Principals want more counsellors on staff

JO MOIR
Last updated 05:00 13/12/2013

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Wellington

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School principals are worried students will take their own lives if more guidance counsellors are not made available.

Wellington Girls' College principal Julia Davidson said she had experienced the sudden death of a student three times in her teaching career and it was the "worst thing to happen to a school".

Principals were dealing with students who had increasingly complex mental-health issues and there were not enough professionals on hand to help, she said.

An Education Review Office (ERO) report issued this week said there needed to be a review of the way guidance counsellors were allocated to schools, based on the number of students.

The Ministry of Education commissioned the report and said providing counsellors based on a decile weighting could be an option.

The report showed young people from poor areas were 1.5 times more likely to be admitted to hospital because of intentional self-harm.

Although guidance and counselling staff in many of the schools had the professional ability to help students, their increasing workload made it difficult for them to fully respond, said ERO evaluation services manager Stephanie Greaney.

Post Primary Teachers' Association president Angela Roberts said the lack of school counsellors was recognised by the sector years ago but it had taken a significant rise in teenage suicides for it to be noticed.

"Teachers worry because they're our students and we know it's only a matter of time before it hits someone you teach. There's a real sense of inevitability around it."

New Zealand Association of Counsellors spokeswoman Sarah Maindonald said everyone dreaded the reality of students taking their own lives at school.

"We have to manage the risk as best we can . . . but giving teenagers who are thinking about it . . . access to help has to be addressed."

She said some schools had waiting lists to see guidance counsellors and any number of things could happen to a student depending on how at-risk they were.

"I've done a rough estimation that, if every high school in the country was provided with an extra counsellor to manage the increased workload, it would cost about $39 million.

"That's about the same price as what the America's Cup cost the Government."

The report found schools identified household poverty as the biggest problem with which students struggled to cope.

Ms Davidson said parental expectation was a big contributor to students' stress and fear of the future.

"We have students stressing about getting good grades to go on to university that are worried about racking up a student loan and then not getting a job at the end of it."

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She said the school was so concerned about students' welfare that it was undertaking a wellness survey next year to look at what was contributing to teenagers' mental-health problems.

- The Dominion Post

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