School Guidance Counsellors: Motion (Resumed)

The following motion was moved by Deputy Brendan Smith on Tuesday, 17 January 2012:
"That Dáil Éireann:
— confirms that schools are legally obliged to provide guidance and that the provision of ‘appropriate' guidance is a statutory requirement under the Education Act 1998;
— recognises that the budgetary decision to include guidance provision in the standard allocation is an effective increase in the pupil/teacher ratio at post-primary level;
— condemns the Government's decision that will result in 700 schools losing up to 1,000 qualified guidance counsellors around the country, which will further result in guidance counselling being provided from within the standard teacher allocation;
— acknowledges that guidance counsellors provide a critical service to students by encouraging students to go on to third level, selecting which courses to study and also in offering advice and support relating to a range of personal issues;
— notes the ESRI's report entitled ‘Improving Second-Level Education: Using Evidence for Policy Development' which states that the removal of guidance counselling in schools will impact most on young students from disadvantaged backgrounds in terms of going on to third level;
— agrees that guidance counsellors are the only persons in a school setting professionally qualified to provide guidance counselling to students;
— condemns the position that post-primary schools are now faced with, where they must either cut an essential service to students or drop another subject leading to reduced subject choice;
— acknowledges that at the end of February and in June this year a significant number of teachers will retire from our schools, many of whom will be qualified guidance counsellors; and
— calls on the Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn T.D., to:
— explain the rationale behind his decision and the effect it will have, not only on the number of career guidance counsellors in post-primary schools, but also on subject choice in these schools;
— publish any impact analysis carried out within his Department relating to this decision and the effect it will have on the career guidance profession and on vulnerable students;
— clarify if the section relating to the provision of ‘appropriate' guidance in the Education Act 1998 still applies and what the Minister now deems to be ‘appropriate' guidance following Budget 2012;
— ensure that all second level students have access to career guidance and counselling services following Budget 2012 and that schools must continue to provide a certain level of guidance counselling;
— ensure that only those teachers professionally qualified as guidance counsellors will be allowed to provide guidance counselling to students and that no other member of school management or teaching staff will be allowed to provide guidance to students;
— clarify who will provide career guidance and counselling provision to students in the event that a school chooses not to replace a school guidance counsellor that retires in February or June this year;
— clarify if he envisages any guidance posts being advertised in the coming academic year and what the effect will be on specific postgraduate qualifications in guidance; and
— reconsider this decision that will result in the obliteration of the guidance counselling profession and have a severe social impact on young vulnerable students, particularly those with mental health problems or from disadvantaged backgrounds."
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
"— acknowledges that:
— despite the severe economic crisis caused by the actions of previous Fianna Fáil-led Governments, and in the expectation that an additional 70,000 students will enter the education system over the next six years, the Government has ensured that the reduction in teacher numbers will be less than in other areas of the public sector over the coming years;
— guidance provision will be managed in future by schools from within their standard staffing allocation so that schools will have discretion to balance guidance needs with the pressures to provide subject choice;
— notes that this change is in line with the Programme for Government commitment to give greater freedom and autonomy to school principals and boards of management, including greater freedom to allocate resources and manage staff;
— recognises that all teachers, not just guidance counsellors, have a duty of care to their students and that school management and teachers have a long and proud tradition of working together to meet the needs of students, including any necessary supports for vulnerable or ‘at risk' students;
— acknowledges that, while changes are being made to the way in which guidance counsellors will be allocated in future, all post-primary schools will still be required to provide guidance support for their students in accordance with the Education Act 1998;
— notes that guidance is a whole school activity;
and welcomes:
— the Government's commitment in Budget 2012 for the filling of 300 assistant principal posts of responsibility in second-level schools and notes that this will ensure significant management supports, particularly for more
appointments to the key role of year heads;
— the very constructive and positive work being done by the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals with all post-primary schools to ensure they are aware of their continuing responsibility to provide
guidance counselling services; and
— the intention of the Department of Education and Skills to issue a circular in the coming weeks in order to provide further clarification for schools on the changes to guidance counselling provision announced in the recent Budget."
- (Minister for Education and Skills).

With the agreement of House I will share my time with Deputies Seamus Healy, Tom Fleming, Clare Daly and Luke ‘Ming' Flanagan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I did the guidance and counselling course in University College Dublin in 1991-92. Given the numbers in my own school I combined that role with the teaching of English and history until 2009, when I was elected to Dáil Éireann. I acknowledge the commitment and dedication of those people with whom I did the course in 1991-92 and of the many guidance counsellors I worked with in those 20 years.

I will not speak about statutory and legal requirements. I will speak from my personal experience of what was involved in guidance counselling during those 20 years. For me, and many others, it was divided into two areas. One was the careers area and the other was counselling. In the careers area there was a defined contact with students in their leaving certificate year. It is a difficult but also a wonderful year. As a guidance counsellor one is there and guiding students through the wide range of options available to them: further study through the central applications office, CAO; post-leaving certificate, PLC, courses; repeat leaving certificate; work; apprenticeship; going abroad; or going through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, UCAS, system. Being a guidance counsellor means being with the students during that year as they go through the stresses, difficulties, joys and sorrows and being with them when they change their minds, as they do on many occasions, and when the offers and results come in. It means being available to them when they leave school, face other difficulties and want to come back to the guidance counsellor. It is about working with the incoming first year students, fifth years and transition year students on subject choices. It is about using the standardised tests and being with them and guiding them through their CVs, mock interviews and open days.

The guidance and counselling course is a professional qualification to do career guidance work and counselling. When I look back over those 20 years I think of what I did. Some of my work was one-to-one counselling and some was group counselling, depending on the situation. Some was drawing up my own programme or adapting existing programmes. I went through support in relationship difficulties with boy-friends, girl-friends or parents. A common situation was separating parents and the stresses for students from that and when new partners were brought in. The job and money situation at home would come to school with the student. Issues arose around sexuality, teenage pregnancy, bullying, addiction, alcoholism, violence, abuse, eating disorders and self harm. Counselling means being with the students in a very special way during any of those events. It is about being available at all times during the course of the school day, and after that day.

Given that we do not have sufficient referral agencies in this country in many cases the guidance counsellor is the only support available. When there is a particular tragedy the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, will come in, but NEPS will go and the guidance counsellor will still be there.

I acknowledge one aspect of the Government amendment, which is that guidance is part of the pastoral care system in a school involving year heads and form teachers. It is retrograde to leave schools without this service and leave the burden of choice on principals. I ask the Minister to look at the substitution and supervision scheme instead, and leave guidance counsellors in place.

In the few minutes available to me I wish to record my appreciation and thanks to the guidance counsellors and teachers, throughout the country and particularly in my own constituency, for the work they do for young people. My own children benefitted from the services of guidance teachers and many of my own family are involved in the education system.

While I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, it is a pity the Minister for Education and Skills is not present to hear the views of Members. This is an important subject and his absence is an indication of his lack of understanding. I would have expected him to be here.

The services provided by guidance counsellors are to be decimated. The proposals mean the pupil teacher ratio will be, effectively, increased and subject choice will be narrowed as many schools will have to choose between guidance and other subjects. Approximately 700 schools and 1,000 guidance teachers will be affected by this measure.

The new arrangement will not provide an effective system for students who require guidance, not alone in the educational areas but also in the personal areas of life, where guidance teachers have been excellent in advising and steering young people during their formative years.

