Education Minister Richard Bruton will set out in the budget how he plans to improve guidance counselling services whose reductions have been found to affect students who may need them most.
The Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) revealed that its latest survey shows schools with highest levels of disadvantage have seen the biggest cuts to numbers of hours allocated each week for guidance and student support services.
As a result of budgetary changes in 2012, schools no longer have a guaranteed set number of hours for guidance counselling.
An effective cut to pupil-teacher ratios saw the number of hours left to the discretion of management. With pressure to also protect the teaching of curricular subjects following previous cuts, schools have used their hours differently depending on local needs and demands.
The IGC national audit, based on responses from just over half the country’s 720 second-level schools, shows that all schools except those charging fees provide less guidance counselling.
While the cut has been 26.7% in schools not supported in the DEIS programme for disadvantaged schools, from 25 to 18.5 hours a week, there has been a bigger cut in DEIS schools. Their weekly hours of guidance counselling have fallen from 22.5 to 15.8 hours a week, or 30%, since the 2011/2012 school year.
Just over a quarter of second-level schools are included in DEIS, which entitles them to lower pupil-teacher ratios, and grants for extra supports.
The loss of ringfenced guidance hours for all schools has already been identified by the ESRI as disproportionately affecting disadvantaged schools more than others.
The programme for government published last week says guidance counselling will be enhanced, but it it is not quantified and no timescale for any improvements is given.
A spokesman for Mr Bruton said he would consider the best way to approach the commitment to bring about improvements.
“The aim will be to provide a whole-school approach to guidance counselling, including group work, class-based activities, and other activities which focus on providing the best possible outcomes for students rather than exclusively using one type of activity,” he said.
Although it is unclear if there will be any specific benefits for DEIS schools, he said they were largely sheltered from the effects of the 2012 changes as they received an improvement in their staffing ratios at the same time.
All second-level schools are in line for a further slight improvement in general staffing in September, but the measure does not provide for any return to the pre-2012 situation when each school had a set minimum weekly provision of guidance counselling.
The IGC audit shows that 12 schools have no timetabled guidance counselling hours, nine of them in the voluntary secondary sector of schools run or owned by religious orders.
Conversely, nine schools pay for guidance counselling from outside their teacher allocation funded by the Department of Education, four of them being fee-charging schools that offer 27 hours a week.
The average of under 18 hours a week in all schools includes around six hours’ one-to-one work with students on personal, career, and education issues. This has fallen by half since 2012.
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