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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 23 Oct 1996

Vol. 148 No. 19

National Guidance Forum: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann welcomes the establishment of the National Guidance Forum and urges that Government facilitate the activity of the forum with a view to enhancing public consciousness of the importance of guidance counselling in an era of life long learning involving rapid and sustained change in the education system and in the labour market.

This motion is intended to be entirely non-adversarial and is not in response to spectacular public demand at this time for an instant solution to a problem. However, the issue it highlights is important and will become more so in years to come. It behoves us to see how the Oireachtas can contribute towards improving public understanding of its importance.

I presented the issue in the phraseology used in the motion to give it a focus. The National Guidance Forum was established a little over a year ago and has met a number of times since then. It is an entirely independent and voluntary organisation, bringing together a variety of the interests involved in guidance counselling and advice at all levels, including formal education, adult education, FÁS and various placement services. It is an excellent example of the voluntary co-operation which is at the kernel of a healthy civic society.

Part of the object of this exercise is to enhance public awareness of the existence and objectives of the forum. The bodies comprising it provide an example of that capacity for co-operation which is one quality that guidance counselling is increasingly intended to inculcate in all its clients, whether they be teenagers in schools or people changing jobs and looking for alternative careers at a more advanced and mature level.

One should welcome the establishment of this forum. It came together from a common realisation that change is all around us and the only thing we can predict is that it will be even more rapid in the future than it is at present. The idea that one chooses a career path and remains in it for life belongs to history. If we live in a world where nothing is as permanent as it once seemed, it is important that we try to get the best quality of adjustment to change. All commentators agree that what they call "the human factor", meaning people, is central to all future development, including economic development. The fewer round pegs there are in square holes the better for national performance and productivity as well as for the individuals concerned.

This can be seen in every area of activity. Many middle-aged, financially successful professionals are deeply dissatisfied with their jobs. It might even be seen in these Houses from time to time. It is rather sad that people may enter a career path between the ages of 17 and 21, make a lot of money and by the ordinary criteria of the wider world be successful and yet may be frustrated because they do not derive the satisfaction they once thought or hoped they would, or because they were put on that career path without thinking of job satisfaction but purely of monetary reward. The ability to give good advice on the activity which is most conducive to an individual's personality development and satisfaction is a contribution towards the type of civil society in which most of us would wish to live.

Historically, when jobs were available, we put enormous pressure on our young people by forcing them into choices at an early age. Even now, when the transition year opens all sorts of possibilities and most young people finish second level, we ask them to make choices at that point which may determine their path for many years ahead. We ask them to choose at a younger age than their peers in most western countries. It is, therefore, more likely that some of those decisions will be less mature and informed. If they decided a year or two later, they would decide differently.

I will not criticise the points system as such in this debate; it has many merits but it is implemented with extraordinary rigidity — perhaps it must be. Two years after making a choice, people may decide they have chosen wrongly and may wish to change. Of those perhaps 10 to 15 per cent will find they cannot change in the short-term. Fortunately, a degree of flexibility is being introduced to the leaving certificate and to more mature education whereby there are more alternative paths to third level but there are not enough of them as yet. There should be a greater opportunity for flexibility and integration of the entire education system to allow people to take different paths more frequently than is the case at present. Although matters have improved markedly in recent years, the mindset which regards educational paths as open to people coming from a variety of different directions rather than just one has yet to pervade adequately among the decisions makers involved.

We must ensure as far as we can that pupils at school level get the quality of guidance to enable them to make the most informed choice from a variety of view points. I do not look on guidance counselling as simply a service that exists parallel to or tops up the teaching pupils receive in school. Guidance counselling is an integral part of the entire personality development of pupils. It should be a central part of the curriculum and of our concept of education and not simply an optional or luxury extra.

I will not debate the issue of resources. Doubtless the Minister of State would argue that resources are inadequate for everything and that choices must be made. However, I urge the centrality of guidance counselling to education in the widest sense and to the development of young people to enable them make the type of choices which will ensure that they are as successful as possible and that they provide to employers the quality of service required, whether it be in the private or public sector.

I do not want to confine this debate to the schools. A great advantage of the National Guidance Forum is that it is equally concerned with guidance for adults and that it regards guidance as part of a life long experience. Learning is increasingly becoming life long. Our rhetoric probably still runs ahead of our practice in responding to the reality of this, but if the rhetoric is going in the right direction that will pull the practice after it in due course. It is important, therefore, that the right rhetoric emanates from Government and from all those who can influence public perceptions.

People are going to be changing jobs frequently, which historically we have equated with losing jobs. When I look at my own graduates — a privileged group — who may be five to eight years out of university, three points come to mind. First, most of them are in good jobs as far as conventional criteria apply. Second, very few of them would have predicted they would have been in that job on graduation. Third, most of them would have been in at least one other job, and often two other jobs in the five or six years after graduating and before their present job. They are searching, which may be a good thing up to a point. Given the level of counselling available and the plethora of both jobs and courses, they are inevitably making their choices on the basis of limited information.

