Thursday 30 October 2014

Cuts to guidance service shows a lack of compassion and understanding

Published 08/11/2012 | 06:00

Now, two months into the school year, the implications of the removal of the allocation of additional teaching hours for guidance and counselling are being recognised by students and their parents.

It is evident that the extent of the guidance service across schools is extremely varied, and uneven and disjointed in terms of quality of provision.

Guidance counsellors are finding that they can't see students urgently when they need to be seen because of their other teaching duties in the school.

Members are experiencing huge pressure in trying to fulfil their role because of the reduced hours available for the one-to-one work.

While some principals seem to have been very supportive, it seems that many either are not aware of what constitutes a guidance service, as delivered by a professional guidance counsellor, or, understanding the role, have chosen to ignore it.

Timetabling of guidance counsellors for academic subject teaching and Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) delivery is blocking access by students and their parents/guardians to a professional guidance service.

It is unrealistic to expect that any level of what would constitute a professionally acceptable service can be delivered, even in those schools where the guidance practitioner is given some 'guidance hours' to meet students on a 'one-to-one' basis.

Therefore, what we see is lip service to the Department of Education and Skills requirement that the guidance counselling service be provided from within the general allocation of teaching hours. It is evident at local level, from the timetables of some guidance counsellors, that there is a lack of awareness of the demands of the role in providing for even a limited service.

Principals were asked to manage guidance provision from within the school's general allocation. In a minority of schools this has happened.

In many instances, where the guidance counsellor is timetabled for group guidance sessions, the size of these groups may be 30 students or more.

This results in a misuse of the professional service and the practitioner finding themselves in a disciplinary or controlling relationship with students.

At the very least, the allocation to be made for the professional service of the guidance counsellor from within the general allocation needs to be clearly specified to schools.

Many guidance counsellors, employed on a part-time basis, are particularly vulnerable, and are unable to demand parity of resources with their subject teachers in relation to time allocation for their service.

Some think these cuts show a lack of compassion and humanity as well as a gap in understanding the real issues facing our students on a daily basis.

Betty McLaughlin is National PRO for the Institute of Guidance Counsellors and guidance counsellor at Coláiste Mhuire CBS Mullingar, Co Westmeath

Irish Independent

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