In the context of planning the whole-school guidance programme, the extra allocation should also facilitate the co-ordination of guidance provision to junior cycle classes in collaboration with other teachers as outlined in the Draft Guidance Framework proposed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) in 2007.
The school provides a range of opportunities to students to engage in substantial decision making. The process of subject choice for the Junior Certificate examination and Leaving Certificate examination is largely based on the preferences of students. First-year students make their subject choices in their third term and Leaving Certificate optional subjects are chosen in third year or in TY, as appropriate. TY is itself optional. A comprehensive programme of Guidance is in place and provides some inputs into all classes on both a planned, intermittent basis, especially in the junior cycle and through timetabled class contact to students in TY, LCVP and in classes preparing for the Leaving Certificate examination. Guidance inputs into curriculum planning are ongoing in the context of formal and informal contacts with senior management.
The collaborative work of staff in planning and implementing a programme of induction for incoming first-year students is commended. It is a further indication of the commitment of staff to supporting students that not only is there involvement by staff such as the guidance counsellor, chaplain, special educational needs co-ordinator, deans and tutors, but also by other staff members without formal guidance and support roles. This support extends through and beyond first year and is supplemented by inputs from SPHE teachers.
Contact between parents and the school in relation to the guidance needs of students is encouraged by the school. Communications from the school invite parents to make contact with the guidance counsellor as the need arises and openness to such contact is reiterated at parent-teacher meetings, information sessions and liturgical celebrations attended by the guidance counsellor.
Links with the wider community are extensive. A network has been established of people and organisations willing to provide speakers, advice and information to staff and students. Good use is made of these contacts in arranging speakers on topics as diverse as substance use and misuse, mental health, entrepreneurship, health and safety and third-level opportunities. Cross-curricular co-operation in these arrangements is commended.
Continuing professional development is encouraged and facilitated by senior management and is considered an important aspect of guidance planning. Participation in the activities of the local branch of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors and in the in-service opportunities arranged by the branch, particularly in professional support for counselling, is commended as good practice.
Teaching was uniformly good in the lesson observed in the course of the inspection. The prayer recited at the outset was symbolic of the depth to which the school’s Catholic ethos is professed. The lesson was well structured and entailed a number of topics, such as effective communication, work experience and the relationship between work and personality. The methods by which the topics were presented and exposed were effective in prompting interest and in maintaining the attention of students. Students were asked to participate in brief, but interesting, exercises such as a demonstration as to the value of clear communication in enriching human interactions. Similarly, a short interest inventory was used to initiate discussion and thought about occupations and their classification. This use of methods which facilitated active learning is commended. Formalities, such as roll call, introductions and announcements were dealt with calmly and were responded to in a manner which indicated that students were familiar with and accepting of these formalities as a normal part of a lesson. The lesson ended with a summary of the material covered and indications as to further development of the main topic of work experience.
Good use was made in all cases of classroom resources. The whiteboard was used effectively to record and categorise students’ responses and, for example, to outline the categories into which students’ responses were divided. Handouts were well prepared, distributed unobtrusively and used to good effect during the lesson. Appropriate questions at different levels of complexity were asked of students generally and individually. Students responded quickly to the directions given and showed interest in the issues being dealt with. Students also responded with questions of their own, in clarification of the issues and showed, by the relevance of the questions, a good grasp of the topics.
Classroom management was effective. Students were addressed by name and encouraged to participate. Desks were arranged to allow free movement between students and to enable viewing of work in progress. It is recommended that, because of the more active teaching methods used in the course of guidance lessons, the rooms timetabled for guidance lessons be those which have been furnished with more flexible seating than standard school desks. Guidance lessons frequently entail the movement of furniture to provide space for group work or to form circles for group activities or discussion.
There is clear evidence of collaboration between staff involved in Guidance and staff with responsibility for dealing with the additional educational needs of students. All incoming first years are assessed for general ability in their first term in the school. The results of these assessments are used to monitor student progress through the system of mixed-ability classes that operates generally in the junior cycle. Further diagnostic assessments are carried out by the special educational needs team on students identified as having additional needs. These assessments are used to inform decisions regarding the allocation of resources to address the needs. It is recommended that consideration be given to the use of an ability assessment instrument that has recent Irish norms. A list of test materials for Guidance and special educational needs purposes is linked to Circular 0099/2007 on the Department website.
Aptitude testing is carried out during third year and the results are used to help students to clarify decisions in relation to vocational and educational opportunities. These are supplemented by a range of interest inventories and checklists that are used throughout the senior cycle. These include the questionnaires associated with the Qualifax and Career Directions websites.
The practice of recording guidance-related meetings, both with students and with staff, is commended. Records are kept which are appropriate to their purpose and in accord with current standards of confidentiality. Records include the listing of students’ initial destinations following the Leaving Certificate examinations, which are kept by the guidance counsellor. It is noted that use is made of meeting recording templates issued by the SDPI. It was reported by staff that these simple templates are of value in maintaining continuity in the planning process, in tracking decisions and actions, and in ensuring that progress is made by the structuring of meetings.
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 counsellor and with the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, June 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
The Content of the Report is accepted as a fair and affirmative analysis of the work taking place. We are examining the recommendations with a view to incorporating them in future planning.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The College is happy to ensure that the Guidance plan incorporates proposals for the use of the new ICT facilities for guidance purposes as recommended.
The guidance teacher is checking on the use of an assessment instrument which has recent Irish norms - as recommended.