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Supporting pupils: A study of guidance and pupil support in Scottish schools


Supporting pupils: A study of guidance and pupil support in Scottish schools

8: Key issues and discussion

8.1 Introduction

This study confirms that guidance/pupil support is a complex issue about which various stakeholders have different perceptions and often strong opinions. The provision of effective school-based pupil support has implications not only for primary and secondary education but also for other Government initiatives which aim to raise attainment, reduce absence from school, improve social inclusion, mainstream pupils/young people with additional learning needs, provide individualised learning plans, ease the transition from school to employment, reduce youth crime, and improve the urban environment. There are also implications for other professions as schools develop increasing links with educational psychologists, social and community workers, the Careers Service, health workers, community police, and parents to help them support young people with complex needs.

8.2 Key findings

8.2.1 Guidance has a history in Scotland, the UK and abroad

In Scottish secondary schools 'guidance', in some form, can trace its origins back to the 1950s. It became formalised through the documents Guidance in Scottish Secondary Schools , The Structure of Promoted Posts in Secondary Schools in Scotland , and More Than Feelings of Concern . There has traditionally been a tri-partite division of guidance into educational, vocational, and personal guidance. From 1971, guidance staff were appointed at Assistant Principal Teacher, Principal Teacher, and Assistant Headteacher levels. Their numbers depended on the size of the school roll. No equivalent structure was developed in Scottish primary schools, where the term 'guidance' is rarely used.

8.2.2 Guidance/pupil support is organised in different ways

Most local authorities (69%) produced either a policy or guidelines on pupil guidance. However, there were few sets of guidelines for primary or special schools. Eight (8) out of 26 local authorities (31%) employed a guidance adviser, and seven (27%) had made guidance part of the remit of some other post, such as Education Officer or Curriculum Development Officer. Most aspects of guidance were devolved to schools to at least some extent and in most authorities schools decided time allocations for aspects of guidance. Local authorities' estimates showed that the ratio of pupil to guidance staff averaged 198:1 but this ranged from 125:1 through to 270:1 across different authorities.

There is a mixed picture about what recommendations authorities make to schools about different aspects of guidance provision. Fifteen authorities (58%) recommend that pupils have the same guidance teacher throughout their school career. There is also a mixed picture about whether authorities have guidelines regarding involving parents. Most do have guidelines about communicating with parents but most such guidelines are for the whole school (or the whole authority) and not specifically for guidance staff.

8.2.3 Provision is already changing: 'drivers' of change?

As noted in 8.2.2 above, no one system of 'guidance'/pupil support emerged from this study. The picture is further complicated by the fact that a number of schools and authorities have already begun to change their existing systems. In at least six local authorities, former Assistant Principal Teachers have been appointed to 'acting PT' posts pending decisions about the restructuring of guidance/pupil support. Twenty-five local authority respondents (96%) reported that they were reviewing their structures, so we can anticipate further changes to the way guidance/pupil support is organised. The major challenges which authorities thought guidance provision faced are: adapting to the new structures post the McCrone agreement (88%); providing training and support for all staff (38%); maintaining the quality of provision (31%); maintaining staff morale (23%); the 'widening remit of guidance' (19%); tracking and monitoring pupil progress (19%); and extending 'guidance' to primary schools (12%). In addition, many teacher respondents, especially in primary schools, pointed to the increasing pressure resulting from social inclusion policies: they believed that meeting the support needs of children with complex social and learning needs inevitably demanded more time and resources.

8.2.4 Different models have emerged

Two models of organising guidance/pupil support emerged from the case studies: one, we have referred to as an 'embedded' approach, and the other relies on the deployment of specialist guidance/pupil support staff. The primary and special school case studies all embedded pupil support within the school, its ethos, policies and practices. Primary and special school teachers all viewed pupil support as an integral part of their professional role and an integral part of learning and teaching. In contrast, guidance/pupil support in the four secondary school case studies relied on different variations of a 'specialist model': Case Study E used a 'traditional approach' to guidance in which most Principal Teachers of guidance provided pupil support and also taught other subjects. (However, three were also full-time.) Case Studies D and F employed full-time guidance staff who taught only PSE; and Case Study G had introduced a large team of 21 staff, which integrated pastoral care and learning support. Given that guidance is under review in 25 local authorities, we anticipate that more schools will either be changing or contemplating changing their guidance provision.

