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04 February 2016

IGC Response to new National Skills Strategy for Education in Ireland

Betty McLaughlin, President of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC), the group that represents professionally qualified guidance counsellors in Ireland, welcomes the new National Skills Strategy for education in Ireland

 – a strategy that identifies six key objectives and sets out a comprehensive set of actions and measures aimed at improving the development, supply and use of skills over the next 10 years.  The IGC is delighted to note that one of the key actions in the plan is to conduct a review of guidance services, tools and careers information for school students and adults to identify options for improvements.

Current Situation in Guidance Counselling

Guidance counselling in second level schools, colleges of further education and adult education has had an extremely rough deal from Government since 2012.  Given that professional guidance counselling is a specialism which requires a specific qualification, expertise and experience, the esteem, or lack of it, in which guidance counsellors have been treated by the Government since Budget 2012 is in inverse proportion to the influence they hold over young people’s lives and prospects.

At present, guidance counsellors are struggling and stressed in trying to meet even the basic needs of their students, and over the past 4 years, thousands of second-level students have had to go it alone when filling in CAO choices.  This was borne out strong by the 2015 CAO statistics on the numbers of leaving certificate students applying for entry into third level education this year.   A total of 8.1% of students made no CAO choices at all, compared to 1.3% in 2007; and in the past 9 years there has been a mammoth 649% increase in the number of students making no CAO choices.  

Since 2012, many guidance counsellors feel they have drawn the short straw in the curriculum lottery.  Guidance counsellors have experienced:
-    a 25% overall reduction in practice hours, with 1 in 5 (168) guidance counsellors being removed from the system;
-    an increase in subject teaching; and
-    a catastrophic 59% reduction in one-to-one counselling hours that has resulted in 200 schools being left with no one-to-one counselling at all.  
These cuts were deeper in FES schools, and even more deeply felt in DEIS schools, and have led to even greater educational inequalities and the further neglect of vulnerable students, immigrants, and those with special needs.  

At the recent PSI Conference in Galway, Dr. Eddie Murphy, a clinical psychologist, stated that “psychologists are seeing a surge in calls from schoolchildren as a result of the reduction in school counsellor numbers” and that “the removal of the school guidance counsellor has had a major impact … on the health and wellness of children … and is resulting in additional presentation of distress”.  

Equality of access to guidance counselling is essential for setting all young students’ feet on the right path as they start out in life; and the removal of the dedicated service 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.  

Rebuilding the profession

The IGC has campaigned consistently and tirelessly since 2012 in providing overwhelming evidence-based data showing not only the damaged done to the service, while at the same time highlighting both the value and importance of our work as guidance counsellors to all involved in education and in Government planning, and the challenges we face on a daily basis in our schools, colleges of further education and adult settings. 

It has been one long hard push in the media, networking with all our partners in education and with politicians, in a concerted effort to restore guidance counselling for all in education, and our work was not in vain.  Budget 2016 has promised the restoration of 300 guidance counselling jobs, which amounts to 7 extra hours for every school in the country.  The IGC’s relentless campaign for restoration has reached part-fruition, and we have very serious work ahead.  This part-restoration is 50% of what was lost in Budget 2012, and is just a first step towards our overall objective of full restoration of the dedicated fit-for-purpose guidance counselling service in all second level schools, colleges of further education and adult education in the very near future.