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Response to change - a study of guidance and counselling in secondary and grammar schools and technical colleges in Northern Ireland

Fulton, John Francis

Response to change - a study of guidance and counselling in secondary and grammar schools and technical colleges in Northern Ireland Thumbnail


John Francis Fulton


The roots of guidance and counselling are to he found in the works of the great philosophers who have written on education. However, the modern concept of guidance, as a service distinguished from normal classroom practice, is a relative newcomer on the educational scene and derives from three main sources, the psychological-educational, the medical- psychiatric and the vocational—occupational. The first two have been described as constituting the mental health (personal-emotional) aspect of guidance and counselling, the third as the forerunner of contemporary vocational guidance (help with decision-making).
Since the early work in psychometrics, vocational guidance and guidance for maladjusted children, guidance has acquired a much wider meaning. It now covers guidance in all aspects of development for all children. This broader concept appears to have been the response of twentieth century educational practice to the unique complexity of contemporary social and political life.
Counselling is described as one of the activities, for many pupils perhaps, the most important activity through which the objectives of guidance can be achieved. This is not to devalue in any way the significant contribution made to education by the contemporary counselling movement. It is an important strand of the wider mental health movement in education which does not attempt to deny the validity of academic objectives but seeks to give at least equal importance, if not priority, to the all-round personality development of the pupils.
Although some references can be found to guidance in government reports of the late 1930's, the growth of the guidance services in Northern Ireland is a post-war development. Local authority school psychological services now cover the whole province, but the provision of child guidance clinic facilities is limited. The Northern Ireland Youth Employment Service was set up in 1962. Three years later responsibility for the service was transferred from the Ministry of Labour and National Insurance to the Ministry of Education, but new proposals have suggested a return to the Department of Manpower Services as part of an all-age guidance and placement unit.
Surveys were carried out to examine the structures for guidance and counselling in schools, the facilities available, the role of counsellors and the attitudes of teachers and other professional groups in education to counselling. A marked growth in the school-based guidance and counselling services in Northern Ireland has taken place in the last ten years, although there is strong evidence that there has been much less emphasis on the mental health and personal counselling aspects than there has been on careers guidance. Nearly all secondary and grammar schools and technical colleges have a careers teacher. About 34$ of the schools and colleges claim to have a teacher-counsellor but only a few have taken an extended training course in school counselling.
The arrangements for "pastoral care” in the schools are based in nearly all cases on the year and/or class group. The organisational systems in most schools are loosely structured and the procedures for taking and communicating decisions about referrals correspondingly informal. Thus the roles of those involved in guidance and counselling tend to be ill- defined and unclear. Generally school counsellors and guidance teachers are operating with inadequate facilities (most lack even a room exclusively for guidance) and an insufficient time allowance which means that much of the work is done outside school hours. There appears to be a lack of curriculum development in the guidance field, although in some schools evidence of new thinking is now becoming apparent.
The factor analysis of the results to the attitude questionnaire has identified three broad groups of issues concerning guidance and counselling in schools. The first refers to the organisational relationship of the guidance and counselling system to the other school systems (integrated v. supplementary), the second to the nature of the service (all aspects of development v. vocational—educational) and the third to the responsibility of counsellors and schools to the individual and to society.
In Northern Ireland, there is little doubt that a substantial majority of all the groups which took part in the study see guidance and counselling as an educational service integrated with other services provided by the school. In general, the consensus is that counsellors should do some teaching but should not be involved directly with disciplinary procedures, although a minority of teachers dispute this.
Most of the teachers believe that the service should be provided by trained specialists and that confidentiality is a necessary basis for its effective operation, although in both cases some disagreement was expressed.
Majorities in all groups except the youth employment officers, the educational welfare officers and the technical college principals thought that the recruitment of counsellors should be restricted to the teaching profession. The counsellor groups, the school psychologists and the youth employment officers agreed with the view that counsellors should operate as an agent of change with respect to the school, but the teacher groups, with the exception of the technical college principals, were reluctant to accept this point of view. Half of the grammar school principals disagreed or strongly disagreed with it.
The guidance and counselling service was thought by a large majority of each group to be necessary. Most took the view that it should be concerned with all aspects of the development of young people rather than confined to vocational and educational matters. Similarly the majority opinion in each group was that the primary objective of the service is individual development rather than manpower considerations. Certain conditions seem to be perceived as necessary for an effective guidance and counselling service. These include a senior position for the senior counsellor in the school, appropriate use of tests and records, adequate time for counselling and the support of a teaching staff knowledgeable about and committed to guidance philosophy and practice.
There is wide acceptance of the view that the responsibilities of counsellors extend to all the children in the school. However, there is evidence to suggest that some feel that inevitably counsellors should be prepared to discriminate positively in favour of those with problems.
There is disagreement within each group about the responsibility of counsellors as agents of change or "coolers" with respect to society. It is clear that majorities of all groups agree that social adjustment is an acceptable and valid aim for counsellors.
In the discussion of the major themes in education in Northern Ireland, it was suggested that guidance and counselling will grow in importance. If this is the case, a coherent training and research programme is required to inform and sustain future developments.


Fulton, J. F. (1975). Response to change - a study of guidance and counselling in secondary and grammar schools and technical colleges in Northern Ireland


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