While one never has access to perfect information, there is a better balance to be struck. Anything that can be done to encourage the type of commitment this forum has shown is to be welcomed. I am not seeking resources, indeed the forum's independence is a major factor in its favour. Nevertheless, a contribution towards achieving its aims can be made by public figures and politicians taking cognisance of its work and encouraging the wider public to appreciate the importance of what it is endeavouring to achieve. It is a process and not an event. It is not a response to any perceived instant crisis, but it is an important part of the type of society and economy we are striving to become in as efficient and humane a manner as possible for all those involved.

I second the motion. It is praiseworthy to raise this issue at this time, especially when we are about to commence negotiations on the successor to the Programme for Competitiveness and Work. The number of career changes that the normal person will now undertake in the course of a working life — there could be six or seven — is central to the motion. It raises the need to look at the issue under discussion.

When I decided on my career the prevailing view was that one took a course, adopted a career and stayed in it until pensionable age. To paraphrase the famous words of Louis MacNiece, one was expected to sit on one's unmentionable for 40 years and hang one's hat on a pension. That time has changed, and because of this pensions have become an important part of the advice which young people should get. People should be required to look after their pensions arrangements for every year worked.

For decades the job of career guidance counsellors was to match a student with a job. This is still happening; but it is no longer enough and it is often the wrong thing to do for a young person, who may be directed towards the wrong career having undergone the various tests which measure career suitability. I take the simple view that most people can do most jobs. It is wrong, closes down options and creates a sense of dissatisfaction and underachievement if people fail in the pursuit of a career they were advised to take up. It is better to tell people that they can do many different jobs.

The world is now such that it is difficult to do any job for longer than ten years. We need, therefore, to encourage flexibility. This will be difficult for those pursuing an educational path that arrives at the points system. The points system is useful for enabling people to get from second to third level by engaging in the correct regurgitation of a body of fact. However, it will not allow for flexibility, which is the key issue. If I am to employ somebody I will look for flexibility, enthusiasm and energy. In addition, I would only employ or recommend people who have potential, which is the greatest quality in terms of finding employment.

The job of the career guidance counsellor is to find peoples' potential, to explain that their potential can be fulfilled in a wide variety of directions and to encourage them to try them. As Senator Lee remarked, a person may attempt two or three careers over several years. Being in my late forties I have difficulty in coming to terms with this concept. I have a lack of confidence in telling young people whom I know well to change and take up different jobs because my upbringing was in the opposite direction. I have had to force myself to change.

With change and flexibility the job of the counsellor becomes most attractive because of what it can do to improve the quality of peoples' lives. Perhaps for the first time ever we can now have a generation of successful young people, whether they be involved in enterprise, services, the professions or a mixture. People will learn how to be flexible and will therefore balance their time between their professional, leisure and domestic lives. Most in this House came through the previous system and are workaholics. Many of us should be ashamed of the number of hours we consider it correct to work to be successful in a career. It is something that can be dealt with.

Why is this issue important? The best answer to that is to ask what is the shelf life of a degree in engineering or physics? People have come up with answers, but the one which comes closest to my position, and which bothers the people who pay most of my salary, is the shelf life of a teaching degree. There is something wrong if teachers are doing the same job now as they did when one could not cash a cheque in a bank at lunch time, it took four people to drive a bus and one could not buy a suit on a Sunday. This element of change must be included in the lives of people in whatever area. It must be recognised that no degree or qualification has a 40 year shelf life and that it must change in order to reflect the needs of the people being served, helped or supported. This aspect is crucial.

I spoke recently to the head of a multinational corporation about this issue. The company has many people in marketing and specific engineering areas and I was delighted when he said it had reached the conclusion that it is better off employing people with a good general degree who have indicated flexibility and a capability to change and move. He said the company has no difficulty if it gets a bright person who can do the job it wants after two months training. It is much more interested in somebody who can do this five years later than a person who is an expert in a specific area, such as the brightness of light, but who will be out of touch in a short period and may have to hide behind the quality of their degree.

It is difficult to deal with change because people are told that if something is not broken it should not be fixed. Other put downs are that one should take it easy and do nothing or that somebody is too busy. People often say something cannot be done because it is against policy or it would establish a precedent. We should strive to have a generation of young people managing industry, services and professions in the future who will take just one decision, that as long as they are in charge, the only decisions they want to make are those which create a precedent; other decisions can be taken by somebody down the line. This would ensure an unbeatable economy and country.

We need a challenging and sceptical group of young people to emerge from the educational system. We do not need them to be passive and accepting but questioning, challenging, sceptical and ready to adopt and embrace change. Not every fad becomes the road, but people must stand in the middle of the field and decide whether proposals should be blocked, diverted, changed or implemented. This is why counsellors are required and I commend the motion to the House.

I welcome the motion, which is obviously supported on all sides because a Government amendment has not been moved. It is an interesting motion from my point of view because I taught in a post-primary school for a number of years. I value the guidance system with which I was involved for many years. Its value in schools cannot be overestimated.

