Findings

This report presents the findings from these surveys in three parts: students, school leaders, and guidance counsellors. Appendices at the end of the report also include detailed quantitative data for each of the surveys.

Students

Most of the 91 students that responded to the student survey were still at school and in Years 11 to 13. Thirty respondents had already left school and most of these had left at the end of Year 13. A small number of students were in Years 9 or 10. Over two‑thirds of respondents were female. Similarly, about two-thirds included European/Pākehā as an ethnicity. Appendix One has this and other information from the student survey in more detail. The results below should be considered in light of these demographics.

Key findings from the student survey:

  • students were most likely to seek help from a parent or caregiver, or friends and other students; and then from a guidance counsellor, dean or form teacher when at school
  • 65 percent said it was socially acceptable at their school to see someone about guidance and counselling
  • confidentiality, accessibility and privacy made it easier to seek help
  • people responsible for guidance and counselling need to be supportive and understanding, ensure confidentiality, find a solution and take action, be a good listener, and be non-judgemental.

Who do students see for help?

ERO asked students to indicate who they would talk with, both internal and external to school, about a variety of issues. Students were able to choose more than one person for each issue. The most common people students said they would talk with are shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Who students most commonly talk with

Learning issues

Goal setting

Mental health issues

  • · friends/other students (56)
  • · form teacher (55)
  • · parent/caregiver (48)
  • · dean (45)

· parent/caregiver (48)

· form teacher (47)

· careers advisor (33)

· guidance counsellor (47)

· parent/caregiver (37)

· doctor (35)

· friends/other students (34)

Physical health issues

Sexual health issues

Sexuality issues

  • · doctor (61)
  • · school nurse (40)
  • · parent/caregiver (40)

· doctor (46)

· school nurse (28)

· parent/caregiver (22)

· guidance counsellor (31)

friends/other students (29)

· parent/caregiver (26)

no one (20)

Boy/girl friend issues

Family stuff

Drug and alcohol issues

  • · friends/other students (65)
  • · parent/caregiver (29)
  • · guidance counsellor (28)

· friends/other students (51)

· guidance counsellor (35)

· friends/other students (40)

· guidance counsellor (35)

· parent/caregiver (34)

Careers and further education and training

Learning at school

Issues with teachers

  • · careers advisor (76)
  • · parent/caregiver (47)
  • · form teacher (35)
  • · dean (34)

· dean (55)

· form teacher (53)

· parent/caregiver (52)

· parent/caregiver (60)

· dean (58)

· friends/other students (40)

Issues with friends

Bullying

Financial issues

  • · friends/other students (45)
  • parent/caregiver (43)
  • · guidance counsellor (33)

· dean (49)

· friends/other students (47)

· parent/caregiver (42)

· parent/caregiver (50)

Racism

Sexual harassment

Grief

  • · dean (44)
  • · parent/caregiver (42)
  • · friends/other students (37)

· parent/caregiver (39)

· guidance counsellor (35)

· dean (35)

· friends/other students (48)

· guidance counsellor (43)

· parent/caregiver (32)

Family violence

Self harming

Body image

  • · guidance counsellor (42)
  • · friends/other students (33)

· guidance counsellor (38)

· friends/other students (35)

· friends/other students (43)

· parent/caregiver (30)

· guidance counsellor (30)

· no one (21)

Overall, a parent or caregiver was most commonly chosen by the students as the person who they would talk with in the first instance about the issues in Table 1, followed by friends or other students. After these two groups of people, students were most likely to talk with guidance counsellors, followed by deans or form teachers. These results (students choosing to talk with parents/caregivers and friends/other students) highlight the need for a coherent approach to provision that fosters a shared understanding about guidance and counselling throughout the school community.

To help parents and caregivers respond appropriately and to know when their child needs further help or support, it is vital that the school engages with the community and works to reduce any feelings of stigma attached to these issues. Similarly, it is important that other students have participated in preventative classroom programmes that help to demystify some of these issues and equip them with appropriate information so they can help and support their friends in the best way.

Students highlighted the importance of a shared understanding about guidance and counselling and a shared responsibility for their wellbeing among school staff. The findings in Table 1 highlight that staff involved in guidance and counselling or wider pastoral care, such as deans and form teachers, need to be able to respond appropriately when dealing with the issues in Table 1, the ethics involved, and knowing who they might refer a student to for further support and help.

Guidance and counselling at their schools

Almost all students who responded to the survey said they had a guidance counsellor at their school. These students most commonly identified deans, form teachers, school nurses, and youth workers as also providing guidance and counselling. However, almost one‑third of these students said that no one, other than the guidance counsellor, provided guidance and counselling.

Seven students said they did not have a guidance counsellor at their school. They indicated that those who did provide guidance and counselling included form teachers, class teachers and youth workers. Three students said no one provided guidance and counselling in their school.

Almost two-thirds of the students said it was socially acceptable at their school to see someone about guidance and counselling. However, the remaining third of students felt it was not acceptable to seek support at school for guidance and counselling. This sense of stigma reflects some of the challenges mentioned by school leaders and guidance counsellors.

Knowing who to talk to

ERO asked students about how they knew who they should see or talk to for guidance and counselling. The most common response from students was through the introduction of the guidance counsellor at assemblies or in class. Some students also said they were introduced to peer mediators or support students as well. In many cases, this introduction was regularly at the start of the school year, but in a few cases, only when a student started at the school in Year 9. Some students said that their school advertised the availability and purpose of the guidance counsellor in notices, posters, the school diary and emails to students. A few students said they would ask their teachers, dean or friends about who they should talk to. A few students said they did not know who they should talk to.

