An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Mayfield Community School
Old Youghal Road, Mayfield, Cork
Roll number: 91400F
Date of inspection: 25 and 26 September 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008
the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mayfield Community School. 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 two 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.
Mayfield Community School is one of the original community schools, having been established in 1973. It was built at a time when housing development in the locality was at its peak. Enrolment at one time reached nine hundred. Since then, the population profile has changed to an older demographic and the construction of new schools within the original catchment area has resulted in a drop in enrolment to the current 334, mainly urban, boys and girls. The school is part of the DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) initiative. A very impressive care group operates in support of students and in providing solidarity for support staff.
Two full-time posts in Guidance are allocated to the school, one as an ex-quota post which the school has retained despite falling numbers and one post as an addition to the quota under the Guidance Enhancement Initiative. The allocation is effectively used in the provision of a service of high quality.
Both guidance counsellors are fully timetabled although it is obvious from the range of the services provided that the hours worked are significantly more than those timetabled. Most of the timetabled hours are used for individual and small-group work and arrangements are in place for guidance inputs to classes at all levels as part of the planned programme of the guidance department. Fifth-year and sixth-year classes are timetabled for one period of Guidance per week, Leaving Certificate Applied 2 having two periods per week. One of the guidance counsellors is timetabled for three Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) classes per week. Although the guidance allocation is used for these classes, the guidance team favours this arrangement as a convenient means of delivering those elements of the programme which are common to SPHE and of targeting second-year students, a group which the team has identified as requiring greater guidance inputs.
The whole-school guidance programme is well developed and comprehensive. The delivery of the programme is undertaken formally and informally by a wide range of staff. In addition to the two guidance counsellors, others with strong guidance and support roles include the chaplain and the holder of a disadvantaged-area post (both of which are full posts), two full posts in special education and half a teacher-equivalent in Home School Community Liaison, all of which are additions to the quota. A qualified counsellor, a member of a religious congregation, provides additional counselling on a voluntary basis during three days each week. Elements of the guidance programme are delivered through SPHE, Religious Education (RE), Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) and through teaching and learning in the range of subjects and programmes available in the school. Work experience, for example, is managed by the co-ordinators of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and Transition Year (TY) programmes, with briefings from the guidance team before and after the events. Strong links exist between the guidance team, senior management, middle-management and the year tutor and class-teacher structure. Co-operation with the special-education team is ongoing but less formally structured. It is recommended that, considering the growing recognition of the importance of personal and social issues in dealing with particular learning and teaching needs, more formal collaboration between the guidance and special-education teams be initiated. It is suggested that a representative of the special-education team might be facilitated to attend a regular meeting at which issues of common concern to those involved in the support of students are discussed and planned for.
Strong evidence of reflective practice was found in the course of the inspection. The results of this commendable practice are to be found in the very good balance between guidance work in the junior cycle and senior cycle and between individual, small-group and class interventions and inputs. The individual talents of the team are used to very good advantage in the provision of guidance and in the division of tasks. Areas for development of the service are regularly identified and acted upon. An example is the increased provision for second-year students through more structured inputs. Members of the care group arrange sessions with groups of second-year students on issues such as emotional development, anger management and substance use. Similarly, the guidance team is to meet each second-year student individually to begin a formal process of personal, educational and vocational exploration. A similar need has been identified at senior level and a series of sessions on mental health matters for fifth-year and sixth-year students is provided annually.
The facilities for guidance are very good. A guidance suite is centrally located and is accessible to students. Two well-equipped offices flank a small library and information area. Both offices are installed with a computer with broadband access, telephone and printer. The offices are suited to counselling. A variety of storage space is in place and is used appropriately for display and for the retention of files and confidential materials. Displays of guidance-related information are to be seen throughout the school.
Information and communication technology (ICT) is readily accessible for group Guidance in three ICT rooms, in addition to the office-based computers which are used for individual and small-group work. As part of a post of responsibility, one of the guidance team is the ICT administrator and co-ordinates subject and programme choice with the aid of ICT. Word-processing software is used extensively in the preparation of materials for class, planning and information purposes.
The school’s care group is the backbone of student support in Mayfield Community School. The group comprises both guidance counsellors, the chaplain, home-school-community liaison teacher and the counsellor. The functions of the group include the identification and prioritisation of students at risk, decision making as to appropriate actions to be taken and mutual support. The group is also responsible for a number of planning initiatives such as the development of the school’s response to critical incidents and the identification of students’ guidance needs, already referred to above. It is recommended that, on account of its importance as a core school team in support of teaching and learning and of its de facto planning function, a regular item on the agenda of the care group be whole-school guidance planning. It is also recommended that the work of the school in support of students, of which it can be justifiably proud, be more widely publicised in, for example, information leaflets for parents.
The principal and deputy principal are members of every staff team and attend meetings regularly. Communication between the guidance team and senior management is ongoing through these contacts and, informally, on a day-to-day basis.
Referral systems, both within the school and to outside agencies, are effective and well managed. One of the functions of the care group is the identification of students at risk. Participation of members of the team in other school activities ensures a smooth flow of information from a variety of sources at all stages of a student’s education. Students may be referred formally by staff members, particularly through the year-tutor and class-teacher structure, by fellow students or they may self refer. Referrals to outside agencies are managed by members of the care group in collaboration with senior management. The guidance team reports that effective links to these agencies and individuals have been established and that the majority of student needs in this regard may be catered for.