I acknowledge the motion and confirm my support for it.

The recent budget decision to discontinue the ex-quota allocation of careers guidance hours on the expectation that schools will provide guidance within the general teacher allocation is completely unacceptable. It means career guidance will be competing with general subject areas within the general school allocation. Schools will have to choose between guidance counselling and other essential subjects. With the recent increase in the pupil teacher ratio, schools are already struggling to provide subject choices and will not be in a position to provide both effectively.

The decision is also contrary to the current Department of Education and Skills policy on guidance. For example, the Department's inspectorate recommended in two whole-school evaluations in Kerry that, "Arrangements should be made for guidance to be delivered by a qualified guidance counsellor". The new proposed junior certificate document, Towards a Framework for Junior Cycle, highlights a modern approach to course-work which involves many choices for students which can only be effectively supported by a qualified guidance counsellor.

As job prospects are fewer the need for accurate and solid careers advice is more critical than ever. With the deteriorating economic situation more and more families are presented with pressures and crisis situations which need a strong and immediate response from schools. I cannot stress strongly enough the high levels of stress, depression, suicide and mental health issues that are addressed by our guidance counsellors on a daily basis.

In the context of increased globalisation and the changing nature of jobs and careers in the smart economy, IBEC, Forfás, third level institutions and other agencies depend on guidance counsellors to support students to make informed decisions about their futures. The role of the guidance counsellor is critical in ensuring that the future skills needs of the country are met. Recent ESRI research found that students need more guidance in schools and want more one-to-one guidance. If we are to care for our students and contribute to the smart economy we must, at least, maintain the current allocation for guidance and counselling and not allow these hours to be absorbed into the academic curriculum.

The proposal in the budget promises only negative implications for Ireland, its young people, their families and the education system.

Like the cutbacks in DEIS schools, which we debated in Private Members' time last week, this issue shows that the Government has taken part in the butchery of our education system. Decisions have been taken that are short-sighted and narrow-minded and will have a serious impact on young people growing up in Ireland today and on society as a whole.

Measures such as the one we are debating this evening show that the Minister for Education and Skills was party to a lie when he said his Government and his Department would protect the pupil teacher ratio. That is not so. That promise is being negatively impacted upon by the decision on guidance teachers. It will have a cataclysmic effect on young people and on education standards.

When guidance teachers are forced back into the classroom, as the Government would have it, the non-permanent teachers who now carry out teaching functions in other classes will lose their jobs. Some 700 jobs are on the line as a result of this measure. What signal does that send and what record is that for a Government that says it is in favour of job creation? Where is the economic sense in educating our young people to be teachers if we then export them to other countries? It makes no sense at all. Undoubtedly, what is being done will make it much harder for young teachers to get a job and it will have an impact on those currently in employment. That alone is utterly scandalous.

The other aspect to be considered is the impact on students themselves. As other Deputies have said, what is essentially being lost is the one-to-one care and counselling service, which will be replaced by a more class-based approach and, probably, a more career-based approach. In modern Ireland, that is not enough. The Government has paid extensive lip service to mental health but this measure alone will have a massive impact on the mental health of very vulnerable teenagers. I refer to 300,000 young people who, in many instances, because of the lack of adequate counselling services outside the school system, will have no access to trained counsellors to help them with all the difficulties that affect them because of the expense. If the Government does not reverse the cut, it will have a detrimental impact on those young people and society as a whole. I hope the unions take this matter on. The Government feels it can withstand the pressure but it will meet the hot breath of people in the workplace, parents, students and teachers. It will not get away with this one.

When talking about a subject, one should refer to the experts. I was contacted by an expert on this subject, a guidance counsellor. Her letter states:

1. The Guidance & Counselling Service was the first government funded counselling service in the state. For 35 years, the department of education has been funding this vital service to all second level students, those in further education and in prisons.

2. Guidance counsellors provide a professional counselling service to their students at a fraction of the cost of other state funded counselling services...

3. Guidance counsellors refer students to state funded and private counselling services. We support the students who sometimes have to wait up to 2 years before being seen by other agencies. These services are already under huge pressure and will not be able to cope with the massive increase in referrals from schools.

The Deputy has already exceeded his time. If he reads the letter into the record, I will move to the next speaker.

I did not use up my time.

The Deputy's colleagues did.

If what I said could be put on record, I would appreciate it. The Deputies opposite should not be crying crocodile tears in a few years when the number of people committing suicide goes up. It is quite clear that if they do not do something about this, they will be talking rubbish. They will be crying fake tears when this inevitably happens.

Deputy Harris is sharing time with Deputies Pat Breen, Anthony Lawlor and Mary Mitchell O'Connor, each of whom has five minutes. I will be insisting, in fairness to everybody else, that they stick to the time limits.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this important debate. The work of guidance counsellors in our schools is beyond reproach. Every student reacts to the pressures and stresses of the school environment in very different ways. I have spoken previously in the House on the importance of providing students with the support they need to deal with the challenges.

Deputy Flanagan should note that nobody, on any side of the House, cries crocodile tears when it comes to the issue of mental health. We are all united in our desire to reduce the level of suicide among young people and improve mental health.

Our education system is facing real challenges. We cannot introduce the savings we need to see under the EU-IMF agreement without achieving savings in education which will account for approximately 17% of all State spending this year. Our education system is already under significant pressure. Over the next six years, enrolment will increase by 70,000 pupils and we must be able to provide for them. One cannot discuss the resources available for education without acknowledging these pressures. In 2008, in response to these pressures the previous Government chose to make a blanket increase to the pupil-teacher ratio. This resulted in some schools having to curtail their subject choices to the detriment of students. By contrast, we have sought to give schools the flexibility to deliver. The Minister has maintained the pupil-teacher ratio and the overall number of special needs assistants and resource hours. The decision to remove the ex-quota provision of guidance teachers in post primary schools is not one I relish-----

He has not maintained it. Deputy Harris is misleading the House.

Deputy O'Dea will get his chance.

-----but by structuring the change in this way, school management authorities will have the freedom to manage their own guidance provision and balance the guidance needs of their students with the desire for a broad range of subject choices.

I have confidence that school principals will run their schools in the best interest of their students, which I welcome, and we must------

The Deputy should not put them in an impossible position.

-----give them the flexibility to do so. This is in line with the commitments in the programme for Government to end the one-size-fits-all approach to education and to give greater autonomy to those who know a school best, the principal and board of management.

It is called defending the indefensible.

The recent budget also provided for the filling of 300 additional principal posts.

Get off the stage.

I met many principals throughout my constituency, as I am sure has every public representative, and noted they have really struggled to run their schools in recent years due to the vacant assistant principal posts. This measure will assist schools in filling management positions which also have a guidance role, including year heads. Year heads are often a natural point of support for students.

Throw it onto the principals.

I welcome the Minister's engagement with the Institute of Guidance Counsellors. I would hate to see a school lose its entire guidance provision. The support provided to students by guidance teachers in providing advice, support and information on third level options and a range of wider supports concerning the well-being of the student is invaluable.

Schools have a statutory obligation to provide such facilities for their students. The Education Act is not changing and the obligation on a school to deliver within the Act remains. I have corresponded with the Minister on this obligation and very much welcome his amendment's commitment to reiterate the nature of provision within the Education Act in his Department's next circular to schools. Giving school principals the power to allocate resources as they see fit is the best step forward.

These are difficult circumstances but nobody on this side of the House is in favour of increasing suicide or of any other such charge.

