I think the best aspect of the Budget as regards to second level education was the decision to leave the pupil teacher ratio at
19 to 1.
As with most budgets, the devil is in the detail and with some changes and amendments to programmes there will be a reduction of 0.65 in the PTR for most schools.
The major talking point is the need for schools to offer a guidance service from within the quota from next year.
Needless to say, this is a controversial move and some of the controversy is added to by the perception that the management bodies were happy to “sacrifice” the guidance service on the basis that it will give the schools more autonomy and flexibility to decide the precise resources they wish to allocate for guidance, balanced against the other demands on available staff resources.
Second level school leaders routinely make hard choices regarding the use of scarce resources but any talk of management dismantling the guidance service is alarmist and way off the mark. Recent ESRI research by Dr. Emer Smyth showed that there was need for more guidance for students, in particular one-to-one counselling and guidance at junior cycle.
It appears that now the government will be relying on school principals to continue an effective and professional guidance provision for students.
The role of the guidance counsellor has grown over the years and ranges from:
– Administering the assessments for incoming students,
– Cognitive Abilities Tests in first year,
– Subject choice guidance for students and parents at Junior and Senior Cycle,
– Differential Aptitude Tests in Transition Year or fifth year,
– Helping and advising students and parents with applications to the CAO,
– Advising on college choice Leaving Certificate results and college offers.
The Guidance Counsellor is key to the improvements required in DEIS Schools as part of DEIS Planning. Theirs is a vital role in developing the school curriculum to respond to the needs of local employers. A good guidance counsellor is the backbone of the school and there is no doubt that the ability to operate ex quota was an advantage.
Much has been made of the possible elimination of one-to-one sessions with vulnerable students, especially given the increase in mental health issues arising in all our schools. Equally, of the contacts made with the Garda Juvenile Service, local support groups, HSE and other agencies dealing with student and family emergencies.
Over the next few weeks, principals will meet guidance counsellors to reassure them as to their support and appreciation of the contribution an effective guidance service makes to the life and well-being of the school. It is in every principal’s interest to resource an effective guidance service and my colleagues will do everything they can to lobby for the restoration of the status quo as quickly as possible when economic circumstances permit.
Statements about a possible increase in suicides as a result of these changes are alarmist and will cause concern among parents. By working with the guidance counsellor, the principal will seek to minimise the fact that the guidance service will be provided within the school quota from next year.
If the changes are to go ahead and the external provision for guidance and counselling is removed, school managers will be put in the impossible position of having to choose between subject provision and pastoral care and guidance provision.