Given the upbringing and crowded lifestyles of young people nowadays, many people would consider that they are more mature than children in the past. However, the reverse is the case. Psychologists tell me that young people nowadays are much less mature than we were at that age. Initially I found this difficult to accept because, given the experiences of children now in comparison to my barren childhood, I thought they would be much more mature at 17 than I was at that age. However, psychologists tell me that is not the case and a good guidance system in schools is essential. Youngsters need help to make crucial decisions about their future, particularly in that type of milieu where life is crowded and they do not have a chance to assess and discover themselves. The guidance systems in schools try to provide that assistance.

Another interesting aspect of the motion is that Senator Lee is not screaming for resources. When motions are moved by the Opposition or people who are not on the Government side——


——they usually scream for resources for various organisations. However, that is not the case in this motion and I am surprised and happy. Senator Lee said support for the forum and recognition that it exists and is beneficial to the community is required at present rather than financial resources.

Senator O'Toole would agree that collegiality is important in schools. When one is working as part of a team in a school, mixing with people who teach the same subject, collegiality assists one's personal development and the fertilisation of ideas. It brings about better workmanship and teaching. Career guidance teachers are often isolated because in many cases they are the only ones working in that area. They do not have opportunities to exchange ideas in the same way as other teachers. This is why I was most impressed with the work of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors over the years.

The institute was established in the early 1970s and produces useful literature for teachers. Its annual report is interesting and the forum is an offshoot of the institute. I understand somebody in the institute suggested the establishment of the forum, and it is not before time. Although schools are at the heart of communities, teachers tend to spend their time working in the mainstream and are often isolated. Opportunities for cross fertilisation between important non educational organisations in community life do not happen because people are too busy. This is why the forum is such a good idea.

FÁS, ISME and other important organisations are involved in the forum and this provides a wonderful opportunity for guidance teachers to discover what makes things tick in industry and the massive problems with which FÁS is trying to cope. It provides overviews and pushes back the frontiers for teachers. It helps them to be better guidance counsellors. FÁS is also involved in the guidance area and I am impressed by the effects of the community employment scheme.

I know people who were wandering along aimlessly in life, who did not have jobs, drew the dole each week and had no motivation. However, their lives have changed following their involvement in a community employment scheme and the chance to assess their value in life, which is essential in terms of their input to society if they had a job. They were motivated by the experience. If that happened a dozen times in 12 months it would justify the huge amount of money that is spent on it. We should support the National Guidance Forum. I note that the Department of Education supports it and one of its senior psychologists sits on the forum. That is an indication of the value the Department attaches to the forum and I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say on that.

I thank Senator Lee and Senator O'Toole for the opportunity to discuss this. I have a better insight now into what the forum is trying to achieve than I had this morning. We should try to let people know what it is about and what it is trying to achieve, and we will be all the better for it in the end.

It is nice to hear us all singing the same song. This is a worthwhile motion although when I saw it last week I asked what is the National Guidance Forum. Being a guidance counsellor I asked my colleagues the same question, they did not know. I went to FÁS and they did not know. I went to Léargas and they had an idea. I went to the Institute of Guidance Counsellors and members of the officer board did not know.

You should have asked Senator Lee.

I did that eventually.

He did not know.

The reaction I received from the various telephone calls suggested it was a welcome platform which should involve all the various bodies; FÁS, the National Rehabilitation Board, Aontas, Youth Reach, the National Parents Council, third level career appointments officers and guidance counsellors.

The forum started about 18 months ago. It was a tentative arrangement mooted by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors because of the overlap which existed with so many bodies offering career guidance. The forum has met a few times. It is not State funded and meets at different venues, for example, the Léargas office.

Nobody seems to know what it has done so far. No minutes have been kept. There are no terms of reference so it is really a talking shop but I do not know what they talk about. It is important that the forum has terms of reference and that it percolates through the system so that guidance counsellors understand that it may eventually have teeth and so we can exchange views on how best it can be used to improve the system.

I have listened to the role of the guidance counsellor and I am very pleased to see that role expanding. I did not know there were so many areas that I was not dealing with. What is guidance counselling? It is vocational and educational guidance and it is counselling. It should start in primary school so as to give children an opportunity to look at themselves in terms of their interests and what they are good at. We do not have such a guidance system until second level education.

In second level schools guidance counselling is a developmental process. At each stage of a children's development their achievements, aptitudes and interests are assessed in whatever way possible to give each child an overview of its self image. Self images keep changing no matter what age we are and need to be re-evaluated at different stages in our lives. I would hope that my role as a guidance counsellor would be to educate and prepare children for a way of life rather than for a specific job.

With the rate of change that is taking place today that role is becoming more important. Look at the many changes that have taken place in second level education. We have three different leaving certificate programmes; academic, vocational and applied. In all of this there is a role for the guidance counsellor to prepare young people to the best of their ability for a particular job, for a way of life or for third level education. This is not an easy task. For example, a single guidance counsellor may have six leaving certificate classes and is supposed to educate each one for a way of life.

However, what happens after the leaving certificate? There are post-leaving certificate programmes. The link with FÁS overlaps so considerably at this stage that half way through a programme one might discover that FÁS is doing the same one. Guidance should form part of the FÁS programmes but that does not happen.

