An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Guidance
Coachford, County Cork
Roll number: 70960D
Date of inspection: 28 November 2008
Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coachford College, 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 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, guidance counsellor, and chaplain.
Very good systems are in place to support students at Coachford College. The school caters for 580 female and male students from a wide, mainly rural, catchment area between Macroom and Ballincollig. The inspection focused on the school-wide support systems in place, on collaborative practices between the core student-support departments, and, in particular, on the delivery of a guidance service and programme to all students, both by the guidance department and by staff in general. The school is commended for viewing Guidance broadly and in its main personal, educational, and vocational components. The school has engaged with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and has established a planning structure based on that proposed by the SDPI. The analysis of the needs of students, which has been part of guidance department planning, is particularly commended as a process in keeping with the spirit and structures promoted by the SDPI. In keeping with good practice, policy development is ongoing, with the main current emphasis on the review of existing policies, the majority of which have been ratified by the board of management since the implementation of the Education Act 1998. The delegation of administrative and middle management tasks is commended, and school planning provides valuable opportunities for the identification of additional responsibilities for delegation. The guidance counsellor, for example, is a central figure in the administration of the system of subject choice leading to the formation of the school timetable.
The school’s ex-quota allocation for Guidance is twenty-four hours per week under Circular PPT12/05. The guidance counsellor is a permanent whole-time teacher of whose hours eighteen come from the ex-quota guidance allocation and four come from the general allocation for an assistant principal post of responsibility. It is recommended that the duties associated with the post of responsibility be reviewed and managed such that any possible conflicts between the roles of year head and guidance counsellor be obviated. Two further hours are used by the Transition Year (TY) co-ordinator who works collaboratively with the guidance counsellor in the provision of career information to TY students. At present, the remaining four hours are accumulated each year, to be used for the employment of another guidance counsellor during the last term of the school year. Although this is a creative use of the allocation, it is recommended that, in the interests of continuity of service, experience of the running of the school and of relationship building with students and staff, these hours be used on a continuous basis throughout the year. This might be achieved by, for example, the part-time employment of a guidance counsellor for half a day per week throughout the year. It is predicted that such an arrangement would enable the appointee to develop a sense of solidarity with the school in keeping with existing collaborative practice.
The guidance programme is well balanced between provision for students in the junior cycle and those in the senior cycle, although guidance department inputs tend to be more focused on senior cycle classes and students. Similarly, a good balance has been achieved between working with students individually, in small groups, and in classes. It is noted that some senior-cycle students’ access to Guidance in lessons timetabled as Careers may be restricted by the concurrent timetabling of subjects such as Applied Mathematics. Steps should be taken to ensure that guidance provision for all students is equitable. Collaboration between the guidance and special educational needs departments in providing for the needs of junior cycle students is highly commended. It is noted especially in the areas of student induction, assessment, and monitoring and in the extra guidance provided by the school in the last term of the school year when most of the subject and programme choices are made by students.
The facilities for Guidance are good and include an office with appropriate electronic office equipment and a range of storage facilities for secure storage and for display purposes. The guidance office contains a small library of guidance-related information. Further supplies of, for example, college prospectuses are available to students in an adjacent classroom and in the school library. It is suggested that some consideration be given to the question of student access to these materials, especially in areas regularly used or timetabled for other purposes. Similarly, in view of the importance of information and communications technology (ICT) in enabling access to guidance information, it is recommended that the whole-school guidance planning task group consider the role of ICT in Guidance, in the context of the school’s overall ICT plan. The benefits of access to the school’s administrative database should be considered in this context. A number of notice boards throughout the school are used for the display of guidance-related information. These, and the widespread display of artwork and examples of students’ achievements, help to create a pleasing visual environment.
It has been mentioned already that collaborative practice is of a high standard. The guidance counsellor is a core member of the student-support team. The school espouses values similar to those promoted by the Irish Association for Pastoral Care in Education (IAPCE) and, given the recent appointment of a new chaplain and the interest of the religious education (RE) co-ordinator, it seems appropriate to suggest that the chaplaincy might consider documents produced by the Association in the context of its department planning. The IAPCE web page is available as a link in the home page of the Marino Institute of Education. Because of potential overlaps between Guidance and pastoral care, it is recommended that the planning process of each of the departments, and of the special educational needs department, should be cognisant of the plans of the other to avoid duplications in their service and curricular components. Similarly, the support structures proposed by the IAPCE are similar in form to the year head and class tutor structure in existence at Coachford College and are worthy of consideration by the school when planning for this area. It is noted that members of each team also participate in whole-school guidance planning and this collaboration is again commended. Further evidence of the school’s openness to collaboration is evident in the involvement of the guidance department in the in-school element of the Postgraduate Diploma in Guidance and Counselling course offered by University College Cork, a learning relationship of benefit to the teacher who is training to be a guidance counsellor and to the school.
