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Staff in need of support;School Management

Guidance teachers play an essential part in successful schooling. So, asks Patricia Illsley, why are they not getting the help they need to do the job properly?

The job of guidance teacher has become increasingly difficult over the past few years. Since guidance posts for the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative were abolished three years ago in Perth and Kinross, the roll at my school, Crieff High, has increased steadily to the point where each guidance teacher has a caseload of nearly 200 pupils.

My school gives staff time to carry out guidance commitments. But to complete pupil interviews, the school needs to arrange cover, disrupting pupils' education. None of us wishes this to happen. Principal teachers with guidance teachers in their departments face a tough time, because there are simply too many development tasks to complete.

Many of my guidance colleagues see the job as so large that they would now wish to become full-time guidance staff with a responsibility for teaching social education. We have prioritised tasks, used time-management techniques and cut back on our services to the pupils, as well as made use of administrative help. But our role in school has changed. Effective training has allowed us to identify child protection problems earlier, to take more effective action with pupils who are failing to achieve, and increased our work with other agencies in preventing truancy.

As well as raise standards by helping young people to learn, our role in managing the Higher Still entitlement is recognised. A guidance teacher, often working with learning or educational support services, can make the difference between a pupil sitting no Standard grades or sitting all his or her chosen courses.

Some pupils have horrific home circumstances. Dealing with the fallout is time-consuming for guidance staff and emotionally demanding for form and subject teachers.

Effective support for pupils involves much unseen work, and no one wants a return to "crisis guidance". But this is what is happening, and unless staffing levels are increased and caseload numbers cut, the quality of service that pupils, staff and parents have come to expect - and which is one of the Scottish education system's big strengths- will become increasingly fragmented.

The General Teaching Council's report in December backing the training of all guidance staff deserves support. But the job must be made manageable, so all pupils can receive the pastoral care, careers and curriculum guidance and social education they need without placing undue burdens on teachers.

It is no longer acceptable to tell us to prioritise. We have been doing this for years.

Patricia Illsley is principal teacher of guidance at Crieff High School, Perth and Kinross

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