Some of those who may be long-term unemployed may return to education. These people need adult guidance and this is where the crux arises. There is little or no structure for dealing with those who wish to return to work. There should be links with the national forum but I would prefer to see a local or regionalised forum to begin with. These could then be linked through a national policy. The best interests of students is served by co-ordinating schools, FÁS, NRB, adult education programmes and VTOS programmes at local level. Such an approach would enable us to see how we could facilitate the flow of information from the schools to third level institutions and to employers.

I did a little research into apprenticeships and I would like to make one criticism. This is a golden opportunity that should not be missed. Two and a half percent of school leavers were absorbed into an apprenticeship in the last year. Are the employers involved in the national forum? What are the employers doing for young people coming out of school? There is something wrong when young people who want to work and want to get into an apprenticeship cannot avail of the opportunity that FÁS is talking about.

The national forum is a welcome concept but I would prefer to see it localised. After 18 months it needs to be more structured. I would like to think that minutes will be kept and that they will percolate through to guidance counsellors and FÁS. I would like the public to know what is going on. Those who are in transition from school to third level education and those who come back into the education system need guidance.

I hope we can return to this issue. This is a voluntary organisation. I am not asking the Minister to do anything about it but the motion seeks to facilitate public awareness. Concerns have been expressed about the huge change taking place in education and the adult world. The huge range of careers and jobs which exist mean we need guidance and counselling now more than ever, not just up to leaving certificate level but throughout people's entire life span. I would welcome another opportunity next year to discuss this forum and to see how far down the road we have gone as a result of this discussion.

I thank the two Senators who proposed the motion. I also thank Senator Cotter and Senator Ormonde for their contributions.

Senator Lee told us he did not expect a confrontational debate, which is how it has worked out so far. I sometimes tend to be confrontational, as the Senator can be, but even I would have difficulty being confrontational about a statement such as "Many people are dissatisfied with their jobs". I am not dissatisfied with my job. When I get up in the morning I say how lucky I am to be doing a job which I always wanted to do — and did for a number of years without any financial recompense. I am lucky to have a challenging job but I know I am not typical in that respect. The Senator said that we are asking children to make choices at an increasingly younger age, which we are. I also find it difficult to be confrontational about that statement. He then said that he was not looking for resources, and I find it difficult to be confrontational about that.

The Minister of State should just try to be.

Senator O'Toole spoke about the number of career changes people now make in their working life, which makes it more necessary to have guidance counselling. He put so much emphasis on career changes that I began to wonder if he was about to make a major announcement which would shock the political and educational world, particularly in view of the announcements made by so many of our colleagues in recent weeks. However, he rather disappointed me by leaving without making an announcement -perhaps he forgot. Apart from that, I found it difficult to find anything confrontational in what he said.

Rather surprisingly, I did not find anything confrontational in what Senator Cotter or Senator Ormonde said. However, it struck me that Senator Ormonde made so many telephone calls in order to find out what this issue was about that Telecom Éireann must have made some money, which I welcome.

It is my pleasure to welcome the establishment of the National Guidance Forum. It provides for a gathering together of all who have an interest in guidance, whether as consumers or providers. The members of the forum come from a wide variety of backgrounds but share a common vision. They seek to inform themselves of the key issues in guidance and counselling at present, to discuss their implications and to share ideas. I have no doubt of the value of such opportunities for discussion and debate. The chosen method of my Department in preparing for the publication of the White Paper on Education was to convene a National Convention on Education, consisting of all the interested parties.

Earlier this year, my Department issued to all schools a document entitled Guidelines for the Practice of Guidance and Counselling in Schools. The first sentence in this document states “In the course of their lives, people are faced with the need to make significant decisions that affect both themselves and those around them”. It goes on to define guidance broadly as the full range of interventions which assist people to make such choices about their lives.

As the motion states, our society, including our education system and the labour market, is going through a period of unprecedented change. Security of work is no longer guaranteed; it is no longer the case that young people finish their formal schooling and proceed to a career which they will follow for the rest of their lives. Effective guidance will be essential if people are to respond flexibly to these changes in society and the economy. The establishment of the National Guidance Forum recognises that guidance counselling is a lifelong process.

Indeed, 1996 is the European Year of Lifelong Learning and at the end of June a national conference on that theme took place in Dublin Castle. During the Minister's opening speech she stated that formal schooling is only the first stage in the process of lifelong learning and she stressed the importance of the provision of guidance and counselling at every stage of that process. This will mean that guidance may be provided for the same person by a variety of agencies and Departments at different stages in her or his life. If each person is to receive a coherent, lifelong programme of guidance, then co-ordination and communication between the agencies involved is vital.

The important role of guidance is also recognised in the Operational Programme for Human Resources Development 1994-99 of the European Union. This programme supports guidance provision in more than one Department. In the training of trainers programme of the Department of Education, the improvement of career guidance is one of six objectives.

