Budget must end hit-and-miss guidance counselling in schools
It is encouraging to see reports that Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan is expected to succeed in creating more teaching jobs as a result of Budget 2016. Such an increase may be primarily down to demographics, improved pupil-teacher ratios, and a revised 'resource hours' allocation, all of which are most welcome.
However, please let us not forget the urgent need for the restoration of the unique, vibrant, fully resourced guidance-counselling frontline service that was available and accessible to all students prior to budget cuts of 2012.
As a result of the 2012 removal of ex-quota hours for guidance counselling, schools' management were forced to adopt a discretionary approach to its provision, which has resulted in a hit-and-miss service delivery.
In essence, this approach promotes inequality of access to the service for students (and parents) and inequality in obtaining comparable career-learning experiences and quality-assured experiences.
The effects of such inequities has resulted in 168 schools with no one-to-one guidance counselling, with schools unable to provide what students had received as a free public service up until 2012, and with parents now having to look to the private sector for guidance counselling and to pay for it - that is, those who can afford to do so, and for those who cannot, just do without regardless.
Guidance counselling in Ireland is now in its unhealthiest state since its inception into education. If specific hours for guidance counselling are not restored as a priority, the service is now in danger of total collapse. This is not a wild, statement, but one that is supported by published research across the board.
According to the OECD, education and employment policies seek to widen choices and to create systems that can respond to varying needs of the population across the lifespan.
A fit-for-purpose guidance counselling system is increasingly important for public policy and public policy is important for guidance counselling as it sets the frameworks for it, and provides the funding for it. However, there is a gap between the two.
A fit-for-purpose service is not just about providing assistance to students with decisions at a point in their lives, it is about providing an approach that embraces the development of career-management skills for students, for all their lives.
A fit-for-purpose service supports government policy on social equity, helping to maximise the use that students make of their talents and abilities, regardless of their gender, social background or ethnic origin.
A fit-for-purpose service has the capacity to assist those students whose choice is to access the world of work and, indeed, to contribute to the development of employability through assisting the unemployed to assess their training needs.
A fit-for-purpose service contributes to the implementation of many of the Government's equity goals, such as the integration of immigrants and refugees into employment and training, reducing gender segmentation in the labour market, reducing the impact of family advantage upon educational and labour market outcomes, and increasing social cohesion.
With the coming budget, the opportunity has arrived to address the imbalance created and restore guidance counselling hours so that the process of rebuilding a fit-for-purpose guidance counselling service, as laid down by the Education Act, 1988, one that supports government policy, can commence.
Betty McLaughlin is President of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors