GIVEN their vital role in ensuring that high-quality education and care is provided to all pupils, education ministers have made provision for all schools to have the professional services of a principal, deputy principal and guidance counsellor, in addition to subject teachers, for over 40 years.
In September 2012, due to a budgetary decision, all schools lost the ex quota allocation for guidance counselling, which means that the service has to be provided from within a school's general allowance of teaching hours rather than schools having additional hours for it.
It has led to a loss of service of all pupils, particularly the most disadvantaged, as indicated in the audit published by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC).
The most alarming finding of the audit is that there has been a 59pc decrease in the most important use of a guidance counsellor's skills, ie, one-to-one interactions with pupils.
This finding confirms that the vast majority of schools, lacking a dedicated guidance resource, are no longer in a position to meet their statutory responsibility to deliver appropriate guidance and counselling under Section 9C of the Education Act 1998.
Notwithstanding any budgetary decision of the present Government, it still remains the responsibility of the Education and Skills Minister to ensure that all pupils receive appropriate guidance and counselling, which the audit confirms is not happening.
The recently published survey by the National Council for Guidance in Education, which is an agency of the Department of Education and Skills, clearly demonstrates that pupils are suffering as a result of the drastic cuts to the guidance service, which schools have been forced to instigate, due to the loss of a dedicated guidance resource.
Now that the economy is showing signs of recovery, there is an urgent need to restore to schools their dedicated guidance resource, so that all students receive "appropriate guidance" as outlined in the Education Act 1998.
The IGC therefore calls on Ruairi Quinn to address the following questions.
* What steps will he now take to ensure that the minimum provisions on guidance/counselling outlined in document drawn up by the school management bodies, and to take effect from September 2012, are observed?
* What provision will he make for students who have no access to a guidance counsellor in schools where no qualified guidance counsellors are employed?
* Is it his intention to reinstate a dedicated resource to enable schools to make appropriate provision for the delivery of appropriate guidance counselling, as per Section 9(C) of the 1998 Education Act?
Guidance counsellors are acutely aware that there has never been a greater need for effective guidance and counselling to be made available to young people in our second-level schools and colleges of further education.
BETTY McLAUGHLIN, NATIONAL PRO, INSTITUTE OF GUIDANCE COUNSELLORS AND GUIDANCE COUNSELLOR, COLAISTE MHUIRE, MULLINGAR