Approaching someone for guidance and counselling

ERO asked students what would make it easier to approach someone for guidance and counselling. The three most commonly mentioned aspects were:

  • the assurance of confidentiality
  • the ease of making contact or booking an appointment
  • the privacy of the meeting space.

Students talked about not being interrupted, their friends not finding out they were seeing someone, and not being judged. Students also commented on the need for that person to be trustworthy, supportive and non-judgemental. Other important themes were knowing the person, and the visibility of that person in the school; the availability of that person; and their friends being supportive.

Challenges about seeing someone for guidance and counselling

ERO asked students about what made it harder or more challenging for them to go and see someone for guidance and counselling. The most common challenges were:

  • being judged by your peers and being seen as a weak person
  • potential embarrassment and humiliation
  • having to see someone you don’t know, who you’re not sure you can trust, and may not be approachable
  • a lack of privacy and confidentiality
  • having to face up to your problem in the first place.

Other challenges included the consequences of seeing someone – particularly if it was about being bullied; having to leave class for an appointment; a lack of understanding from the person you were seeing; a lack of family support to see someone; and the referral process.

Positive aspects about guidance and counselling

ERO asked students about the positive aspects related to the effectiveness of guidance and counselling at their school. The most commonly cited aspects were about students getting help, and people involved in guidance and counselling being available and very approachable. Responses also included:

  • the guidance counsellor being well known and respected
  • confidentiality
  • everyone being on the same page
  • students also being involved in mentoring.

Negative aspects about guidance and counselling

Just over one‑third of students said that there were negative aspects about guidance and counselling at their school. The most commonly cited negative aspect was that some people involved in guidance and counselling often lacked time to see students when needed, they lacked professionalism, were not approachable, and did not maintain confidentiality. Students also said that there could be a lack of privacy, and that the guidance counsellor was not always well known or trusted at their school. Some said there was a stigma attached to talking to someone and being summoned from class did not help. Some commented that guidance counsellors could ‘blow things up out of proportion’ and, along with teachers, lacked an understanding of youth issues such as cyber bullying and social networking sites.

Suggested changes

ERO asked students what changes they would like to see about the way guidance and counselling works in their school. Suggested changes included:

  • employing a diversity of counsellors, for example, younger, male, different ethnicities
  • better integrating guidance and counselling into the school culture and developing a shared understanding amongst staff and students
  • making the guidance space and access to it more private and less conspicuous
  • developing a better understanding of youth issues
  • improving confidentiality and professionalism
  • having longer appointments
  • having more counsellors within a school/cluster of schools so students have more choice
  • having students meet with the guidance counsellor on school entry.

Some of these challenges, negative aspects, and suggested changes reflect what school leaders and guidance counsellors reported in their surveys, such as the stigma associated with seeking help, and resourcing issues such as appropriate people, lack of time, and appropriate spaces to ensure confidentiality and privacy.

What guidance and counselling should look like

ERO asked students about what they thought was most important about the role of someone providing guidance and counselling. The aspects mentioned most often included:

  • being supportive and understanding
  • ensuring confidentiality
  • finding a solution and taking action
  • being a good listener
  • being non-judgemental.

Students also mentioned (to a lesser extent) professionalism; being approachable and trustworthy; being knowledgeable about youth health issues; and non-patronising.

ERO asked students to indicate how strongly they agreed or disagreed with a set of statements about guidance and counselling.

Table 2: Guidance and counselling at my school

 

Strongly agree

Agree

Neutral

Disagree

Strongly disagree

No response / Not applicable

Students at my school get to give feedback about guidance and counselling

2

11

23

25

15

15

Confidentiality is really important

61

11

3

1

0

15

Having a guidance counsellor in every secondary school is a good way to help students

51

19

5

1

2

13

It is better when the guidance counsellor is not also teaching

48

14

13

0

3

13

I have been to a guidance counsellor and they helped me

13

8

7

7

5

51

 

Strongly agree

Agree

Neutral

Disagree

Strongly disagree

No response / Not applicable

Students at my school get to give feedback about guidance and counselling

2

11

23

25

15

15

Confidentiality is really important

61

11

3

1

0

15

Having a guidance counsellor in every secondary school is a good way to help students

51

19

5

1

2

13

It is better when the guidance counsellor is not also teaching

48

14

13

0

3

13

I have been to a guidance counsellor and they helped me

13

8

7

7

5

51

Table 2 shows that over two‑thirds of students in this survey considered that they did not have opportunities to give feedback about guidance and counselling at their school. Confidentiality is very important to students, as is the situation where a guidance counsellor is not also teaching. Over three‑quarters felt that there should be a guidance counsellor in every school, and of those that had seen a guidance counsellor, just over half felt that the counsellor had helped them.

School leaders

Most of the 105 school leaders who responded to this survey were from Years 7 to 13 or Years 9 to 13 secondary schools. The roll sizes ranged from small (101-400) to very large (1500 ). Appendix Two has this and other information from the school leaders survey in more detail.

Key findings from the school leader survey:

  • effective guidance and counselling provision is a mix of ethos, people and resources:
    • the culture of the school supports a shared understanding about guidance and counselling
    • the school knows students and the community
    • the school has access to the right people who are professionally knowledgeable
    • the many levels of guidance and counselling and the range of roles involved, are well integrated
    • resourcing (time, people and space) is sufficient
  • 50 percent reported they undertook self review about guidance and counselling with about half of those doing so surveying students to seek their feedback
  • 63 percent said they reported to their board about guidance and counselling.

