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Kids stand up for guidance staff

Pupils in Inverclyde have unanimously vetoed the idea of every secondary teacher becoming a first-level guidance teacher.

The kids say that many simply lack the personal qualities. They shout too much, are aggressive and some even have personal hygiene problems.

Several authorities, notably Glasgow, are adopting first-line guidance approaches, backed by smaller numbers of full-time guidance staff, but students in Inverclyde say the system will not work. Too many register teachers are described as uncaring, unfriendly and unapproachable.

All teachers should have the qualities of a good guidance teacher but pupils are clear many do not, according to a study carried out for the authority by Brian Boyd and John Lawson of Strathclyde University.

"There are some individuals, albeit a minority, in every secondary school who could not be taken seriously as guidance teachers," the researchers note.

There is further good news for the guidance lobby. Pupils overwhelmingly say the service is central to school life and they would much rather speak to a guidance teacher than a register teacher.

The researchers conclude: "They could not conceive of a school without guidance, even if individual pupils felt that they, personally, did not need guidance very much. It is an endorsement of the system and the people who work within it. Indeed, it is difficult to think of any other aspect of schooling that would be likely to attract such praise from young people."

Guidance staff are accessible, giving up breaks and lunchtimes to speak to pupils. They can be stopped in the corridor and are generally regarded as "being there for you".

The system, however, is not perfect from the pupils' point of view. They do not have any choice over their guidance teacher and the wrong gender balance can cause difficulties. Not all guidance staff have the qualities pupils identify as important and other staff can offer just as much.

Support for learning staff were often mentioned as sympathetic teachers. In one secondary, it was the drama teacher. In another, it was the assistant head.

"Pupils' rights are not always taken into account. They don't always get a choice of whether they want to be 'mentored', for example, nor are they normally allowed out of class to see a guidance teacher, even although guidance staff can summarily extract a pupil from class at any time," the researchers state.

Jim Gilhooly, acting head of service in Inverclyde, said: "The idea that you can do away with guidance is not there at all. The evidence opens up discussion about the role of guidance, whether it can be targeted and whether all teachers can be guidance teachers. The kids' view is that they cannot."

Guidance Matters: A pupil perspective on guidance within Inverclyde Council. By Brian Boyd and John Lawson of Strathclyde University.

* Qualities to look for

* sense of humour, friendly, patient, gets on with pupils

* listener, up to date, trustworthy

* able to give advice, choices

* young, doesn't shout

Qualities to be avoided

* hating children, hating job

* short temper, uncaring

* bad attitude, doesn't listen

* sarcasm, unwillingness to weigh up evidence

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