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No clear start date for new guidance counsellors a 'travesty' for students

The government announced new 120 guidance counsellor posts last month to support students returning to school.

Concerns have been raised about when these new guidance counsellors will begin their roles.
Concerns have been raised about when these new guidance counsellors will begin their roles.
Image: Shutterstock/Phuttharak

QUESTIONS HAVE BEEN raised about when new 120 guidance counsellors, announced by the government as part of a package of Covid-19 supports, will actually start in schools. 

The new posts, announced by the government in July, come as part of a range of measures to help schools re-open safely and ensure student well-being in the months to come. 

However, it is unlikely that the new staff will be in place for when schools across the country return.

Critics have said that the lack of a clear timeline for when staff will start is particularly worrying given widespread fears about the impact the Covid-19 pandemic is having on the mental health and well-being of young people. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Education could not confirm to TheJournal.ie when the new guidance counsellors would start their roles. 

“The recruitment and appointment of teachers to fill teaching posts is a matter for the individual school authority,” the spokesperson said. 

However, boards of management have been given the green light to introduce accelerated hiring processes for teachers. 

A circular, published at the start of this month, permits schools to reduce the length of time a job advertisement needs to run, while a five-day notice period for interviews has also been introduced – down from seven. 

However, critics have said that this isn’t enough to ensure that staff are ready to start in schools.

Social Democrats TD and the party’s education spokesperson, Gary Gannon, has criticised the government’s approach to schools re-opening. 

He called it a “travesty” that additional guidance counsellors may not be in place for the return to school. 

“I have a huge concern regarding the class of 2020 and the class of 2021. They’re both experiencing trauma and facing decisions about their future that no class before them has had to take,” he said. 

And while he welcomed the additional funding announced by the Department of Education, he said that for “many schools there isn’t going to be anyone there to meet that need”.

The Institute of Guidance Counsellors has already warned that principals must give the new posts to qualified staff and not opt for cheaper, external providers.

Beatrice Dooley, President of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, told TheJournal.ie that she had questions for the Minister for Education, Norma Foley. 

“What steps have been taken to ensure that the 120 posts allocated for guidance counselling by the Minister for Education will be allocated by principals nationwide to the qualified guidance counsellors in their school to support the positive mental health of our students?” she said. 

The Department of Education spokesperson said that the guidance counsellor posts had been “allocated in a transparent manner and are ring-fenced for guidance provision”. 

“Schools have flexibility to consider how best to align this resource with their School Guidance Plan. This allocation of guidance posts will bring guidance provision in schools back to the level last seen before the financial crisis in 2012,” the spokesperson said.

 

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Alan Mongey, the President of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD), said that head teachers were aware of the need to support guidance counsellors. 

“The ideal is to get to where people are focused on the role and the job,” he said, without being given other duties and distractions.  

“There should be someone who is doing it all the time because issues can arise in class at any time,” he said. 

He also cautioned not to expect a wave of job advertisements for guidance counsellors because many schools would be topping up the hours of current guidance staff. 

The return of students to school will come as a relief to many parents, but concerns remain about how effective new measures to stop the spread of Covid-19 will be. Others have warned that the health system should be prepared for a spike in mental health issues among young people in the months ahead. 

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