TEENAGE pupils are suffering an even greater loss of school counselling services as the impact of a budget cutback bites deeper.
The hours spent on guidance and other counselling are continuing to fall drastically, as a result of a cost-saving measure introduced in September 2012.
On average, guidance counsellors are now spending only 41pc of the time on one-to-one counselling of pupils that they did two years ago.
That is a further deterioration from last year when it had dropped to 49pc of the pre-2012 level, according to a new survey by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC), the results of which have been seen exclusively by the Irish Independent.
Overall, the time that counsellors are devoting to their specialist area compared with two years ago has dropped to 76pc -- a further slip from 79pc last year.
The revelation comes as thousands of Leaving Certificate candidates prepare to fill in CAO forms indicating their college preferences.
Counsellors provide not only crucial advice on careers and college courses, but also play a vital role supporting pupils experiencing personal difficulties.
As well as working with class groups, an important part of a counsellor's work is one-to-one sessions with pupils.
The overall reduction in hours translates into the equivalent of one in five counsellors -- a total of 168 -- back in the classroom full-time, in a traditional teaching role.
While the brunt of the cut was felt in 2012/13, a new IGC audit of schools and colleges of further education shows there has been a further erosion this year.
The survey results paint a picture of an uneven and disjointed service with the most disadvantaged pupils suffering the greatest loss, while pupils of fee-paying schools are least affected.
The stark reduction in service is very evident when a comparison is done on the actual number of hours spent on this specialist work in schools between 2011/12 and the current year.
Two years ago, the total amount of hours devoted to guidance counselling in 191 schools that responded to the survey was 24,541 -- and that is down 24pc to 18,716.
In the same year, 2011/12, guidance counsellors in those schools spent 12,023 hours in one-to-one sessions with pupils, which is now down 59pc, to 4,956 hours.
For every hour spent on guidance/counselling two years ago, the average guidance counsellor is now spending 47 minutes; and for every hour devoted to one-to-one counselling, the average guidance counsellor is now spending only 25 minutes.
The cuts arise from the removal of the ex-quota allocation for guidance counselling, which means that schools must provide the service from within their general allocation of teaching hours.
The continuing deterioration in the service is tracked in an audit conducted for the IGC since September. It follows a similar audit last year.
Counsellors deal with issues such as bullying, self-harm and low self-esteem on a daily basis and, according to the IGC, many students are unable to access the assistance of a guidance counsellor when most needed.
Guidance counsellors will be lobbying their parents' councils and politicians nationally to seek a reversal of the cuts.
Katherine Donnelly Education Editor