The good working relationship between the guidance counsellor and the principal facilitates a referral system both to external agencies, such as the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), and within the school. The guidance department operates an open system of referrals, utilising standard referral protocols such as referral slips and contacts with relevant staff. Both types of referral are reported by staff to be satisfactory and appropriate to the needs of the school. Middle-management meetings may be a valuable source of information about students. The guidance counsellor currently attends these meetings by virtue of the post of responsibility held. To enhance the communication system, it is suggested that a formal arrangement be made to ensure attendance by the guidance counsellor and/or members of the student-support team particularly where the support of students or whole-school planning are among the stated aims of the meetings.
Overall, Guidance at Coachford College is of a high standard. Such a standard can only have been achieved through a process of thoughtful planning, collaboration, and structure. Each of these is clearly evident in the school. The current review under SDPI of the trauma response plan exemplifies good practice, especially in the stated intention to remedy a perceived shortcoming by clearer definition of roles and responsibilities involved in the implementation of the trauma response. The guidance planning process is well advanced and is based on a clear understanding of the broad nature of Guidance. The guidance department plan is well based on the school’s mission, and incorporates, in addition to educational or academic guidance and vocational guidance, a strong commitment to personal and social guidance. The addition of the guidance department short-term plan, seen in the course of the inspection, and of the medium and long-term plans for the department which will emerge from the whole school guidance planning process, will form a comprehensive document. To this end, useful information and planning templates are available on the SDPI website, at www.sdpi.ie and on the Department of Education and Science website at www.education.ie. Good practice was observed in, for example, the minuting of meetings, the documentation of plans and in record keeping such as the tracking of students’ initial destinations after the Leaving Certificate examination. Similarly, the practice of involving parents and students in the planning and policy-making process is commended.
A whole-school guidance planning task group has been formed as part of the SDPI process. The inclusion in the group of the key student-support staff and other interested teachers, including a representative of the SPHE department, is commended. Such an approach is integrative and efficient in bringing together interested staff, widening the scope of student support, and placing student support more firmly at the core of effective teaching and learning.
The availability, in the school, of the key personnel and departmental structures to enable an active role for those with student-support responsibilities is a major strength. The recent appointment of a new chaplain presents opportunities for the development of the chaplaincy in collaboration with the RE department and in collaboration with the guidance department and the special educational needs department.
The guidance programme is comprehensive. Access to the curricular and service, or counselling, elements of Guidance is available to students at all levels, including those in transition from primary schools. Collaborative practice is, again, very much in evidence, particularly in the induction of new students and in the junior cycle, where teachers of SPHE work with the guidance counsellor in the delivery of those aspects of the subject which are common to Guidance. There was no co-ordinator or convenor of the SPHE department at the time of the inspection. It is recommended that, in view of the importance of SPHE in the delivery of curricular elements common to Guidance and in order to simplify the task of integrating the work of the two departments, arrangements be made by the SPHE department to appoint a co-ordinator. Further information regarding some of the common elements of guidance and SPHE, and other subjects, may be found in the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) Draft Guidance Framework (2007). The inclusion of a mentoring programme for new students to the school is under consideration. The responsibility delegated to more senior students in such a programme is commended for its compatibility with efforts to promote responsible behaviour as part of a system of positive discipline. It is noted that a staff seminar has been arranged for the spring of 2009 on the issue of behaviour management. This is indicative of a positive response to an identified need and is commended.
The guidance programme for senior cycle students includes timetabled provision for TY, fifth-year and sixth-year students. These inputs are provided by the guidance counsellor and, to TY students, by the TY co-ordinator who works closely with the guidance counsellor. The school’s work experience programme is co-ordinated by the TY co-ordinator. Work experience is arranged for TY students on an ongoing basis throughout the year, a process requiring continual administrative work that is demanding of time and energy. Contrary to the 2001 implementation guidelines (pages 8, 12 and 56) for the Programme, Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) students do not engage in work experience or work shadowing. It is recommended that work experience for students in both programmes be reconsidered in the context of whole school guidance planning. Issues for consideration should include the work placement of LCVP students, an integral part of the programme, and alternative approaches to TY work experience and to its monitoring such that more staff members might be involved and that administrative tasks might be more confined in time.
Links with the wider community are very good and include continual contacts with the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) in collaboration with the special educational needs department, and with the institutions of further and higher education and training.
The arrangements for students’ experiences of and choices of subjects have been under review by staff. This is commended. A document seen in the course of the inspection, which had been circulated to staff in 2007 following a review of the curriculum by a school-development task group, exemplifies staff involvement in the process and the advantages, already mentioned, of structured approaches to planning. Recommendations regarding the formation of mixed-ability classes and the possible combinations of optional subjects available to junior cycle and senior cycle students are particularly commended and should be progressed. To enable informed decisions based on experience, it is recommended that further consideration be given to any arrangements that would provide students with experiences of optional subjects prior to decision-making for the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate examinations.
