An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Douglas Community School
Clermont Avenue, Douglas, Cork
Roll number: 91396R
Date of inspection: 21, 22 and 23 January 2009
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Douglas Community School, 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 three days 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 principal and guidance counsellors.
Guidance provision at Douglas Community School is very good. The school’s ex-quota allocation for Guidance is twenty-eight hours per week. Four of these hours have been retained from the Guidance Enhancement Initiative. The school was a successful applicant for participation in the initiative, a programme originally designed to promote interest in science and technology among students, and to counter the possible effects of disadvantage. The guidance programme is well balanced between work with groups and with individual students. Guidance is practised, correctly, in its three major forms, namely, personal, educational, and vocational or career guidance. The guidance team is eclectic in its approach to work with individual students and, while respecting the need for confidentiality, works collaboratively with the other departments with specific responsibilities for the support of students. This collaborative approach is a strong feature of the work of the guidance department and is highly commended.
Two guidance counsellors are employed, one in a part-time capacity. One guidance counsellor is an Assistant Principal with responsibility for the co-ordination of the Transition Year (TY) programme. In addition to TY, in which all students participate, the school provides the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Some of the allocation is used for timetabled guidance inputs into this programme. Other guidance inputs at class level are arranged on a planned intermittent basis. These follow a well-planned and documented guidance programme that includes students at all of the major transitional stages. Each guidance counsellor has an office. One office is well equipped with information and communications technology (ICT), storage facilities and office equipment. It is a significant development that the second office is located in what once was a flagship guidance library that has been superseded by technology and the decision by virtually all relevant sources of information to provide information digitally. The functions of the library, including the guidance library, are under review in the light of the school’s capacity to present information digitally. This office is spacious and satisfies the requirements that a guidance counsellor’s office be conveniently located, equipped with appropriate ICT, and suited to counselling. The need for telephone access has been addressed and a satisfactory arrangement has been established within the guidance department. It is suggested that this be kept under review as part of guidance planning.
Notice boards for the display of information are used extensively in the school and the change, in recent years, to teacher-based rooms has enabled their use in classrooms. Many of these displays are used for guidance purposes and add to the school’s visual environment. Other guidance information is accessible by students by means of wireless technology that has been installed throughout the building. A number of suites of computers, including the newly installed t4 suite, may be used by students with the co-operation of teachers. Conversely, teachers have been provided with personal laptop computers through which broadband access is available in all classrooms, an ideal situation for guidance purposes.
The student-support team, called the pastoral-care team, comprises the co-ordinators of Guidance, special educational needs, the chaplain and the deputy principal. In addition to continual informal communication, the team meets at a structured, weekly meeting. This is good practice and the group is an effective, rapid-response team that reports, through its members, to other staff in their respective departments. It is also a useful forum from which items emerge for consideration under short-term, medium-term and long-term planning. It is reported by the team that, in addition to issues of immediate concern, regular agenda items include the book-loan scheme, the training of student mentors for incoming and third-year students and the involvement of students in social action.
Referrals to the guidance department are managed by means of a standard guidance appointment slip, although it is reported by the team that a commendably flexible system operates and that all referrals, whether from staff or from students themselves, are dealt with immediately and with due formality. Referrals to external agencies are managed collaboratively by the student-support team and senior management.
The guidance department plan, which forms part of the developing whole-school plan, is of a high standard. The plan incorporates the curricular and service elements of the guidance department’s programme. It refers to guidance provision in programmes such as TY and LCVP, and to participation by the department in the school’s arrangements in support of students at the various stages of transition, such as the induction of new students, the choice of optional subjects and programmes, and the transition from school to higher and further education and training. It is recommended that the use of the ex-quota allocation for Guidance be outlined in the guidance department plan, which in turn forms part of the whole-school guidance plan.
While the resources of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) are used to support planning, a major vehicle for the current process is the whole-school guidance-planning module with which the school has engaged. One of the guidance team is the core participant in the modular guidance-planning course, which is managed by the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE). It is clear that senior management is significantly involved in the direction of the process in the school through participation in the whole-school guidance-planning team, which meets, on average, fortnightly. This is commended as lending weight to the process that places effective student support at the core of effective teaching and learning, and is a practical expression of the school’s basic values, as expressed in its mission statement.