8.2.5 Most pupils are happy

Primary pupils presented a very positive picture of their schools: 82% were happy, 98% liked their teacher, and 91% liked themselves. They made very few suggestions for ways in which pupil support in their schools could be improved. In addition, most primary pupils reported that, faced with problems, they would tell 'someone', rather than 'keep it a secret'. Most special school pupils, who participated in a focus group, liked school and were satisfied with the support they received. Overall secondary school pupils, who responded to our survey, were also positive about their lives and school experiences. Three-quarters of pupils (75%) in the four case study secondary schools indicated that they were happy (ranging from 80% to 70% of pupils). Rather surprisingly, pupils in Case Study F (a school located in an area of multiple deprivation in which 54% of pupils were entitled to free school meals and where only 4% of S4 pupils gained 5+ awards at Level 5 of the Scottish Credit and Qualification Framework Intermediate 2) were the happiest of all pupil respondents.

8.2.6 Most parents are content with the support their children have received

Overall, parents of primary pupils appeared to be satisfied with the support their children received. Ninety per cent (90%) were satisfied with pupil support (59%, very satisfied; 31%, satisfied) and all the parents of pupils in the special school were satisfied with the support their children had received (81%, very satisfied; 19%, satisfied). Ninety-nine per cent (99%) of parents of secondary school pupils were satisfied with the pupil support available in their children's schools (48%, very satisfied; and 51%, satisfied). Parents also praised individual guidance staff for helping children/young people and their families through particular traumatic incidents, such as bereavement. Few parents of children in any sector made any suggestions for ways in which guidance/pupil support might be improved.

8.2.7 Pupils who use guidance/pupil support

There was little difference between the percentage of boys and girls who reported that they would discuss problems/issues with other people. Almost equal numbers of primary school boys and girls would tell someone if they were being bullied, were concerned about schoolwork, or were frightened of a teacher. However, primary school boys were more likely than girls to tell their headteacher if they were worried about their health (32% of boys; 12% of girls) and their parents about 'personal things' (47% of boys; 33% of girls). Girls may be more discriminating in their choice of confidantes and shared their confidences with parents/guardians, siblings, other relatives, friends, teachers and other members of staff. No gender differences emerged from secondary school respondents except in Case Study E where girls were twice as likely as boys to report having seen a Guidance teacher. There was, however, a strong association between pupil self-esteem and gender: 57% of higher esteem respondents and 38% of lower self-esteem respondents were male. Across all four schools, pupils with low self-esteem were as likely to have been seen by guidance staff as those with high self-esteem. However, in Case Study E, girls were almost twice as likely as boys to have seen a guidance teacher. In all four schools, girls and boys who had seen a guidance teacher were equally likely to be satisfied with that experience. (98% reported the experience as helpful or very helpful.)

8.2.8 Pupils who may needs guidance

Across all the cases study schools, a number of pupils/young people reported that they would talk to 'no one' about 'personal things' or specific problems: the percentage unwilling to talk about 'personal things' ranged across the primary school case study schools from 6% in Case Study A to 22% in Case Study C. Across the secondary school case studies, 7% of pupil respondents indicated that they would not share their problems with a teacher; 15% of pupils (ranging from 20% in Case Study G to 12% in Case Study F) reported that they would discuss 'problems at home' with no one; 11%; would not talk to anyone about bullying, 11% about worries about health (range: 15% in Case study G to 8% in Case Study D); and 13% about drug worries (range: 18%, Case Study G to 9% Case Study F). In addition pupils in Case Study G were also more likely to indicate talking to no one about course choice (range 13% Case Study G to 6% Case Study D). Given the centrality of these issues/concerns to the education of developing young people, this should be a cause for concern.

8.2.9 What seems to work

There is no evidence from this study than one way of organising guidance/pupil support was more or less successful than any other. Pupils and their parents were equally satisfied with the model they had experienced. We found no association between approaches to guidance/pupil support and absence levels or attainment. Four schools (Case Studies B, C, F and G) had authorised absence levels above their authority's average in 2002/03; and Case Study F recorded attainment (Level Intermediate 2) lower than its authority's average for 2002/03. In contrast attainment at the same level in Case Studies D and G was higher and Case Study E the same as its local authority average. Few pupils made suggestions for ways in which guidance/pupil support could be improved. The evidence shows that changing the model of guidance/pupil support does not necessarily encourage more pupils to discuss their problems/issues of concern with guidance staff, it merely redistributes the caseload to more and different members of staff. We formed the impression from pupil informants that they regarded the personal qualities of their chosen advisors to be more important than the system within which they worked. Pupils were in agreement that they wanted staff that knew them, were interested in them, could give advice about life and maintain their confidences. There was also a tendency for pupils to differentiate between school-related and personal problems in their choice of advisor. Most primary school pupil respondents (86%) would talk to teachers about problems with schoolwork; but 89% would talk to their mum and dad about health problems, and 80%, if they were afraid of a teacher. Only 6% would talk to teachers about 'personal issues'. Seventy-one (71%) of secondary school respondents would approach a subject teacher about problems with class work and 66% about homework problems. Guidance /pupil support staff were more frequently cited as a source of help in dealing with problems arising from pupils' relationships with teachers (58%); bullying (60%); advice about their future (57%); worries about drugs (56%) and subject choice (60%). However, only 29% would turn to their guidance/pupil support staff about health worries.

