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Based on this Pre-Budget submission, the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) are of the firm opinion having reviewed current research and findings that guidance counselling in Ireland is at a critical juncture and requires urgent Government intervention under the following headings:
3. Current situation
3.1 Social Inequality
3.2 Student progression in Education
4. Education Reform
5. IGC Recommendations
The purpose of this pre-budget submission from The Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) is to inform The Minister of the impact of the Government’s decision in December 2011 to change the ex-quota status of the role of the guidance counsellor in Second Level schools and Colleges of Further Education in Ireland.
High levels of youth unemployment, under-employ¬ment, early school-leaving/early tertiary leaving, and social and economic inac¬tivity of young Irish adults have developed into a deep and burning issue for Irish society during the last five years. This is happening against a backdrop of both bank and building industries collapse, and an overall cut since September 2012 to Guidance Counselling provision in second level education of the order of 24%, and a catastrophic 59% reduction in one-to-one counselling (IGC, 2013). This equates to one in five guidance counsellors now performing as full-time teachers or 168 guidance counsellors being removed from the Guidance Counselling service in Irish schools – an unprecedented level never before witnessed in the Irish education system.
The Education Act (1998) requires that “students have access to appropriate guidance to assist them in their educational and career choices” (Section 9 (c). The Minister for Education and Skills (Statement: December 5, 2011) stated that “at second level, with effect from 2012/13 school year guidance provision will be managed by schools from within their standard teacher allocation”, thus removing the ex-quota guidance counselling hours.
The implication of the removal of the ex-quota guidance hours meant that Principals would be responsible for deciding on “appropriate guidance” in accordance with The Education Act, forcing Principals to choose between subject provision and guidance counselling. The Minister stated that Principals are “responsible individuals” and would do what would be best in terms of resources; while not all Principals were making full use of their guidance counselling allocation as it stood (Inspectorate, 2009). The IGC firmly believed that there would be an inevitable reduction, if not removal, of guidance counselling services in schools as a result of the Minister’s decision.
As a result of changes announced in the December 2011 Budget to the practice and delivery of the role of Guidance Counsellors, the IGC both in September 2012 and 2013, initiated a national audit into the current practice of guidance counselling. The Institute feared that while all students would be affected by the change, the disadvantaged and vulnerable students would suffer most, and that many students would not now receive the essential supports necessary to allow them to achieve their potential and to progress their educational goals, commensurate with their aptitudes and abilities. However, we had no hard evidence to substantiate our fears or concerns, hence the decision to undertake the national audit.
3. CURRENT SITUATION
An important part of the audit was to ascertain the evidence in quantitative terms of the amount of time loss, the areas of guidance counselling impacted by school type, and the effect of the change in the allocation on access to one-to-one counselling. The audits starkly show that there has been a reduction of 59% in time for one to one counselling! It also highlights an overall reduction in the service of 24%, with significant variations among school types; and an increase in academic subject teaching on the part of guidance counsellors (IGC, 2013). During this period, actual mean weekly hours one-to-one counselling decreased from 12.0 hours in 2011-12 to 5.8 hours in 2012-13, and down to 4.9 hours in 2013-14.
The IGC is not alone in their findings. In research conducted by the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE) on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills (DES) a similar guidance service reduction of 26% was found, resulting in the NCGE recommending to the DES that “the ex-quota allocation for guidance in schools should be restored as a priority”. We clearly now have a very uneven and disjointed service! Students are the real losers - we are now witnessing a major reduction of a core element of the student support services in schools which has slowly built up over many years.
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 these short-sighted cuts to guidance provision, 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.
This is all happening at a time when another report conducted on behalf of the Department of Health “Well-being in Post Primary Schools” acknowledges that in-school guidance is at the hub of the wheel of support offered to students – a service providing an internal referral system, coordinated by a professionally qualified Guidance Counsellor. By coordinating and providing an internal referral system “The guidance counsellor’s specialist role … greatly helps in the identification of a young person with mental health problems, so that necessary supports can be activated” (DoH, 2013).
The April 2013 survey, The Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) also looked at the impact of the education cuts on student wellbeing services in schools. 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”.