The collaboration of members of the core student-support departments, namely, the guidance department, the special educational needs department and chaplaincy, is essential to the process of planning the whole-school guidance and support of students. Considerable progress has been made in the months since the inception of the project, and its documentation is of a very high standard. It is clear that guidance planning is well directed and that planning structures advocated by the NCGE are being used most effectively to review and to prioritise the school’s needs, and to take decisive action in fulfilment of those needs.
It is also clear that the collaboration of subject departments and of senior management is important to the effective delivery of the guidance programme. This is facilitated by good relationships and communication between the guidance department and other staff. In this context, the recent publication by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (2007) of the Draft Guidance Framework is suggested as an additional resource for inclusion in the plan. The document provides an overview of the curricular elements of the guidance programme and has clear implications for further enhancement of the programme through the integration of elements of existing subjects, such as Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), that are common to Guidance. One member of the guidance department attends the weekly middle-management meetings, also attended by senior management. This is good practice and facilitates communication between, for example, year tutors and the student-support team. Guidance inputs into curriculum planning are made through these meetings, through staff meetings and through other, informal meetings with staff. Similarly, the role of the guidance department in the critical incident response plan is clear and well documented. The effective leadership of senior management ensures that the contributions of the guidance department are noted and used to inform curriculum review and planning.
The school has established extensive links with the community. The TY work experience programme and the community service programme, for example, utilise these links. Similarly, the school’s location, in commuting distance from Cork’s main institutions of further and higher education and training, enables access to these and visits by their representatives to the school.
One of the guidance counsellors is a member of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) and participates in continuing professional development organised by the Cork branch of the Institute.
Two lessons were observed in the course of the inspection. Teaching practice in both was good and showed some flexibility in the use of teaching methods suited to the needs of students. The lessons were well structured and planned. Following a brief period during which students settled at desks and tables, and a check was made of those present, the topics of the lessons and the learning aims were outlined. The rooms used for the lessons were appropriate to the tasks, although the use of an ICT room in one case, while enabling the commendable use of a data projector, precluded its use for discussion purposes. A textbook was used in one case to summarise the main points of the lesson. This was an effective method of reiterating authoritatively points made by students in the course of the lesson. In another case, a well-planned questionnaire was used as a very effective focus on an issue that had been reported during the previous day to the school, and displayed the capacity of the school and of the student-support team to respond quickly to reported issues.
The very skilled direction of discussion by first-year students during one lesson is particularly commended. Students’ own experience formed the basis of the lesson that alternated between comment, question and discussion so that students’ opinions and experience were heard and responded to in a respectful and structured way. Good relationships facilitated classroom management and allowed open discussion and higher-order analysis by students of the issues presented. Discussion was also facilitated by the use of a circular layout of chairs and tables, so that all present were in constant view. Students showed sensitivity to the views of others and a clear understanding of the issues. Regular summaries of the discussion helped to maintain focus and the use of emotive terms was skilfully avoided. It was clear from the discussion and from the written responses that students had a clear understanding and appreciation of the topic of the lesson and that further intervention by the school, if warranted, could be managed in a similar context.
All incoming students are assessed by the guidance department and the special educational needs department. Initial screening is carried out by both departments and the results are used to ensure classes of mixed ability in first year and to identify students who may benefit from the resources of the special educational needs department. Further diagnostic assessments are carried out by the special educational needs department and some students are assigned to a small class that has been planned for the efficient use of available resources. It is reported by staff that considerable thought has been devoted to the use of the resources and that support for the learning needs of students is managed in this class and by a variety of other inputs by the special educational needs department to individuals and smaller groups.
Interest inventories are used mainly in the course of the senior cycle guidance programme. Most are web based, such as those associated with the Qualifax and Career Directions websites, and are used by students as an aid to the clarification of career decisions. Information presented on websites such as Careers Portal is used throughout the process.
The use of ICT by the guidance department is noteworthy. The quality of records related to all aspects of Guidance, including the minutes of meetings, the documentation of the planning process, and the profiling and tracking of students, is of a high standard. The value added to planning by the convenience of clear documentation is commended.
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 principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, November 2009