An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Balbriggan Community College
Balbriggan, County Dublin
Roll number: 70010V
Date of inspection: 27 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Balbriggan Community College, Balbriggan, County Dublin. 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 the guidance counsellor.
The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Balbriggan Community College, founded in 1984, is one of two post-primary schools in the town of Balbriggan. There are four main feeder primary schools with the majority of the current student population of 541, comprising 406 boys and 135 girls, coming from the town of Balbriggan. The school caters for students from diverse, predominantly suburban, backgrounds. There are thirteen students from the Traveller Community and 148 newcomer students, some of whom travel from as far away as Dundalk as they had begun their Irish schooling in Balbriggan Community College prior to relocating to Dundalk. The deputy principal reports that enrolment is growing and the admissions policy is under review at present as the school is moving towards its maximum number of students. The school participates in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) action plan and the School Completion Programme (SCP). However, the local cluster of schools is currently experiencing difficulty filling the post of home-school-community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator.
Balbriggan Community College receives an ex-quota allocation of twenty-four hours from the Department of Education and Science for Guidance. The full-time guidance counsellor delivers twenty-two hours of this allocation. It is recommended that the school authorities ensure that the total ex-quota allocation is used for the provision of Guidance in future years. The SCP funds a second guidance counsellor for eight hours weekly to provide counselling and group work and a further total of fifty hours for counselling during the remainder of the year will be funded by the SCP, beginning shortly after the evaluation. This will be delivered by a qualified counsellor who was about to be appointed at the time of the evaluation. The part-time guidance counsellor works primarily with students in the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) and provides individual appointments to one Leaving Certificate class group. This support for students is commended. As Balbriggan Community College operates under the auspices of the County Dublin Vocational Education Committee (VEC), the school has the services of a designated psychologist from the psychological services within the scheme.
At the time of the evaluation visit the target groups for guidance provision were primarily senior cycle and third year students. Weekly guidance classes are timetabled for students in their Leaving Certificate year and personal counselling and individual support is offered to students throughout the school. Balbriggan Community College is moving towards increased provision in junior cycle through the resources funded by the SCP and group work is being provided in first year by the part-time guidance counsellor in collaboration with the psychologists from the VEC. The full-time guidance counsellor also organises small group work for second year students in collaboration with the Balbriggan Family Centre. Individual appointments and personal counselling are offered throughout the school as needs arise. The guidance department has identified the need to introduce more formal guidance provision earlier in the school curriculum. It is recommended, therefore, that the school reviews the current timetabling arrangements and the timeframe for delivery to reduce the amount of guidance work that students require in their Leaving Certificate year.
Balbriggan Community College has good facilities for Guidance in the form of an office with computer, broadband access, phone, shelving and storage. The guidance office also houses a careers library and guidance-related materials. The guidance counsellor uses a trolley to bring booklets and college prospectuses to the classroom. The office is too small to accommodate group work. Due to pressure of space both guidance counsellors use this office. However, a counselling room is being equipped which will provide individual accommodation for both guidance counsellors. Two guidance notice boards and guidance-related posters are displayed on the walls outside the guidance office. Access to the computer room for guidance classes is good as all Leaving Certificate classes are timetabled in the computer room.
The care structure in Balbriggan Community College is based around the class tutor system, in collaboration with the year heads. Tutors of first year meet weekly and liaise with the subject teachers. At the time of the evaluation visit, the school was in the process of formalising the school support/care team. This is encouraged as it will facilitate the transfer of information on students and ensure the early identification of students in need of extra support. Terms of reference for the team have been developed and a schedule of meetings has been devised.
Currently the guidance counsellor co-ordinates the student supports provided in the school and links closely with tutors, with year heads and with the SCP co-ordinator. The care team has decided to begin discussions on identifying first year students in need of extra support. This approach will further enhance the good sense of care the school wishes to foster. It is to be commended that the school has produced a handbook for newcomer students giving information on the school and providing useful phone numbers for students and their families. An annual ‘intercultural friendship day’ is organised when the cultures of the newcomer students are explained and celebrated.
Links between management and the guidance department are maintained through formal and informal meetings with senior management. There is close collaboration between senior management and the guidance department regarding curriculum provision, subject and programme choice. Study skills seminars are provided for students in Junior and Leaving Certificate years. While there is no specific budget allocated to the guidance department resources are provided as requested.
Commendably the school established a critical incident response team in 2005. A draft crisis response plan has been developed and lists of relevant phone numbers compiled. In developing the policy the school has liaised with the VEC Psychological Service and has engaged with the documentation published by the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS). In formalising the final draft of the plan it is suggested that the school networks with other local post-primary schools as such an approach would provide additional support and benefit all participants.