I would like to speak now in more detail about guidance in education, as it provides the basis for all guidance which follows. The work of the guidance counsellor in education encompasses more than vocational guidance. The model favoured has always been a developmental one which includes educational, social and personal guidance. Guidance counsellors in schools are, of course, affected by changes in society. They are, to an increasing extent, preparing young people for unemployment as well as for employment and dealing with more serious social and emotional problems than heretofore.

The school guidance committee convened by my Department summarised guidance in education thus:

Guidance and counselling is grounded in the recognition of individual differences. It recognises and respects the dignity and worth of each individual and seeks to individualise the student within the school situation.

Guidance in education is, in fact, an essential facet of most of the aims outlined in the White Paper on Education, Charting our Education Future. I shall mention, in particular, the vocationalisation of the curriculum, the school plan, especially in relation to health promotion, and the greater involvement of the partners in education.

It is my Department's policy that vocational education should be integrated within the programmes offered in schools. The reform of the senior cycle is now being implemented. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, has been specifically requested to increase, where relevant, the vocational orientation of each subject available at leaving certificate level. This will help to ensure the relevance of subjects to the needs of students. Work on the revision of syllabuses is continuing.

In addition to the established leaving certificate programme, students are now offered the chance to engage in three new curricular programmes, each of which contains elements of vocational education. Transition year is a year long programme between the junior certificate and the beginning of leaving certificate. Because there is no formal examination at the end of transition year, more time can be allocated to guidance. Transition year students can be helped to review and to reflect on their past performance in school and to take appropriate remedial action, if necessary. They have the opportunity to explore their aptitudes and interests and to sample different subjects so that they make more informed educational choices. Preparation for work is facilitated through the provision of work shadowing, work simulation and work placement and through the acquisition of job-search skills. Community work is also a feature of transition year.

The leaving certificate applied is a self-contained programme aimed at preparing students for adult and working life. It concentrates on forms of achievement which have not previously been recognised by the established leaving certificate. The programme has three main strands. Some 30 per cent of the time is devoted to general education, 30 per cent to vocational education and 25 per cent to vocational preparation. The vocational education strand is concerned with the development of skills required by various sectors of the labour market. All students following this programme are required to study information technology, the arts and leisure and recreation.

The vocational preparation strand includes preparation for work, work experience, enterprise education and communications. The third programme, the leaving certificate vocational programme, strengthens the vocational dimension of the leaving certificate by linking subjects into vocational groupings which students take. In addition, all students must take three link modules on enterprise education, preparation for work and work experience.

Preparation of these programmes has involved teachers in new ways of working, for which they have been helped by an extensive programme of career development. Teamwork is essential, not only within the school but between the school and employers, parents and community agencies. I envisage the National Guidance Forum as an important focus for discussions between all the interested parties on the practical issues raised by the vocationalisation of the curriculum.

Chapters 12 and 13 of the White Paper on Education deal with the school plan and with the role of the school in promoting health and well being. They show that guidance is not an optional extra service, but is rather an integral part of the education offered by each school and college. An effective guidance service functions in a proactive way, developing programmes which promote physical and mental health and which therefore help to prevent the occurrence of personal crises in the majority of students. Examples of such programmes are the substance abuse prevention programme, the health promoting school network, and the relationships and sexuality education programme.

Guidance counsellors have been involved in the development of these programmes, and many of them are now trainers of their colleagues in their use. The effect has been an increase in the network of teachers who are becoming involved in the provision of guidance. This means that trained guidance counsellors should be able to develop a somewhat different role than previously, becoming fully integrated in the core work of the school, acting as specialist resource people for their colleagues, and being able to devote more time to those students who unfortunately face personal crises.

The guidance counsellor has the responsibility of working alongside the principal, the board of management, parents and the community to develop a school plan for guidance. This will involve examination, among other things, of the resources available both in the school and the community, the options being offered at senior cycle, and any programmes of social, personal and health education being used in the school. The result should be a coherent, developmental plan of guidance without unnecessary duplication and repetition, but allowing for reinforcement and revisiting for those students who may need extra help. Again, I see the National Guidance Forum as having valuable potential to contribute to this process.

There is no doubt that the greater involvement in recent times of parents and the community in the educational system has been most beneficial. In guidance, it is accepted that one of the most important influences on young people who are making career choices is their parents. The involvement of the National Parents' Council in the National Guidance Forum is therefore most welcome. I have received within the past days the report of a joint project of the Petra II Action Programme of the European Union, led jointly by Ireland and Belgium, entitled The Role of Parents in Guidance. This report includes materials and suggestions which I know will be of practical use in schools.

As resources have permitted, the support made available for guidance in education has been increased. Each year, my Department allocates £13 million for guidance provision in schools. In 1995, the Minister established the National Centre for Guidance in Education as the agency to produce relevant material and resources, to support guidance practitioners, and to provide for the exchange of information within and outside the country. The centre has produced a report entitled Guidelines for the Practice of Guidance and Counselling in Schools. Its representatives are working with representatives of my Department to examine how the report may best be implemented.

In addition, the Minister has sanctioned the creation of 100 additional guidance posts in second level schools during 1995, given additional resources for programmes of training in guidance counselling in the constituent colleges of the National University of Ireland, embarked upon a programme of phased expansion of the schools psychological service to primary schools, initiated a pilot project which involves the appointment of teaching counsellors to a number of primary schools in areas designated as disadvantaged.