The Deputy has only one minute remaining.

Reverse the cut, then. Get off the stage; you are a disgrace.

I do not have the luxury to enjoy the limelight of the stage that Deputy O'Dea likes to-----

Get off the stage; you are a joke.

The Deputy's party had its chance. It had 14 years and made its decisions and we are left with its mess.

The Deputy's party has had 14 months and made a hames of it.

Unless some Members of the Opposition want to go down the road of Greece, Latvia and Northern Ireland, which face school closures, this Government will take a responsible step forward.

Deputy O'Dea did not cut education anyway.

I call on Deputy Luke Flanagan to withdraw his remark on Deputies crying crocodile tears. Everybody has been touched by suicide and everybody knows a family or individual affected.

There will be more touched by it because of this.

It is very insensitive of Deputy Luke ‘Ming' Flanagan to have made his remark and I believe he should withdraw it.

I do not really give twopence what the Deputy says.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. There is no doubt but that we are living in dire straits, strange economic times and circumstances that warrant tough decisions. All of us on this side of the House would prefer if we did not have to make them but, unfortunately, the people elected us to sort out the finances and economic situation. There are tough decisions to be made.

The Minister, Deputy Quinn, managed to drive reform in such a short time in his Ministry. Since he assumed office, he has introduced some real educational reforms. The reforms of the junior and leaving certificate curricula are just some of the challenges we face. There have not been changes in this regard since the 1930s. The new junior certificate will concentrate more on critical thinking. There will be more school-based assessment, which will place less emphasis on one final exam. The new curriculum will lay the foundation for changes to the leaving certificate. This is extremely important. For far too long, pupils were just learning off the content of textbooks. New thinking is required and it is extremely important.

The Minister plans to review the CAO points system for entry to third level which could see radical changes to the college admissions system within three or four years. I compliment him on this forward thinking.

I sometimes pinch myself when I listen to some of the comments from across the floor, particularly from the former Government Deputies. Sometimes I believe I am in the film "Back to the Future" when I listen to comments in debates here but I suppose that is the way politics works.

They are in Government now.

I remind Deputies that when the Celtic tiger was raging a few years ago and we were flush with money, the then Government delivered very little reform in the education system.

We built schools all over Clare. Deputy Breen was at the openings. He drank the wine.

I remind Deputies it was the former Government that reduced the number of language support teachers from six to two and axed the 128 special classes for pupils with mild learning disabilities. It was the former Government that cut substitute teachers in schools, reduced class sizes and forced many trainee secondary teachers to choose alternative careers or emigrate.

The reality is we are bankrupt. Some €350 million has to be cut from the education budget by 2014, with €70 million in cuts this year, an enormous sum.

It is the Government's choice.

The Minister explained last night the reasons for the budget reduction. He is anxious to put in place the staffing allocation at 19:1 but, unfortunately, like every other Minister in this Government, he does not have the luxury of unlimited budgets. If he spends the money in one area, he has to make cuts in others.

I want to refer to the role played by guidance counsellors. While 42% of our schools do not have full-time guidance counsellors, those schools that have them value the service that is provided by counsellors, which must be acknowledged by all Deputies. From my discussions, I understand that guidance classes are very valuable and a time-effective way of presenting general information to students in regard to career choices, which are now extremely important, as other Deputies have said. It is a very difficult time for students given the issues of skills, college options, the CAO and so on. It is the individual appointments with students which are invaluable. In these sessions, the students have an opportunity to sit down on a one-to-one basis and talk to somebody about their problems. One guidance counsellor told me he deals with students who are suicidal, who are bullied and who have very low self-esteem.

Guidance counsellors play a very valuable role. I welcome the fact the Department of Education and Skills is to issue a circular in the coming weeks to further clarify the situation in regard to guidance.

I am pleased to speak on the motion put down by Fianna Fáil, or should I call it the ostrich party? What I mean by this is that for the past 14 years they must have had their heads buried in the sand or the trough and then suddenly pulled their heads out and are blinking all over the place with regard to what has happened for the past 14 years. We are here to clean up the mess they have left behind.

Is that the best the Deputy can do?

It is pathetic.

I must also point to the regular misinformation that has been coming out from Fianna Fáil in recent years. In his speech on the motion, Deputy Brendan Smith stated: "The Fianna Fáil Party believes this decision will lead not only to the end of the guidance counselling profession but its effect will be felt most by vulnerable and disadvantaged students".

A correct statement. The Deputy can hear the applause from the Visitors Gallery.

Does he not know-----

I remind people in the Visitors Gallery to refrain from applause. That is not allowed in the House.

Deputy Lawlor has managed to get the people to applaud Fianna Fáil. Well done.

Does he not know that the Minister has ring-fenced funding for the DEIS secondary schools? Does he not read the reports or does he put out misinformation to the public so he can get the applause he does not deserve?

It is Deputy Lawlor who got me the applause. I did not look for it.

Let us tell the truth to the public. Let us not make light of------

The Deputy should read the rest of Deputy Smith's speech. Some of the people might not have heard it and they seem to be appreciating it. Keep it coming.

Will Deputy Dooley desist?

Let me continue. We are not finished with Deputy Dooley yet, by the way.

What about the non-DEIS schools?

Deputy Lawlor has the floor. I ask him to stick to his speech.

One of the initiatives is beginning to give decentralised power back to the principals. Let them make a decision as to what they are going to do with regard to the guidance counsellors. Let them make the call. Fianna Fáil has centralised power for the past 14 years whereas we are trying to decentralise it. Let people on the ground make the decisions where they are.

I do not know many principals who want to be in the position the Government is putting them in.

Let us continue with that. It is important we give back local autonomy and let them have greater freedom in making decisions on the ground.

The most important part of all of this is that the DEIS schools have been protected with regard to guidance counsellors.

The Deputy should stop digging.

Let us also look at the teaching profession and how it has developed over the years. Teachers are now more than just teachers in the classroom. They are an important link between the family and the child.

A key issue was raised by Opposition Deputies, in particular Deputy Mick Wallace, who talked about the incidence of suicide in schools in Wexford. A point I have encouraged among public representatives is that people should take either the ASIST or the safeTALK course so we can help recognise students who might be vulnerable in classrooms. Many resource teachers in schools are taking on more initiatives themselves. Not alone are they looking after the pupils in schools but they are also looking after them outside schools.

I compliment the Minister on what he has done to date. He has been dealt a bad hand.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

He made the choices himself.

All the aces have been taken out of the deck by the previous Government.

He cannot keep saying that. Change the record.

We are here to make sure we encourage our students to get the best education possible.

Education cuts, while unpopular, are unfortunately necessary. Savings must be made across the board. Undoubtedly, the Government is severely hampered in its ability to make independent decisions.

Cognisance must be taken not alone of the EU-IMF programme but also the Croke Park agreement. The previous Administration tied the hands of this Government and the Minister for Education and Skills in many regards. Some 80% of the education budget is spent on the salaries, allowances and pensions of teachers, special needs assistants, administrators, principals, deputy principals and lecturers. Therefore, the Government has no discretion over 80% of its budget. In essence, we must ensure that our children and young people get the best education using 20% of the education budget.