Referrals to the guidance department are made by senior management, year heads, tutors, SCP co-ordinator, teachers, special needs department and parents. Students may also self-refer or refer their friends. Commendably the guidance department has devised a form for referrals by members of staff. The guidance counsellor also meets with individual year heads informally to facilitate the transfer of information regarding students. Generally referrals to outside agencies are effected through the principal’s office in consultation with parents and the guidance department. The full-time guidance counsellor reports good support from the VEC psychologist assigned to the school.
Balbriggan Community College offers a wide range of subjects in both junior and senior cycle to cater for student needs. Two Leaving Certificate programmes, namely the Leaving Certificate (Established) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programmes are offered and in junior cycle both the Junior Certificate and the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) are provided. The school does not offer the Transition Year Programme at present. English language support is provided to newcomer students as required.
Commendably the school engages with a number of outside agencies and organisations such as the Fingal Youth Network, the Health Service Executive (HSE), An Garda Síochána, Mater Child Guidance Clinic and the Credit Union to support students and their parents. The local Family Centre accommodates bereavement and loss groups and teachers facilitate student attendance as necessary. The school participates in the Trinity Access Programmes (TAP) with the University of Dublin (Trinity College) and liaises with Dublin City University (DCU) which offers scholarships to members of the Travelling Community to continue in education. In collaboration with the Lions Club the school participates in the Lyons International Youth Exchange Programme.
A guidance committee was established in 2006 and guidance planning is well advanced in Balbriggan Community College. The co-ordinator of the SCP has recently joined the planning group and the committee plans also to include a representative from the parents and from the business community in the course of the year. This is commended. A staff review of guidance provision has been completed and a review process with parents and the board of management was underway at the time of the evaluation. An evaluation of the guidance provision has been carried out with the Leaving Certificate students. It is commended that the school is fostering a whole-school guidance approach within the guidance planning process. A student needs analysis vis-à-vis provision and delivery should be carried out now to inform the planning process.
The guidance counsellors meet weekly and fortnightly with the SCP co-ordinator to plan and review events. At the time of the evaluation visit the group was planning for the arrival of the counsellor, formalising the care team structure and further refining referral systems within the school. This collaboration is commended.
Balbriggan Community College has a well developed transition programme in place for incoming first year students which is co-ordinated by the full-time guidance counsellor. Members of staff visit the feeder primary schools and the school hosts an open evening for prospective students and their parents. This is followed by an assessment day co-ordinated by the guidance department. As well as standardised psychometric tests school-devised English and Gaeilge tests are administered. The guidance counsellor visits the primary feeder schools to identify any support required by incoming students. Parents are then invited, with the incoming student, into the school to an individual meeting with a staff member to discuss the transfer from primary and the assessment results from the point of view of class placements. In preparation for this session the guidance counsellor meets with staff members to explain the placement system to the teachers who then discuss with the parents. The school hosts an information sessions for parents of first year students in September when presentations are made on school procedures, expectations and support structures. Through these sessions, parents have opportunities to meet key personnel working with their children and can receive feedback or raise any issues of concern about the settling-in process. This level of support is commended. An excellent booklet with a welcome note from the principal has been designed to provide information on school structures, key personnel, subjects and programmes for incoming students and their parents.
The school offers a wide choice of subjects in both junior and senior cycle. Incoming first year students choose from predetermined bands prior to entry. Information is provided on subject choices by the principal in collaboration with the guidance counsellor and choices are finalised by students at the time of the information session for parents. In this regard parents could also refer to the information available regarding subject choice on www.qualifax.ie. It is suggested that the school considers the introduction of taster classes to assist first year students with subject and level choice.
Two induction days, one in May and one in August, form part of the transfer programme. Commendably the school operates a prefect mentoring system where senior prefects meet with incoming students on the assessment day and induction days. They also meet with the first year students for group work and activities in collaboration with SPHE teachers or class tutors during the term. Building on the work achieved to date it is recommended that the school explores the possibility of expanding the transition programme by providing individual meetings for first year students with a member of staff to support the settling-in process.
The co-ordinator of the School Completion Programme (SCP) is based in Balbriggan Community College. Forms have been developed for staff members to identify students who could benefit from participation in the programme. As part of the SCP a daily breakfast club is organised by staff members and school prefects. A homework club runs after school four days per week staffed by teachers and supervised study is offered to third and sixth year students. Funding has been made available also by the SCP to provide music tuition and equipment, a sports programme for girls as well as extra activities for the LCA students. An annual awards evening acknowledges and celebrates student achievement in both the academic and non-academic spheres. All of these activities to support students are commended.