Approach to guidance and counselling

ERO asked school leaders about the approach to guidance and counselling at their school. In general, school leaders tended to refer to guidance and counselling as part of their wider pastoral care system.

The approaches taken by schools to ensure that students got access to good guidance and counselling were a mix of ethos, people, and resources. In general, the ethos commented on by school leaders was that there was a shared understanding about guidance and counselling or pastoral care amongst the staff responsible for guidance and counselling. Most school leaders said their approach was also to ensure that other staff/teachers at the school understood and shared this ethos. They said it was important for students at all year levels, and their parents and whānau, to know about the support available to them. Most said it was very important that the staff responsible for guidance and counselling were trusted and approachable.

School leaders mentioned specific groups of staff integral to their approach, including guidance counsellors, deans, the pastoral care team, student support team, learning support team, social workers, nurses, form/whānau teachers, chaplains, and staff from external agencies based in and outside the school. School leaders commented that there were many layers of guidance and counselling within the school environment that students could access.

School leaders noted the importance of resourcing (time, people, space) to their approach. Staff providing guidance and counselling needed to be accessible. This meant there needed to be appropriate spaces for students to wait and access guidance and counselling. Systems needed to allow for different types of referrals (self, peer, teacher, parent) and confidentiality.

Who is involved in guidance and counselling?

ERO asked school leaders about the staff involved in guidance and counselling. Ninety-one school leaders said their school had one or more guidance counsellors, and, of these, 65 had other staff responsible for guidance and counselling.

Fourteen school leaders reported that they did not have a guidance counsellor and 12 of these said there were other staff involved in providing guidance and counselling. Of concern were the two remaining schools that reported that they did not have a planned approach to guidance and counselling.

ERO found that as school roll size increased so too did the number of guidance counsellors at the school. The schools that were less likely to employ a guidance counsellor usually had a smaller roll (101-400) and/or were composite schools (Years 1 to 13 or Years 1 to 10).

Guidance Staffing Entitlement

Schools used the Guidance Staffing Entitlement in varying ways that showed differences according to roll size and year levels at the school.

  • Schools with smaller rolls (101-400) were less likely to have guidance counsellors. Many of the guidance counsellors employed at these schools had teaching responsibilities as well.
  • Schools with smaller rolls were more likely to use the entitlement to supplement non-classroom contact time for staff such as the senior leadership team, deans, form/whānau teachers, the Special Education Needs Coordinator (SENCO), or to partially fund social workers and external counsellors. These staff were not teamed with a guidance counsellor in about half of these schools.
  • Five school leaders were unaware they received this entitlement. Of these, four were leaders at smaller schools (three Year 1 to 13 composite schools, and one Years 1 to 10 composite school that thought they did not receive the entitlement as they were not a low decile school). The other was a leader of a Years 9 to13 secondary school with a large roll.
  • Almost all Years 7 to 13 and Years 9 to 13 secondary schools with medium (401‑800), large (801-1500) and very large-sized (1500 ) rolls employed one or more guidance counsellors (a mix of part time and full time).
  • Schools with medium-sized rolls topped up this entitlement to fully fund a guidance counsellor, fund another part-time counsellor, or provide some classroom release time for deans.
  • Schools with large rolls also supplemented their entitlement to provide another part-time counsellor or social worker, or provide non-classroom contact time for deans, SENCOs, careers advisors, and, in one case, a clinical psychologist.
  • One large school did not have a guidance counsellor and used the entitlement to provide careers guidance and their STAR programme. 1

Guidance Counsellors in schools

Table 3 shows the time allocated to guidance counsellors in the 91 schools employing at least one guidance counsellor. Many school leaders said that both full-time and part-time counsellors worked more hours than was allocated to their position.

Table 3: Time allocated to guidance counsellor positions

Guidance counsellors

Number of responses

Two full time and one part time

1

Two full time

19

One full time and one part time

7

One full time

33

Two part time

1

One part time 10-20hrs/week

12

One part time less than 10hrs/week

1

No response

17

Total responses

91

School leaders at 61 schools reported that their guidance counsellors did not have any hours dedicated to classroom teaching unrelated to their position. Sixteen school leaders said their guidance counsellors also had classroom teaching responsibilities. All these schools had small or medium-size rolls. Having guidance counsellors with dedicated classroom teaching responsibilities at some schools raises concerns about confidentiality and disciplinary issues. Schools in this situation need to consider how students can confide in, or seek help from, a guidance counsellor who is also their class or subject teacher.

Other staff responsible for guidance and counselling

Seventy-seven school leaders said they have people other than guidance counsellors responsible for guidance and counselling. In 65 of these schools there were also guidance counsellors employed. Table 4 shows the time allocated to these other roles. Deans were the most common roles mentioned by school leaders.

Table 4: Time allocated to other staff responsible for guidance and counselling

Type of role/s and time allocated

Number of responses

Various full time roles 40-60 hrs/week

12

Two or more full time roles

7

Deans – usually about 5hrs/week

21

Part time, non-teaching roles – social worker, careers advisor, school nurse

7

Part time not specified

13

Ad-hoc, unspecified role and hours

5

No response

12

Total responses

77

Most staff in the roles in Table 4 had classroom teaching responsibilities. However, very few were free from classroom teaching responsibilities. People in these roles without classroom teaching responsibilities were social workers, youth workers, and school nurses.

