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Guidance looks to the next quarter century

After more than quarter of a century the guidance system is well established in secondary schools. The fact that many teachers undertake both academic and pastoral duties has helped to ensure acceptance of a role for guidance to the extent that every teacher has become a guidance teacher, whether designated or not, and some even complain that they have become social workers.

Any evaluation of the guidance system, such as this week's report from the Centre for Educational Sociology, has first to recognise the advances in pupil care since the 1960s. The inadequacies which the researchers uncovered arise from the success of the guidance structure. This produces a remit so wide and reliance on it is so intense that the burden of work limits its effectiveness. The researchers questioned pupils, parents and teachers about the contribution of guidance to subject choice, careers advice, health matters and the gamut of topics which come up in the guise of personal and social education.

It is little wonder that pupils and teachers alike found that much guidance time was expended on the equivalent of firefighting duties: dealing with crises and with "difficult" or "problem" pupils at the expense of those who do not cause a stir. The relationship between pupils and their guidance teacher was seen as largely positive, but for the majority it was often cursory.

Even in as critical an area as advice on subject choice, the detailed arrangements for S2 pupils were absent in many cases for those nearer the top of the school. In a coda to their report, the researchers noted that the Higher Still programme, with its range of options at differing levels, is bound to make fresh demands on guidance staff. Since there is already too much pressure, what hope will teachers have of meeting the Government's aspirations for S4-S6 guidance?

The extent to which a pupil sees benefit from an adviser and counsellor is bound to vary. It is impossible to ensure fruitful personal relationships, and so the criticisms which some pupils made of the guidance system would probably persist no matter what improvements were introduced. But the message from the report is inescapable: case loads are inhibiting progress. So is the limited time in the week for liaison between pupils and teacher.

Understandably in a report commissioned by the Scottish Office, there is no clarion call for extra resources. But the implication is clear. Solving the time shortage would be more important than, for example, raising the number of teachers who have a formal qualification in guidance, desirable though that may be. One issue raised for debate should be easily resolved, however: the idea of full-time guidance specialists who are totally removed from subject teaching must be resisted.

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