An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Holy Family Secondary School
Newbridge, County Kildare
Roll number: 61682A
Date of inspection: 23 September 2008
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Holy Family Secondary School, Newbridge, as part of a whole-school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of provision of 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 the guidance counsellor 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 counsellor.
Holy Family Secondary School prides itself on providing a supportive atmosphere and a holistic education for students. Guidance is viewed by management as providing essential support for students making transitions, helping them to explore personal career paths and providing one-to-one counselling for those who require assistance to address personal issues.
The school has an allocation from the Department of Education and Science of thirty-three hours for Guidance. The school has one fully-qualified guidance counsellor. Since 2001, the school, in partnership with the neighbouring Patrician Secondary School, has shared an extra guidance counsellor through participation in the Guidance Enhancement Initiative. This resource adds an additional eleven hours for Guidance. It is noted that since the middle of September, all thirty-three ex-quota hours for Guidance are being fully timetabled. It is recommended that the school takes care to fully timetable this guidance allocation each year to meet the needs of all students.
The guidance counsellors work closely together to plan the delivery of Guidance in the school. Guidance provision is well integrated into the school’ pastoral care system and into the work of the school’s Chaplain and it links effectively with all school programmes. Guidance is delivered using a range of modes that include: timetabled and occasionally arranged guidance lessons, one-to-one counselling interviews, presentations to parents and students and visits for students to college open days and other career events. Guidance is delivered as an integrated model with counselling. This approach is to be commended. One-to-one interviews are arranged for students arising from personal requests made for counselling or through referrals from staff or parents. The flexible and responsive nature of the guidance support available for students in the school is indeed praiseworthy, as it enables students to seek assistance promptly when required. One of the guidance team is a member of the school’s care team. This group meets regularly to identify students who require extra assistance and plan suitable strategies. Referrals for counselling support for students may be made directly by this group to the guidance team.
The guidance office is well located in the school, is shared by the team and is accessible for students and parents. This room is spacious, is well resourced with good storage space and has full broadband access. Notice boards for the display of information about college open-days, other career events and application requirements are also prominent in the corridors. The careers library is located within the school resource room, where a number of scheduled guidance lessons are held each week. This facility has full information and communications technology (ICT) for students, broadband access and a data projector. It is praiseworthy to use ICT in this way as it facilitates full exploration of the world-wide-web for career research and active learning. There is also excellent access for students to ICT throughout the school in many of the classrooms and this is fully exploited by the guidance staff.
Regular contact is maintained by the guidance team with management and management is reported to be very supportive of whole-school guidance and its ongoing development. The referral of students for support between staff in the school operates efficiently, and the referral of students to the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) and to a range of outside agencies is handled sensitively and effectively. Parents are kept fully informed about Guidance during parents’ evenings and other events. To emphasise the importance of Guidance and the wide range of support it can provide for students, it is recommended that a short description of Guidance be included in the student journal. It is understood from discussions held that the drafting of a booklet for the parents of incoming first years is now under consideration by the guidance team. This would support the presentations already made to parents during information sessions. The booklet should document the range of available subject choices available for students and explain the possible career implications of selecting certain subjects. It should also point out the correct levels at which subjects should be studied to achieve personal career goals. In addition, information about Guidance could be placed on the school’s website for easy access by parents and students.
The school facilitates the guidance team’s attendance at personal supervision sessions for counselling and at a range of other continuous professional development and career events. A critical incident policy has been developed in the school with support from the guidance team.
The school guidance plan has been drafted following an analysis of the students’ needs and after consultations held with management, staff and parents. Since its inception, the plan has been updated regularly and has been presented for ratification to the board of management. The permanent section of the guidance plan clearly articulates how the guidance plan aims to incorporate all relevant sections of the whole-school plan. The plan is viewed as a blueprint for Guidance in the school and is regularly evaluated to make sure that it is still meeting students’ needs.
A guidance programme for each year group and a school programme has been developed. The guidance plan and the guidance programmes are evaluated annually, discussed with management and adjusted to meet new and emerging students’ needs. A particular strength that has resulted from this evaluative exercise is the creation of a priority list by the guidance team for future development of the plan. This set of identified priorities is now being addressed in the new guidance plan for this academic year. One of the priorities identified is the need to work towards producing a video about the school and an explanation about how Guidance can help primary pupils to make a successful transition to the school. This video would be a worthwhile tool for the guidance team when visiting primary schools and meeting with parents.
As planning is now an integral part of Guidance, it is recommended when next reviewing all the guidance programmes, that clear learning outcomes be established as benchmarks for the annual evaluation of the programmes. It is also recommended that links between Guidance and all school programmes, which are already in place, be documented and that clear time lines set for the completion of each section be included. The school has an active student council. It is therefore recommended, that this group be included in all future consultations that take place about the guidance plan to represent students’ voices. As the school does not have a home-school-community liaison co-ordinator, it is recommended that reference to this role be removed from the guidance plan.
A parents’ night, which is attended by the guidance team, is arranged for the parents of incoming students. At this event, parents meet with the guidance team and are informed about how Guidance can support their daughters in the school. Students and their parents should be referred to the information module on the Qualifax website: Leaving Cert. and Junior Cert. Subject Choices www.qualifax.ie. This site provides comprehensive information on the long-term implications of subjects chosen in junior cycle. The team engages effectively with students making the transition into the school through involvement in the induction programme and it meets with them throughout first year. A number of primary schools are visited by the guidance team to liaise with sixth-class pupils and their teachers. Additionally, team members facilitate the assessment of students and liaise closely with the learning-support team to identify those who require extra learning or other supports.
