Secondary School Guidance Systems


Throughout my career I’ve been impressed by a succession of outstanding Guidance Teachers. Without fail they are driven by a commitment to support and help children and to solve any crisis which comes their way.

However, (you were waiting for that) does the system which has been in place for so many years – certainly throughout my career – need to change? “But surely it has changed – just look at how structures have changed with faculty heads, first line guidance structures, tracking and monitoring, inclusion teams, etc, etc?”

I would concede that superficial changes have been made and maybe that’s been enough. But I’ve been reading For Scotland’s Children again there are a number of things in that report which we should be considering – and upon which we should make a judgement.

It’s really to do with targeting services – in a time when resources are under pressure and schools need more and more support to meet the needs of vulnerable children and families can we continue with the existing dominant Guidance model which characterises most of our secondary schools?

For Scotland’s Children challenges us to target services:

“Each children’s services plan should set out how two main aims will be achieved:

  • Providing excellent universal services for all
  • Targeting additional services to meet need and reduce inequalities.”

The recent report into Guidance and Pupil  Support in Schools identified two models of Guidance:

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’  8.2.4

What is interesting is that the researchers found no evidence to suggest that one model was better than another:

“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.”8.2.9

Nor was there any evidence to show that changing the model of guidance/pupil support necessarily encouraged more pupils to discuss their problems/issues of concern with guidance staff, but that it merely redistributed the caseload to more and different members of staff.

The Report noted that 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. 8.3

The last sentence in this bullet point under implications of the report needs to be properly considered. My own gut feeling is that we should be considering more of an ’embedded’ structure more akin to primary or special schools as oppsed to a ‘specialist’ model. I don’t believe that all pupils need a dedicated Guidance Teacher, nor do I think that PSE should be delivered as a separate subject – it should be embedded in the curriculum. All pupils should have a link with a teacher – and there are numerous ways in which this can be acheived thgough the development of  systems where all pupils have an entitlement to support when required.

The report considers Generalist Versus Specialist Teachers and found that pupils were equally satisfied with each.

In  my next post I’ll explore some alternative models which might enable us to target our resouces more effectively upon those pupils who are the greatest need.

4 thoughts on “Secondary School Guidance Systems

  1. Just happened upon your blog as I was going to add to mine, and had to add my tuppence worth!
    As you know I believe there is a lot that can be learned not only from the primaries, and from other schools and authorities.
    We are all in danger of becoming too isolated in the minutae of today’s children, teaching and their concerns that we often lose sight of the bigger picture.
    Having worked in several authorities and in all stages of schooling from nursery to secondary, I wholeheartedly agree that we need to look to others for proven good practice, adopt it, modify if necessary, and aim to go for a coherent and sustainable way forward.
    We are in danger of becoming overswamped with initiatives, and often it is a question of seeking advice and guidance from those who have proven track records in achievement. Review and updating practice and policies is essential, but let us not forget where we have come from.
    When I start out in primary teaching 18years ago, our planning consisted of brainstorming a topic area eg Minibeasts; a Novel; People Who Help Us etc and from that came Language, Maths, Environmental Studies, Art, Drama.
    To some extent this is still the case in nurseries.
    Time to walk before we run and get a long term, broad view.

  2. Thanks Charli. Your cross-sectoral experience gives you a unique perspective on these issues. What do you think about embedded or specialist models of guidance?

  3. It’s an interesting question. As PT Pupil Support my immediate reaction is to say “of course we need Guidance teachers!”, and I can honestly say the people with whom I work do a tremendous job supporting youngsters, however, an embedded approach may encourage more teachers to become more ‘involved’ with more of the youngsters. This has potentially positive and negative connotations. Pupil teacher relationships could be improved. The resources freed could be used to specifically target more vulnerable students. But might it take away from teaching time for subject teachers? Might it mean a greater possibility of a youngster ‘falling through the net’ because nobody has, or takes, ultimate responsiblitiy for their welfare?
    For me the embedded approach intuitively seems well suited to the primary model, with a single teacher having over-arching responsibility for the class, but I may have this view because I’ve never seen it in action in secondary schools.
    I think a huge part of the role of the Guidance teacher is being an effective administrator, and that is the one part of the job that I’ve always been slightly wary of, there is an enormous amount of paper generated , some of a very sensitive nature, about youngsters and in my experience the Guidance Teacher is the person who generally ends up ‘fielding’ much of it. Is this the best use of time and money?
    I would like to see the embedded approach in action in a secondary school before passing any judgement on it.

  4. This is my second attempt at this comment, the last version vanished!

    I know this post is now quite ancienct, but the issue is still very much current. It’s really interesting reading back these references to the ’embedded’ approach now that we have the 4 capacities and Health & Well-being as the Responsibility of All.

    I have worked in a school where the embedded approach was used, and I strongly feel that this system provides a better and more efficient method of pastoral care for young people in the secondary school. This is in no way a criticism of the dedicated and hard working guidance teachers – more a relfection on the system as a whole.

    The primary difference for me between the two systems is – when every teacher has a pastoral responsibility, all pupils have a teacher who knows them well.

    In my school in England I was a tutor. I saw my tutor group twice every day for registration. I also taught them PSHE for 40 minutes per week. I also taught them Science as the school had a policy of trying to match teachers to their tutor groups where possible. I regularly met with the pupils individually to discuss progress and set targets. I was the first point of contact for my pupils and if there were any issues, I dealt with them first. I also wrote a brief report on their general progress and achievements each year. As a result of this system every young person in the school had a teacher who knew them well, and saw them daily. I was supported by a Head of Year, who was promoted but still primarily a classroom teacher, and my colleagues in my year team.

    Compare this to a system where pupils see their registration teacher daily, but as they have no real pastoral involvement/responsibility/information they don’t really get to know them. They might see their guidance teacher weekly for PSE lessons, but they might not. And for the ‘average’ pupil they will have an interview with their guidance teacher perhaps twice per year.

    In which of these two systems is the typical pupil being encouraged, supported, monitored and understood on a daily basis?

    Perhaps with CfE, it’s time to take the opportunity to step back and reflect on what would be the best system in a Secondary School to support our young people?

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