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Guidance and the millennium review;Comment;Opinion

Is every teacher a teacher of guidance? Many would say so, especially nowadays. In primaries, the 5-14 polymath is expected to offer open-armed advice and comfort, and in secondaries even the most subject-oriented specialist can find himself moonlighting as an unpaid social worker. The General Teaching Council, however, wants to make a distinction between those who "do guidance" as part of being a teacher and those who have it in their specific remit.

The council last week (page six) supported mandatory training and therefore reinforced the notion, now more than quarter of a century old, that secondary guidance teachers are in their own way specialists.

For a long time teachers who opted for the guidance path to promoted posts had to contend with disparaging comments from academically minded colleagues. That has now largely disappeared, not least because the burdens of guidance are evident to all. Among these are counselling on subject and career choice. As the curriculum becomes more complex and the number of pupils staying at school increases, that side of the job becomes more taxing.

The personal problems and emotional burdens shared between pupils and teachers are well brought home by Sean McPartlin on this page. When a pupil complains, as some do, that guidance is little more than token, the grouse is really with the system. There are not enough hours in the day for a guidance teacher to give enough time to all the pupils assigned. So those who are much of the time ignored may be the lucky ones in that they are not in the most pressing need: guidance can too often be reduced to troubleshooting.

That is why the call by the GTC for a more regulated system is not so much an attempt at further professional corralling as a bid for greater resources. Without adequate staff and the time to do the job, mandatory training would be futile. Catch-up troubleshooting would still be the order of the day. Therefore the future of guidance in secondary schools belongs in the millennium review of professional structure and conditions of service.

Perhaps there has to be a step back before the GTC gets a response to its demand. The question of whether all teachers are teachers of guidance still needs answered, and it needs to be debated in a primary as well as secondary setting.

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