The guidance programmes for junior cycle classes focus heavily on supporting students to settle into the school, develop a good understanding of self and learn strategies to become effective learners. It is recommended however, that the guidance programmes for second and third year be revised to include some additional inputs on career topics. These interventions would encourage students in a supportive way to begin exploring possible career options and would also promote dialogue between students and the guidance counsellors about the selection and setting of goals for personal achievement. These extra guidance inputs should be delivered in co-operation with the Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and other school programmes. The use of ICT could be deployed to assist students with their research and websites such as Career Directions www.careerdirections.ie and www.careersportal may be found useful.
While still in the junior cycle, students should consider a wide range of career topics, as this would provide a more informed basis on which subject and programme choices for senior cycle are made. The existing guidance programme for third year provides good assistance for students in groups and individually to make appropriate choices for senior cycle. Parents are kept fully informed about subject and programme options at special information sessions which the guidance team attend.
Good opportunities are provided for students throughout the Transition Year (TY) and the Leaving Certificate programmes to develop their personal interests, explore a range of options and plan possible individual career routes. Guidance plays a key and effective role in supporting the TY programme. The guidance programmes for fifth-year and sixth-year students are comprehensive and flexible to meet emerging and ongoing educational, personal and career needs. The traditional Leaving Certificate (LC) programme, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) progrramme are all available in the school. These provides good opportunities for all students to maximise their potential for achievement. A comprehensive guidance programme is developed for each of these options and students are assisted to complete career investigations and fully benefit from work-experience opportunities. As well as receiving Guidance in groups, individual interviews are also arranged for students to explore a wide range of career options and develop individual career paths. Good support is therefore provided for all senior cycle programmes in imaginative and co-operative ways. Students are facilitated through Guidance to develop a good knowledge of personal strengths, adopt an active role in accessing information on possible careers, and take full advantage of all the facilities the school can offer.
It is particularly notable that full use is made in senior cycle guidance lessons of ICT and students are encouraged to make full use of the world-wide-web to access information about careers. The guidance team is proactive in encouraging and supporting students to successfully transfer to third -level education, further education or employment. The provision of this level of support to assist each student to reach her potential is highly commendable.
Students wishing to make the transition to third-level education receive good one-to-one and group assistance to explore all viable course options. Applications to the Central Applications Office (CAO) www.cao.ie for entry to universities and colleges in Ireland, and to the Universities & Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) www.ucas.com for colleges in the United Kingdom can be made by students on line. Those choosing routes into Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses or directly to employment are also facilitated in every way to make good personal choices. Parents are kept fully informed through the school’s newsletters which are issued throughout the year, at parents’ events and through one-to-one meetings arranged with staff. Visits to third-level and further education colleges are arranged for students and they attend the local careers exhibition organised in the area, the Higher Options Exhibition and FÁS Opportunities annually.
The guidance plan documents the range of links that have been established and are being maintained with third level and further education colleges, local business and industries. A list of guest speakers who are invited to address students is also included.
In the course of the inspection, guidance lessons with a fifth-year LCVP group and with a sixth-year LCA group were attended. The methodologies selected to present and develop the lesson topics in each of these sessions were well chosen and were very appropriate to implementation of the programmes and to the age and the developmental levels of the students. Both lessons took place in the resource room which has good ICT facilities, a data projector and broadband. Good advance planning of the lessons was very much in evidence. The topics were well introduced and delivered. Clear learning outcomes were established from the outset of the sessions. Students received clear instructions and one-to-one support was supplied when required throughout the lessons. Questioning of students was used to very good effect to elicit their understanding of the assignments to be completed. Well-chosen support materials were supplied and these were used effectively to build on lesson planning. Very good quality planning and expertise in teaching were in evidence in both lessons.
In each lesson, the layout of the classroom was highly conducive to active learning. In the first lesson, students were encouraged to make full use of the available technology to complete a well-planned assignment. They displayed a good level of ICT skills in accessing the required websites and in completing their work with good competence. Learning goals and the outcomes to be achieved had been well established at the beginning of the lesson and this provided a good scaffold and structure for effective learning to take place. A particularly good feature of the lesson was the way that students worked at their own pace to achieve personal outcomes. In the second lesson, excellent use was made of brainstorming of students’ ideas about the set topic and their comments were recorded and summarised on a whiteboard. Students were supported and motivated to learn from each other and to seek new approaches to possible employment routes.
All of the students were very actively engaged during the lessons. They demonstrated maturity, good listening, competent learning and excellent collaborative skills. They also displayed good knowledge about the lesson topics and completed their assignments very expertly. Good rapport was very evident between the teachers and students throughout the lessons.
Classroom management was excellent in both instances with students displaying an orderly approach to learning. Follow up on the lessons was signalled at the end of the sessions and students’ completed work was saved digitally and in hard copy formats.
Appropriate use is made of assessment procedures in the school to support students’ learning and other needs. Aptitude tests, school entrance tests and a range of psychometric instruments are administered to students to assist them to explore learning needs and career interests. The school guidance plan documents the tests and other instruments that are selected. The current Circular Letter PPT 0008/2007 on testing in schools, which is available at www.education.ie, is a useful reference when reviewing tests or interest inventories.
Good records of all one-to-one counselling sessions with students and of all follow-up actions to be taken are maintained. Individual student files are compiled and stored appropriately to provide maximum individual support. The initial destinations of all students leaving the school, which are presently informally collated, should be documented formally annually. The information gathered about these destinations could then be used to inform school and guidance planning. Guidance is also available to students who have left school and require advice about career choices. This approach is to be commended as the school exhibits a deep duty of care towards all its students, and recognises that some of them may need extra support to make successful transitions.
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.
Published, June 2009