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Counsellors sound warning on education sector adjustments

The NZ Association of Counsellors is warning that fixing ‘the tail’ of the education sector won’t happen until politicians put adequate resources into pastoral care and emotional support for students who are suffering from a huge range of psychological issues.

“Everyone agrees that kids can’t learn if they are hungry. But nor can they learn if they are dealing with a wide range of psychological stresses and associated learning issues,” says NZAC spokesperson, Sarah Maindonald.

“And for many of those students who comprise ‘the tail’, these stresses are an everyday fact of life for which they get little or no support.”

Ms Maindonald says a recent ERO report[1] highlights the need to boost school counsellor resources as part of enhancing pastoral care.

The reviews says growing numbers of secondary school students are seeking help with problems, and their needs are increasingly complex

The report recommends reviewing the formula used to calculate counsellor staffing levels in schools.

“The teachers at the coal face are dealing with large classes of students with increasingly complex presentations. These teachers need effective back up, not extra positions at management level.”

Ms Maindonald says an average week can see school counsellors dealing with parental separation, self-harming, parental death, suicidal thinking, drug and alcohol issues, peer conflict, family violence, parenting problems, sexual abuse disclosures, suspensions (counselling support legally required), depression, anxiety, eating disorders and, particularly in Christchurch now, increased post-traumatic stress.

While the problems may not be created at school they manifest themselves there, and they affect a student’s ability – and motivation - to learn.

“There is a wealth of evidence, both here and overseas, that shows students’ learning and educational achievement can be enhanced through the provision of appropriate and effective pastoral care interventions.

“We hope the ERO report will lead to action being taken on counsellor to student ratios as this will mean more students can access appropriately qualified and skilled professional help and support when they need it.

“And this, in turn, will enhance their ability to learn,” Ms Maindonald said.


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