Support for staff involved in guidance and counselling

This section discusses the support in place for guidance counsellors and other staff responsible for guidance and counselling, including:

  • professional supervision
  • membership of a professional organisation
  • policies and procedures.

Support for guidance counsellors

ERO asked school leaders about the frequency of professional supervision received by guidance counsellors and if the school paid for this supervision. 2 Most guidance counsellors received professional supervision on either a fortnightly or a monthly basis, and this was commonly paid for by the school. Part-time counsellors often received professional supervision less frequently, commensurate with their hours. Those school leaders who said their guidance counsellor had professional supervision on a monthly basis also commented that extra professional supervision was provided if this was needed more often due to crisis incidents.

By belonging to a professional organisation, guidance counsellors are bound by a Code of Ethics, as well as having access to appropriate networks and professional learning and development (PLD) opportunities. School leaders were asked if their guidance counsellors were expected to belong to a professional organisation related to their counselling and 65 school leaders stated this was the case. Of these:

  • 63 reported guidance counsellors belonging to the New Zealand Association of Counselling (NZAC)
  • two reported their guidance counsellors also belonged to the New Zealand Association of Christian Counsellors (in addition to NZAC)
  • two were unsure what organisation their guidance counsellors belonged to.

Seven school leaders said their school did not require the guidance counsellors to belong to a professional organisation, and three school leaders were unsure if their guidance counsellors were required to belong to a professional organisation.

ERO asked school leaders about the policies and procedures specifically guiding guidance counsellors’ work in their school. Table 5 shows that policies about complaints were the most common. No school leaders said they had all four of these policies and procedures relating to guidance counsellors in place. However, of those who responded, all said they had at least one of these policies and procedures. The lack of a comprehensive set of policies and procedures for guidance counsellors, or awareness of these by school leaders, is of concern.

Table 5: Policies and procedures guiding guidance counsellors (91 school leaders)

Policy/Procedure

Yes

No

Unsure

No response

Employment decisions

3

3

11

74

Complaints

62

-

2

27

Ethical practices

11

3

8

69

Conflicts of interest

-

1

14

76

Support for other staff responsible for guidance and counselling

Fifty-two school leaders said that staff other than guidance counsellors who were responsible for guidance and counselling did not get professional supervision. The remaining school leaders reported that professional supervision was provided on a regular or ad hoc basis. Only 17 school leaders indicated that their school paid for it. Some school leaders said that while staff in these roles did not receive professional supervision, they did receive collegial support from their pastoral care team or the senior leadership team.

Less than one‑third of school leaders said that staff in these roles were expected to be undertaking a qualification relating to their guidance and counselling role.

Only nine school leaders indicated that other staff in guidance and counselling roles were expected to belong to a professional organisation related to their role. Some of these organisations were school‑sector based, while most were related to guidance and counselling, such as nursing, social work, or chaplain associations. In two schools, no one in the school had any professional knowledge, qualification or support for their guidance and counselling role. 

Table 6 shows that most schools had relevant policies and procedures guiding staff in these guidance and counselling roles. Twenty-one of school leaders with staff in these roles said they had all four of these policies and procedures relating to these roles, while four respondents said they had none. It appears schools are more likely to have wider school policies and procedures, than they are to have policies and procedures specific to guidance counsellors.

Table 6: Policies and procedures guiding these other roles (77 school leaders)

Policy/Procedure

Yes

No

Unsure

No response

Employment decisions

37

26

7

7

Complaints

65

4

1

7

Ethical practices

42

19

9

7

Conflicts of interest

41

18

11

7

Self review about guidance and counselling

School leaders were asked to indicate if they had undertaken any self review about students’ access to good guidance and counselling, and half of school leaders said that they had. Table 7 shows the nature of their self review and/or how they gathered evidence on which to base their self review. In most cases, student surveys were used, with some schools also using staff and parent surveys. Four schools relied only on anecdotal feedback, and one school relied on parent complaints received, along with anecdotal student feedback. These schools are unlikely to receive a complete picture about the effectiveness of their guidance and counselling.

Table 7: Nature of self review about students’ access to good guidance and counselling

Process/ evidence gathering

Number of responses

Student surveys

30

Staff surveys

9

Information about referrals and numbers of students referred

9

Regular review of pastoral care system

8

Review of relevant policies

6

Appraisal of guidance counsellor

5

Anecdotal student feedback on effectiveness

5

Parent surveys

5

Use of external evaluator (larger Years 9-13 schools only)

5

Weekly team meetings about student access and wellbeing

3

Feedback from external agencies

1

Parent complaints (this was teamed with anecdotal student feedback)

1

Of those school leaders who said they did not, or were not sure if they did, undertake self review about students’ access to good guidance and counselling, four were newly appointed to their positions. Five school leaders said there was some informal discussion of feedback from students, but nothing formal was planned. One school leader said that while they had self‑review processes about issues or problems with students, this did not necessarily focus on guidance and counselling.

ERO asked school leaders about their reporting to the board about students’ access to good guidance and counselling and outcomes for students, and almost two-thirds of school leaders said they did such reporting. Table 8 shows the nature of that reporting. Most commonly, the guidance counsellor reported annually to the board.

