LEADERS of Scotland's guidance teachers are demanding a national rescue plan to head off what they see as threats to their unique 30-year-old system of pupil support.
The simmering disquiet among guidance staff, which will almost certainly surface at the annual conference of the Scottish Guidance Association in a fortnight's time, has led to a call from the association for a national forum to map out the future of the service.
Guidance teachers, long concerned about lack of time for a growing pupil caseload, are now anxious about the impact of the shake-up in secondary promoted posts next year in the wake of the teachers' settlement. This will involve the disappearance of assistant principal teacher posts, key to the delivery of guidance.
"This is of major concern to guidance teachers," Alex Edwardson, the SGA's president, said. "Where will the caseloads of these APTs go? We are supposed to be planning now for next year and yet we have got all this uncertainty."
The association is also worried that the lack of national direction will lead to authorities going their own way towards a postcode lottery on guidance. This could produce fragmentation and "a situation where all young people cannot be guaranteed access to consistent quality support services regardless of their geographical address".
The SGA reports: "There is considerable inconsistency in the quality and quantity of guidance provision and support for guidance staff across Scotland. It is very important that decisions on time, training, ratios of staff to pupil caseload and resources are made at a national level."
The Scottish Executive is due to set up what it is calling a stakeholders'
advisory group to conduct "a comprehensive review of the nature and purpose of guidance". It is due to hold its first meeting "in the near future", according to a spokesman, following one of the recommendations in the Better Behaviour, Better Learning report on school discipline produced almost a year ago by the action group chaired by Jack McConnell, then the Education Minister The review will extend to primaries as well as secondaries and will look at staff training issues.
The action group's report acknowledged that the wider range of pupils requiring support, particularly those with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, had "increased significantly" the demands on guidance staff. This can have "a detrimental effect on their wider responsibilities for curricular and vocational guidance", the report stated.
In preparation for the review, the Educational Institute of Scotland has been conducting a survey of guidance. A spokesman made it clear that, irrespective of the outcome of changes to the secondary promoted post structure, ministers are "committed to the retention of guidance professionals".
Responses so far had not shown any significant groundswell of support for the introduction of full-time guidance staff as one of the solutions to workload pressures.
The response of one secondary school summed up the prevailing view of EIS members: "It is absolutely essential in this day and age to have guidance professionals in schools but not to the exclusion of their involvement in subject departments where they can bring expertise and experience."
An Executive spokesman said: "We recognise the valuable role of guidance as part of an integrated approach to learning support, behaviour support and guidance.
"The review will enable us to consider and promote models of good practice."
WHO'LL DO THESE JOBS
How members of the Scottish Guidance Association see their key tasks:
* Establishing relationships with pupils, including face-to-face interviews.
* Liaison with other staff.
* Contact with outside agencies.
* Delivering personal and social education.
* Crisis management.