I propose to take Questions Nos. 249 and 251 together.
The Department does not currently have plans for a national school-based counselling programme at primary-school level. NEPS provides consultation for school staff who may have concerns about individual pupils or students. NEPS supports schools in putting interventions in place for individuals with clearly identified and serious difficulties. Consultation in relation to appropriate therapeutic interventions delivered in the school setting is also available. When counselling is considered to be required a referral is made to an outside agency. Schools are advised to have identified appropriate referral pathways in consultation with HSE and other mental health services in their local community. NEPS helps schools in the process of making referrals to external agencies as appropriate for students who require more specialised interventions. NEPS Guidelines for Schools on Responding to Critical Incidents provide advice for schools in handling critical incidents and also advises about prevention and early intervention strategies for students at risk.
The Department of Education and Skills promotes a comprehensive and whole-school approach to the promotion of wellbeing and positive mental health focusing on the entire school community, as well as groups and individual young people with identified need.
As Minister for Education and Skills, I attended the annual conference of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) in Letterkenny last month. I am keenly aware of the issues and challenges facing young people today and the valuable role played by the school guidance counselling service as an integral part of the school’s pastoral care and student support structures to promote student wellbeing at whole-school level. It is important to acknowledge the key role, supports and advice provided by NEPS in this regard.
Every post-primary school is required to publish a whole-school guidance plan in which the school outlines how students can be supported.
Well-being in Primary and Post-Primary Schools Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion (2015) provide a Framework for all schools, including primary schools, to present in an integrated way the existing elements of good practice to promote social and emotional learning, and mental health and direct then to appropriate practice. They provide clear information for schools and for agencies supporting schools on how to address issues of social emotional learning and mental health promotion. The European-wide HSE supported, Health Promoting School Process (HSP) is also outlined, and the Well-being Guidelines show how the HSP can be introduced to schools to complement existing good practice. The Guidelines outline how schools support young people through early intervention and prevention, modelled on the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) Continuum of Support tiered approach.
Wellbeing spans the curriculum in schools, whole-school ethos, quality of teaching, learning and assessment, student support and the provision of professional development for teachers. It also involves other supports such as educational psychological services and guidance and counselling services, and the interface with other agencies, both nationally and locally. Each school receives an allocation in respect of Guidance Provision. It is calculated by reference to the approved enrolment, including PLC students as set out in Department Circular 14/2019. The Action Plan for Education 2016-2019 has a specific action to enhance guidance counselling at second-level as resources permit and to date 500 of the 600 guidance posts that were withdrawn in Budget 2012, were restored to schools from September 2018. These posts have been ring-fenced so they can only be used for guidance activities and to meet the guidance needs of the school.
The Department has committed considerable resources towards the restoration of guidance counselling hours to post-primary schools, to the provision of CPD for guidance counsellors and to the provision of a national guidance counselling supervision service for post-primary guidance counsellors.