8.2.10 What do staff think

Most primary, secondary and special schoolteacher respondents thought that all teachers have a duty of care for pupils. However, differences across the sectors emerged when teachers were asked whether they thought that all teachers should have a guidance function: almost all teachers in the special school case study agreed, as did 90% of primary teachers, but only 44% of secondary teacher respondents. Differences also emerged in the terminology used in each sector. Teachers, pupils and their parents in primary and special schools rarely used the term 'guidance'. Typically, they considered 'pupil support' to be an integral part of the organisation of the school and teachers' professional role within it. Most primary school teachers (88%) reported that they were involved with pupil support. All were satisfied with the current pupil support available in their schools (80%, very satisfied; and 20%, satisfied). However, a number indicated that social inclusion policies were increasing the pupil support demands being made of staff. Seventy-eight per cent (78%) of secondary school staff respondents indicated that they were involved with guidance/pupil support (38%, frequently; and 41%, occasionally). Ninety-six per cent (96%) were satisfied (46%, very satisfied; 50%, satisfied) with the current pupil guidance/pastoral care available in their school. One school (Case Study G) no longer used the term 'guidance'.

8.2.11 Developing multi-professional links

Nineteen local authorities (73%) provided information on the extent to which guidance/pupil support was supported by other professions/services. Many defined this widely to encompass integrated working between different departments within the authority, within schools and with external agencies. The most frequently mentioned links were with the Careers Service (20 authorities; 76%) and 'Psychological Services' (18; 69%). Thirteen local authorities (50%) reported that they had structures in place to facilitate integrated working; eight (30%) mentioned Joint Action/Assessment Teams. Twelve local authorities (46%) judged that the growing inter-agency links were successful. However, six (23%) thought that it was too early to tell. Six (23%) cited staff shortages or staff changes as factors, which hindered successful inter-agency working. Many teacher informants appreciated the need to work with members of other professions in order to provide an effective guidance/support service for pupils. Many reported that they already worked with a range of other professionals, especially those who taught in 'New Community Schools' where 'Joint Assessment Teams' had been established. Contacts were reported to be increasing as schools implemented social inclusion policies. Most pupils appeared to be unaware of inter-agency working and few parents made any reference to inter-agency working.

Key informants from other professions thought that teachers should participate in inter-agency working but suggested that staff shortages, especially in Educational Psychology and Social Work Departments, might hinder progress. This echoed the views of other informants, namely teachers and local authorities. Members of other professions believed that inter-agency pupil support worked well at a personal level where members of different professions know each other and had established good communication. However, pupil confidentiality, sharing information amongst different professional services, and systematic divisions could be problematic.

8.2.12 Training for guidance/pupil support

Informants identified opportunities for improving their knowledge of guidance/pupil support during initial teacher education and continuing professional development courses. Students undergoing initial teacher education thought that their introduction to 'guidance/pupil support' was strong in elective subjects, but needed to be addressed in more detail in the core programme for the benefit of all students. Their lecturers in HEIs were aware of certain gaps in provision and had either begun the process of attempting to address these, or suggested specific ways in which the provision could be enhanced in the future.

Most local authorities (88%) provided some form of CPD, in-service or staff development in guidance/pupil support for the teachers whom they employed. Some opportunities were open to all teachers and not restricted to guidance/pupil support staff. Thirteen local authorities (50%) supported staff that wished to undertake Postgraduate Certificates or Diplomas in Guidance and Counselling.

Case study primary school teachers pointed to the paucity of opportunities for them to develop their knowledge and skills in this area. This lack of training became particularly acute when teachers had to cope with violent or disruptive pupils in schools sited in areas of multiple deprivation. Case study secondary school teachers highlighted the importance of personal qualities, motivation and experience for guidance/pupil support staff; they also believed that appropriate training could complement these. Some case study support staff wished to be included in in-service events with teachers so that they could learn how to play a more effective role in supporting pupils.

Members of other professions identified the ability to listen to children as the prime skill, which they thought that all teachers needed to develop: they thought that only some teachers were required to develop higher level counselling skills.

8.2.13 The costs of guidance/pupil support

Although it was beyond the remit of this study to report on the costs and benefits of different ways of providing guidance/pupil support, there are cost implications, which cannot be ignored. It is clear from the evidence from the case study schools that most staff believe they have 'a duty of care' for pupils/young people. In addition, a number of staff in each school (ranging from 4 to 23, depending on the model of pupil support adopted) are engaged either full-time or for a proportion of their time in a pupil support role. Teacher respondents also raised the issue of how they spend their time, some seeing time spent supporting pupils as eroding their teaching time. We think that the cost and resource implications of each model needs further exploration.