The achievement of integration between the guidance counselling service in the educational system and that provided at later stages is an important challenge. It is vital that it should be achieved if every person in our society is to have access, at all the crucial stages of development, to effective guidance, without unnecessary duplication and without omissions. It is essential that the Government Departments concerned should liaise with one another in order to achieve this aim, and they do. However, it is equally important that there be opportunities for guidance practitioners from the various sectors to meet face to face and to work on the practical implications. The National Guidance Forum provides this opportunity.

I am particularly concerned that guidance provision should support and capitalise on measures which have been put in place to promote equality by increasing access to further education and training for people with disabilities, for young people who have become disaffected with the educational system and for people who feel debarred from particular career options by stereotyped views of what is appropriate for them. Such measures can only be effective in the context of an integrated approach between practitioners of guidance in education and training and in the labour market, and between formal and non-formal sources of guidance. I welcome the participation of bodies such as the National Rehabilitation Board and the Youth Information Monitoring Committee in the National Guidance Forum.

There is a general acceptance now that it is appropriate to demand quality standards and value for money from all groups of professional workers. Quality issues for the consumers of guidance services must be addressed. The National Guidance Forum has the potential to include all the guidance services provided through a person's life. Most importantly, it also includes representatives of the consumers. This should make it possible to institute longitudinal studies of the effectiveness of guidance and to share knowledge about evaluation procedures.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the Senators who have already participated in this debate. It has been a valuable debate and I thank the Senators for the work they have put into preparation for it.

I welcome this debate. Let me tell you about the company in which I work. A supermarket is a big operation. The manager of a typical supermarket has 200 people employed, 700 to 800 items in stock and up to 20,000 customers each week. We have found in our search for a manager that traditional methods of recruitment did not always apply. The talents or abilities that he or she had were not necessarily measured in the traditional leaving certificate examination. The driving force behind career guidance is that people have different talents and abilities and these must be matched with careers for them to pursue. This thinking is reasonably new and was not recognised as an important element of education until recently.

I am chairman of the steering committee under the National Council of Curriculum and Assessment of the new leaving certificate applied. I have learned much in the past few years because career guidance has a central role in that examination. In the past it was assumed that in order to get a good job a student had to have a good traditional leaving certificate. When a job involves managing 200 people and 20,000 customers you need an ability to communicate which is not necessarily measured by two years of leaving certificate study and a three hour written examination at the end of that. Oral communication is the ability needed to run that operation. It is more important than written communication and, yet the traditional leaving certificate does not measure oral communication except in language subjects. Career guidance as it applies to the leaving certificate applied recognises different talents.

The American professor Howard Gardiner who speaks about and writes on this subject came to Ireland and addressed the committee last year. He refers to skills and talents as "intelligences." Oral communication is another form of intelligence. The Irish mindset has to be changed to recognise that there are other careers suitable for people that are not necessarily measured by either the traditional leaving certificate or university degrees. I am enthusiastic about the changes taking place in secondary education, particularly because career guidance plays a central role in it. Senator Lee's proposal welcomes the establishment of a National Guidance Forum because it enhances public consciousness of the importance of career guidance and I welcome this.

The career guidance aspect of the leaving certificate applied recognises that jobs are not for life. It tries to steer students in the right direction and teaches them the skill of how to learn. Have they the ability to learn because they will have to learn over and over again during their careers? Are they good at teamwork? Can they work with other people? It measures their ability to interact with the community but, more importantly, it includes work experience as part of their leaving certificate. Assessment takes place during the two years, not at the end, and it measures their ability to participate in work. It is not only geared to preparing students for work but also prepares them for life. Career guidance will take that into account when steering someone in the right direction because an individual has other skills, talents and "intelligences".

It is essential that career guidance has a central role in education. The developments which the Minister introduced, for example, different forms of the leaving certificate and the transition year, will take us a long way towards preparing people for work and life. This motion draws our attention to the importance of career guidance and raises public consciousness. The Minister has taken this into account and I wish these developments well. In future years the nation will look back and recognise that this was a step in the right direction. Senator Lee said that this was one of the few proposals for which he was not seeking funds.

Nobody was seeking funds.

This debate is not being used to seek funds but to draw attention to the importance of career guidance. I add my voice to this motion, particularly with my experience of the leaving certificate applied. It is greatly valued and will benefit those who participate in it in the years ahead.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire agus roimh an tairiscint seo. This is an issue about which I have had a great deal of concern. When my children started school, I realised my concerns were groundless in many ways. I have been invited by local schools to talk to girls about the need to be flexible when they are planning their career. I am in my fifth career and I was asked by a student at the end of one talk if I has stopped changing careers. I said that I had no intention of doing so and that I would try a few more before I revert to the invalid bed. We must instil in pupils the need to be flexible in their approach to life and what they can do given their abilities. The guidance counsellor has a dual role, guidance and counselling, and although the two are interlocked, there is a slight difference. If somebody fulfilling that role moves completely into the area of guidance, they could push a person in a particular direction. On the other hand, if a counsellor soaks up the concerns and worries most teenagers have without offering guidance, we run into difficulties. In many ways guidance and counselling is a marriage of abilities in terms of talking to pupils, assessing their abilities and giving them a gentle push in one direction or another or, as the case may be, not to push them because children often make up their own minds.