The decision by the Minister for Education and Skills to provide savings through changes in the allocation of guidance teachers safeguards essential and core provisions such as the protection of subject choice, pupil-teacher ratios and special needs assistants. It should be noted and highlighted that despite what the Opposition might argue, the increased autonomy that will be given to principals to run their schools is in the best interest of their pupils. Moreover, 42% of schools will not be affected by these changes at all as they already do not have a full-time guidance counsellor. Only those schools with 500 or more students will be affected by these changes.

Having worked as a classroom primary teacher and as a primary principal, and having had a close association with second level schools in my area, I know first-hand that our schools are caring institutions. Every teacher, regardless of the subject they teach, has a duty of care for their pupils. Again, I know first-hand that all teachers take genuine interest in their students' welfare and their futures. Class teachers, deputy principals, year heads and especially guidance counsellors take this duty of care very seriously.

Why is the Government putting them out?

I have spoken to many principals in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area and they have assured me the best interests of the students will be a top priority in their schools. I have full confidence and faith in our teachers and principals and I know they will ensure students continue to enjoy an educational environment that takes a holistic approach to educational development.

The provision in the budget to allocate 300 additional assistant principals will provide some relief to those schools hardest hit by the budget cuts. This allocation of an extra 300 managerial posts will provide an extra layer of support to many students. This is a wise investment and was asked for by both the teachers' unions and the management in our secondary schools.

I stress that what is going on in our classrooms is what is most important. That should be our top priority, not whatever number of jobs are being lost or gained in any given area. In the past ten years the levels of numeracy and literacy of Irish students have dropped significantly. Although the previous Government increased spending in education it did not produce improved results. We cannot continue with our heads in the clouds and leave the current system unchanged. This Government is doing the very best with the limited resources we have.

This is a very serious topic and I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on it. I am also glad so many guidance counsellors made the effort to come to the House today. I have spoken to a number of these teachers who are fine principled people, very skilled and focused in what they do. They are the type of people I would be proud to have teaching my sons or daughters.

Let us focus on what they have to do and look at possible solutions. In the first place, they play a very important role at junior certificate level, in that they focus young children down the career path for which they have the aptitude. I am very concerned about getting children to take the route of sciences because this will back up the food industry which is a major part of our economy. I have been through that myself and I recognise the importance of getting people into this stream. I also recognise the role of these teachers in CAO guidance, which can be a conundrum for many parents. There is also the role of career guidance teachers in recognising children who are vulnerable, due to many different circumstances.

It is fine for me - or for the Opposition - to state the Government must row back on decisions but we must recognise the problems. It is incumbent on all of us to find solutions. As the previous Deputy noted, 20% of the budget is where all the cuts have to be made. Achieving €350 million in cuts is hard to do. The Minister, Deputy Quinn, is correct when he states that if he rows back on one side he will have to give to another. We have to look at what can be rowed back upon and see if this can be resolved.

First, the teachers' unions must become professional. They must allow and facilitate the Minister to increase class sizes by at least two pupils. The unions have short-changed career guidance teachers and this must be examined. I do not believe in yellow-back career guidance. I am very anxious to ensure people head down the correct route. However, in order to find the savings for this service we should urge teachers and their unions to have flexibility on the issue.

One thing that comes to mind, about which I feel very passionate, is the school transport system which costs €110 million. From the work I have done, it is my view that this system should be scrapped.

It is being scrapped.

It could be done in a manner that might cost €20 million. Eighty per cent of the school transport system is provided by private operators, in any case.

A Deputy

Scrap it altogether.

There is a suggestion that parents' funds are being used to subsidise the private business of Bus Éireann. This must be looked at. If we have to make savings let us come up with solutions. There is no point in shouting across the floor, saying, "It's wrong!" Of course it is wrong. We are trying to correct the situation we are in, which is a financial mess. There is no point in getting into that subject. We need to focus on getting solutions for the people in the Gallery. According to the Mazars report of last year, we could make a serious impact in savings by examining school transport. The Minister, Deputy Quinn, is a very good Minister who is prepared to look at long decisions. In fairness to him, if there are ways to save money we should look at different situations, as I will urge him to do.

There are two methods by which we could save money. The first is to ask teachers' unions to stand up to the mark and not hang some of their members out to dry. The second is-----

(Interruptions).

The second is to accept that our school transport system must be looked at again. Ultimately, it is there to provide a service for parents. It is costing a great deal of money but in my view is not providing the service. As long as we operate under the conditions of the Croke Park agreement, which is working for many people and is keeping peace on our streets in the matter of demonstrations, we must be cognisant of that.

I am delighted to have spoken and I thank all the visitors for attending and listening to the debate.

Will Deputy Barry vote against the Government?

Please, allow Deputy Neville to speak.

He sounds as if he was speaking against the motion.

Please, you are eating into other people's time.

I welcome the opportunity------

Will he vote against the Government?

Did I say anything against the Government?

Deputy Neville's time is limited so please allow him-----

It is all talk, is it not?

You are all talk.

With the Chairman's permission, I am glad to make a contribution to this debate. We have to recognise the situation we are in and respond to it and I wish to do so in this way. I believe guidance counselling is absolutely vital to the education and development of our children. There must be a continuation of the guidance counselling service.

The Minister has made it clear, in discussions I have had with him, that he is supportive of the guidance counselling service, the pastoral element of which I am particularly interested in, and wish to consider. Principals will have the discretion to decide on how much counselling or pastoral counselling will take place in their school. This should be responded to. The trained guidance counsellor provides a professional and confidential counselling service to students during their period at school.

I come from an area where I meet many families in difficulties, including young people. We have the fourth highest level of suicide in Europe. Suicide was mentioned in the debate. Suicide is such a complex and difficult subject and I do not believe it should become a political football under any circumstances. I wish to make that statement and put it on the record. I do not want to hear any arguments about it.

Every day guidance counsellors deal with a wide range of issues, including bereavement in families, abuse issues, gender issues that occur at puberty and eating disorders which can be a very difficult area in young people's lives. Alcohol and substance abuse have increased dramatically in recent decades. Anxiety, anger management - which we spoke about to some extent last week - depression and suicide ideation are all factors. They have all become more profound with the advent of the recession. We have spoken at length about difficulties families can experience because of the recession, unemployment, financial difficulties or losing a house. This manifests itself in the school. Guidance counselling activity identifies students who are in need and at risk in such situations, and who would benefit from intervention. The guidance counsellor supplies a supportive relationship to the student before the difficulty becomes more pronounced. Students know how to request counselling and feel comfortable doing so. It is for that reason the guidance counsellor is often the first adult to whom a student is close.

We have often discussed this in regard to schools. I have seen this system working in the United States, where there is confidence on the part of students that if they are in difficulties they can speak confidentially and openly and this is known within the school. There may be a different relationship with other teachers but the counsellor assesses the need of the student, offers support, advises and refers to outside agencies, which is very important. They can head off a crisis point in many difficulties. Teachers have spoken to me on how pressures at home, often with two parents working, can affect young people in school which counsellors are able to deal with.

For years we have told people of all ages about being open about their emotional well-being and the psychological difficulties they experience. Counselling services promote a positive mental health message in schools. It promotes a culture of assistance and being open about one's difficulties. Schools have an important role to play in ensuring the stigma around mental illness is removed. The guidance counselling service is key in this and it should continue, regardless of these changes. Principals must understand this key role and accept it.

I wish to share time with Deputies Kitt, Dooley, Cowen, Troy, Michael McGrath and Browne.

