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Pass the tissues for the big greet

I'VE JUST survived the Week of the Big Greet. For some reason, a large number of those who visited my office in the past five or six days ended up in tears - and that was me being supportive.

It got so bad that I had to borrow tissues from the depute's room and face the embarrassment of handing out her delicately pastel-shaded soft tissues instead of the industrial-strength macho variety that the male assistant heads tend to favour. However, it did serve as a good reminder of the depth and range of the pressures affecting the families in our school community.

After this, then, I felt, as they say, well to the south of gruntled, when I read the remarks of a former contributor to this page who was of the opinion that scrapping guidance would be a good way to save money. He argued that "serious" problems were best left to the "professional", that guidance strategies rarely worked, and that anyway guidance staff spent most of their time dealing with trivial matters. Even given his mission to be controversial, I felt this to be well wide of the mark.

Inter-agency work of the youth strategy model makes it perfectly clear that it is the co-operation between all agencies, including the school, that promotes the best chance of success in addressing young people's problems, and my experience has always been that, given appropriate support, guidance staff tackle a wide range of problems with expertise and a high degree of success.

Furthermore, a brief trawl of the problems that have recently come to my notice in school is informative - marriage breakdowns, deaths of parents, severe long-term illness, depression, worry over exams, family quarrels, extreme poverty - all of these landed on the desks of our guidance team in one day recently, and they handled all of them with expertise and efficiency based on their day-to-day working knowledge of the pupils involved.

Most would agree that such support is irreplaceable and that the problems experienced in a school were far from trivial. Furthermore, these are problems experienced in a school that is not in a particularly disadvantaged area.

It would be wrong though to suggest that guidance - or the greetin' - is always negative. Sometimes you need the tissues for laughing. Just the other day our heidie approached one of our first-year miscreants in child-centred style: "How are you getting on, son?" "Fine," came the answer.

"And who's your best pal in the school?" The boy thought long and hard - clearly a trick question. Eventually the right answer dawned. With a beatific smile he turned and gestured towards the heidie: "You are, sir."

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