Staffing restrictions could hit student course choices

STUDENTS may find their opportunities to choose the most suitable college courses are limited because of staffing restrictions in schools, a guidance counsellors’ leader has claimed.

The reductions in teacher numbers in many second-level schools means some guidance staff are being asked to take on other duties, outside their core role which includes advice on careers and applying for college through the Central Applications Office, according to Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) president Eilis Coakley.

With many college leaders attributing high failure or dropout rates in some courses to students choosing the wrong third-level programmes, Ms Coakley said it is more important than ever that schools can give as much guidance on such issues as possible.

“Unfortunately, many members are being stretched to cover other roles because of the staffing situation in some schools. But if students don’t have all the information and a chance to evaluate a course, they may make the wrong choice at application stage,” she said.

While schools are entitled to allocate a certain amount of hours for guidance counselling depending on student numbers, Ms Coakley said adult and further education services run by Vocational Education Committees are not having guidance staff replaced if they retire or move elsewhere because of the wider public service recruitment ban. She said the same staffing restrictions mean only one Department of Education inspector is assigned to evaluating guidance counselling services in schools, compared with four inspectors a few years ago, leaving schools without feedback and advice on best practice.

She called for a quick resolution to the debate about suggestions of Leaving Certificate grades being inflated over recent years.

Meanwhile, the ASTI has welcomed the statement by Minister for Education and Science Batt O’Keeffe that discussions with the Department of Finance are well advanced with the aim of mitigating the significant difficulties experienced by second-level schools as a result of the moratorium on posts of responsibility.

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