Most vulnerable pupils losing out as counselling hours cut in half
SCHOOLS are only spending half as much time on students who need one-to-one support as they did a year ago, according to a shocking new survey.
Teens struggling with difficult personal issues, such as bullying or family problems, or those who need extra help on CAO or other career-related decisions, are losing out badly.
Drastic cuts to guidance and counselling services have come at a time when schools are trying to deal with the growing problem of cyber-bullying, which was linked to at least two teen suicides in Ireland last year.
A particularly worrying feature of the survey findings is that schools in the vocational sector, which has the highest concentrations of pupils suffering disadvantage, are worst off.
At the other end of the scale, pupils in fee-paying schools have seen the least loss of guidance and counselling hours.
The full extent of cuts to guidance and counselling has emerged in an independent study, which compares the time devoted to those services in 2011/12 with the situation now.
Since September, the guidance and counselling service has had to be covered from within the school's general allocation of teaching hours, rather than having extra hours for it.
The move led to the abolition of about 500 state-paid posts, across 700 schools, forcing principals to stretch resources further and juggle priorities. An alternative to cutting guidance and counselling could be merging fifth- and sixth-year classes or higher- and ordinary-level students.
As a result, guidance/counselling teachers are back in the classroom teaching a subject, at least some of the time, and even where they are doing their own specialist work, it is more likely to be with a full class rather than on a one-to-one basis.
One-third of the 745 second-level schools and further education/post-Leaving Certificate colleges participated in the survey, carried out on behalf of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC).
Key findings include:
• A 51pc reduction in the time spent on one-to-one counselling, with a drop from 2,777 hours across 241 schools in 2011/12 to 1,349 hours this year.
• An overall 21pc cut in hours spent on guidance and counselling services generally, with wide variations between the different school sectors.
Students in vocational schools and community colleges have seen a 31pc drop in overall hours for guidance and counselling, compared with 12pc in fee-paying schools.
Voluntary secondary schools – generally those run, or previously run by the religious – have cut the time by 21pc. In community and comprehensive schools it's down 20pc, and in further-education colleges there has been a 16pc drop.
IGC president Gerry Flynn said: "Cutting one-to-one counselling service in half at the time when young people are facing increasing challenges, such as bullying and the threat of suicide, is unconscionable."
The Economic and Social Research Institute also recently warned that the cuts left pupils exposed to making poor choices when they left school.