The Role of Counsellors in Schools under Pastoral Care Network
Today’s generation is now radically different from the many generations in the past. Children in schools face myriad complexities concerning the school settings, regulations, and environment. The ideal school setup should follow a certain kind of programme that is merged and incorporated into the life system of the whole school. This is supposedly significant and transformational from the start to the end of the learning process, both of the counsellor and of the student.
However, knowing that other factors come into play with such programmes, there are optimal prospects or options for producing positive and long-term results. In this light, this essay seeks to outline and describe the landscape within which a school counsellor operates and functions within a pastoral network. It aims to investigate the necessity of and closely examine the role that defines the school counsellors within the context of a pastoral network. Past and present data were gathered and studied to explain and challenge the assumption that counsellors are not really needed in a holistically geared pastoral network. It is also assumed, in contrast, that existing schools with similar thrust and that adheres to the specific construct that pastoral care is entailed in every area of the educational setting, proves that there is indeed a need for the role of a school counsellor carefully and strictly qualified and selected for the benefit of the greater organisation.
A counselling programme in school must be presented in such a way that it pursues a very enthusiastic vision of what its capabilities and contributions can bring about at present and in the future. Furthermore, the presentation must be culturally sensitive that it transcends the cultural differences of the stakeholders, which in this case are the students. This can be achieved as the school administration and the counsellor/s seek to answer the academic, emotional and moral demands of a pluralistic society. It is also important to holistically empower every individual student in resolving and coping with their developmental or physical and psychological problems, whenever possible (Lee, 2001). It follows then that the counsellor/s will consider all these factors in the context of a pastoral network wherein there is a conceived distinct mission underlying the school’s overall operations and overshadowing the whole thrust of the school’s educational stance, position or great network.
The school counsellor acts, in general, as a mediator between the teachers and students, or other staff and management, besides other definitive roles that are normally taken on. This is common or typical both in the public and private setting. However, there are various questions that arise concerning the necessity for a school counsellor when in the context of a pastoral network. The philosophical worldviews upheld are that of a total caring atmosphere for the total person. This is expected from the highest echelon down to the lowest ranking educator or influencer in the school. Thus, it is apparent that such an inquiry (the necessity of a school counsellor or a duplication of roles and responsibilities) is to be presented. The fundamental justification then is that those who believe in the importance of an overall positive and comprehensive counselling programme, as found in a pastoral network, necessitates the presence of the school counsellor.
Pastoral Care, Guidance and Discipline
In Mt. Roskill Grammar School in New Zealand, there is on the average, one counsellor per 500 students. However, Mt Roskill Grammar School has a very good system of Pastoral Care, Guidance and Discipline, which are considered as essential elements of the school organisation. For this reason, the programmes are more productive because students are organised into a system of houses and vertical forms. Within these form groups, teachers, Guidance Counsellors and house leaders provide strong support for all the students. For this programme to be more effective, the groups are sub-divided into eight houses, each house containing about 280 students. The school said the aim of these sub-groups is to provide students with a sense of unique identity. Moreover, the entire houses have two leaders per house to oversee the house activities and to provide discipline, guidance and work routine. The house assemblies are normally held on a regular basis. However, the inter-house activities are arranged at the beginning of the year, and each house engages in varieties of sport activities such as swimming, athlete, basketball and netball (Mt. Roskill Grammar School).
Within these groups, each house contains ten vertical forms which consisted of not more than 30 students from Year 9 to 13. The aim of this group formation is to promote pastoral care within the school, since students continue to create a strong bond among themselves and a sense of identity. Students are encouraged to remain in their vertical forms for the duration they are at school. The vertical forms class meets everyday (during school days) at 8.40 in the morning for a roll check and administration; they also meet at lunchtime for silent studies.
In addition to confidential counselling, the counsellors provide one-on-one meetings with the students and a counselling group programme for students from Year 9. They run two important proactive group programmes, namely: Anti-Harassment Programme and Travellers programme (Mt Roskill Grammar School).
Although there are only four counsellors in the school, both are qualified and licensed members of New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC), who abide by the latter’s Code of Ethics. The counsellors and students run joint programmes in the school to create a safe environment for all the students and to extend a message of support to one another and increase their compassion while structuring respect for each other. Even though all the four counsellors work together, each of them lead a separate responsibility, a particular role to perform. They run four different programmes such as the Peer Sexuality Support Programme, Peer Mediation and Mentorship Service, Body Image Leaders and Rainbow (Mt Roskill Grammar School).
