Betty McLaughlin: Do we really want to leave young people further at risk?
Published 14/01/2013 | 05:00
AS A RESULT of the cuts to education last year, an independent study carried out for the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) shows that there has been a 51pc reduction in the time available for one-to-one student counselling in schools and colleges of further education.
Overall, there has been a 21pc reduction in the time allocated to guidance and counselling services generally.
In some cases the one-to-one personal support has been discontinued and guidance counsellors have been allocated subject teaching hours instead. This has given rise to great inequality.
Affluent parents, whose children attend schools that have considerably reduced the one-to-one support, can afford to send their children for private guidance.
This facility has always been available to parents. However, there has been a huge surge in requests for private guidance to grind schools and private practitioners.
Economically disadvantaged parents do not have the same option, though there is no doubt that their children are not receiving the same quality of service in terms of time when it comes to subject choice, cycle option choices and career choice applications to CAO.
The reduction in one-to-one counselling support leaves young people further at risk and, once again, it is those who are economically disadvantaged who will suffer most. Families in which a vulnerable child is in need of support may now have no option but to wait for access to mental health services.
Students seeking one-to-one help from guidance counsellors present with a range of issues, including bullying, bereavement and sexual identity problems.
Counsellors provide an important listening ear and can offer professional advice and support before matters escalate.
Students have to be suicidal or self-harming before they are prioritised for access to psychological or psychiatric services and, even at that, they sometimes have to wait. Again, affluent parents can afford to send their children for private counselling.
On the other hand, there are schools that have sacrificed the teaching of some subjects at higher level in other to save guidance and counselling services. Once again, affluent parents can pay for subject provision at higher level in grind schools.
This will result in these students gaining higher points, thus perpetuating inequality as lower-income families cannot compete.
It may be argued that the socio-economically disadvantaged can avail of the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) scheme, which offers places on reduced points to school leavers from disadvantaged backgrounds.
However, only a limited number of places are available, and families hit by the recession may not qualify.
The increase in the pupil-teacher ratio in further education/post Leaving Cert (FE/PLC) colleges announced in last month's Budget will lead to a reduction in 1.3 posts in FE colleges with 200 students. Inevitably it will be the guidance and counselling service that will be hit.
PLCs do not have the same access to personal supports that universities and ITs provide, so again it will be the students who access PLC – traditionally those from lower socio-economic groups – who will suffer.
The IGC would like to work with the Department of Education and Skills, parents and other agencies to determine how best we can deliver counselling services at the coalface, so to speak, by tapping into the existing national network of guidance counsellors.
Betty McLaughlin is PRO for the Institute of Guidance Counsellors