I commend Deputy Smith on tabling this important Private Members' motion. All Deputies spoke of the student being the most important person in this debate. That was my view in my primary school teaching days. In the early 1970s a new primary school curriculum was introduced which was child-centred. If Members opposite argue the student is the most important person in this debate, they then must look at the effect of cuts in education on students. The Minister for Education and Skills has made a crude, blunt and badly thought-out decision on guidance counselling in schools. It gives no consideration to the essential nature of the advice and support provided by guidance counsellors for students who may have difficult decisions to make.

Subsuming the counsellor allocation into the overall allocation for second level schools will in effect increase the pupil-teacher ratio by almost one. Most people would prefer if the Minister were more honest and announced straight out he was increasing the pupil-teacher ratio. The Minister's proposals will mean second level schools will have to make an impossible choice on cutting back on guidance provision or drop subjects.

We have to stand up for young people's education. One cannot defend the education cuts announced in budget 2012 and I call on the Minister to reverse them. The Fianna Fáil Private Members' motion refers to 700 schools which will lose up to 1,000 guidance counsellors resulting in guidance provision being provided from within the standard teacher allocation. In fact, more resources need to be provided for career guidance counsellors. Some students have difficulties in adapting to courses at third level. An ESRI report, Improving Second Level Education, sees a role for guidance counsellors in helping such students adapting properly. It also raises concerns about the effect the removal of career guidance would have on going on to third level for young students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Who will provide guidance counselling in a school that chooses not to replace its guidance counsellor who retires either this February or in June? Schools are legally obliged to provide appropriate guidance under the Education Act 1998. It is important to ensure all second level students have access to career guidance given by professionally qualified counsellors. There is a need for safe and confidential counselling services for vulnerable students. I am impressed by the number of letters I have received praising guidance counsellors who do their work outside classroom hours.

Career guidance is not just about the leaving certificate but also about dealing with vital educational career activities, transition programmes and that element of counselling to which Deputy Neville referred.

I hope the Minister for Education and Skills will see he has made a mistake and will reverse these cuts.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I compliment those who have been in contact with me and other Members in an effort to highlight the difficulties that will arise from the significant cuts set out.

I condemn the actions taken by the Government which has sought to undermine the provision of guidance counselling in over 700 schools, losing up to 1,000 teachers. As a teacher Deputy Mitchell O'Connor would perhaps have more understanding of this area than me. She sought to suggest that 42% of schools would not be affected. My understanding is that is not true. While 42% of schools may not have a full allocation of a teacher, they have an allocation of hours graduated based on the number of students. The Minister has not indicated that schools that do not have a full allocation of a teacher will be treated differently and will not be subject to the same cuts on a per-hour basis.

He said it last night but Deputy Dooley was not in the Chamber then.

That was not made clear as schools still have concerns. Last night, the Minister suggested they would not on the basis of a whole allocation. It is not true. There has been an element of hiding behind facts in this debate. We are having a decent debate in which we can discuss this in the full view of those affected, people who deal with children at the coalface.

Deputy Dooley is just playing to the gallery.

It behoves anyone in the House not to hide behind some clamour of smoke to suggest 42% of schools will not be affected.

The Department of Education and Skills completed a spending review and published it on its website in September. An option was included in this document which spoke about terminating the dedicated staffing allocation for guidance counselling. There was nothing about providing an allocation from another. Instead, the review spoke about redeploying guidance teachers. To suggest the Minister was not aware of this is ludicrous when in September he considered the obliteration of guidance counselling from our schools in advance of the budget. That is the mindset of the Minister, his party and the Government. The obliteration of the guidance counselling service is outrageous.

Deputy Dooley's party obliterated the country.

Any Member who comes forward tonight with some weasel words to claim this was never the intention should go back and read the review provided by the Minister in September.

Deputy Dooley should stop talking.

With the greatest of respect to Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, she should be aware of this option.

I am aware that Fianna Fáil obliterated this country.

I am shocked that any Member who taught children and was involved in the education service should suggest this cutback happened almost unknown to her as with the previous DEIS cutback announced by the Minister.

Fianna Fáil has made all our children pay for its mistakes.

He got that one wrong because he did not really understand it and was prepared to change.

It does not matter whether he got it or sought to get it wrong on guidance counselling. There is an opportunity for Members opposite to get it right tonight and overturn this decision. To do so would allow the people in the Visitors Gallery to go back to their schools tomorrow to continue the excellent work they do in assisting children in making career choices in these difficult economic times.

Absolutely. It was Fianna Fáil that ruined the country.

What about the Progressive Democrats? Does Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor remember them?

Children now need assistance from professionals who have liaised with universities and other third level institutions. They also, as Deputy Neville stated concisely, deal with children who self-harm, come from broken homes or those in which there is alcoholism or have other difficulties. The one solace for those children is the opportunity to talk to their guidance counsellor at school, the one friendly face they can talk to. If guidance counselling is removed from schools, we can throw our hats at keeping these children in school and out of the prison environment or giving them an opportunity at a decent life and to go on to be model citizens like so many others. I do not expect Government Members to vote with us on the motion because that does not happen but they should get into their huddles tomorrow before approaching their senior Ministers and, in particular, the Minister for Education and Skills, and appeal to him based on what they have seen in the House this evening to overturn this decision or choice. It is all about priorities. They can talk about the country being broken and apportion blame to whom they so wish.

The State will spend between €40 billion and €50 billion this year and the issue is what the Government prioritises in spending that amount. If it does not prioritise the work of the people in the gallery and the children who will be affected by this cut, shame on them. I appeal to them to change it.

I again appeal to the people in the gallery to behave in a proper fashion.

They should act like professionals.

This will not be allowed in the future if they continue as they are. I call Deputy Cowen.

This time last year, the Minister for Education and Skills made many commitments and promises to the electorate, including a commitment that there would not be an increase in third level fees or in the pupil-teacher ratio and that there would not be a reduction in the number of SNAs. He did this in the full knowledge of the country's finances and the gap between income and expenditure. He campaigned in the election on the basis of there being an easier or softer way to close the deficit. However, since assuming office, the U-turns in education make those in health and social protection seem minuscule. Such U-turns include an increase in third level fees; an increase in the pupil-teacher ratio in a sneaky, indirect way where principals and boards of management have no alternative; reductions in the number of SNAs; reductions in the back to school and back to education allowances and student grants; increases in school transport fees for families; a reduction in the capitation grant; and, last week, cuts to top-ups for DEIS schools, thus increasing severe reductions in teacher numbers.

Since the budget, when challenged, questioned and enlightened as to the errors of the Government's way, these cuts have been subject to what the Taoiseach terms "pauses", where he resembles Bambi the deer being caught in the headlights. This is followed by consultation with backbenchers and the huddles referred to by Deputy Dooley where the prospect of well won seats becoming marginal seats leads to the next phase in this charade, which is reviews. Reviews are under way into the cutbacks in disability payments to young people, community employment schemes and DEIS schools. Nothing has been reversed.

The Minister might have said he is out of practice and that he made mistakes in the budget. He should not feel sorry for himself because he is not alone. It is time for another Bambi moment and for him to realise that removing the special provision for guidance counsellors at second level is a bad mistake. This will lead to an increase in class sizes through the back door and will result in 700 secondary schools losing guidance counsellors. No mistake should be made about this; this is a cut to teacher numbers, which will lead to an increase in class sizes. It means schools will be forced to choose between either cutting their guidance counselling service or dropping another subject, leading to a reduced subject choice. It is a lose-lose situation all around.

