Threat to quality of school counselling

Michael Sciffer
Federation Executive member

School counsellors' credibility in schools is based on their proven capacity to teach

The school counselling service is under threat from a Department proposal to abandon the requirement for school counsellors to have both teaching and psychology qualifications.

Filling school counsellor positions with psychologists runs counter to the aims of Great Teaching, Inspired Learning. This policy reflects the joint commitment by the Department, the Education Ministry and the Federation to higher standards of university teacher education, qualifications, accreditation, performance and development, and school leadership.

Cutting the standards of the role of school counsellors is a diminution of the service and expertise schools have come to rely upon from the state counselling service.

This move would also be a breach of the Baird Government’s election commitment to increase the number of school counsellors by 236 full-time equivalent positions.

School counsellors are teachers with post-graduate qualifications in psychology. Many school counsellors hold dual-professional accreditation as teachers and psychologists. This is in recognition of the pre-eminence of learning support in the role of the school counselling service. School counsellors are not part of the public health system, but part of the public education system. Their credibility in schools is based on their proven capacity to teach.

Filling school counsellor positions with unqualified teachers is the first step in undermining the integrity of the teaching service. It is equivalent to arguing that business administrators could be principals, speech therapists could be kindergarten teachers and sports coaches could be PE teachers. The basic assumption is that any professional can be a teacher.

School counsellors have expertise in syllabus stage statements and outcomes; formative and summative curriculum assessment; syllabus programming; supporting students with special education needs through curriculum, assessment and teaching modifications; BOSTES requirements for special provisions; HSC assessment requirements; the Literacy and Numeracy Continua; evidence-based learning interventions; the Quality Teaching Framework; classroom behaviour management and managing complex classrooms.

Schools counsellors rely on their teaching expertise when counselling students. They draw on their classroom experience when helping students understand the behavioural expectations of schools. Their understanding of curriculum and pedagogy gives them the insight to support students struggling with learning or the challenges of assessments.

Psychologists who are not school counsellors lack the demonstrated professional expertise of teachers as outlined in the BOSTES Standards. They do not know students and how they learn. They cannot design teaching strategies that are responsive to the local community and cultural setting, linguistic background and histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island students.

Psychologists do not know the content and how to teach it. They cannot apply knowledge and understanding of effective teaching strategies to support students’ literacy and numeracy achievement.

Psychologists cannot plan for and implement effective teaching and learning. They cannot plan for appropriate and contextually relevant opportunities for parents and carers to be involved in their children’s learning.

Psychologists cannot create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments. They cannot ensure students’ wellbeing and safety within schools by implementing curriculum requirements.

Psychologists cannot assess, provide feedback and report on student learning. They cannot use student assessment data to analyse and evaluate student understanding of subject content, identifying interventions and modifying teaching practice.

A shared commitment to higher standards by Federation and Department has been evident in recent policy developments. If the same approach is not applied on this vital issue, it would be damaging for public schooling.

As a profession, it is our responsibility to collectively protect our high standards of practice and the quality of support for student learning and wellbeing.

Michael Sciffer is a school counsellor.