Table 8: Frequency or nature of reporting to the board

Frequency or nature of reporting to board

Number of responses

Annual report by guidance counsellor

36

Includes referrals and usage statistics

14

Regular report by deputy principal or principal

10

Reported as part of the self review cycle

7

Includes student wellbeing

6

Termly report by guidance counsellor

5

Monthly report by guidance counsellor

5

Includes results of surveys

4

Ad hoc reporting at disciplinary meetings

3

Fortnightly - informal

1

Through minutes of pastoral care team meetings

1

Twice yearly by guidance counsellor

1

Of those respondents who did not report to the board about students’ access to good guidance and counselling and outcomes for students, most said that reporting to the board was informal (responding to spontaneous questions asked by the board) or not done at all.

While about two-thirds of school leaders said they reported to the board about students’ access to good guidance and counselling, only half actually undertook any self review to report to the board. Some of the self review was also informal and limited in its nature and usefulness.

Effectiveness and challenges

School leaders were asked to comment on the aspects of guidance and counselling that most effectively supported student wellbeing, or were the greatest challenge to providing guidance and counselling at their school.

Most school leaders said that having the right staff providing guidance and counselling was the most important aspect. These staff needed to have the appropriate knowledge and professional development, be accessible to students, be respectful of students, and be seen as trustworthy by students and staff. Some leaders also said it was important that those providing guidance and counselling knew and used a variety of counselling methods or therapies. Some school leaders said that the special character of their school or the collegial approach to student wellbeing in their school was an essential aspect. Others said the culture of their school made it easier for students to self refer for guidance and counselling. Other important aspects included awareness of, and communication with, specialist agencies, and proactive programmes in the classroom at all year levels.

For those schools without a guidance counsellor, school leaders highlighted the importance of - knowing students and how outside influences could impact on them at school; developing relationships with students; and communicating effectively with external agencies.

School leaders made comments about challenges that were similar across schools with guidance counsellors, regardless of whether they had one, two, or three or more guidance counsellors. The greatest challenge was the increasing and diverse workload facing guidance counsellors, and the increasingly complex needs of students and the wider community (as stated by school leaders with guidance counsellors). Linked with this, was the challenge of a lack of funding for dedicated staffing to cope with this increasing workload and complexity. A few school leaders said this lack of funding meant that guidance and counselling at their school was less proactive than they would have liked, which meant that they were reacting to students’ mental health issues once those issues had become more complex.

Twelve school leaders identified the lack of access to, and poor response from, specialist services and agencies as a significant challenge. Eight leaders commented on a lack of society or community support for young people with mental health issues that meant there was a perceived stigma attached to seeing a guidance counsellor. Seven leaders reported that getting the right person for the job was a challenge. These school leaders said that it was difficult for them to get effective and experienced guidance counsellors who had the skills to cope with the diversity and complexity of issues facing young people today.

For those schools without a guidance counsellor a variety of challenges were identified including:

  • the inability to employ a guidance counsellor due to financial reasons (four school leaders)
  • the poor quality of external support they could access (three school leaders)
  • keeping up-to-date through professional learning and development (two school leaders)
  • the lack of time to have one-to-one counselling with students (two school leaders)
  • the attitude of their community, who attached stigma to guidance and counselling (one school leader).

The aspects of providing good guidance and counselling that school leaders found to be the most effective in their schools were related to their approach. School leaders stressed the importance of having a shared understanding throughout the school about student wellbeing and about how this understanding aligned to their wider school ethos or character.

The challenges mentioned highlight the need for adequate resourcing of guidance and counselling, such as appropriate staffing, relevant and up‑to‑date professional knowledge, and access to specialist services and agencies, so that schools may better respond to the increasing diversity and complexity of issues facing youth.

Guidance counsellors

Most of the 180 guidance counsellors who responded to this survey were from Years 7 to 13 or Years 9 to 13 secondary schools. The roll sizes of their schools ranged from very small (1-100) to very large (1500 ). About half of the guidance counsellors worked with at least one other guidance counsellor at their school. Most guidance counsellors responding to the survey belonged to the NZAC. Nearly all respondents had a qualification relating to guidance and counselling, with over half having a Masters in Counselling. Appendix Three has this and other information in more detail.

Key findings from the guidance counsellor survey:

  • 69 percent reported the nature of their position had changed due to the increased frequency and complexity of young people’s mental health needs in the last five years
  • 53 percent reported working more than their allocated hours to try to meet demand
  • most received professional supervision that met their needs
  • while 71 percent considered their position was well managed and appraised, there was concern about the lack of appraisal as guidance counsellors rather than as teachers
  • key aspects of guidance and counselling that supported students well included: accessibility; trust; confidentiality; professional knowledge; and supportive relationships with school leaders and teaching staff.

The role of guidance counsellors

Respondents were asked to comment on the nature of their guidance counsellor position, specifically the breadth of the position. Almost all respondents commented about the diversity and breadth of their role. This included:

  • guidance and counselling for students, teachers, support staff, and parents, caregivers and whānau, including one-on-one counselling, family conferences, group therapy and trauma response
  • developing and maintaining knowledge, understanding and skills to do their job
  • promoting a shared understanding of guidance and counselling through professional learning and development for staff
  • mediation
  • advocacy for students both internal and external to the school
  • liaison with families and whānau
  • referrals to, and liaison with, specialist agencies, community agencies, health providers and iwi
  • administration such as case notes and reporting, meetings with colleagues and, for some, management of other counsellors or pastoral care team members, and reviewing policies and procedures
  • implementing and interpreting student engagement surveys
  • involvement in enrolment and induction of students
  • oversight of external student support people working in the school, including counselling interns
  • facilitating student programmes such as peer support, peer mediation, anti‑bullying, alcohol and drugs, life skills, Travellers, 3 peer sexuality, student leader training
  • responsibility for Positive Behaviour for Learning (PB4L), 4 restorative justice, transition programmes, Alternative Education, 5 hostels, international students, careers and subject advice and guidance, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) learners, priority learners, 6 Individual Education Plans (IEPs), and teacher aides
  • some had teaching loads, including but not restricted to health topics, and extra-curricular responsibilities
  • some were form teachers, or the SENCO.