Guidance counsellors, as has been said by many speakers, provide a critical service in encouraging students to choose appropriate education and career pathways and offer advice and support relating to a range of personal issues. They are professionally trained to provide more than career advice, with most of them acting as a support to vulnerable students. I urge the Minister to do the right thing and to acknowledge that this is another particularly damaging mistake that must be reversed. Government Members have the opportunity to stand up for their local schools, class sizes and, more important, for the right of students in their constituencies to be allowed to realise their full potential, which is paramount to the country getting back on its feet and realising its potential.

I compliment my colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith, on tabling the motion and giving every Member an opportunity to debate this serious matter.

The Minister admitted on national radio last weekend that he is not at the top of his game and he has clearly demonstrated this by implementing savage cuts with no regard for the social implications of such cuts. This is evidenced by the reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio for small schools with fewer than 86 pupils, which mainly affects rural Ireland and minority faiths, the cuts to DEIS schools and the cut to guidance counsellors we are debating. This is a savage cut which will have a serious impact not only on the well-being of our pupils today but for a long time into the future. The Minister effectively stated last night that he has full confidence in the guidance service in schools because it is covered by legislation introduced by our party leader when he was Minister for Education but he failed to acknowledge how this can be provided. His budgetary decision to include guidance provision in the standard allocation is an effective increase in the pupil-teacher ratio from 19:1 to 19.8:1. The Minister is basically saying, "I am going to cut off one of your hands; you decide which one."

Many Government Members stated school managers welcome this cutback because they will have greater autonomy but they do not want to have to make decisions on whether to deliver a guidance service or maintain current subject provision and current class sizes. All three will not be maintained as a result of this cut.

Last night the Minister tried to have us believe that because 42% of schools did not have a full-time guidance counsellor, they had nobody providing this service. In his book, one needs to be a full-time counsellor to be recognised. When he shelves them, I do not know who he expects to provide this service in schools. The Minister did not refer to the guideline for second level schools on the implications of section 9(c) of the Education Act 1998 relating to student access to appropriate guidance, as published by the inspectorate in 2005. This document was prepared for school managers, guidance counsellors, staff, education partners and, most important, parents and students. It states that a school must provide access to appropriate guidance. It refers to identifying the needs of students in choosing educational programmes and offering appropriate guidance to ensure that, on leaving second level education, they are best placed to reach their potential, whether it be in further education, PLC or third level or if they wish to pursue an apprenticeship.

It also refers to personal and social education and developing coping strategies to deal with stress, personal and social issues and challenges posed by adolescence and adulthood. Many students feel they have to conform with their peers. They need somebody they can approach and in whom they can confide, trust and have belief in, somebody who will be there exclusively to listen to them. The document addresses educational disadvantage, early school leaving, disability and special education needs, non-national students, adult students and promoting inclusion. I urge the Minister to read this document.

I also urge the Minister to get into training quickly because the decisions he and his colleagues make are ones that will affect the future direction of their lives of men, women and children the length and breadth of this country. I urge Government backbenchers to talk to their Minister and ensure we get a reversal of this drastic cut.

I too commend Deputy Smith for bringing forward this motion to give Members on all sides of the House the opportunity to make a contribution to this debate.

The decision of the Government to make guidance counsellingex quota is forcing schools to make an impossible choice between keeping the guidance counselling service in the school or narrowing the subject choice made available to the students they serve. Both of these choices run contrary to what we need to be trying to achieve as a country. On the one hand, IDA Ireland and all the enterprise bodies are advising schools and the Government that we need to invest in science subjects and foreign languages, the very subjects which will be forfeited under this decision if schools decide to keep guidance counselling services. On the other, if they remove the lifeline that guidance counselling provides to students, over time we will see the consequences of that decision as well. The Government’s decision shows no regard for the pressure young people are under today. Deputy Neville, from the Government’s own benches, set out clearly those pressures. Every teacher in this country knows what those pressures are because they deal with them on a daily basis. By making guidance counselling ex quota, the Minister is demeaning the profession of guidance counselling and robbing students of a service which can help to steer them on the right path in life not only in terms of their career, but in terms of their life choices and lifestyle.

The wording the Minister, Deputy Quinn, put forward in his amendment is deeply cynical. It speaks of giving schools "discretion" and "greater freedom and autonomy to school principals". It speaks of all teachers having a duty of care to their students and the long and proud tradition of guidance counselling. It speaks of guidance being "a whole school activity". These are woolly words indeed. They have no meaning. It is empty rhetoric. The Minister is pulling the rug from under the guidance counselling profession and, more importantly, from under the students they serve.

The Minister tells schools, in the amendment, that they have a duty under the Education Act 1998 to provide guidance services to their students, but he is removing the very resources they use to provide that service. It must be pointed out that class teachers simply do not have the time to provide the quality of counselling or guidance that is required to students today, and every teacher in the country will tell the Minister that.

I understood this was a coalition Government. I must ask where is the Labour Party. For the past couple of weeks, every Labour Party Deputy has been telling every journalist that he or she could find that he or she managed to get a reversal on the cuts to disadvantaged DEIS schools. Clearly, they have abandoned the guidance counselling profession and the very students those professionals serve.

I am delighted to see such a full Gallery tonight. Those here tonight are not motivated by self-interest - God knows they have made enough sacrifice over the past number of years through various cuts imposed on them. They are here because they care about the students who benefit from the service they provide. That should give us all a lesson on what we need to do.

The Minister made a calculated decision in the budget that this cut would go through quietly and almost unnoticed, but he and every backbencher must know that it will have a corrosive effect which will become clear over time not only regarding the quality of the education that is provided, but on the society these students will enter as adults when they emerge from school.

The fundamental point at issue here tonight is the right of students to have access to a qualified guidance counsellor as and when they need it. Is the Government prepared to stand over that? I commend Deputy Smith for putting down this motion. I ask the Government to review what is a retrograde cut which it knows will come with a heavy long-term price for this country.

In one fell swoop on budget day, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, announced the end of a critical service that has supported students for over 30 years. The Minister spoke of protecting front line services and surely guidance counsellors are just that, part of the front line service. The Minister speaks of schools being allowed to manage guidance provision at their own discretion. Maybe he might explain to us how schools will do this.

Recently, I made representations to the Minister on Gorey community school, which, with 1,000 students, is one of the biggest secondary schools in the country. He sent me back a reply today outlining all the reasons he had to make the cuts and all the ways the school could continue to have guidance counsellors for the future, but it all was gobbledygook put together with little concern for the students in that school who have all the problems of which Deputy Neville spoke earlier. It is important the Minister recognises the difficulties and problems large schools such as Gorey community school will face in the future.

Effective guidance counselling from junior cycle through to senior cycle has been shown to play an important role in preventing early school-leaving and helping progression to third level. As my party leader, Deputy Martin, pointed out last night during the debate, Ireland now has one of the world's highest school completion rates and it is important that this would continue.

Guidance counsellors offer not only educational guidance, but also personal guidance. Guidance counsellors deal with a range of issues on a day-to-day basis such as mental health and family issues. Many guidance counsellors in my county of Wexford spend much time, even outside school hours, advising children from less well-off families and making a valuable contribution to how they progress in school in the future.

