Don't hold back the dawn on guidance

The Executive has to give a lead to local authorities in overcoming the crisis that faces pastoral care, says David McLaren

MAZING news! No one voted for McCrone. Am I imagining it, or is it really the case that every teacher I speak to disclaims responsibility for mandating the post-McCrone agreement? Some teachers certainly see now that the devil is in the detail, or more precisely in the case of guidance staff, the complete absence of detail. How can it be that a report which virtually ignored guidance was hailed at the time as the new dawn for Scottish education?

The result is that guidance now faces what might euphemistically be called "an uncertain future", as recent TES Scotland articles have observed. In fact, it faces a crisis which needs to be addressed very quickly if guidance and pastoral care are to survive in any meaningful way. This is hugely ironic given that, as educators, we are exhorted daily to be inclusive, to care for and support individuals and, above all it seems, to raise attainment. Has no one yet grasped that guidance and pupil support are absolutely central to these aims?

Assistant principal teacher posts are due to disappear in a year's time and local authorities cannot afford to wait for a lead from the Scottish Executive. The Executive, in turn, waits for good practice from the authorities and seems reluctant or perhaps unwilling to provide a lead.

Jack McConnell's discipline task group made it very clear last July that the time was right for "a comprehensive review of the nature and purpose of guidance . . . and the training of guidance staff". To date, there is no discernible sign of any review group, far less any report which might take things forward.

The Executive's reluctance is understandable given that any review of guidance would have to address some fundamental issues - chief among which is the subjectguidance tension and the concept of full-time guidance staff. The latter has never been satisfactorily debated, far less resolved. Since it hits at issues such as teacher credibility, subject loyalties and the whole concept of "teacher", the official silence may be unsurprising.

It would be easy to argue that the confusion and uncertainty is because local authorities have had no lead at national level. Welcome as such a lead might be, authorities have also become protective of their own systems and many want to experiment with new curricular and management structures.

Many authorities wish to meet local needs in their own way. Guidance has occasionally benefited from this. Some schools already have a relatively high number of guidance staff and some have had full-time guidance staff in place for some time.

Is the solution, then, to continue this devolution to its logical conclusion and encourage each local authority to do exactly as it wants with guidance? Perhaps, but if the authorities were to devolve all responsibility for guidance to individual headteachers the potential would exist for huge disparity in provision. I have seen some proposals that have "guidance and pastoral care" completely out on a limb, connected to little else in the school and literally marginalised.

So what is to be done? My own view is that some basic facts need to be acknowledged. First, the case for full-time guidance staff is incontrovertible. The number of such posts needs to be roll-related and generous enough to allow every pupil access to the full range of personal, curricular and vocational guidance as before.

First-level guidance can and should be spread widely but real, active guidance means one person having a particular interest in and knowledge of a group of pupils. Learning, behaviour support and social work should be integrated into the support team but teamwork must not deny specialisms within it. Personal and social education would be taught mostly by the support team but first-level guidance would have an important role.

Many authorities have moved some way towards this position. What they cannot be expected to do in the medium to longer term is to address questions of training, qualifications and support. For that they need the co-operation and support of the Executive, the General Teaching Council for Scotland, Learning and Teaching Scotland and the universities.

However, in the short-term at least, the ball is firmly in the local authorities' court. McCrone has a lot to answer for. I wonder if any guidance staff voted for it.

Dr David McLaren is a senior lecturer in the department of educational studies at Strathclyde University.

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