The comment below from a guidance counsellor highlights the breadth of the role:

The job is incredibly broad and varied. It is more than just therapy in a room (although that is the ‘bread and butter’). It has a key role as part of a pastoral team that attends to student welfare – and anything that pertains to that falls in my brief – with varying levels of intervention from consultation with other staff to taking direct action.

Over two-thirds of guidance counsellors said the nature of their position had changed from five years ago. These guidance counsellors said that this was due to the increase in young people’s mental health needs, such as suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety, self harming and family violence. More individual counselling was being given to students to help them manage these issues.

About one‑third of guidance counsellors reported that their dedicated time to guidance and counselling was 40 hours or more per week. Guidance counsellors who worked 20 hours or less per week in that role, tended to be in schools with smaller rolls, or worked as part of a counselling team in a larger school. Those who worked 20‑40 hours per week in the guidance and counselling role, tended to be in medium‑size schools, as either the sole guidance counsellor, or supporting a full‑time counsellor. Guidance counsellors working more than 40 hours per week tended to be in medium‑ and large‑size schools either as the sole full‑time counsellors or as part of a team of counsellors (either one or more full‑time counsellors).

Over half (96) of guidance counsellors said that the actual hours they dedicated to guidance and counselling were more than their allocated hours. Just over one‑third said their hours worked were the same as their allocated hours. When guidance counsellors were asked to indicate if they thought their allocated hours were sufficient, about one‑third said they were. However, the remaining two‑thirds did not think they were sufficient, with 93 indicating they were insufficient, and 28 very insufficient. Comments about why their hours were insufficient included:

  • dealing with traumatic incidents/crisis management
  • increasing mental health issues - students having much higher needs than even five years ago
  • long waiting lists
  • referrals to outside agencies coming with long wait times, fees and inaccessibility due to transport issues
  • cost cutting in schools – guidance was the first to be reduced and then not reinstated
  • teaching load or responsibilities for careers advice and guidance.

Guidance counsellors expressed concern that these factors lowered the quality of their service and compromised student safety. They reported that they were working more than their allocated hours just to get the basics of their job done. They outlined how their practice was affected in many ways due to their allocated hours being insufficient. They reported that:

  • appointments with students became shorter or less frequent so they could make up for a lack of time to see students with ongoing issues
  • they were less innovative and did not introduce new programmes
  • less serious matters were not dealt with and then escalated from mild to moderate to severe
  • their counselling lacked depth due to time constraints and heavy demand
  • there was little time to reflect on their practice
  • they could not work in‑depth with families or provide support to staff.

To cope with this, guidance counsellors said they worked well beyond their allocated hours and used trainee counsellors to meet demand. Comments highlight a serious issue of counsellors working reactively rather than proactively. Mental health and other issues seem to be left to escalate rather than being dealt with early, or programmes and initiatives were not put in place early to prevent some of these problems occurring.

Of the guidance counsellors who said their allocated hours were sufficient, most said they managed their time closely, making referrals to external agencies and using trainee counsellors to meet demand. Many commented that certain times of the years had a heavier workload. At those times, and when there was a crisis, time was insufficient. They dealt with this by limiting the length and frequency of sessions, and follow‑up was neglected.

The findings indicate that guidance counsellors are identifying that the hours they often work are more than those allocated. Even then, they reported that these hours were insufficient in many cases to deal with an increasingly complex workload. Guidance counsellor comments indicate that their workload appears to be more reactive than proactive, meaning that many preventative measures are not in place to reduce the incidence of mild wellbeing issues escalating to more moderate or severe problems.

Professional practice

ERO asked guidance counsellors about the following aspects of their professional practice:

  • professional learning and development
  • professional supervision
  • management and appraisal of their position
  • policies and procedures guiding their practice
  • other people they work with
  • their contribution to any reporting to the board.

Professional learning and development

Guidance counsellors reported that they undertook a variety of professional learning and development. The most common professional learning and development related to:

  • therapies including: art or drawing therapy, narrative therapy, mindfullness therapy, family therapy, Māori therapy approaches, cognitive behaviour therapy, and solution-focused therapy
  • specific mental health issues such as: distress/anxiety, depression, eating disorders/issues, alcohol and drug addiction, bullying/cyber bullying, self-harm, mental health, trauma/stress, and resilience (the Travellers programme)
  • general practices such as: school guidance counsellors’ conferences – mainly NZAC, but also New Zealand Association of Christian Counsellors (NZACC), regional guidance counsellor meetings, their own professional reading, and through professional supervision.

They also attended professional learning and development about youth suicide prevention, restorative practices, brain research and development, and Child Youth and Family (CYF) referrals.

Almost all respondents reported that the professional learning and development they had undertaken had contributed to their ability to provide good guidance and counselling (106 very well, 55 mostly well).