3.1 Social Inequality
In the first qualitative research since the 2012 budget changes (Harkin, 2015), Dr. Harkin found that while the removal of the ex-quota provision impacted negatively on the distribution of care throughout the entire guidance service in second level schools, that this reduction was not experienced equally by all school types. The biggest difference was found between fee-paying schools and schools in the Free Education System (FES), where a diversified service model of guidance has developed, as a result of guidance being viewed differently by individual school Principals. The research found that fee-charging schools were able to access additional sources of finance and funding; that parent power had an impact on decision-making around Guidance services; and that both the school management and parents regarded Guidance, particularly career guidance, as important. The research also found that one-to-one counselling was neglected, and has become a reactionary crisis intervention service, as a result of a large reduction in counselling appointments. The off-shoot of compromised care in FES schools has resulted in guidance counsellors managing greater care demands, with less time resources, ultimately increasing the guidance counsellors own stress levels.
Dr. Harkin’s research confirms the findings by the IGC (2013, 2014), NCGE (2013, 2014), ASTI (2014) and RAI (2015) on this issue. The ERSI study Leaving School in Ireland (McCoy et al., 2014) found that while “Young people valued the detailed information offered and the personal qualities of the guidance counsellor, highlighting in particular the importance of one-to-one sessions”, concern was expressed by them about the constraints on time for guidance, particularly for more personalised one-to-one discussion, the absence of information on options other than higher education, and the absence of information on the employment opportunities following on from the courses in which they were interested.
2015 research by the Economic & Social Research Institute (ESRI) and the National Disability Authority, which examines the profile, school experiences and social and academic outcomes of children with disabilities and special educational needs found that 72% of children with disabilities attend mainstream education, a further 13% are in special classes in mainstream schools and 15% attend special schools. Of those with disabilities, children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to be placed in special classes in mainstream schools or in special schools settings.
The IGC believes that it is only when access to appropriate guidance is established as a basic human right that all that our clients can fulfil their personal, educational and vocational potential. It is the role of Government to support all children to achieve their potential, through providing a universal entitlement to guidance counselling support. According to the IGC President, Betty McLaughlin, the removal of the dedicated guidance counselling service in 2012 has entrenched the privilege of those who are already privileged, and undermine the prospects of those from less advantaged backgrounds in achieving their potential. Guidance counselling is an entitlement of all, and not a luxury for only those who can afford it. Within our schools and colleges, Section 9C of the 1998 Education Act explicitly acknowledges this entitlement; and requires that a guidance programme be part of a school plan and identifies the central role of the professionally qualified guidance counsellor, as well as the important contribution of different members of staff, to the delivery of a whole school guidance plan.
3.2 Student Progression in Education
Building on its 2010 research, which reported on 2007/08, the Higher Education Authority’s (HEA) 2014 study “Progression in Irish Higher Education Institutions 2010-11 to 2011-12, (periods prior to the removal of the ex-quota allocation for guidance counselling), has highlighted a continuing and increasing trend of one of out every six students who progress from second level to third level education in Ireland failing to progress from first to second year of their chosen third level course. The HEA found that while the average rate of entry into HE had increased by 10% to 55% over the previous six years, the non-manual group “buck the trend where participation rates fell from 29% to between 25% and 27%”.
‘Hidden Disadvantage’ (ESRI, 2010) found that the “the non-manual group, which constituted 20% of households in Ireland, were more reliant on the supports and encouragement available by guidance at second level and that these supports played a more significant role in the choice made by these young people”. This finding indicates that the recent Government cuts to Guidance Counselling posts will exacerbate education inequality further. According to the IGC President, Betty McLaughlin, it makes no sense either educationally or from a broader economic perspective to be denying guidance counselling services to these students as the results of this loss will only lead to higher drop-out rates and poorer job opportunities in the future.
4. Education Reform
Education cutbacks and the withdrawal of in-school support services to students have been widespread in the Irish education system since 2009. While all students are negatively impacted, the more vulnerable students (Special Needs, Travellers, non-English-speaking Foreign Nationals, and other socio-economically disadvantaged students) are more disproportionately negatively impacted because there is no substitute service available. Similar findings emerged from the ASTI (2013) survey, that in addition to losing classroom subject teachers, many schools have also lost specialist teachers (e.g. resource teachers, home school liaison teachers, etc.). Forty per cent of schools have lost learning support/resource teaching hours, while 37 per cent have lost English-language support teaching hours.
