Too few school counsellors, say advocates

One of Palmerston North's biggest schools has just one guidance counsellor to look after 1800 pupils - and that's not enough, advocates say.

Principals at some of the city's biggest schools are supportive of the New Zealand Association of Counsellors' call to increase the number of counsellors in schools to stem problems such as bullying.

But they will need extra resources to fill the gaps as stumping up the cash for one extra guidance counsellor means funding for one less teacher.

Palmerston North Boys' High School has almost 1800 pupils but just one guidance counsellor, who rector David Bovey said was under pressure.

"We're in a position right now where we have got a lot of young men needing help and there seems to be more and more demand for it."

The school would be keeping an eye on what comes out of the Education Review Office's review of schools' guidance counselling and support.

The review was announced in April last year. It covers the use of funds, the role of guidance staff in schools, and the standards and accountability required of those staff.

The association is hoping for counsellor-to-pupil ratios to be addressed.

"We have got a fulltime guidance counsellor and he is very, very stretched, so we would certainly support any movement in that area," Mr Bovey said.

Association spokeswoman Sarah Maindonald said school guidance counsellors were under-resourced, dealing with teens' problems such as bullying, substance abuse, and problems at home on a daily basis.

A counsellor would often work with between 40 and 50 students a week, Ms Maindonald said.

"There's not much chance of organising early interventions with a workload like that, and students can potentially suffer as a result of delays," she said.

At present, school authorities are responsible for choosing the number of counsellors in schools because funding for counselling positions comes out of their teacher staffing budgets.

Palmerston North Girls' High School principal Melba Scott said the school employed two guidance counsellors for its roll of 1200. She said the counsellors were constantly in demand.

"I think the workload for guidance counsellors has significantly increased and every day they listen to hard things and have all sorts of difficult situations to deal with."

She would support a push for a lower ratio of pupils to counsellors in schools.

"[We should] be able to offer support for young people in their day-to-day lives so that they can focus on what is really important, like their education."

Awatapu College offered one counsellor for about 700 pupils.

Principal Gary Yeatman said provisions for additional staffing would enable the school to do more "proactive" rather than "reactive" work with pupils.

Manawatu Standard