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06 February 2013

IGC Response to Ministers Quinn and Lynch's remarks

Press Release:
Institute of Guidance Counsellors
Monday 4th February 2013

The Minister for Education and Skills, the Minister of State for Disability, Older People, Equality & Mental Health and the Director of the National Office of Suicide Prevention launched new guidelines for mental health and suicide prevention for post-primary schools on Thursday 31st January, titled:

“Well-Being in Post-Primary Schools” Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention.

The Minister for Education and Skills stated at the launch of these guidelines that: “Post-primary schools have a unique role to play in supporting the positive mental health and well-being of young people. They do this by creating caring environments, by educating young people about their health, and by providing support for those experiencing difficulty.”

Included within the published guidelines is included the following section on the importance of schools making proper provision for qualified Guidance Counsellors providing individual counselling to all students experiencing difficulties or in crisis.

(vi) Counselling
“Schools need to maximise the use of their available resources for the provision of guidance and should seek to ensure that the guidance counsellor has time allocated for individual counselling with students experiencing difficulties or in crisis. The focus of counselling in schools has, as its objective, the empowerment of young people so that they can make decisions, solve problems, address behavioural issues, develop coping strategies, enhance self-esteem, identify and process feelings, and resolve difficulties they may be experiencing. Counselling may include personal counselling, educational counselling, career counselling or a combination of all.”

It is surprising therefore to read in a National newspaper on Friday last, a comment by the Minister that “Guidance Counsellors provide guidance in relation to career options and career choices.”
The Minister has either not read the content of his own policy document, which clearly states as outlined above that the role of the Guidance Counsellor “include personal counselling, educational counselling, career counselling or a combination of all.”

The IGC was alarmed to hear the Minister state at the launch of the guidelines that, support in schools to children experiencing difficulties could also be provided by “The cleaner or the maintenance man.”
This appears to the IGC to be an attempt on the part of the Minister to deprofessionalise the work of Guidance Counsellors, who must acquire a specific standard of Post Graduate qualifications mandated by his own Department, prior to being appointed to a guidance role in second level schools and colleges of further education. Guidance Counsellors must also participate in ongoing professional supervision of their counselling work carried out by Counselling Supervisors who operate under regulations set down by the Teacher Education Section of the Department of Education itself.

The Ministers reluctance to acknowledge the multifaceted nature of both the qualifications and role of the Guidance Counsellor, and his suggestion that this role can just as easily be carried out by cleaning and maintenance staff, may be attributed to his removal of the entire ex quota allocation to schools to enable Guidance Counsellors to provide this service since September 2012.

The Institute also notes that the Minister of State for Disability, Older People, Equality & Mental Health in speaking about the role on Guidance Counsellors on Morning Ireland on the morning of the launch referred exclusive to this in the past tense, giving the lie to the Governments protestations that they still expect schools to find resources from their own resources, to enable Guidance Counsellors to carry out their counselling function.

As outlined recently in the results of the Audit of Service Delivery carried out by the IGC with its members working in second level schools, the availability of one to one counselling has decreased by over 51% since September 2012, and the overall timetabled guidance counsellor’s allocation to deliver the full range of service provision has decreased by 21%. The study also found that there were significant variations among the different school types on the level of service ranging from 8.8% to 30.6%:

Hours lost by school types 2012-13
Vocational/Community Colleges 30.6%
Voluntary Secondary Schools 21.2%
Community/Comprehensive Schools 20.0%
Colleges of Further Education 15.6%
Fee Paying Secondary Schools 12.1%

The IGC is now calling on the Minister for Education and Science to affirm the importance of professional counselling availability to all students as outlined in his own policy document published on 31st January last. The IGC further calls on the Minister to provide schools with the dedicated resourced from September 2013 to enable them to allocate sufficient time to the qualified Guidance Counsellors, to support all the students within the school who are experiencing difficulties or are in crisis.

Gerry Flynn, President IGC 087-9958606
Elizabeth Tynan Vice President IGC 087-6755802
Betty Mc Laughlin National PRO, IGC 087-1258624