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28 August 2015

IGC RESPONSE TO 'Why Students Leave'

INSTITUTE OF GUIDANCE COUNSELLORS (IGC) RESPONSE TO
NATIONAL FORUM FOR THE ENHANCEMENT OF TEACHING AND LEARNING IN HIGHER EDUCATION’S RESEARCH:

‘Why Students Leave’


- o – O – o -

“Guidance Counselling is the entitlement of all, and not a luxury for only those who can afford it”

(Betty McLaughlin, National President, Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC).

The Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) President, Betty McLaughlin, welcomes the opportunity to comment on this excellent piece of research from Niamh Moore-Cherry, Suzanne Quin, and Elaine Burroughs, which explores “Why Students Leave” third level education in Ireland, adding significantly to the paucity of qualitative research on this subject.  These researchers have identified five core themes – course, personal, financial, medical/health – significant in terms of non-completion.  While ‘course’ had the strongest influence, the researchers called for a more holistic and positive interpretation of non-completion by all key stakeholders in education.    

This research dove-tails with two major pieces of research published in the last 12 months: recent qualitative research from Dr. Liam Harkins ‘From ex-quota to in-quota’ (Harkin, 2015) on the effects of the removal of ring-fenced guidance counselling hours in all second level schools and colleges of further education by the Minister for Education and Skills in the 2012 budget, a decision that has had catastrophic effects on the Guidance Counselling service as a result; and ERSI research on ‘Leaving School in Ireland’ (McCoy et al. 2014) which highlighted the centrality of social inequality in educational outcomes, and particularly post-school outcomes.  McCoy found that leavers from socially disadvantaged backgrounds and economically inactive households repeatedly emerged as least likely to make successful transitions across each stage in the educational process, and ultimately in the transition to, and successful completion of, post-school education.

Social Inequality
Harkin (2015) found that while the removal of the dedicated Guidance Counselling service impacted negatively on the distribution of care throughout the guidance service, 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.  It appears 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 counselling, particularly career guidance, as important. 

The removal of a dedicated guidance counselling service in our schools has widened the divide between those students whose parents have the resources to ensure their children's schools have a high quality guidance counselling service, and who therefore secure the majority of highly sought after third level places.  For the rest of the school going population, personal, educational and vocational support services through the work of their guidance counsellor has deteriorated seriously in the past three years.

This uneven and disjointed service provision now provided to students demonstrates that the vulnerable and disadvantaged students are hurt most by the cuts.  This has major implications for stated Government commitment to reducing social and economic inequality and promoting social inclusion.  The IGC believes that it is only when access to appropriate guidance counselling is established as a basic human right that all that students can fulfil their personal, educational and vocational potential.  Guidance counselling is the entitlement of all, and not a luxury for only those who can afford it.  According to Betty McLaughlin, President IGC, it is the role of Government to support all children to achieve their potential by firstly providing a universal entitlement to guidance counselling support, and secondly by providing a world class Guidance Counselling service to all students who wish to avail of it, no matter what their circumstances.

The Guidance Counselling Service
The ERSI study (McCoy, 2014) summed it up.  Just over half of school leavers felt that their second-level schooling prepared them for their course at third level.  A large majority reported significant differences in teaching and learning between second-level and tertiary, difficulties in relation to the standard expected of them, difficulty of the course and managing their workload. The challenge of self-directed learning and managing deadlines, which contrasted with the more directive approach adopted in second-level, was a key issue, particularly when it came to project and group work. 

While many students felt ill-prepared for the world of work, for adult life and for going on to college, just over half felt that their second-level schooling prepared them for their course.   With cuts to Guidance Counselling in the order of 24% since 2012, with a catastrophic 59% reduction in one-to-one counselling (IGC, 2013), and one in five guidance counsellors now performing as full-time teachers – equivalent to 168 guidance counsellors being removed from the guidance service delivery, do we need to ask why?