The guidance department plan is in draft form and is a solid foundation for the development of the whole-school guidance plan as an integral part of the school plan. The structures suggested by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) are used in the school to expedite the planning process, that is, a school-development planning co-ordinator and a small steering group oversee a number of ad hoc action planning groups. A member of the guidance team has completed a module of the guidance planning course run by the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE). It is recommended that the task group which had been set up to oversee the development of the whole-school guidance plan be revived in the light of recently published documents relating to guidance planning and, particularly, in view of the quality of student support in the school. The plan should draw together all of the elements of guidance as currently provided, should look to the future and should incorporate issues such as professional development, staffing and roles. It is suggested that the task group comprise a small group of interested staff and that representatives of the core areas of student support be members. In line with the recommendation made above, it is suggested that regular, formal progress reports be made to the care group.
It may be useful here to reiterate the guidance responsibilities of all staff and the important role of student support in an effective system of teaching and learning. A more detailed exposition of whole-school guidance is to be found in the document produced by the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science (2005), Guidelines for second-level schools on the implications of Section 9(c) of the Education Act (1998), relating to students' access to appropriate guidance. Similarly, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) Draft Guidance Framework (2007) provides a very useful model of the efficient use of available resources in providing part of the whole-school programme. A recent addition to the SDPI website, at www.sdpi.ie, has been a section on guidance planning and a guidance-planning template is available on the Department of Education and Science website at www.education.ie.
The emphasis in previous paragraphs on the written plan is recognition of the desirability of revealing existing good practice and of bringing it to a more formal level. Examples of that good practice include the ongoing programmes of induction and support given to new students and their families. The collaboration of the guidance department, home-school-community liaison, chaplaincy, counsellor and management is highly commended. The process of formal induction begins well in advance of entry and includes information sessions for parents and potential students, visits to feeder primary schools and consultation with outside agencies. Evidence of similar collaboration was observed throughout the school. Guidance inputs into programmes such as Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), LCA, LCVP, SPHE and Transition Year (TY) are well organised elements of the team’s subject plan.
Both members of the guidance team co-ordinate subject and programme choice using software directly linked to the school’s administrative system. Student choices at first year, third year and fourth year are closely monitored and guided. Issues of equity and stereotyping are dealt with in the JCSP, SPHE and CSPE. The grouping of optional subjects is based on the recorded preferences of students and is a collaborative effort of the guidance team and management. This system is commended.
The involvement of parents is actively encouraged. HSCL is very well established and communication with the care group, management and staff is ongoing and effective. Information sessions for parents on induction, subject and programme options, and vocational decisions are organised by the guidance department in addition to sessions organised by other departments in which the guidance team participates. The guidance counsellors attend all parent-teacher meetings and are available for consultation by appointment.
Effective links have been established with agencies, organisations and individuals outside the school. Examples include links with the National Educational Psychological Service, the Health Service Executive and the UCC Access programme. Strong links with industry facilitate visits to the school by industrialists and to industries by students. The work-experience programme for LCA, LCVP and TY students and an annual careers day at the school are further examples of the effectiveness of these contacts.
The guidance team consider continuing professional development to be an important part of the guidance process. The school facilitates and encourages attendance at branch meetings of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors. Engagement with counselling supervision and with professional development organised by the IGC, NCGE and other organisations is ongoing and is commended.
A range of teaching methods was observed in the classes visited. In both cases lessons commenced with a review of attendance and a recapitulation of work done during previous sessions. The topic of lessons was clearly flagged at the outset and students were made aware of the aims of lessons. The use of small groups is commended in that it enabled discussion and feedback and added a stimulating variety to lessons. Clear instructions were given regarding the formation of groups and responses to the exercises presented in handouts. Good use was made of flip charts, some of which had been prepared prior to the lesson, and of the blackboard. In one lesson, each student used a folder for the storage of materials and exercises. This enabled easy access to past information and will be a useful portfolio by the end of the module. Questions were extensively used during the lessons and the obviously good relationship between teachers and students facilitated more active student participation and questions. The positive relationship between teachers and students was a major factor in the relaxed but businesslike conduct of the lessons.
Good preparation ensured that classroom management was unobtrusive and effective. In both cases the furniture was arranged in well-spaced rows and columns, with one student to a table, and was easily manipulated to allow the formation of groups. The arrangement also enabled movement between desks. All students were included in the proceedings by the use of appropriate questions and comments. The use of students' names added to the rapport observed. Particularly noted was the influence of reflective practice on the content and conduct of lessons. The ideas and enquiries of students during past sessions were incorporated and responded to. Students were engaged and responsive throughout. Questions and comments by students demonstrated clear understanding of the content of the lessons and, in brief conversations before the end of the sessions, showed alertness and comprehension of the major issues involved.
A standardised reasoning test is administered to all first-year students during the autumn term. The results are used to monitor academic progress and to inform decisions regarding the need for special interventions and to inform long-term vocational planning. The assignment of students to classes in first year is achieved following a process of consultation between the school, primary schools, parents and outside agencies. Consideration might be given to the earlier timing of standardised testing, particularly as it applies to estimates of general ability. Information as to the academic ability of students can be very useful in the monitoring and diagnostic process, which take place, particularly prior to, and in the early stages of first year. This might also be an opportunity to establish more formal links between the Guidance and special-educational-needs teams.
Aptitude tests are administered to students in fifth year and are used to inform student decisions, particularly in the course of career interviews. Similarly, a range of interest inventories is used throughout the senior cycle as part of the planned programme and as the need arises. All fifth-year and sixth-year students are met individually by the guidance counsellors. Web-based inventories associated with Qualifax and Career Directions are regularly used in the course of class-based and individual guidance.
Student destinations are tracked by the guidance team after the Leaving Certificate examination. A combination of a letter, telephone call and informal enquiries is used for this purpose.
High standards of record keeping are in evidence in the school. Records are kept of formal meetings, both of staff and with students. Informal meetings and decisions are also noted, as appropriate. Records are stored securely.
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 counsellors and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.