Schools must use extra teaching hours for guidance services

The Department of Education has insisted that second-level schools are obliged to ensure extra teaching hours allocated for guidance are used for that purpose.

It was responding to criticisms from the Institute of Guidance Counsellors which claimed a letter from the department to schools, earlier this week, did not appear to guarantee the ringfenced provision of guidance services promised by Education Minister Richard Bruton in Budget 2017 last October.

At the time, the department said schools would be issued a separate allocation for guidance from next September, when 100 extra posts are provided to the country’s 735 second-level schools for that purpose.

This should see a reversion to the situation before 2012 when ringfencing of guidance staff allocations was removed, and many schools timetabled guidance counsellors for subject teaching to soften the blow of an increase in the pupil-teacher ratio.

But incoming president of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors Eddie McGrath said members, gathering for their annual conference this weekend, are concerned such promises did not appear to be set out in this week’s letter.

“When 300 posts were supposed to have been given back this school year to restore some of the 600 lost by the removal of an ex-quota guidance provision, they didn’t all go to the purpose for which they were given,” he said.

“Not all schools have put their extra teacher allocations to guidance; principals were given the freedom to use them for other things. Guidance counselling should be a standalone service that’s there for students, but questions remain about the wording of the department’s instruction to schools,” Mr McGrath said.

The department told the Irish Examiner the 400 posts restored from September — two-thirds of the 600 guidance posts removed in 2012 — are being allocated separately, transparently, and outside the quota on the schedule of teacher posts.

“This means that there is now an obligation on principals to ensure that these hours are used for guidance activities. Schools may decide to allocate more hours to guidance activities than the amount allocated on the schedule, they can not decide to allocate fewer,” a spokesperson said.

Since ringfenced guidance counselling provision was axed in 2012, an average of one-quarter of time for the service was lost.

In varying degrees, schools allocated staff whose role was previously dedicated to guidance counselling to classroom teaching in order to maintain subject choices for students.


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