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More cash for counsellors

Expected cuts in trainee-teacher numbers by 2010 will free up funding for the training of high-quality children's counsellors, it has been revealed.

The announcement came as officials faced criticism for failing to plan effectively for an independent counselling service for children. Officials say finding funding, training places and the best people for the job are more important than meeting deadlines.

The Furlong review, published in January, recommended cutting primary teacher-training places by a half and secondary places by a quarter by the end of the decade, to reflect falling pupil numbers.

Setting up an independent counselling service for children was a key recommendation of children's commissioner Peter Clarke's 2004 Clywch report into allegations of child abuse at a south Wales secondary school.

He said a strategy for the service should be in place by last year and opposition parties have accused the Assembly government of "dragging its heels". But Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, said a draft strategy would be out this autumn.

Speaking at last week's meeting of the Assembly's education, lifelong learning and skills committee, she said: "A national counselling service is a long way off, it needs increased investment.

"We need fully-qualified counsellors and adequate training provision of the highest quality. We have to see how many places are released from the recommendations of the Furlong report so we can expand opportunities."

Janet Ryder, Plaid Cymru's shadow education spokeswoman, pushed the minister on a date for starting up the service. She said: "We are looking at many years before the service is in place."

The Assembly government undertook an investigation of what counselling was currently available in Wales last year. It found counsellor availability to pupils was "patchy", with some schools already having an in-house service and others relying on educational psychologists, pastoral staff and school nurses.

Schoolchildren in Wales were also asked their thoughts on having a counselling service. A survey of 1,500 children questioned across 18 Welsh local authorities concluded that every pupil should have access to a counsellor, rather than singling those out with real problems. Glan-y-Mor comprehensive, in Burry Port, offers a full-time counselling service for pupils.

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