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Younger pupils need special guidance, too

As guidance moves up the agenda, Sonia Kordiak argues for the introduction of a designated teacher post in primary schools.

Guidance in the primary school - what does it mean? Well, clearly not the same as it does in the secondary school, where the term is understood to refer to designated specialists, guidance teachers who work within an organised guidance system.

However, if secondary teachers of guidance provide personal, curricular and vocational guidance to pupils, then it could be argued that every primary teacher is also a guidance teacher, because they address the needs of the whole child.

This is part of the argument the General Teaching Council for Scotland puts forward in its consultation report, At the Heart of Education, drawn up by its own task group and sent out a few weeks ago to a number of key stakeholders for comment.

The report recognises the work that primary teachers undertake in respect of personal and social development, moral education, pastoral care, equality and discrimination issues, as well as other curricular areas.

It also points out that guidance work promotes and extends all children's learning and achievement, and therefore should not be seen as having a function limited only to supporting those who experience learning or behaviour difficulties.

However, the GTCS also considers the political and social context in which primary schools operate (something recognised in the Better Behaviour: Better Learning report by the ministerial task group on discipline).

In detailing the current challenges primary schools and teachers face, At the Heart of Education acknowledges the demands made on staff and celebrates the commitment which all primary teachers make to the whole area of guidance. But the report also suggests that sometimes there are too many problems for teachers to tackle, and that some teachers feel inadequately prepared by their training for the demanding and supportive roles they often find themselves having to undertake.

Twenty-one recommendations are made in the report. Education employers are urged to consider new ways of supporting families and pupils by the provision of new posts such as home-school link teachers or by the introduction of pupil counsellors.

Policy-makers are urged to review staffing levels in primary schools to enable all teachers, whatever their status, to have sufficient time to be able to undertake the tasks involved in "guidance".

A more equitable system of guidance support for primary pupils and teachers across the country is sought, as is an increase in the provision of courses in counselling skills for all primary teachers.

Faculties of education in higher education institutions, the Scottish Executive and the GTCS itself are asked to monitor the input given to special educational needs and social, emotional and behavioural difficulties when courses of initial teacher education are being reviewed. A meaningful reduction in class sizes at all stages is strongly urged in recognition of the range of special educational needs (for example, physical, emotional and linguistic) of pupils now in Scotland's classrooms.

The one recommendation which is most likely to spark off debate urges "the introduction of designated guidance posts, with adequate time free from class contact, within the primary sector".

Guidance could be part of the remit of the new principal teacher post to be introduced into primary schools as a result of the post-McCrone agreement.

One reason given for such a move is that an individual in this type of post could support pupils directly by counselling them, and thereafter by liaising with parents, and outside agencies where necessary.

With no designated time available to primary teachers to discuss individual difficulties in respect of learning, behaviour or attendance during the pupil day, the report argues that a means of achieving such a dialogue needs to be found.

As only slightly more primary teachers who returned questionnaires to the GTCS were in favour of the introduction of primary guidance teacher posts than were against, and the fact that there was no overall consensus among primary headteachers, the GTCS hopes further discussion will take place around this issue.

Such a discussion, of course, may not be unrelated to the nature of the primary teaching qualification. The Council has argued for review of the professional education of primary teachers. Both the BEd and the postgraduate primary course are expected to cover too much in terms of the expanding curriculum and age range.

The closing date for comments on the GTCS guidance report is July 6 and the final version will be launched in October.

Sonia Kordiak is convener of the GTCS primary guidance task group.

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