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1. 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, and place the responsibility for the provision of practice hours in the hand of school principals, based on their individual subjective views.
2. Since September 2012, guidance counselling provision has experienced an overall cut to service provision of the order of 27.6%, 30% in DEIS schools, and a catastrophic 53.5% reduction in one-to-one counselling (IGC, 2016). The service has been decimated.
3. School autonomy is a failed mantra as evidenced by the damage that has taken place from 2012/13 to 2015/16. The subjective view of individual principals holds sway for what is deemed as the most important call on resources. The guidance counsellor is placed in the position of having to compete for hours with other subject departments.
4. The partial restoration of 300 guidance counselling posts, announced in March 2016, is a positive step to "enhance guidance counselling". However, due to a lack of definite guidelines in the Spring 2016 Allocations Circular to school management, our members report that these hours are not being used for their well-intended purpose in September 2016.
5. The Programme for Government negotiated in May 2016 promised a restoration of ex-quota guidance counselling, this promise has been rowed-back, with a senior government source stating that this was a result of school management and principals holding a "very different view" on ex-quota guidance counselling.
6. For the record and for transparency purposes, school management were offered a choice of either the guidance counsellor or the deputy principal being included in the pupil/teacher ratios. They chose guidance counsellors - a decision that does not in any way add weight to the justification for the current aberration.
7. It needs to be affirmed to school principals that the reduced pupil-teacher ratio should be used exclusively and in its entirety for guidance counselling provision - ex-quota and ring-fenced for it to be protected.
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-employment, early school-leaving/tertiary leaving and social and economic inactivity of young Irish adults have developed into a deep and burning issue for society during the last five years. This is happening against a backdrop of both bank and building industry collapse, and an overall cut since September 2012 to guidance counselling provision in second level education, of the order of 27.6%, cuts of 30% in DEIS schools, and a catastrophic 53.5% reduction in one-to-one counselling (IGC, 2016).
The partial restoration of 300 Guidance Counselling posts to second level schools, announced in March 2016, is a positive step to "enhance guidance counselling". Due to a lack of definite guidelines in the Spring 2016 Allocations Circular to school management however, these hours are not being used for their well-intended purpose. This is resulting in a disjointed, inequitable hit and miss delivery of the guidance counselling service in schools. School autonomy is a failed mantra as evidenced by the damage that has taken place from 2012/13 to 2015/16, as highlighted by the results of the IGC Audit 4 (IGC, 2016).
It needs to be affirmed to school principals that the reduced pupil-teacher ratio should be used exclusively and in its entirety for guidance counselling provision -ex-quota and ring-fenced for it to be protected. Only under these conditions will the current inequality in guidance counselling delivery in schools in the Free Education System nationally be addressed; the alternative is the continuation of the abandonment of guidance and counselling due to competing demand, and who do not have the luxury of other funding that the fee-charging sector benefit (Harkin, 2015).
The Programme for Government negotiated in May 2016 promised a restoration of ex-quota guidance counselling in second level schools and colleges of further education. This position in some schools has now been rowed-back, with a senior government source stating that this was a result of school management and principals holding a "very different view" on ex-quota guidance counselling. For the record and for transparency purposes it needs to be clarified that school management were offered a choice between guidance counsellors or deputy principals being included in the pupil/teacher ratios. When school principals were offered that choice, they chose guidance counsellors - a decision that does not in any way add weight to the justification for the current aberration.
The proposed new in-quota allocation system delegates to individual principals the final decision as to whether the hours will be allocated for guidance use, or alternatively, for one of the myriad of other competing demands for resources in any school. The subjective view of each principal will hold sway for what is seen as the most important call on resources for each individual school, with the guidance counsellor being placed in the position of having to compete for hours with other departments.
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. It has been documented that 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 a 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 initiated a series of national audits into the current practice of guidance counselling, the latest, Audit 4, evaluating the 2015/16 academic year. The Institute feared that while all students would be affected by the change, disadvantaged and vulnerable students would suffer most. 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.
An important part of Audit 4 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. Audit 4 starkly shows that there has been a reduction of 53.5% in time for one to one counselling! It also highlights an overall reduction in the service of 27.6%, with significant variations among school types (IGC, 2016). When looked at in terms of the overall loss between 2011/12 and 2015/16, one-to-one student work has dropped from 12.0 hours to 5.59 hours per week, which represents a catastrophic decrease in service of 53.5 per cent. Overall, only 85.9% of employed qualified guidance counsellors are practicing while, at the same time, sixty-three schools reported using 106 unqualified persons to deliver guidance on a weekly basis; and another 6.1% of schools used external providers for guidance and 28.2% of schools use external providers for one-to-one counselling. Seventeen diverse groups/organisations are used by 40.8% of schools, with no overarching quality and/or evaluation system in place to monitor this situation.
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 had been 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 service that has unfortunately been decimated. We have currently a system where the onward referral system has stretched to the point of collapse, and children are waiting sometimes for years to be seen, the guidance counsellor is the first point of contact for each student, offering an initial face-to-face counselling service.
