Conclusion

An analysis of the findings of the three surveys – students, school leaders, and guidance counsellors - indicates some themes about what these groups consider good guidance and counselling in schools looks like, as well as what challenges are facing the sector.

Although the findings in this report are based on self-reported information, it is clear that those involved in the provision of guidance and counselling in schools face diverse and complex issues relating to the wellbeing of young people. Both school leaders and guidance counsellors emphasised the broad nature of guidance and counselling in schools. They highlighted the importance of having a shared understanding and ethos of care and respect among those responsible for guidance and counselling and, indeed, throughout the wider school community.

Students were clear about the need for those responsible for guidance and counselling to be well known, respected and visible in the school. Professionalism and confidentiality featured in what they saw as important in someone they would approach for help in a school setting. School leaders and guidance counsellors highlighted these qualities as well.

While many guidance counsellors appear to be receiving adequate professional supervision and professional learning and development, they were not always well supported by specific policies and procedures. In addition, the appraisal of guidance counsellors was not always appropriate and specific to their role.

The extent of self review of guidance and counselling provision undertaken by school leaders and guidance counsellors was variable. While about two‑thirds of school leaders said they report to their board about guidance and counselling provision, only about half undertook related self review and, of those, only half surveyed students to gain their feedback about the effectiveness of guidance and counselling provision. Indeed, over two‑thirds of students surveyed stated they did not have opportunity to provide any feedback.

Both school leaders and guidance counsellors reported the increasing frequency and complexity of mental health needs of young people, and the stigma often attached to mental health problems by those within the school and in the wider school community.

The findings raise the issue of school leaders and guidance counsellors reporting that guidance and counselling in their schools often focused on reactive support and crisis management, rather than developing and implementing preventative programmes or support. Guidance counsellors highlighted the need to provide more individual counselling as mental health and other issues are left to escalate rather than being dealt with early. Programmes and initiatives were often not in place to prevent some of these problems occurring or escalating from mild to moderate or severe.

Students reported that they were more likely to seek help from a parent or caregiver, or friends and other students than from a guidance counsellor. If this is the case across the wider student population, then it highlights the need for preventative programmes across all year levels. It also indicates that parents and caregivers need to be an integral part of a school’s guidance and counselling provision, with a clear and shared understanding by all of what support is available.

Similarly, students reported that they were most likely to seek help not only from the guidance counsellor, but also from deans and form teachers within their school. This too highlights the need for a shared understanding of guidance and counselling provision across the school, and appropriate professional learning and development for those involved.

For students, a good guidance counsellor is a person who listens and then actively works to help the student find solutions to their problem. Both school leaders and guidance counsellors indicated, however, that often they are not able to access appropriate support and services external to the school. In a few cases, this appeared to be due to isolation or services no longer being available in smaller towns.

However, school leaders and guidance counsellors reported that the increased high threshold for referral to these services often meant students were not able to receive the professional help they required in a timely manner. This in turn increased the pressure on guidance counsellors and others responsible for guidance and counselling to meet this demand.

ERO is currently undertaking phase two of its evaluation of guidance and counselling in schools through on‑site reviews of a sample of schools with students in Years 9 to 13. The findings of this evaluation will contribute to a broader discussion about improving the school guidance system, including:

  • how the current school guidance system is operating, such as schools’ perception of pastoral care, the role of the guidance counsellor and the quality, coverage and management of this resource in secondary schools
  • which practices best support youth wellbeing
  • better equipping schools to identify and deal with mental health issues
  • enhancing the quality, coverage and management of this resource in secondary schools.