School counselling back after incident

Sat, Sep 22, 2012, 01:00

THE DEPARTMENT of Education has reversed a budget decision to cut guidance counselling supports in a school in the southeast after a Junior Cert student intent on “serious self-harm” was taken to hospital.

In the days before the incident, the 16-year-old male pupil had sought to talk to a guidance counsellor in the school, but one was not available because of budget cuts.

The department confirmed last night it allocated an additional 11 counselling hours a week to the school last Monday after a year head at the school contacted senior officials. Emails were also sent to Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn.

In one, a teacher explained how the distressed student sought a meeting through their year head with one of the school’s guidance counsellors, but “was unable to get one due to the cutback in guidance hours”.

“Unfortunately the student attempted serious self-harm over the following weekend and sent goodbye messages to a number of friends. Their prompt actions led to his hospitalisation.”

In common with all other schools, the southeast school had its allocation for guidance counselling cut as part of budget savings.

The incident appears to confirm concerns raised by the guidance counsellors last December when the cuts were imposed. At that time, the Institute of Guidance Counsellors said the cut would leave vulnerable students without the supports they needed.

More than 700 second-level schools in the State are allocated guidance counsellors under a quota system, but the budget cuts mean there is no longer a specific allocation for guidance and counselling in many schools.

In practical terms, the number of guidance hours available to students has been cut as many guidance counsellors have been instructed to return to the classroom as regular subject teachers.

Last night Gerry Flynn, institute president, said schools faced a situation where there was insufficient time to deal with students who were at risk because of cuts in the hours for counselling.

In a statement, the department said the “additional 11 concessionary hours for the 2012-2013 school year is available as a short-term support to enable essential curricular provision to continue”.