Katherine Donnelly: It's hard to ignore impact of cuts in guidance
Published 09/03/2016 | 06:00
Why did more than 6,000 CAO applicants not fill out their course choices? And why has the figure risen so much over the past decade, particularly in the last few years? There may be many reasons, as varied as they are numerous, but it is hard to ignore the cuts in guidance counselling in schools, introduced in 2012, which has had a hugely detrimental effect on the time available to deal with individual students.
School-leavers interested in going to college can select from about 1,400 courses on the CAO. It is a bewildering choice and one which can only serve to confuse those who haven't a clear idea of what they want to do, and even if they do know, similar sounding courses can differ quite considerably.
That is where the services of a guidance counsellor come in, helping students to identify strengths and weaknesses, and sift through the minutiae of courses to find those that best match an applicant's aptitudes.
Cuts have seen the amount of hours available for one-to-one counselling reduced by 60pc. Some 200 schools were left with no one-to-one counselling at all. Some hours are being restored next September.
With the ongoing demand for college places from students with no family history of third-level, the role of the counsellor is particularly crucial.
The CAO deadline comes when most sixth years are feeling the pressure and trying to get through the 'mocks' - not an easy time, even for the most organised student. Trying to make decisions about college options without adequate support may be a task too far.
Colleges have a big responsibility too. There have been promises of more widespread use of broader entry routes to college, such as common entry engineering, which allow students to postpone specialising for a couple of years, thereby taking pressure off in sixth year. But progress on this front has been very slow. Maynooth has taken a leap in this direction and has been rewarded with a rise in applications, above the national average.