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 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 Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) also looked at the impact of the education cuts on student wellbeing services in schools. (ASTI Survey, April 2013) 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 adverse impact on the wellbeing of students".
In the first qualitative research since the 2012 budget changes (Harkin, 2015), Dr. Harkin found that while the removal of ex-quota 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 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. Fee-charging schools were found to be 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.
Previous Economic & Social Research Institute (ESRI) research found that young people attending disadvantaged schools are significantly less likely to go on to higher education than those attending middle-class or socially mixed schools (McCoy et al., 2014; DES, 2013). In more middle-class schools, the focus is not on whether to go on to higher education but on which college and which course (Smyth and Banks, 2012; McCoy et al., 2010); while in contrast, students in disadvantaged schools, lack the 'insider' knowledge through the family networks available to their middle-class peers and are more reliant on formal school-based guidance.
This finding is supported by the 4th Audit (IGC 2016) which found practice hours for fee-paying schools increased by 1.9% from 2011/12 to 2015/16, while schools in the FES decreased by 26.7%, and in DEIS schools, by 30%. DEIS schools had previously been in receipt of additional guidance resources through the Guidance Enhancement Initiative; and the ESRI had highlighted that its abolition was likely to lead to even greater difficulties in combining the educational guidance and personal counselling elements of the guidance counsellor role in the context of reduced resources (Smyth et al., 2015). The demand for counselling was also much greater in FES schools than in fee-charging schools. One to-one counselling in FES was neglected and has become a reactionary crisis intervention service, as a result of a large reduction in counselling. Guidance counsellors in FES schools, as a result, were more focused on counselling than career guidance during the year, while in fee-paying schools the opposite was the case.
Dr. Harkin's research confirms the findings by the IGC (2013, 2014, 2016), 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.
Research by ESRI and the National Disability Authority (2015), 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 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 student 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 undermined 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.
Student Progression - Direct Entry to Higher Education
Building on its 2010 research, the Higher Education Authority's (HEA) 2014 study "Progression in Irish Higher Education Institutions 2010-11 to 2011-12, 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 fail 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 deny guidance counselling services to these students; the results of this loss will only lead to higher drop-out rates and poorer job opportunities in the future.
Student Progression - Alternative
The commitment by the Government to roll out 50,000 apprenticeships and traineeships places by 2020, under the new business led apprenticeship model, provides a real alternative to ambitious and capable students who are looking for alternatives to direct entry from school to higher education. This New Skills Strategy also includes a commitment to review career guidance provision. IBEC have stated that high quality in-school career guidance is crucial in preparing students for life beyond the classroom. They highlight that the current provision is uneven, where schools do not have resources in-house to deliver the service that students truly deserve; and they call on the new government to develop a specialist career advisory service to supplement current guidance provision and provide one-to-one assessment and careers advice to all post-primary school students (IBEC 2016).
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). ASTI (2013) 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.
Audit 4 (IGC, 2016) found that when classroom guidance practice hours by guidance counsellors were analysed, only 6.7% was now spent on junior cycle students, a 31% decrease since Audit 3 at 9.69% (IGC, 2013). 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.
4.1 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.
4.2 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).
4.3 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.
4.4 That the pre-2012 allocation for Guidance Counselling be restored and ring-fenced under the pupil-teacher ratio, so that the time has been lost to guidance counselling provision 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 to ensure the safe and ethical quality of 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.
4.5 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.
Department of Education and Skills (2013). School Completers - What Next? Report on School Completers from Post-Primary Schools - pupils enrolled in 2009/2010 and not in 2010/2011, Dublin: Department of Education and Skills.
Harkin, L. (2015). A Doctoral Research Thesis. "From ex-quota to in-quota: An analysis of guidance counsellors' perceptions of the impact of 2012 budgetary cutbacks on their care work across different school types".
IBEC (2016). Press Release on New Skills Strategy (January 2016). IBEC, Dublin.
IGC Audits (2015, 2013, 2012,2011). Series of National Audits on Guidance Counselling Practice in Second Level Schools and Colleges of Higher Education In Ireland. Institute of Guidance Counsellors, Dublin.
McCoy, S., Byrne, D., O'Connell, P.J., Kelly, E. and Doherty, C. (2010). Hidden Disadvantage? A Study on the Low Participation in Higher Education by the Non-Manual Group, Dublin: HEA
McCoy, S., Smyth, E., Watson, D. and Darmody, M. (2014). Leaving School in Ireland: A Longitudinal Study of Post-School Transitions, Dublin: ESRI Research Series No. 36.
National Centre for Guidance in Education (2013). Review of Guidance Counselling provision in second level schools 2012-2013.
Smyth, E. and Banks, J. (2012). "There Was Never Really Any Question of Anything Else": Young People's Agency, Institutional Habitus and the Transition to Higher Education', British Journal of Sociology of Education, 33 (2): 263-281.
Smyth, E, McCoy, S. and Kingston, G. (2015). Learning from the evaluation of DEIS, Dublin: ESRI Research Series No. 39.