In collaboration with teachers and programme co-ordinators the guidance counsellor begins working with third year on subject and programme choice early in the second term. PowerPoint presentations and support documentation are provided. Subject teachers offer information on specific subject content. Students in third year are obliged to register for senior cycle. In order to do so they must attend information sessions, with their parents, provided by the guidance counsellor and the LCA co-ordinator on subject and programme choice for senior cycle. The thoroughness of this system is commended. Individual appointments are provided to students and to parents on request to discuss options with the guidance counsellor. Prior to acceptance on the LCA programme students are interviewed with their parents by staff members.
The guidance counsellor prioritises work with students considering leaving school before completing the Leaving Certificate. Contact is made with parents and the implications of early- school-leaving are discussed. Students are encouraged to stay in school and there is collaboration with local FÁS and Youthreach centres.
There is no timetabled contact in the first year of senior cycle (fourth year) except for the LCA group. Fourth year students attend the Road Safety Road Show and the Fáilte Ireland Road Show. An appropriate guidance programme is designed and delivered to Leaving Certificate students. The school has designed procedures for attendance by senior students at college open days and career events. Visits out are arranged and the school arranges for transport to a small number of events. Students may arrange independent attendance at events of specific interest to them in conjunction with parents. This approach enables students to develop time and self-management skills. It is recommended that the school now builds on these practices and procedures to develop a policy, with input from parents and students, on student attendance at career events. The school hosts an information session for parents of Leaving Certificate students on future options, grants and funding. A speaker from the access programme also attends to provide information to parents.
The guidance department wishes to promote an open door policy for parents. The full-time guidance counsellor attends all parent/teacher meetings and parents are welcomed to arrange individual appointments. The school has introduced a computer-assisted texting system for parents to remind them of parent-teacher meetings and school events.
The guidance counsellors are members of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors. The school facilitates attendance at national and local in-service and at the professional development sessions to support counselling.
In the course of the evaluation one Leaving Certificate class group was visited. The focus of the lesson was to provide students with information about grants to further and higher education and about the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR). The content of the lesson was appropriate to the class group and the guidance counsellor had plans in place to meet with parents at the beginning of the next term to discuss options available to students after the Leaving Certificate. The good practice of taking the roll was noted.
The lesson began with a reminder regarding forthcoming open days. Students were asked to check the list of open days previously given out by the guidance counsellor. The school facilitates access for students to the computer room at lunch time and students were encouraged by the guidance counsellor to do research prior to their upcoming visits to third level colleges. This approach is commended as it encourages time management skills and independent research. A form was distributed to students to complete regarding the open days that they plan to attend. This form will be used by the guidance counsellor to inform subject teachers of the student absences from class necessary to attend the events.
A range of methodologies was used including a discussion about the benefits of attendance at career events and the time commitment involved, handouts, use of the whiteboard and use of the internet. Good reference was made to relevant websites and a poster of the National Qualifications Framework was displayed in the computer room. An explanation of the application procedures for grants for further and higher education was given by the guidance counsellor and handouts provided to students to bring home to parents for discussion. Students were invited to make appointments to meet with the guidance counsellor to discuss individual queries they might have concerning grants and funding of courses after the Leaving Certificate. As the class was located in the computer room it is suggested that the use of online information regarding grants on the relevant websites could be exploited.
A positive, friendly class atmosphere obtained and in general there was good participation and engagement on the part of students. Good rapport and mutual respect were evident between guidance counsellor and students.
Incoming first year students take the GAP Reading Comprehension test and the Vernon Graded Arithmetic-Mathematics test. Results are used along with feedback from the primary schools to identify students who may need further assessment or extra learning support. The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) are administered in Leaving Certificate year to assist with course and career choice. The Rothwell Miller Interest Blank is completed in Leaving Certificate year to assist with third level course and career choice. Students have access to interest tests on websites such as www.qualifax.ie and www.careerdirections.ie. It is recommended that the school builds on current practices regarding testing procedures and reviews tests used to formulate a testing policy for the school. Useful information regarding tests and psychometric instruments is available in Circular Letter 0099/2007 and in the accompanying information regarding tests on the Department’s website at www.education.ie .
The guidance department maintains records of student attendance at individual appointments. All Leaving Certificate students complete forms giving details of examination subjects, results and career aspirations. The guidance counsellor stores referral forms, notes and files in filing cabinets in the guidance office. Records of the weekly guidance department meetings, whole-school guidance meetings and meetings with the SCP co-ordinator are maintained by the guidance counsellor.
Tracking of student initial destinations is carried out by the guidance department through direct phone contact over two evenings during the first term, information collected from siblings and contact with past students. Former students are welcome to return to the school for further information and guidance support.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on the strengths and to address the areas for development the following key recommendations are made:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the deputy principal and the guidance counsellor at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published October 2008