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Guidance loses its way

IF anything is at the heart of what makes an effective school, it must surely be the quality of its guidance whether that be in the pastoral, vocational or careers arenas. Yet, in the aftermath of the teachers' settlement, there is a danger of throwing some babies out with the bath water (page six). It was almost a mantra of the local authorities during these prolonged negotiations that they must have more flexibility in managing schools. So, while principal teachers will remain, their assistants as such will disappear and with them a sizeable guidance presence in every secondary school.

Yet guidance has become a greater priority than ever as new community schools are established to reach out beyond their gates, there is pressure to keep exclusions to a minimum, child protection assumes growing importance, schools link with more and more agencies and behaviour management has become a key issue (or irritant) for almost all teachers as the social inclusion agenda takes hold. And that's just the pastoral side of the job.

Guidance, in other words, has virtually become the cement (or sticking-plaster, depending on your analogy of peference) holding schools together. The General Teaching Council for Scotland has recognised this by investigating how the system can be extended to primary schools and to further education colleges.

Yet this is not just a matter of how Scotland's 2,000 principal and assistant principal teachers of guidance are deployed. We are routinely told that a guidance teacher can have a caseload of as many as 200 pupils. Stipulated minimum guidance time is often honoured more in the breach than the observance while schools struggle with staffing standards laid down 30 years ago. As the remit becomes ever more extensive, guidance teachers are inevitably at risk of concentrating on the "problem pupils", so waving goodbye to the concept of guidance for all. Small wonder that researchers reported five years ago that half of pupils shun guidance.

Guidance, in other words, may now be virtually unmanageable. We need a thoroughgoing review to refashion it for the era of social inclusion. It may now be time to grasp the nettle of having full-time guidance teachers with a remit for social education, rather than the other way round.

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