Schools and State in row over return of guidance roles
A row over the restoration of time for guidance in schools is dragging on, with a wide gulf in understanding between guidance counsellors and the Department of Education over what was intended by a Budget promise last October.
The Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) believed that a commitment to ring-fence hours in schools from next September for the delivery of guidance activities also meant qualified guidance counsellors would be doing that work.
But their concerns were raised a few weeks ago when the Department of Education issued a circular to schools on teacher allocations for next year.
The circular stipulates there is an obligation to ensure the restored hours are delivered for 'guidance activities', but it does not specify that it must be all done by guidance counsellors.
That gives school managements the flexibility to assign certain activities, deemed to be under the broad umbrella of guidance, to other staff, such as form teachers.
The department said last night that guidance was a "whole school activity" that could "involve other teaching staff delivering small elements of the plan".
It noted that guidance counsellors played a key role in the development of the School Guidance Plan and that schools were required to adjust that plan to meet the requirement in Action Plan for Education for one-to-one counselling and time to support the Student Support Team.
At the height of the austerity era, the equivalent of 600 teaching posts previously ring-fenced for guidance were cut, leading to a significant reduction in the service as counsellors were sent back into the classroom to teach other subjects.
From September, the equivalent of 400 of these posts are returning for guidance activities, and the hours involved will be treated as a separate allocation from the normal complement of teachers allowed to a school - but without a requirement the work is the exclusive preserve of qualified guidance counsellors.
The IGC said last night that after the circular was issued, it met department officials seeking clarification and "assurances were also given that guidance should be provided by suitably qualified guidance counsellors". Officials may have drawn a distinction between "should" and "must".
The issue has come to a head because principals are now preparing their timetables and course allocations for September. The IGC stated that there was confusion in schools and called for clarification.
Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin previously raised the issue with the Taoiseach and party's education spokesperson Thomas Byrne plans to take it up with Education Minister Richard Bruton again this week.
Mr Byrne said there were concerns "over the lack of transparency with the allocation process for guidance counselling hours".