Professional supervision

The PPTA recommends to school leaders and boards of trustees that guidance counsellors have regular professional supervision with a supervisor who is a member of an appropriate professional organisation. The supervision should be regular, ongoing, about one hour a fortnight, and accounted for in school budgetary arrangements. 7

Almost all (175) guidance counsellors said they received professional supervision. The most common method of professional supervision was face to face. However, 30 respondents said they used more than one form of professional supervision, including Skype 8 or similar, phone, email, or peer/group supervision. Just over two-fifths (77) said they had professional supervision fortnightly, and another two-fifths (72) received it monthly. Twenty-two guidance counsellors had professional supervision every three weeks, and the remaining four on a weekly basis. Almost all respondents thought that their professional supervision was meeting their needs.

Most of the guidance counsellors who reported that their professional supervision met their needs very well were having supervision fortnightly and for almost all it was face to face. They stated that supervision was critical for their own wellbeing and essential for their professional practice, ensuring their practice was safe, reflective and up to date. They said professional supervision was a check on their practice. Some would like supervision more frequently, but cost was prohibitive, with some paying for part of their supervision themselves.

Respondents who said that professional supervision was mostly meeting their needs said it was essential for their own wellbeing. Most had supervision on a monthly basis, and many would like it to be more often. The reason this supervision was not fortnightly was the cost of supervision, and the cost and time for travel.

For those who said professional supervision only met their needs somewhat well it was because the availability of supervision and school budgets limited the frequency of the supervision.

The remaining guidance counsellor commented on why the professional supervision did not meet his/her needs at all well. The supervision was by phone, fortnightly. It was to be reduced to monthly due to cost cutting. The counsellor faced a two hour drive each way to have face‑to‑face counselling, and was concerned that monthly phone calls would be inadequate to work safely and effectively.

Management and appraisal

Just over two-thirds of guidance counsellors (128) considered that their position was well or very well managed and appraised. Fifty-nine of these guidance counsellors reported that their position was very well managed and appraised. These guidance counsellors had regular and ongoing management by a supportive principal or senior leadership team that had good insight into the complexities and demands of the role. About half of these guidance counsellors were appraised by the principal or senior leadership team member, and the other half by an external appraiser. Some had adapted the school appraisal system to incorporate the guidance counsellor role.

Sixty-nine guidance counsellors said the management and appraisal of their position was undertaken mostly well. Management of these guidance counsellors was variable. Those who reported to the head of the guidance department thought their management was good. However, those that reported directly to the principal or senior leadership team were less satisfied. They felt there was no or little understanding of the role or caseload. Concern was expressed about the capability of the principal or senior leadership team to appraise their role. While some had external appraisers, many questioned the appropriateness of the school appraisal system and some were working to develop an appropriate appraisal system for guidance and counselling at their school.

Management and appraisal was reported as being performed somewhat well by 32 guidance counsellors. Many of these guidance counsellors worked independently and often suggested that the senior leadership team lacked an understanding of the guidance counsellor role. Many felt that no one at the school was qualified to undertake effective appraisal of their job. If someone from the school appraised them, then the appraisal systems in place were set up to appraise staff in a teaching role, and not guidance and counselling staff.

Fifteen guidance counsellors said their management and appraisal was not at all well undertaken. They said there was a lack of understanding about the role of guidance and counselling by the principal and/or senior leadership team. Their appraisal undertaken at school focused on them as a teacher rather than as a guidance counsellor.

An issue facing schools is to improve the management and appraisal of guidance counsellors. A quarter of guidance counsellors identified that the management and appraisal of their position was not undertaken well. Many of those that felt it was done well still had concerns about how their role in the school was understood and therefore effectively managed and appraised.

Policies and procedures

Most guidance counsellors said that their work was ‘very well’ or ‘well’ guided by appropriate policies and procedures (70 and 77 respectively). These guidance counsellors stated that their policies and procedures were clear and included a mix of school-wide policies and guidance team procedures or manuals. These were regularly reviewed, and guidance staff consulted with the senior leadership team over the development of school-wide policies. Many said their work was strongly guided by the NZAC Code of Ethics.

Guidance counsellors who said their position was ‘somewhat well’ guided by policies and procedures noted their school had specific guidance policies, mostly related to teaching. Some followed NZAC policies and ethics as their school did not have any relevant policies, or they were not up-to-date and needed reviewing.

Guidance counsellors who reported their position was ‘not at all well’ guided by policies and procedures said this was because there were no policies and procedures, but that they would welcome them.

Examples of policies and procedures included:

  • restorative practices
  • traumatic incident management / crisis response
  • child safety
  • anti-bullying
  • disclosures of abuse
  • confidentiality
  • sexual harassment
  • drugs and alcohol
  • sexual health, pregnancy, contraception and abortion
  • rights of parents and students
  • referrals to outside agencies/providers
  • liaison with teachers and outside agencies
  • job descriptions.

Working with other people

Guidance counsellors reported that they worked with many staff in the school environment in their role (Table 9 shows this variety).

Table 9: People that guidance counsellors worked with

Staff

Number of responses

Senior leadership/management team

177

Classroom teachers

174

Parents and whānau

170

Deans

169

Principal

164

Pastoral care team

160

School nurse

149

CYF worker

171

Social worker

111

Youth worker

105

Psychologist

138

Student support worker

63

Chaplain

37

Guidance counsellors also reported working with a wide range of services and providers from government departments, health providers both public and private, and community organisations including Māori, Pacific, church, health and education. The most commonly listed agencies that respondents work with include:

  • mental health agencies, particularly youth mental health (95), including counsellors, psychiatrists, Māori providers
  • educational agencies/people (42), including Special Education, truancy service, Resource Teacher: Learning and Behaviour (RTLB), Ministry of Education psychologists
  • health agencies and providers (39), including regional health schools, public health nurses, general practitioners, Māori health providers
  • drug and alcohol agencies (19).