It is obvious from the displays of students’ work throughout the building and from other evidence, that academic aptitudes are but part of the available pool of talents among students. The school has considered the introduction of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme and, on balance, staff have considered that its imminent introduction is not viable. Given the school’s success in promoting academic achievement and in view of its mission to offer an education of the highest standard to all students, it is suggested that the school should continue to consider the LCA as a possible programme for students for whom the more academically orientated Leaving Certificate might prove inappropriate.
There is clear evidence that the guidance team engages in continuing professional development (CPD) in a variety of forms, such as that provided by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors. It is recommended that, because of the importance of CPD to the work of the guidance counsellor, the guidance counsellor’s timetable be arranged to enable attendance at regular continuing professional development arranged by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors.
Good use was made of a range of teaching methods in the course of the lesson observed. The lesson was well planned. A roll call was taken, followed by some general comments that enabled a calm transition from the previous lesson. A brief introduction located the lesson in a series concerned with the process of decision-making, particularly about the courses available to sixth year students after the Leaving Certificate examination. A brief visualisation exercise was skilfully used to provide a framework for the remainder of the lesson. Students were asked to imagine where they would be in a year’s time. The lesson continued using information gathered from students as to their concerns for the future, but with a positive emphasis on “taking the mystery out of the system.” Students’ previous learning through class work, personal research, attendance at open days, and through contacts with parents, friends and course providers, was used effectively during the lesson to reinforce that learning. It was clear that students had a rich base of knowledge and experience that facilitated the accommodation of the content of the current lesson.
The atmosphere during the lesson was relaxed and attentive. Students were addressed by name and were seated to maximise their view of material displayed using a data projector, all of which are commended. Materials used were clear, and a copy of the CAO application form given to each student was essential to the points being made in the course of the lesson. Questions used were effective in prompting responses from students and were well mixed with questions of a higher order whose effect was to maintain interest and alertness among students. Short, effective affirmations, such as “well done” and “good!,” were used throughout the lesson. It was clear that good relationships had been formed in which humour was well used and where the individual preferences of students were well known. Students demonstrated, by their responses, a thorough integration of previous learning and a continuing application of lesson content to their decision-making.
The school’s participation in the programme of Irish standardisation of the CAT3 (Cognitive Abilities Test) is indicative of its healthy approach to assessment, documentation and collaborative practice. The collaboration of the guidance and special educational needs departments with regard to assessment is highly commended. This facilitates an integrated approach to student induction, assessment, and monitoring and to continuing supports for students throughout their schooling. It also highlights the positive results of structured approaches to planning already mentioned. Collaboration is particularly evident in the school’s assessment procedures but it is not in any way confined to this. A range of standardised assessments is used especially as part of the process of induction of new students that begins while students are in primary schools and that continues through first year. Assessments of general ability are carried out prior to entry and early in the spring term of first year. These assessments are used to ensure classes of mixed ability in first year and to monitor students’ progress. Further diagnostic testing is carried out by the special educational needs department to determine, and to provide for, the individual learning and educational needs of identified students. The identification of exceptionally able students is part of this process and is commended. Aptitude tests are administered while students are in fifth year and the results are interpreted for students in the course of individual interviews and in accordance with good assessment practice. It is an interesting feature of the stated aims of the school that academic achievement is highly rated. The school’s success in achieving those aims is commended and it is strongly suggested that the emphasis, inherent in the achievement of academic excellence, on other talents, aptitudes, and intelligences be given more overt expression in the aims.
Students’ decisions regarding their occupational and course preferences are aided, particularly in the senior cycle, by the use of interest inventories. These include paper-based preference blanks and web-based interest questionnaires and inventories such as those that are part of the Qualifax and Career Directions websites. In view of the importance to Guidance of these and other web-based materials, it is recommended that ICT access and its use be included in the deliberations of the whole-school guidance planning task group so that they may be integrated into the ICT elements of the school plan.
The formalities associated with meetings, interviews and general administrative processes are of a very high standard. Meetings are minuted, interviews are recorded on paper and systems are in place to record the outcomes of contacts with parents, staff, management and students. The recording by the guidance department of initial destinations of students following the Leaving Certificate examination is a good example of established care and communication processes in the school. This structured formality is highly commended and is a further indication of good planning practices. It is noted that such follow-up activity has enduring benefits for the school in that past students are reported by the guidance team to engage willingly in the guidance programme by being available to senior students for advice and information.
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, deputy principal, guidance counsellor, and chaplain at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published November 2009