It is the students who benefit most from this service who will suffer the most from this nasty cut by the Minister. A student from a disadvantaged background who may not have the support and advice at home to go on to third level or a student who cannot afford expensive private counselling services to deal with depression or other problems will suffer most as a consequence of this decision. The well-off student from an educated family background with financial resources will do fine. I am concerned about the students from less well-off families that I have mentioned. We will end up with a more inequitable school system where schools that can afford to buy-in counselling services will do so. This cut will affect not only students from disadvantaged backgrounds, but also students with disabilities and learning difficulties and students with different ethnic origins.

While other members of the school management and teaching staff may also play a role, they are not qualified to provide real counselling services. The notion that the appointment of 300 assistant principal posts will somehow alleviate the position in schools completely misses the point regarding the important role of the career guidance counsellor. I would like to hear the Minister explain how he feels that 300 assistant principals will now be able to step in and carry out the role of the career guidance counsellors. I do not know of any assistant principals who are qualified in this area. While they might be able to help, they are not qualified in this field.

Students will be poorer as a result of these cuts. Many will not go on to college, many will give up on complex application forms, many will be given the wrong advice and many will not seek help for serious mental or related problems from which they may be suffering. Disadvantaged students will be economically and socially deprived as a result of these nasty cuts.

It is important that the Minister looks seriously at the matter and reflects again. He admitted last week that he made a mistake and he certainly made a mistake in this area. The recent ESRI report stated that students increasingly want a one-to-one guidance service in their schools. The Minister should reverse this decision and allow guidance counsellors to continue what they have been doing for the past 30 years in terms of providing a valuable resource for students.

Is it agreed that Deputy Healy-Rae shall speak for the remaining minute in this slot? Agreed.

I have one special message for the Government. When it took power it knew the situation. It made certain commitments but it did not tell the people that it planned to make an unprecedented attack on our education system. I speak to support the motion brought by Deputy Smith on behalf of guidance counsellors who have provided an invaluable service over the years. At a time when students are facing crises in their personal lives that we never had to deal with when we are young, these counsellors are doing important work. Telling principals that it is up to them to run their own houses is like handing them a grenade with the pin pulled and telling them to do what they can with it.

That is what the Government is doing to our principals. The Deputies opposite went before the people and they know the situation on the ground. People are sick to death of hearing that Fianna Fáil destroyed the country.

Deputy Healy-Rae kept them there.

That is rubbish at this stage because this is the Government's budget. It made disgraceful choices and I welcome the people who have come from all parts of Ireland to support this motion. I am sorry that they face long, lonesome bus journeys home. I urge Deputies to vote with their hearts and souls. They will have an opportunity when the bell sounds at 9 p.m. to do the right thing by voting against these horrible cuts.

On a point of order, I wish to point out for the benefit of the House and the public that we have been joined by the Labour Party.

Yesterday the Minister for Education and Skills set the debate in the context of the overall financial and budgetary framework in which Ireland must operate. We inherited this legacy from the previous Fianna Fáil Government. He made clear that controlling the public service pay bill and reducing public service numbers-----

The Minister of State was happy to take the safe seat from them.

Allow the Minister of State to continue. Everybody is getting a fair opportunity.

-----are fundamental to dealing with the gap between public expenditure and revenue. With one third of all public sector employees working in the education sector, it is not possible to leave staffing levels untouched. None the less, despite difficult circumstances the Government is trying to protect frontline services at a time of rapidly rising enrolment in our schools.

It is clear from the Deputies opposite that while they demand changes to the budget on guidance they are really calling on us to avoid making any reduction. That is simply not realistic nor credible.

It was the Government's choice.

The Deputy had his turn.

No Government wants to reduce resources for the education system. However, it would be healthy if our debates on particular measures were based on reason and balance rather than ill-founded assumptions or judgments about how school leaders will manage the changed arrangements.

I will clarify a number of critical points. There has been no change to the Education Act 1998, which stipulates that provision for guidance is one of the many functions that schools must discharge from the resources available to them. Guidance is a whole school activity and under existing arrangements each school develops a guidance plan as a means of supporting the needs of all its students. These plans do not solely deal with the functions of guidance counsellors, important though they may be, because guidance requires the entire staff of a school to collaborate in supporting pupils' educational and general welfare needs. The circular on teacher allocations which will be issued shortly by the Department will make clear that the legal provisions of the 1998 Act remain in place and will point schools towards the relevant documentation and guidance required to support such work.

This budget measure makes changes to the way posts are allocated to schools rather than eliminating the guidance function. From September, there will not be a separate or specific allocation for guidance provision over and above the number of teachers to which a school is entitled under the general teacher allocation of 19:1. The Minister has acknowledged that the budget reductions create pressures and will require difficult choices at school level but schools will have discretion in balancing guidance needs with the pressure to provide subject choice.

While the removal of separate allocations for guidance will reduce the overall number of posts available to most schools, the 195 DEIS second level schools will be sheltered because we are introducing a more favourable staffing schedule of 18.25:1 for such schools.

What about non-DEIS schools?

This contrasts with how the last Fianna Fáil Government reduced staffing for second level schools across the board and without protecting DEIS schools. Their more favourable student-teacher ratio will put them in a better position to manage the changes in guidance provision within their standard staffing allocations.

A disturbing feature of the comments made in the media and this Chamber is the assumption that school principals will not be capable or confident enough to operate this change. Claims that school principals and management will totally abandon guidance provision prejudge decisions yet to be taken by them in addressing the staffing position for next September.

They need the resources.

Our schools are caring institutions and their leaders are responsible professionals. We are confident they will continue to support vulnerable pupils in their care.

This budget measure must be viewed in the context of the major challenges that face us in trying to shelter public services to the greatest extent possible in these exceptional times. We have confidence that our second level principals and the boards of management of our schools will balance the guidance needs of pupils with their curricular and other needs within the resources available to them.

Throw it back at the principals.

I congratulate Deputy Smith on tabling this motion. It is generally accepted that the proposals on career guidance are a serious mistake. The motion before us seeks to remedy that mistake, which has profound implications for students and their families, as well as career guidance teachers.

The educational system has been steadily built up over many years. Our party leader, Deputy Martin, played a central role in the development of the educational supports that are now in place for pupils who need them. However, while we had one of the finest education systems in the world, slowly but surely the Minister is dismantling many of the supports that were formerly in place. These supports were put in place for a good reason.

The Minister of State argued that the functions of career guidance teachers can be adequately catered for by the principals of schools. The reality is that career guidance teachers pursue special training for their role and to suggest that another teacher can adequately replace that special training is seriously to underestimate their work in our education system.

Career guidance teachers provide confidential counselling services to our students. The important elements of the role are personal and social guidance and counselling and educational guidance. The latter is vitally important for our young people because career choices made at a key time in the educational cycle determine the well-being of students and their families for the future. Unless specialist advice is available to students at the right time, wrong decisions are inevitably made, with profound and serious negative consequences for everybody concerned.

Given that the economy of this country is at a particular point, the quality of decision making is vital, and nowhere is it more important than in our educational system. If good decisions are not made by students and teaching staff, we will pay a heavy price in the future. The decision the Government, in the form of the Minister for Education and Skills, has taken is a bad one and needs to be revisited and reversed immediately. We must change it to ensure the career guidance teachers can go back to school tomorrow with assurance that the significance and importance of their role in our education system will be adequately safeguarded.

