Counsellors 'can only do bare minimum'
Published 25/04/2014 | 02:30
One in four guidance counsellors are not happy with their ability to respond to students in crisis situations.
A combination of cuts and increases in pupil numbers has led to a "worrying decrease" in the overall capacity of schools to support students, according to teachers.
Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) education officer Bernie Judge said in many serious situations, such as incidents of self-harm by students or bullying, the counsellors could only do "the bare minimum".
A new survey, on the effect of cuts to guidance provision in schools, has found an ongoing deterioration in the level of provision since the cuts were imposed in September 2012.
The TUI has released preliminary findings of the survey, conducted in recent months among 125 schools.
In many cases cuts in provision were down further than was the case in 2013.
Guidance counsellors provide both career-related advice and support for students in areas of general well-being, in one-to-one meetings, where necessary.
A cut imposed in September 2012 means that schools have to provide the service from within their general allocation of teaching hours, rather than getting an additional allowance for guidance counselling.
The effect of the budgetary cut was the loss of the equivalent of almost one teacher, on average, in every school and principals have had to make choices between guidance provision and teaching.
According to the survey findings, almost two-thirds of guidance counsellors – 61pc – say they are now giving less time to their specialist work because they are being timetabled for subject teaching.
It also found that the provision of one-to-one counselling sessions is among the biggest casualties of the cuts.
The difficult choices facing principals in deciding priorities is also highlighted, with 85pc stating that there was reduced provision of guidance counselling in their school since 2012.
On the other hand, in order to release guidance counsellors for their specialist work, in 86pc of cases classes were amalgamated, 75pc said class sizes had increased and 68pc said subject choice had been reduced.
Ms Judge said the findings showed that guidance counselling was becoming more of a "fire fighting" service, reacting to problems that become more serious because they were not identified at an early stage.
* Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has said he will not be asking teachers to work 52 weeks of the year as part of the revamp of the further education and training sectors, under the new agency, Solas.
Mr Quinn dropped a bombshell at a teachers' union conference this week when he announced he wanted further education colleges to open all year round. The minister wants the buildings to be open in the summer months to allow for the provision of courses but insists he was not suggesting that staff work year round.
While Mr Quinn has no plans to tear up teacher contracts, there are likely to be negotiations on more flexible arrangements, which could include teachers having the option of summer working.
The TUI annual conference yesterday carried a motion instructing its leadership to protect members' terms and conditions.