Since 2012, schools have had to provide guidance counselling from within their overall teacher allocations, unlike previous arrangements giving those with more than 500 students a full-time counsellor.
However, this set-up has led to reductions in the availability of staff to offer one-to-one counselling or career guidance, with the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) reporting that one in five members in schools now spending their entire week teaching curricular subjects.
In an advisory paper on access to higher education, the RIA says this will have a disproportionate effect on young people from disadvantaged and immigrant backgrounds and schools with a concentration of disadvantaged pupils.
Two Economic and Social Research Institute studies have said such teenagers rely much more on school-based guidance, as their families have less “insider” knowledge of how the education system works.
The RIA paper cites a 2013 review by the Department of Education’s National Centre for Guidance in Education that said ex-quota guidance allocations should be restored as a priority when resources are available.
“It is reasonable to conclude that, in the restoration of such resources, prioritisation should be considered for disadvantaged schools given the... reliance that disadvantaged students have on school-based guidance support in making decisions about their future academic options,” says the RIA.
The reduced availability of individual career guidance was blamed by the IGC and opposition parties for a 25% rise in numbers applying to the Central Applications Office (CAO) without yet picking any college courses. The Irish Examiner reported last month that 6,000 CAO applicants had no course on their form yet — up from less than 4,800 the same time last year.
In response, the Department of Education said guidance is the responsibility of the whole school, in which guidance counsellors play an important part.
“Teachers, as highly trained professionals, have the knowledge to deal with a significant number of the specific discipline career guidance issues that arise in their classrooms on a daily basis,” the department told the Irish Examiner. “Teachers are passionate about their subject areas and can instill that in their students.”
The RIA says a funding model that takes account of the overall costs of attending third-level should be given “considerable attention” by the expert group working on a report to Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan on higher education funding. The group, chaired by former Irish Congress of Trade Unions general secretary Peter Cassells, is due to report before the end of the year with recommendations on ways to properly fund the system, which could include new systems of fees for undergraduate students.
The RIA says increasing undergraduate fees to €3,000 this year will see an increase in the 40% of parents and students who incur debt to go to college. It suggests extending free tuition to part-time education could make higher education more accessible to under-represented groups.