I am pleased the National Guidance Forum recognises the role of parents. In the past the role of guidance counsellor was filled by parents who have an enormous influence on their children's career decisions. I am reminded of the joke about Munster mothers who hit their children on the head and tell them to go to Dublin to get a job in the Civil Service. That was the traditional form of guidance in many homes. A job in the Civil Service, a job for life with a pension, or teaching, nursing, the Garda or the bank were the apex of one's ambitions. One did not have a good job if one did not fall into those categories. Thankfully, we have a more enlightened view of careers and opportunities available now.

Parents and guidance counsellors enable children to build up their self-esteem and confidence, get them to make decisions, take on responsibilities and realise that they can make a change. Because one makes a decision at 19 years of age, does not mean one is stuck with it. Life is a learning experience and we can learn new skills and move on to a different career. Empowerment is very important.

I see the guidance counsellor not as someone extra to whom one sends problem children but as someone with a central role in the school. His or her advice should be sought by all teachers who, as Senator Cotter said, should work together as a team. Career guidance should not be seen as an extra service outside the curriculum but as an essential part of the role played by the school.

The Minister's role in providing different forms of certification falls into that area. It is a move away from the inflexible attitude which existed in the past that one had to have the leaving certificate and without it one would go nowhere. That did not take into account the range of abilities which Senator Quinn needs in his employees. We are beginning to realise people have many abilities or, as he said, intelligences which are not measured by the leaving certificate. That issue must be dealt at some stage.

I would like to tell a story about a wealthy man who arrived in a hospital after a car crash. He could not sign the admission form because he could not write. The nurse admitting him said: "You are a wealthy man but you cannot write. If you could read and write, what would you have done?" The man replied: "I would have been cleaning the toilets in the hospital." The nurse was taken aback. He proceeded to tell her that when he applied for the job as caretaker he did not qualify because he could not read and write but he went on to make a fortune. The skills he needed to amass that fortune were not those he would have learned in school. That is not to downgrade education but to highlight the narrowness of the curriculum in the past. I hope the Minister continues her good work in support of guidance counsellors.

I apologise to the House for my inability to be here earlier. I was on standby in the Dáil to pontificate on a subject which I am sure is dear to the hearts of Independent Senators and the House. I thank the Minister of State for making the speech. I acknowledge the use of the Seanad in dealing with an issue on which we have much to say. I will look at the debate to see if there are indications of change. I take Senator Lee's point about not requiring funding at this time but if it becomes available, I will be informed by contributions from all sides.

Gabhaim buíochas leis na Seanadóirí a thug óráidí agus don Aire as ucht a cuirtéis agus as ucht an méid atá ráite aici. I thank the Minister for covering both Chambers this evening. It occurs to me, having listened to the discussion, that I should have taken a little more time to introduce the forum and its origins. I understand it emerged from an initiative by Fr. John Dunne at a meeting in January of last year at which people from different organisations were present. It has brought together several partners, including IBEC and the ICTU, which were not mentioned hitherto. They have met six times and are compiling a directory of services. It is sensible to begin by trying to identify what is available and what is going on. The reasons for coming together were the sense of duplication or overlapping and the gaps which were not being serviced. These are time consuming activities.

The one emphasis in Senator Ormonde's speech I would query — she made a valuable contribution — is that when voluntary bodies come together, and we know how difficult it can be to get two bodies, together much less a cluster of bodies, it is important they establish an atmosphere of mutual trust and that they go at their own pace initially. This facilitates more rapid advance subsequently than if somebody appears to be trying to force the pace for a particular agenda. This then facilitates a more rapid advance subsequently than if somebody appears to be trying to force the pace for a particular agenda, because where there are potential conflicting interests or turf wars, it is vitally important that guidance counsellors should be inculcating the teamwork of which we all spoke. It is something which they demonstrate in the way they co-ordinate their activities. I would have said that they had gone at just the right pace for them at this particular stage. I agree it would be worthwhile to return next year to ask what has happened in the intervening year to take the progress further and see what has occurred. They ought to be encouraged and thanked for their initiative.

It so happens that we are all singing the same song. My concern is that we should sing it louder and it should be heard more clearly outside. I say that for a number of reasons. We are very conscious of the changing world of work and life and of change as an integral part of the type of world into which young people are emerging, and the Minister's paper refers to that clearly. Many parents are not yet alert to that and one can see it in the response of parents to their child's leaving certificate results. If a child does not get a particular result, somehow they are failures and they are branded for life as such because they did not achieve the objective which the parent had marked out based on the parent's recollections of the appropriate career path of their own generation. It is vitally important to break down that barrier between generations and change that cast of mind in the face of changing realities. That is one reason raising consciousness about these matters is important for both parents and children.