This results in an adverse impact on the ability of these students to succeed at second level. “If the intention is to improve learning outcomes for children and to encourage learning in all aspects of their lives, provision of supports in schools is a necessary and basic requirement” (Barnardos: Submission into National Children and Young People Policy Framework, 2012).
The IGC position on education cutbacks and the withdrawal of in-school support is supported by ASTI (2013) which found that “Second-level schools are reeling from the impact of the cutbacks and are overwhelmed by the amount of recent and current reform initiatives” ; and that “despite increased student numbers, 98% of second-level schools have lost an average of two fulltime subject teachers since the onset of the education cutbacks in 2009” [and] “almost half of second-level schools have little or no capacity to prepare, plan and support the Junior Cycle reform implemented from September 2014.
The IGC Audit (2013) found that when class-room guidance practice hours by guidance counsellors were analysed, only 9.69% was spent on junior cycle students. The RIA (2015) found that higher-education aspirations emerge early in junior cycle and are relatively stable thereafter, highlighting the importance for early intervention. Smyth & Calvert (2011) “Choices and Challenges” highlight “the crucial role played by student experiences at junior cycle in shaping their later pathways and outcomes, stating it has “very profound consequences for guidance and support for young people; and that the focus should be on much earlier levels and the need to have much more time for individual contact with the Guidance Counsellor” than currently happening.
5. IGC RECOMMENDATIONS
5.1 That the Minister reviews the current guidance counselling provision in schools as indicated by the figure revealed in the audit; and services to students and schools most in need must be prioritised.
The uneven and disjointed service provision revealed in the audit demonstrates that the vulnerable and disadvantaged students are hurt most by the cuts. This has major implications for stated Government commitment to reduce social and economic inequality and promote social inclusion.
5.2 That the Minister affirms the statutory commitment to the holistic model of guidance counselling, delivered by a professionally qualified guidance counsellor.
Students having access to educational, vocational and personal counselling reduces any possible stigma associated with meeting the Guidance Counsellor about mental health issues (c.f Guidelines for second level schools on the implications of Section 9(c) of the Education Act, 1998 relating to students access to appropriate guidance, p.4).
5.3 Ensure access as envisaged under Section 9 (c) of the Education Act, 1998. “Counselling is a key part of the school guidance programme … Counselling in schools may include personal counselling, educational counselling, career counselling or combinations of these”. The effect on students presenting with personal issues is immediate; the effects on educational and career planning is progressive and developmental.
5.4 That the pre-2012 allocation for Guidance Counselling be restored and ring-fenced under the pupil-teacher ratio, so that the time lost to Guidance Counsellors, since the cutbacks, for the practice of one-to-one counselling be restored. The DES must take cognisance of the NCGE 2011 recommendation “That the DES maintain and strengthen the guidance counsellors’ practice of counselling through additional supports such as reducing the ratio of students to guidance counsellor, providing regular supervision and Continuing Professional Development, and acknowledging and formally rewarding the additional training”. This will allow for the timetabling of all Guidance activities, including time for one-to-one counselling.
Supervision of counselling practice is a necessity, on a number of counts: for safe, ethical quality counselling practice, and for ensuring the health and safety of students. Counselling supervision is also an essential safeguard against possible legal action being brought against the DES, school management, and practitioners.
5.5 There needs to be clear agreement on minimum levels of service provision in schools and colleges of further education between the DES, Management Bodies, and the Institute of Guidance Counsellors.
We believe that the relevant DES circular needs to be strengthened to address the inequalities in service provision and to ensure that there is equality of access and opportunity for all students. We are concerned about the trend on the part of some schools to source funding from some external sources and query whether this is in conformity with good strategic planning. We require that Guidance Counselling is delivered by a fully qualified professional guidance counsellor, and that annual school returns to the DES must ensure that the Guidance allocation is fully delivered for the purpose it is intended.
President, Institute of Guidance Counsellors