This evaluation is part of the Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health Project (YMH Project). The evaluation focuses on the current provision of guidance and counselling in schools with students in Years 9 to 13 and was undertaken in two phases. The first phase involved surveys of school leaders, guidance counsellors and students.[4] This report presents the findings from phase two of the evaluation, undertaken in Term 2, 2013. This phase involved visits to 49 schools and wharekura to evaluate their provision of guidance and counselling, and a online survey of 671 students at these schools and wharekura.

The evaluation contributes to an evidence base for the Ministry of Education’s policy and programme development. It is focused on improving the quality of guidance and counselling for young people in schools, 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 guidance and counselling 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.

The Youth Mental Health Project

The Prime Minister’s YMH Project is made up of 26 initiatives spanning the health and social sector, communities, schools and online. It is designed to help young people who have, or may develop, mild to moderate mental health issues. In a media statement the Prime Minister said that “One in five of our young people will experience some form of mental health problem during the crucial time they are transitioning to become an adult.”[5]

This evaluation recognises the influence of guidance and counselling in schools in promoting positive mental health outcomes for youth. International research (discussed later in this report) shows the link between the enhancement of student wellbeing (through guidance and counselling), student learning, and the prevention of youth mental health problems such as depression, suicide, self harm, bullying, violence, and substance abuse.[6]

What is student wellbeing and why is it important?

ERO has been tasked with two initiatives of the YMH Project: the evaluation of guidance and counselling in schools; and the development of Evaluation Indicators for Student Wellbeing in Primary and Secondary Schools.[7] ERO’s draft indicators use the definition of wellbeing developed in an Australian scoping report and synthesis of international wellbeing literature.[8]

Student wellbeing is strongly linked to learning. A student’s level of wellbeing at school is indicated by their satisfaction with life at school, their engagement with learning and their social-emotional behaviour. It is enhanced when evidence-informed practices are adopted by schools in partnership with families and community. Optimal student wellbeing is a sustainable state characterised by predominantly positive feelings and attitude, positive relationships at school, self‑optimisation and a high level of satisfaction with learning experience. (p.30)

The Australian report concludes that international research shows that student wellbeing has a direct impact on student learning, and states that:

The enhancement of student wellbeing is emerging as an important approach to the development of student’s social, emotional and academic competence and a significant contribution to the ongoing battle to prevent youth depression, suicide, self harm, anti-social behaviour (including bullying and violence) and substance abuse. (p.5)

Schools are well placed to improve the wellbeing and, in turn, mental health of young people. One way is through the guidance and counselling they provide to students. Overall student wellbeing has an impact on mental health and student learning.

Child wellbeing in New Zealand

There are several New Zealand and international papers that report on child wellbeing in New Zealand and make international comparisons. These papers are discussed more fully in ERO’s phase one report, Guidance and Counselling in Schools: Survey Findings (July 2013[9]). Some of the findings in these papers include:

  • youth suicide rates in New Zealand are the highest in the OECD[10] and the leading cause of death among young people, as well as being an indicator of mental health in the youth population[11]
  • young people from the most deprived areas are 1.5 times more likely to be hospitalised because of intentional self harm[12]
  • loneliness can contribute to poor outcomes such as stress, anxiety or depression; in New Zealand it is most prevalent in 15-24 year old females[13]
  • while most young people in New Zealand have good mental health and wellbeing, suicide behaviours and deliberate self harm were not uncommon.[14] Groups who were at greater risk included young people from low socio‑economic communities, those who abuse drugs or alcohol, those who are attracted to members of the same sex or both sexes, or those who have depression or mental health disorders.
  • in the Youth 12 study students were more likely to report (than in 2001 and 2007) that they liked school and that they felt that adults at their schools cared about them. However, more students reported troubles with parents worrying about having enough money for food, inadequate access to a family doctor, and less participation in part-time employment. Also of concern was the persistence of substantial numbers of students reporting significant depressive symptoms, and trouble with bullying.[15]

Data from these studies show that child wellbeing, in particular youth mental health, is of concern in New Zealand, with risk-taking behaviours, loneliness, bullying, and poor relationships being some of the indicators of mental health problems, self-harm and suicide.

What is guidance and counselling?

The Ministry of Education does not provide any definitions of guidance and counselling, nor how it differs from pastoral care. Indeed, ERO found that ‘guidance and counselling’ and ‘pastoral care’ were sometimes differentiated within a school, and sometimes not. In some schools, they were seen as the same concept.

Best et al[16] define pastoral care as the structures, systems, relationships, quality of teaching, monitoring arrangements, extra-curricular activities, and ethos within a school. They say pastoral care includes guiding, counselling, meeting parents, disciplining, and negotiating; that it is seen in the caring quality of relationships between people. Guidance and counselling is seen as a specific set of activities in which teachers engage with students as part of wider pastoral care.

Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth suggests a ‘circle of care’ approach that places the student at the centre surrounded by layers of care – of which a guidance and counselling team is only one layer. Figure 1 shows this idea, adapted for New Zealand schools.

