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15 June 2015

IGC Response to ERSI Student Stress Study

The Institute of Guidance Counsellors’ (IGC) President, Betty McLaughlin, welcomes the opportunity to comment on the recent ERSI study “Student Stress and the Leaving Certificate” which examines this specific aspect from their previously published 2015 research ‘Your Whole Life Depends on it: Academic Stress and High-stakes Testing in Ireland’.

Betty.JPGThe Institute of Guidance Counsellors’ (IGC) President, Betty McLaughlin, welcomes the opportunity to comment on the recent ERSI study “Student Stress and the Leaving Certificate” which examines this specific aspect from their previously published 2015 research ‘Your Whole Life Depends on it: Academic Stress and High-stakes Testing in Ireland’. These researchers attempts not only to highlight the issue of academic student stress, but to both separate and quantify the extent individual student characteristics
impact on academic stress, and to what extent the role of the schools play in increasing or ameliorating that stress among students?

Overall, the IGC welcomes the ERSI findings, and finds it both significant and concerning that student stress is not only influenced by individual-level factors, but that certain aspects of the schooling process itself impacts on stress levels. In particular, the findings show that the quality of student–teacher interaction has a significant impact on student stress, in that students with more positive interactions with their teachers have lower stress levels, and
that programme choice and the extent to which students are facilitated in their choice of subjects, are key influences in increasing stress.

In particular, The IGC is delighted with the researchers acknowledgement of the important
and significant role played by guidance counsellors in this area, particularly their comments
that the findings indicate that guidance counselling is a key factor in helping to reduce stress
levels for students. This finding supports previous research conducted on behalf of the
Department of Health ‘Well-being in Post Primary Schools’ (2013) which found similar
results and also acknowledged that in-school guidance counselling is at the hub of the wheel
of support offered to students, highlighting that the guidance counsellor’s specialist role
greatly helps in the identification of a young person with mental health issues, so that
necessary supports can be activated and accessed.
Students were also concerned about how their results would be perceived by their peers.
Peer relations within the school also significantly impacted on student stress and were
associated with higher stress levels, particularly amongst those who have experienced
bullying.

However, possibly the main source of pressure was the young person’s own desire to do
well in the exam; and the IGC believes that it is the role of government to support all
children to achieve their potential, through providing a universal entitlement to support
services in areas such as guidance counselling. The ESRI research, when taken in
conjunction with the recently published study by Prof. Harkin ‘From ex-quota to in-quota’,
which brings to public attention how the catastrophic impact that the removal of a
dedicated guidance counselling service from our schools by the Government in 2012 has
had at ground level. Prof. Harkin found it has widened the divide between student in feepaying
schools and those in the free education system (FES).

Students thrive whose parents have the resources to ensure their children's schools have a
high quality guidance counselling service, and 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
experienced an overall cut in the past three years of the order of 23.7%, with a catastrophic
58.8% reduction in one-to-one counselling (IGC, 2014) - an unprecedented level never
before witnessed in the Irish education system. This cut to guidance counselling service
provision in FES schools is not only causing untold distress to students, parents, teachers,
and not least guidance counsellors, but impacts on the future potential of these students
and exacerbates education inequality further. According to the IGC President, Betty
McLaughlin, the ERSI finding on the “the importance of students receiving the guidance
necessary to make well-informed choices at senior cycle level” supports the Institute’s own
position that “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 in the future, and will ill-equips these
students to face life challenges ahead as citizens of tomorrow”.

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 was slowly and systematically built up over many years. The Institute fears
that while all students would be affected by the removal of guidance counselling, the
disadvantaged and vulnerable students would suffer most. This key research is yet another
affirmation from the ERSI that students in Ireland are the real losers in the false economy of
cutting the guidance counselling service in second level schools and colleges of further
education.

Betty Mc Laughlin , National President, Institute of Guidance Counsellors