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01 June 2016

Response to Sunday Independent Article May 29 2016

Response Document to
Sunday Independent article of May 29
Titled: “Crisis talks to patch up cracks in Government.  
Fianna Fail anger over Fine Gael row-back on guidance counsellors”

President of The Institute of Guidance Counsellors, Betty McLaughlin, finds it crucial that she responds to the Government’s rowing-back on pre-government formation promises in connection with guidance counselling practice, published in a Sunday Independent article of May 29 “Fianna Fail anger over Fine Gael row-back on guidance counsellors”.  The Institute is hugely concerned that all the hard work undertaken by the Institute to evaluate the impact of the Budget 2012 decision to remove the ex-quota position of Guidance Counselling hours from all second level schools and colleges of further education and to highlight this information not only to Government, but to parents and partners in education alike, has again fallen on deaf ears at Governmental level.  

Current Status
Guidance Counselling has been destroyed, devastated, and systematically demolished and reduced to an ad-hoc hit-and-miss service for students in this country.  The National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE), an agency of the Department of Education and Skills (DES), found this to be so in 2013 and called for an immediate policy change, following a review carried out by it on behalf of the DES.  This Review recommended that “the ex-quota allocation for guidance in schools should be restored as a priority, [that] additional resource hours for guidance should be granted according to the evidence-base [and that] there should be on-going monitoring and review by the DES of the use of guidance allocations to schools (2013).  This policy change has also been called for by the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) at their 2016 conference where motion 51  stating “That the ASTI seek the full restoration of guidance counselling hours in all second level schools” was adopted.
 In its initial response to the ESRI’s Leaving School in Ireland Longitudinal Study,(2014) TUI President Gerry Quinn highlighted the damaging effect of cuts to guidance counselling provision.
“Of great concern in this report are the issues raised regarding constraints on time for guidance counselling, particularly for more personalised, one-to-one discussion. This situation has been exacerbated by the cutback to guidance counselling provision in schools which is no longer provided as an addition to teacher allocation. This needs to be reversed as a matter of urgency. Critically, the report also  highlights that guidance counsellors emerged as a particularly strong source of support for young people from working-class backgrounds, so it is clear that the most vulnerable have been targeted by this cut in provision.” (April 2014)

The Budget 2012 changes by Government decimated the service and five years on guidance counselling is on its knees.  Guidance counsellors are dealing  not only with students who are crying out for help and support, but with subject teaching and other classroom duties to which they are assigned, which now account for 65% of the 7 hours on average lost per week since Budget 2012.  Where is the Guidance Counsellor when the student in crisis needs to contact him/her? – in the classroom subject teaching. The time has come for all of this to end and ex-quota guidance counselling hours to be restored. 

Guidance Practice Hours
Our students of today are our citizens of tomorrow.   Guidance counselling is the entitlement of all, and not a luxury for only those who can afford it as confirmed by our latest Audit 4 figures released last week.  In 2015/16, there was been an actual increase in weekly guidance counselling practice hours since 2012 in fee-paying schools of the order of 2%, up to 24 hours, while over the same period DEIS schools lost 30%, down to 15.8 hours, and non-DEIS schools lost 26.7%, down to 18.4 hours.  There is now a socio-economic element to guidance counselling in Ireland. 
The impact of these cuts have been borne out by the Higher Education Authority (2016) ‘A Study of Progression in Irish Education 2012/13 to 2013/14’, which reported the most alarming drop-out rates of third level retention, and which has been suggested may possibly be due to satisfaction with courses not ability.  More than half of students on at least 12 leading courses nationally failed to complete their first year, equating to 16% of all first-year student, and quit their college courses in 2014.  The figures are more alarming in science and technology where drop-out rates are soaring, predominantly amongst boys, with just two in three computer science students across all the country’s IT’s successfully completing their first year in 2014.  These students come from communities which have very little parental experience of progressing in the education system beyond second level education.  These are the very schools which have suffered most in terms of the loss of guidance resources since 2012.  While the children of professionals were highly likely to progress, the children of skilled manual workers were least likely. 
It makes no sense either educationally or from a broader economic perspective to deny guidance counselling services to these students, as the results of this loss will only lead to escalating drop-out rates in the future.  These statistics, when read in conjunction with the latest 2016 CAO statistics on the numbers of leaving certificate students applying for entry into third level education this year, where a shocking 10% of students, who registered with the CAO in March and have made no course choice at all for third level, are of great concern.
One-to-One Counselling
Audit 4 (IGC 2016) also found that one-to-one counselling decreased by a catastrophic 53.5%, which equates overall to a 6.4 hours per week reduction.  This is at the same time as the needs of students in second level schools in modern Ireland have changed irrevocably over the past decade.  Students now 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. 

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 collapse, and children are waiting sometimes for years to be seen.  Increasing the NEPS service to schools by 25% does nothing to offset the loss of this front-line service provided by guidance counsellors –they are two very different things.  Guidance counsellors are the lynchpin for students who 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 these short-sighted cuts to guidance provision, they have been denied.      

Today the guidance counselling service in Ireland is in its worst state in the history of education in this country, as decades of excellent work building up, developing and enhancing the service, both by government policy and by professional qualified guidance counsellors, had been eroded.  Many students currently do not receive the essential supports necessary to allow them to achieve their potential and to progress their educational goals, commensurate with their aptitudes and abilities. Section 9C of the 1998 Education Act explicitly acknowledges the entitlement of all, and it is the role of Government to support all children, regardless of their socio-economic status, to achieve their potential.  It is the role of Government to provide a universal entitlement to a fit-for-purpose guidance counselling support service to all students who wish to avail of it, no matter what their circumstances. 

Professional guidance counselling is a specialism which requires a specific qualification, expertise and experience.  Given the esteem, or lack of it, with which guidance counsellors have been treated by the Government since Budget 2012, it is in inverse proportion to the influence they hold over young people’s lives and prospects. 

Let me be very clear, the Institute of Guidance Counsellors is relentless in its campaign and unwavering in its position that delivery by Government on the issues central to securing the full restoration of the ex-quota dedicated guidance counselling service for young Irish students, and consequently an improved future for all, is non-negotiable. 

Betty McLaughlin

National President
087 1258624