Loss of guidance service ‘will increase inequality’

The possible loss of guidance services in schools will increase inequality in Irish education, the body representing guidance counsellors has claimed.

Under plans announced in the budget last December, the inclusion of guidance counselling within overall teacher allocations is likely to cut at least 500 teachers from the country’s 730 second-level schools from September. This will force schools to choose between reducing the availability of guidance counsellors to students, removing or reducing the availability of some subjects, or a mix of both.

In a letter to schools last month, the Department of Education said the move will extend schools’ autonomy in how they use staffing.

But Institute of Guidance Counsellors president Eilis Coakley said the only autonomy schools will have is to cut current guidance provision, as she said the department’s letter suggests schools only make one-to- one counselling available for students experiencing a crisis, when the problem has already accelerated.

“The circular states that schools should see that students have access to guidance websites, and yet makes it virtually impossible for them to access professional guidance services for educational and career decision- making,” Ms Coakley told the IGC annual conference.

The IGC said the inference that whole-school planning for guidance can make up for cuts to guidance services is misleading.

“If a counsellor is teaching a class and a student is upset and needs to talk, another teacher might help out but they will not be qualified to offer professional counselling,” IGC spokesman Michael Gleeson said.

The Economic and Social Research Institute has said that the changes will have a more significant impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are more likely to depend on school for supports.

The Department of Education says the staffing changes will save €32m a year and schools will now be able to organise their resources in a way that best suits the needs of students.


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