Figure 1: Circle of care[17]

figure 1 is a circular image which comprises of five rings they are from the inside ring out. the centre ring is student, the second ring reads core team, teachers, parents and whanau. The third ring reads inschool guidance, guidance counsellor, form/whanau teachers, gifted and talented, senior leadership team, SENCO, learning support, deans, and principal. The fourth ring reads educational support team, therapists, school based health services, social worker, youth worker, RT:LB and psychologist. The fifth and final ring reads external/community supports, sexual health providers, district health board, maori health board, police youth aid, family gp's, minsitry of education, counsellors, iwi and maori elders, youth services WINZ, child protection team, CYF, church, psychiatrist, CAMHS, drug and alcohol support and child development services.

Manitoba Education states that:

Guidance and counselling are a shared responsibility of all staff. A team approach should be employed, wherein all staff members have specified roles of play. School counsellors play a key role in planning and implementing programs and services.[18]

Guidance and counselling in New Zealand schools

The school guidance and counselling system plays a part in how schools fulfil certain legal requirements, including:

  • Section 77 of the Education Act 1989 which requires that the principal ensures students get good guidance and counselling
  • Section 17A of the Education Act 1989 that requires the principal to take reasonable steps to ensure that a student who is stood-down or suspended has guidance and counselling
  • National Education Goal 2 that requires boards remove barriers to achievement
  • National Administration Guideline 5 that requires boards to provide a safe physical and emotional environment for students.

Schools are also guided by the achievement objectives of the Health and Physical Education Curriculum and the key competencies in The New Zealand Curriculum, in particular, managing self, relating to others, and participating and contributing.[19]

Guidance and counselling in secondary schools was formally established and funded by the state in the 1960s. In 2001, a Guidance Staffing FTTE (full-time teaching equivalent) component was added to eligible schools’ total staffing resource. This component is roll‑based but not weighted for decile. The way the formula is calculated is based on two scenarios. Schools that have equal to or less than 200 Year 9 to 13 students receive less than the full entitlement, while schools that have greater than 200 Year 9 to 13 students receive the full entitlement. Approximately 853.6 FTTEs were provided to schools under this component in 2012, totalling over $57 million. A school or wharekura can decide how they use this staffing resource and do not necessarily need to provide a qualified guidance counsellor. In this evaluation, six of the 40 schools/wharekura did not have a guidance counsellor.

The Ministry of Education does not provide national guidelines or standards to schools about the provision of guidance and counselling.[20] The New Zealand Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) includes information about guidance counselling on its website, and provides guidelines to principals, boards, teachers and guidance counsellors.[21] The New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC) provides a code of ethics and (in conjunction with the PPTA) a school guidance counsellor appointment kit.[22]

In 2001, the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand produced a set of Guidelines for Mentally Healthy Schools.[23] The guidelines include criteria for the implementation of mental health promotion initiatives in secondary schools that focus on:

  • student and staff empowerment
  • cooperation, participation and collaboration
  • the dynamic influence of school climate and ethos on mental and emotional wellbeing
  • the acknowledgement of schools as appropriate and valuable settings for mental health promotion.

In 2004, the PPTA surveyed guidance counsellors.[24] The survey found that most guidance counsellors were registered teachers with additional counselling qualifications. Most of these counsellors also had teaching responsibilities. The survey report concluded that guidance counsellors often felt isolated from their colleagues, and that their role was not fully understood by their schools.[25] Recent research about guidance and counselling in New Zealand schools supports these ideas of isolation and a lack of understanding of the role.[26]

ERO’s phase one findings

The first phase of ERO’s evaluation included three online surveys of school leaders, guidance counsellors and students, undertaken in Term 1, 2013. ERO asked respondents questions about what makes guidance and counselling in schools work well. School leaders, guidance counsellors and students all agreed that having the right people in guidance and counselling roles is what makes guidance and counselling in schools effective. For school leaders and guidance counsellors this meant staff having appropriate professional knowledge. For students this meant the people responsible for guidance and counselling should be supportive and understanding, ensure confidentiality, be good listeners, and be non-judgemental. This focus on confidentiality and trust, along with accessibility, was reflected in guidance counsellors’ comments and in school leaders’ comments about knowing students and the community.

School leaders considered a school culture that valued a collegial approach to student wellbeing also underpinned effective guidance and counselling. For guidance counsellors this was reflected in supportive relationships with school leaders and teaching staff. For students, it was important that the people responsible for guidance and counselling found a solution and took action.

ERO’s surveys identified challenges to providing good guidance and counselling including:

  • the increasing and diverse workload in guidance and counselling
  • increasingly complex mental health needs of students and the wider community, particularly in low income communities
  • not being able to be as proactive as school leaders and guidance counsellors would like due to increased reactive counselling and crisis management
  • poor and limited access to, and response from, external agencies and support services
  • the stigma attached to mental health that inhibited