Reporting to the board

Almost three-quarters of guidance counsellors said that they contributed to reporting to the board, either directly or indirectly. Most commonly, counsellors reported to the board or the principal. Others reported to the head of the counselling department, senior leadership team, a teacher representative on the board, or a dean. Reporting frequency ranged from weekly to every five years, with the most common being annually. The content of reporting varied across respondents, but the most common topics included:

  • statistics (51)
  • trends and concerns (27)
  • planning, policies and procedures (17)
  • contributions to achieving school goals (16)
  • programmes and interventions (11)
  • external agencies (4).

About one‑fifth of guidance counsellors reported not being involved in reporting to the board. Some said that others in their guidance and counselling team did this, or that the principal prepared the report with some guidance counsellor input. Other respondents said that reporting to the board about guidance and counselling had been discontinued. Ten guidance counsellors were unsure if guidance counsellors reported to the board. Most of these 10 were new to the position and were unaware of reporting requirements.

Effectiveness and challenges

ERO asked guidance counsellors to comment on the aspects of guidance and counselling at their school that most effectively supported students’ wellbeing, and provided the greatest challenge to providing good guidance and counselling for students.

About half of counsellors commented on the importance of their service being accessible to students, which meant that trust was an integral part of their provision, along with providing a caring and listening service. Comments from over one‑third of counsellors supported the notion that to provide this type of service, and one that offered a range of appropriate therapies and programmes, a trained and qualified guidance counsellor was needed. Through appropriate training, these counsellors felt that they had the skills to effectively meet the needs of students, their parents and whānau, and the school staff. A small number of counsellors (eight) also mentioned that effective crisis management was invaluable – being able to meet the needs of students quickly and appropriately, and make the right call about the intervention or counselling needed.

Just over one‑third of counsellors commented on the supportive relationships they had within the school with school leaders and teaching staff. Support for guidance and counselling was integral to the school culture, and a shared understanding meant that students received the same message about the importance and normalcy of guidance and counselling. Just under one‑fifth of counsellors also commented on the vital need for the service to be confidential, and for students, parents, whānau and staff to understand this. All of these aspects integrate to provide an effective guidance and counselling service that supports student wellbeing.

Nearly three-quarters of guidance counsellors commented that a lack of time was their greatest challenge, including those who had teaching loads and/or no administrative support. They said that students’ increasingly complex mental health needs and the effects of global recession on low socio-economic communities meant there was more demand for their time. This teamed with low resourcing meant they were not able to work proactively or safely. A further six counsellors commented that they were functioning at crisis management level rather than at a preventative level.

Almost one‑quarter of counsellors said that there was a lack of shared understanding in their school and community about the role of guidance and counselling. This was played out in other comments about accessibility issues (from 19 counsellors) such as a lack of confidential spaces to meet, poor referrals and appointment processes, rigid timetabling structures, and a lack of teacher and parent support for students to attend counselling. Compromised confidentiality due to accessibility issues and school leaders feeling they needed to know details was mentioned by a further nine counsellors. These challenges combined with a lack of student awareness of counselling, and issues of trust and stigma (17 counsellors) may mean that some students who need guidance and counselling were not accessing it.

About one‑fifth of counsellors commented on the diversity of their role and the expertise needed to support students’ complex problems and situations. Counsellors reported that they were increasingly dealing with overwhelming home and community problems. A few counsellors commented that they did not have access to good professional learning and development, and some were paying for it themselves. There were also comments from some counsellors that the biggest challenge facing them was the lack of support from, or accessibility to, external agencies that they referred students to. The nature of some of these challenges are highlighted in the comments below – ongoing responsibility, levels of professional skills required, geographical isolation, and limited access due to increased thresholds for external agencies.

“Sometimes I feel overloaded with the number of students with moderate to acute mental health needs. I refer the high risk students to Adolescent Mental Health Services, but if the student and/or their family doesn't engage with that service, then it becomes my responsibility to provide those students with therapy and support. I need professional development regularly to upskill.” (Years 7 to 13 secondary school with 401‑800 students)

“We live two hours from the nearest help and assistance, and I am the only help for many of these students (other than the general practitioner or nurse). Referrals are frequently not picked up, and due to the distance, students under the umbrella of other services are often not seen very frequently anyway.” (Years 7 to 13 secondary school with 101‑400 students)

“Although there are other specialist services working with young people in the community, the threshold for these services is often very high, leaving us with considerable responsibility for young people with serious issues such as mental illness, care and protection, and substance abuse.” (Years 7 to 13 secondary school with 1501 students)

Many guidance counsellors said that the shared understanding and ethos about guidance and counselling apparent at their school was the most effective aspect of guidance and counselling. This was teamed with having appropriate people with the right knowledge and skills so students felt safe and that they could trust those providing guidance and counselling. However, the findings highlight some issues around resourcing and how schools are using their funding to provide guidance and counselling, as well as what is available in the community. Guidance counsellors (like school leaders) report that the resourcing of guidance and counselling for young people both within the school and in the wider community is limited and, at times, detrimental to young people’s health and wellbeing.