Other changes that were proposed in the budget are being reviewed, revisited, or whatever the word is. There is no reason this decision cannot also be reviewed and revisited. I urge the Minister to consult with his Cabinet colleagues and change the proposal he has made. The guidance counselling service is important for our young people in the education system, whose predecessors have benefited in the past from the excellent counselling and advice services that were provided for them. This service is needed in our system, and all schools must be adequately covered. Now is the time to recognise that.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this subject tonight. The only way one can measure a Government is by the commitments it makes and how it honours them.

How many commitments did the Deputy's Government make before it left office?

Government spokespersons-----

Is the Labour Party here?

-----can talk about the situation it inherited. The Government knew exactly the situation it was going to inherit because it had full access to all the books in the autumn of 2010. If one checks the record one will see its members said that autumn that things were a lot worse than they were. Now, of course, they are saying there has been a miraculous improvement because they followed their plan. However, the fact is that despite all of that, the Government made commitments and promises knowing full well it could never honour them.

It seems to me, when one examines this decision, that what drove it was not the interests of education but the need to come up with a smoke-and-mirrors way of saying the Government did not touch the pupil-teacher ratio. Somebody dreamt up a clever trick: to go for theex-quota teachers, because then the Government members could stand up on budget night and get a short victory by saying they did not touch the pupil-teacher ratio. What did the Government do? It cut a service that was established by my colleague Deputy Martin, the leader of Fianna Fáil, based on the Education Act 1998, which provided career guidance counselling to pupils in our schools.

The Minister's statement that this is about filling out CAO forms is totally disingenuous.

The reality is that guidance counsellors help children of all ages and are more important, if I might say so, in the role they have played in encouraging children to complete school than in filling out the CAO form. At least, at the stage of filling out the CAO form, one has got them that far. As has been said by many of my colleagues, because of the much more complicated society in which we live today and because a much greater proportion of our children are going to secondary school, there are, as a consequence, many more issues to be resolved than there were in the past. There are children with learning difficulties or significant disabilities who would not have been in mainstream schooling in the past. There are children who come from backgrounds that are not supportive of education. As the Minister himself said, 60% of disadvantaged pupils do not attend DEIS schools. He is pulling the legs from the stool that is under the weakest of pupils. As a parent who has seen his children through school, I have always made the point that those who are endowed in one way or another - by way of background, access, support and so on - will probably make it through even if supports are pulled away. The people who always lose in that situation are those from vulnerable backgrounds or who have other things - personal or societal issues, or issues to do with background - that need dealing with. What the Minister is doing is to pull the supports away from these people.

The Minister is saying that the principal can allocate teachers to guidance counselling duties. However, he is changing the service from being guaranteed in all schools to being at the discretion of the principal. We have reports already that guidance counsellors are now being allotted teaching hours away from guidance counselling. Something that was ring-fenced, autonomous andex quota is now being added to the main area of decision making. This is the beginning of the slippery slope.

The Minister, when speaking last night, said that 42% of second-level schools - that is, 730 schools - do not have a full-time guidance counsellor. Of course that is a factual truth. However, every school is affected by this policy, because the smaller schools have apro rata allocation of guidance counselling, which is also being cut. This idea that there are many schools which are immune to this cut just because they do not have a full-time guidance counsellor ignores the reality of large parts of Ireland in which there are small secondary schools. I presume, in line with what the Government is doing with the primary schools, it is probably targeting the smaller secondary schools as well, but we will leave that for another day.

Cé mhéad ama atá fágtha agam, a Chathaoirligh?

Good. There are many things I have to say here tonight.

Ar aghaidh leat.

Unfortunately, I have to be selective in the things I want to say.

The Minister is leaving to every school the obligation of complying with section 9(c) of the Education Act 1998. At the moment, the Department has control, because guidance counsellors are ex quota and controlled from the centre. From next year, how will the Department control the situation? How will it guarantee that this fundamental part of the Act is adhered to? Let us be honest about it: there is always a temptation not to defend what are seen as the soft supports, and to cut these in the interests of defending particular subjects or whatever one wants to defend. I predict that over time, in many schools, we will find that guidance counselling is pushed aside and that some extra subject on the curriculum will get the advantage. If the Ministers of State do not think that will happen then they do not know the nature of how human beings act in these situations.

There is a saying, "penny wise and pound foolish". As I said, we have had an enviable record in school completion in recent years.

Is the Deputy being ironic, talking about penny wise and pound foolish? It is scandalous to be lectured like that.

Deputy Ó Cuív has the floor.

What I am saying is very simple. Students who would go ahead and complete school if personal issues were dealt with and students who would make the right choice when going into third level education will not now have the supports that were available heretofore. Many of them will make wrong choices and more children will leave school early. The consequences of that are both personal and national. On the personal level it has implications for something that all Members of the House strive for, that children get the best possible opportunity in life and that we particularly support those from disadvantaged backgrounds to break the cycle of disadvantage.

Builders and speculators are more important to you.

Listen to the Labour Party.

(Interruptions).

Tá mé in an a rá leis an Teachta go bhfuil mo shaol caite ag obair do ghnáth dhaoine. Má chaith sé an oiread ama agus a chaith mise ag obair do ghnáth dhaoine-----

The Deputy has only one and a half minutes left.

Control the Labour Party.

I have never acted in the interest of any builder or speculator. If the Deputy repeated that remark outside the House, I would bring him to court and I would win. That is absolutely guaranteed. My life, from the time I left school, has been dedicated to working for ordinary people.

(Interruptions).

You have some gall to sit beside your colleague and make those comments. That is not fair to the man you are sitting beside.

Deputy Ó Cuív has the floor. Deputy Dooley should allow his colleague to speak.

You will take the money from SIPTU.

Would you say that outside?

Were you ever in the Galway tent?

In fairness, Deputy Ó Cuív has the floor.

(Interruptions).

Apologise to the children of this country for what you did.

I am a member of SIPTU; I paid your wages.

Your fingerprints are all over the destruction of the country. Apologise to the people.

They have more manners than the Deputy.

You are right wing apologists.

(Interruptions).

If the Deputies would stay quiet, we could proceed.

The Deputy doth protest too much.

This is the man who wanted to go to jail.

As I said, there are huge personal consequences but there are also significant national consequences of this. People will not get the chances they would have received and there will be more early school leavers. That will put a huge cost burden on society into the future.

I ask the Minister to do what some of his colleagues have already done. In fairness to the Minister for Education and Skills, he admitted that his lack of experience, although he was a Minister previously, had led him to make mistakes. Tonight, I urge him to consider which is more important, that we can say we did not cut the BTR or that we do the right thing by the children. If he returns and says, "I made a genuine mistake here; I did not realise the consequences and I am now amending this decision", we will recognise that and compliment him on doing so. If he does not, we will continue to assert that this is the wrong decision.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 90; Níl, 41.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Creighton, Lucinda.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Ferris, Anne.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O’Donnell, Kieran.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
  • O’Mahony, John.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Browne, John.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke ‘Ming’.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy, Catherine
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Brien, Jonathan.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg; Níl, Deputies Seán Ó Fearghaíl and Aengus Ó Snodaigh.
Amendment declared carried.
Question put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 90; Níl, 43.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Creighton, Lucinda.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Ferris, Anne.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O’Donnell, Kieran.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
  • O’Mahony, John.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Browne, John.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke ‘Ming’.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Brien, Jonathan.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg; Níl, Deputies Seán Ó Fearghaíl and Aengus Ó Snodaigh.
Question declared carried.
The Dáil adjourned at 9.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 19 January 2012.