I will run through the paper and pick out a few points, some of which I want to respond to positively. It talks about ensuring the relevance of subjects to the needs of students. If there are two words in the entire vocabulary of Her Majesty's English which disturb the normal tranquility of my temperment, they are the words "relevance" and "needs". I am not of course opposed to relevance. Who could possibly be opposed to relevance? It is like being against virtue. Nor am I opposed to needs. They exist, but who decides and on what critieria does one decide what needs are at any given moment and what is relevant to those needs at that particular moment? "Relevant to needs" is a facade which simply pushes the thought process one stage further back and obliges one to ask what one really means by it. In particular, where we accept we are in a stream, if not a torrent, of change, where young people have 50 or 60 years ahead of them, how far ahead can we anticipate needs, what is relevant to this particular moment or to our capacity to see a few years ahead if, that is possible? How are we to determine what is relevant to the totality of their needs over their entire lifespan?

However, I was mollified on reflection when Senator Quinn stressed that the essence of education at all levels, vocational leaving certificate, traditional leaving certificate and university, is not what to learn but how to learn, because that is a need which is relevant throughout the entire 60 years. I agree entirely with him. That is the essence of really good teaching. I always tell my history students in first year that I will not teach them what to think historically, but if I had not succeeded in teaching them how to think historically it is because I am a failure, they are a failure or both. If that is what is meant by the paper, I am in entire agreement with it. Otherwise, I go very cold when I hear "relevant to needs" as an educational philosophy unless one explains what one means by needs — whose needs, what timespan, how far ahead, etc.? It is a shorthand which can frequently conceal more than it actually reveals. However, the Minister sees how graciously I have withdrawn the original implied rebuke.

The Minister talks of the importance of the work of the guidance counsellors becoming integrated with the core work of the school. That is exactly the objective of a great number of this evening's contributions, and we would be entirely in agreement with her on that matter. It is a question of chipping away at it and ensuring it happens. When she talks about the guidance counsellor having the responsibility of working alongside the principal, parents and the community, that is the crucial issue, because of course parents are traditionally central to pupils' choices. What do we now find in the period of change? I must add that much of the change is positive; I am an enthusiast for change, by and large. We find a generation of parents who, unlike their children, have not had access to education. Parents, however well intentioned, will in many cases through no fault of their own be in no position to advise their children on their choice of the 3,000 courses on offer at third level, for instance. How on earth are they to decide how to advise on such matters?

In a sense, many parents are and feel marooned by the pace of change in education. They are looking around for good advice. I saw the Minister's later reference to providing extra resources for disadvantaged areas, etc. Where we find that guidance counsellors must, in a sense, cope with the parents as well as with the children of those parents who come from very disadvantaged backgrounds and are the victims of society at large and not simply of the school they attend, different skills may be required in certain cases for counselling pupils and counselling their parents. That is where I would see scope for co-ordination and co-operation between counsellors who come from different backgrounds and organisations.

Senator Ormonde said she would like to see local development precede national developments. I would be an enthusiastic advocate of local developments because that is where it must happen; but I would not see them as mutually exclusive, and I am sure she would not either, because if there is no sense of direction from the national organisations it is very difficult for people at local level to subsititute their own individual sense of direction for a vacuum at the top. These must be coordinated and they are mutually supportive rather than mutually exclusive.

I welcome the Minister's list of additional posts, etc. All those steps are very worthwhile. I thank her for them and I appreciate them. Her comments on training for people with disabilities and guidance counselling are welcome as is the emphasis on the integrated approach between practitioners.

There is a slight hint throughout the paper of Government, agencies and Departments as if they are the driving forces. I am not saying the Minister intends this but, this is as it comes across in terms of the tonalities. She talks of the National Guidance Forum having a useful role to play in implementation. I would say it has a useful role to play in conceptualising and injecting ideas as well as simply implementing policy decided elsewhere. It seems it is very much a parallel body and not in any way subordinate to the formation of policy by Departments, etc. Again, the degree of co-ordination between official policy and voluntary organisations is a test of our capacity for co-operation and co-ordination.

This paper emanates from the Department of Education and, therefore, rightly focuses on the guidance counsellors in the schools, but this motion stresses the lifelong learning aspect of the matter. I know, as I said in my introduction, that we are well ahead on the rhetorical and reality stakes in implementing the philosophy of lifelong learning; but it seems the need for effective guidance counselling for adults in terms of the range of career changes and adjusting from job loss to new jobs, if the unemployment problem can be contained, is an equally important aspect of the activity. Part of the role of the job of the forum is to blend education in the formal sense and the advice and counselling for adults.

This both imposes enormous responsibilities and offers enormous challenges and opportunities to guidance counsellors. They must keep abreast of the change, of which they are a part. Therefore, an integral part of guidance counsellors' ability to discharge their responsibilities effectively is their having the opportunity to continuously re-educate themselves for the changes occurring. Guidance counsellors must be at the heart of returning to education, in-service training, etc.

The Senator had five minutes to reply and has exhausted his time.

I urge the Minister to keep integration at the centre of her thinking.

Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.