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15 December 2015

ETBI Magazine - IGCs response to “Student support Team in Post-Primary Schools

Institute of Guidance Counsellors response to
“Student support Team in Post-Primary Schools: a guide to establishing a team or reviewing an existing team”.

The Institute of Guidance Counsellors President, Betty McLaughlin, welcomes the opportunity to comment on the DES/NEPS publication recently sent to all school principals across the country - “Student support Team in Post-Primary Schools: a guide to establishing a team or reviewing an existing team”.  This booklet reflects good practice in schools and once again places guidance counselling centre stage in education by supplementing their vital work of supporting all students' learning, social, emotional and behavioural needs.  The booklet will be an important resource for all schools in promoting and protecting students' well-being.

It is estimated that one in ten children and teenagers experience mental health disorders which impact on their relationships and day-to-day coping skills, with many mental health problems emerging in childhood and early adolescence.  The Institute of Guidance Counsellors has found that, over the last decade, the needs of students in second level schools in modern Ireland have changed irrevocably.  Students bring a variety of life issues into the classroom - ADHD, anger issues, and emotional and behavioural problems.  These are students living with drug and alcohol addicted parents, students with addiction problems themselves, students who have experienced suicide of a family member or friend and may be contemplating suicide themselves, and students living with physical, emotional and sexual abuse on a daily basis, to name but a few.  These students need a dedicated school-based professional guidance service; a service that is fit-for-purpose and where one-to-one counselling is a life-line that offers a chance in life to these students – a chance that, thanks to the short-sighted cuts to guidance provision introduced in September 2012 has been decimated.  The Guidance Counsellor is the first point of contact for each student, without a referral, offering a free face-to-face counselling service; in an education system where the onward referral system has stretched to the point of collapsed, and children are waiting sometimes for years to be seen.    

It is not just the Institute of Guidance Counsellors that are highlighting the problems that have resulted from the removal of the dedicated guidance counselling service in schools.  The Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI, 2013) also looked at the impact of the education cuts on student wellbeing services.  It similarly found that, as a result of the abolition of ex-quota guidance counselling provision in schools in September 2012, 78% of schools have made changes to their guidance counselling services.  Of particular concern to the ASTI is that 7 in 10 schools have reduced the provision of one-to-one guidance counselling for students and that almost 60% of principals stated that the moratorium on posts of responsibility (in-school middle management posts) has had a high or medium adverse impact on the wellbeing of students.  

Thankfully, in Budget 2016, the Minister for Education and Skills has promised a part-restoration of 300 guidance counselling jobs from September 2016.  It is crucial that what is promised is delivered in all second level school, colleges of further education and adult education throughout the country.  To this end, the Institute of Guidance Counsellors has written to the Minister and asked that it be consulted on the planned Circular being issued by the Department of Education and Skills in the New Year to all schools so as to ensure that adequate levels of guidance provision are agreed between the DES, the Management Bodies and the Institute of Guidance Counsellors.  

At present guidance counsellors are struggling and stressed in trying to meet even the basic needs of their students.  The impact of the cuts, which were more deeply felt in DEIS schools, has led to even greater educational inequalities and the further neglect of vulnerable students, immigrants, and those with special needs.   The guidance counselling service is at the heart of the education team, and plays an integral role in the academic, career, and personal social development of all students; and it is the guidance counsellor’s specialist role that is crucial to promoting educational progression, employability and adaptability by educating and supporting our young people to make these career decisions within education, entering the labour market and their future progression within it.