8.3 Implications

A number of important issues emerge from this study, which have implications for the way 'guidance'/pupil support is organised in Scottish schools. Our findings confirm the following points.

  • Need for guidance/pupil support: All adult respondents (local authorities, headteachers, teachers and members of other professions) recognise the need for pupils/young people in schools to be supported effectively throughout their school careers. There was no general agreement amongst respondents about how this should be structured and who should deliver it.
  • Different models of guidance/pupil support: Primary, secondary and special schools have developed different structures/models for supporting pupils. These can be classified into two broad categories: 'embedded' support and 'specialist' guidance approaches. Evidence from the case studies shows that pupil support is more likely to be embedded in primary and special schools. In contrast, each secondary school case deployed a variation of a specialist guidance model. This distinction may be entirely appropriate and we think that schools should be allowed to develop guidance/pupil support provision which meets local needs.
  • Provision is changing: Guidance/pupil support concepts and systems were clearly changing. Respondents pointed out that social inclusion policies had brought more teachers into contact with members of other agencies. Secondary school respondents reported that their school's guidance/pupil support system had either changed or was about to change following the teachers' terms and conditions agreement (McCrone, 2000). In some cases staff reported that morale had been adversely affected. Case Study G had integrated pastoral care and learning support in 1997.
  • Pupils' views: Most primary, secondary and special school pupils who responded to our survey or were interviewed in focus groups, reported that they were happy at school, expressed a reasonable level of confidence and self-esteem and were largely satisfied with the support they were receiving. Rather surprisingly, their satisfaction levels appeared to be unrelated to the system of guidance/support offered by their school.
  • A variety of strategies: Pupils appeared to exercise choice as far as was possible, within the various 'guidance'/pupil support systems. They wanted staff who supported them to know them, care about them, respect their confidences, and be someone with whom they could get along. They also choose to take school-related problems to teachers/guidance staff, but reserved personal or health issues for parents and others.
  • An excluded group? Across all the case study schools, irrespective of the system of pupil support in place in the particular school, a percentage of pupils reported that they would tell 'no one' if they had a problem. This ranged from 2% in Case Study B who would tell no one if they were afraid of a teacher to 20% in Case Study G who would tell no one about problems at home. It is possible that some of these may be disaffected but it is equally possible that they merely demonstrate higher levels of self-reliance than other pupil respondents. However on balance, we believe that further efforts should be made to ensure that pupils/young people are offered more choice of support person, so that the number of young people willing to talk to no one is minimised.
  • A question of entitlement: Parents stressed that guidance/pupil support has become associated almost exclusively with pupils with problems, leaving little time for others to see support staff. We believe that all pupils should have an entitlement to pupil support and schools should make this clear to pupils and their parents.
  • Specialist versus generalist: Teachers in different sectors expressed strong views about the organisation of guidance/pupil support into 'specialist' versus 'generalist' provision. However, we found no evidence to show that one approach is more effective than another. In schools with full-time guidance staff, pupils are more likely to approach them, whereas pupils in schools with part-time guidance staff are more likely to contact a range of teachers. Both sets of pupils were equally satisfied with the support they received.
  • Role clarification: Given that teachers are expected to contribute to guidance/pupil support in the future, we think that morale might be improved if their employers clarified what is expected of teachers who work within these evolving guidance/pupil support systems.
  • Training in pupil support: Currently students in training are introduced to pupil support as part of their initial teacher education and continuing professional development is available for existing teachers. Two gaps have emerged from this study: firstly, primary school teachers think there is a paucity of CPD in pupil support; and secondly, class/tutor group teachers want help in identifying the point at which they should pass problems/issues on to guidance staff. This was not the case in Case Study D where the remit had been clarified.
  • Multi-agency working is advocated: Local authorities and schools have already begun to work with members of other professions and other agencies in order to address the complex pupil support needs of some pupils. There are, however, tensions inherent in multi-agency working because each agency has its own priorities. These need clarifying and potential conflicts resolved.
  • Guidance/pupil support is costly: Although providing a cost and benefit analysis is beyond the scope of this current study, it is evident that many teachers believe that guidance/pupil support is making increasing demands on schools and teachers' time at the expense of valuable teaching time. The value for money of alternative approaches to guidance/pupil support needs exploring.
  • A flexible system: There is insufficient evidence for us to be able to recommend one approach to the provision of guidance/pupil support. Much depends on the school, its ethos, the knowledge and commitment of staff, and the relationships which have been developed between staff and pupils, parents and members of other professions. Given these multiple influences, we recommend that schools should continue to develop flexible approaches to guidance/pupil support.