Variations on guidance

4th March 2005 at 00:00
On the outcome from the Scottish Executive's review group on guidance, I am at a loss to understand the basis of its complaints about a previous "strait-jacket" or the educational rationale for the "new" ad hoc approach being reccommended.

The original Orange Paper on Guidance in Scottish Secondary Schools (1968) stated explicitly that "several people may be involved in the guidance of an individual pupil but, for the pupil's sake, one of them should have the main responsibility".

That paper identified allocation of time, secretarial assistance, training and accommodation as issues to be addressed. But it consciously avoided being prescriptive about the guidance model to choose.

The result was a plethora of models, some of which were soon recognised to be flawed. The subsequent Green Paper (1971) introduced national uniformity in promoted posts (APTs, PTs and AHTs), but maintained considerable discretion for variations.

In 1983, the report of the Scottish Central Committee on Guidance confirmed the original 1968 principle that "the intention (is) not to divide teachers into two mutually exclusive groups. Subject teachers (are) still to take a personal interest in their pupils". Far from being prescriptive, this paper described no fewer than five different forms of guidance organisation, most of which involved guidance staff providing training, support or co-ordination.

The follow-up report More Than Feelings of Concern (1986) - as the title suggests - sought to introduce greater professional rigour, but continued to underline "the central importance of guidance as a whole-school responsibility".

The concept of first level guidance (FLG) - apparently central to the "new" recommendation - was first introduced in these 1980s reports. At that time, one teaching union advised local negotiators that "the FLG concept is not accepted uncritically" and that it "has been caused by the overburdening of guidance staff".

In 1988, the same trade union surveyed over 500 of its guidance members, and this showed the huge number and range of tasks being undertaken - including co-ordinationliaison with others in school and with external agencies - and the widespread resource shortfall to implement the requirements identified 20 years previously.

In 1996, the results of a Scottish Office study were published in Guidance in Secondary Schools. This identified support for the guidance structure among pupils, parents and other school staff, but widespread frustration (including among guidance staff) that resource requirements - especially "time" - were rarely met. The report concluded: "The system may not be maintaining minimum standards of provision for all pupils."

What I describe here is an evolutionary process through which the professional and educational principles of guidance have been developed over some 36 years. This involved a broad consensus, which included the development of a specific guidance role within a whole-school approach to pupil support.

The frustratingly slow rate of that evolution is due almost entirely to the repeated failure of governments to provide the resources needed to match their ambitions - or even the professional requirements identified in 1968, and in every subsequent report (other than HMIE's).

So, why has this consensual approach now been ditched in favour of the "new" ad hoc one, so frighteningly similar to that which failed in the late 1960's? Has there been some seminal research paper, some educational conference or some other event which was so persuasive as to necessitate this dramatic volte-face? Have the teaching unions debated the proposals, the rationale underpinning them, their relevance to social inclusion and their likely consequences for their members?

Peter Dickson

Ardlui Gardens, Milngavie

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