Keep the heart in our schools

25th September 1998 at 01:00
"TEACHERS under fire" read the headline in my local evening paper - it was hard not to react with a "So no change there!" It would be fair to say that guidance has been under attack from various quarters ever since it was launched in the wee orange Scottish Office booklet at the beginning of the seventies.

Indeed, it has been tempting to think of guidance staff in much the same light as the troops in Flanders during the First World War sent out into listening posts in no-man's-land. They were never popular when they came back - they either brought news of a likely attack or were unable to shed any light on what might be about to happen. The result of their expedition was irrelevant to the bravery they had displayed.

Guidance staff can be undervalued as so much of their work is "invisible" by the nature of its one-to-one involvement. Though more and more of their tasks can be, and increasingly are being, measured against performance indicators, it is difficult to produce a balance sheet that indicates support given to pupils, staff and families that might ultimately bear fruit months or even years later. It is often only close friends and family who are placed to observe the emotional toll on the most dedicated and professional of the breed.

The coming requirements of Higher Still will provide additional structures for the developing role of guidance. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of how a guidance teacher works will recognise how far we have come since the orange booklet's requirement that "every child in every school should know there is one special member of staff who is expressly charged with looking after their welfare".

As schools have changed along with the society they serve the role of guidance has become more demanding, more exacting and more highly-skilled. Figures on marriage breakdown, child poverty and teenage depression, along with all the stresses of adolescence, provide a clear requirement for a highly trained and motivated team of guidance staff. Guidance staff who are increasingly certificated and qualified.

Thankfully, the days are long gone when it could be seriously claimed that a teacher should - or could - only be concerned with the child's life between 9am and 4pm.

To those who see guidance as ineffectual hand-holding left over from the hippy era, I'd say we need to look at the importance of the heart as an organ. Some view it as the fount of emotions and the seat of love. But others know it as a tough and serviceable muscle that pumps life-giving blood around the arteries. Don't let them take the heart out of our schools!

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