In addition to Mt Roskill Grammar programmes described above, counsellors normally network with many other staffs within school system such as principals, DP, deans, teachers, tutors/teacher-aides, and their role can be both blessing and difficult most of the times. Counsellors’ work can be more difficult when the roles are not clearly defined or well coordinated and respected by all the staffs in the school who are involved in the pastoral care. However, most schools have a well-coordinated pastoral network that involves all the staff working together with guidance counsellors. Working in different schools as an outsider from Special Education, I have noted and learned that many schools in New Zealand have different ways to how they coordinate their pastoral care network. For instance, some schools normally set up a committee, who regularly meets. The purpose of their meetings is to identify and decide about the student at risk before they take any action. Career advises are also included in the pastoral network as they need to be kept well-informed about the students that might as well benefit from that service.
Guidance counsellors and school counsellors are different positions which have different roles, but are being used interchangeably. The role of a guidance counsellor is to provide the most important counselling service in the schools. They are seen as heads of guidance programmes and other activities in schools, like in the example of Mt. Roskill Grammar School.
Their main roles within a pastoral care network are actually to support and help the students who are experiencing numbers of difficulties, which are exclusively impacting upon their daily living, well-being and mental health. Counsellors working within a school network where they promote and facilitate multiple programmes such as consultation, guidance leadership, manage guidance programmes and importantly, to provide counselling. They extend their network outside school to coordinate referrals. For example, they coordinate closely with Special Education and other support groups to school.
School counsellors have an independent service compared to other school staff members within a school system, yet some schools expect their counsellors to perform an additional roles, for instance in co-curricular activities. This means that there is no single authority that sets any standards for counsellors’ role in schools; rather it is being determined by every individual school. Therefore, each school decides how they want to use their school counsellors (Crowe, A. 2006).
The role of school counsellors in 1960s was well supported by the Department of Education, but required those in this helping role to undergo training (Crowe, A. p.16). As a consequent, a decision made in 1980s to remove the centralised systems of 1960s and the tagging of counsellors position in 1990s to grant schools a self-managing authority has then led to decrease in counselling times and change in the role at schools (p.17).
According to Educational Evaluation Report by the New Zealand Education Review Office (ERO) in 1994, schools have identified issues related with emotional environment in school such as “nurturing and caring attitudes, warm relationship between students and staff, comprehensive counselling and guidance” (Crowe, A. 2006 p. 17). For instance, all of these were most likely been identified to find ways on how to improve schools to be a much more safe place for all students. This solely explained how vital the role counsellors could play within a pastoral care network, as they normally help in supporting young people in so many things. This is applicable in any school environment where students could get very confused and disturbed at times. The guidance and advices that these counsellors provide those students directly help them deal with their problems like bullying, discrimination, and other student issues.
While networking with other staffs, counsellors are sole practitioners within schools, they most often feel so alienated in their roles. According to Hughes (1996), counsellors are feeling colonised and gradually marginalised in this role, as they feel invisible, possibly seen as unimportant and powerless within the school structure or system (as cited in Crowe, A. 2006 p.19). Such a feeling ignited by how other staffs treat them could affect how the counsellors are networking with other staffs within schools. It appeared that some schools appreciate and reward counsellors who take on other roles like teaching in addition to their ordinary counsellor role. It is also true that adding a teaching role cannot only lessen the time they could spend doing counselling students, but it could compromise their counselling pose as students will perceive them as teachers. Therefore, the students will not see the counsellors as in neutral position anymore. There is then a need to educate schools’ staff assertively about the importance of school counsellors so that the role could be respected and treated equal importance, in order for the counsellors to perform their genuine roles well (p.19).
Most staff at teaching posed in the last few years after the introduction of National Certificate of Educational Achievement-ANCE has difficulties of workload due to those changes. Therefore, they became occupied and unable to take on some pastoral care roles leaving the whole burden of this work on school counsellors (Cox, 2002). In Manthei (1999a) research, there seemed to be an increase in the work counsellors basically do in the amount of time they spent on doing non-guidance and administration work while less on crisis. Many counsellors stressed that their role had become difficult as they spend longer hours doing everything they can to accomplish their task (1993a).
Counsellors’ role has become so complex since the cases they are dealing within schools become so difficult because of social and economic factors such as poverty. Increase in the number of bullying and violence within schools and community; counsellors at schools are overstretched and this has made their work more stressful (Miller, J., Manthei, R. & Gilmore, L. 1993).
Manthei’s research carried out in 1997 which surveyed the counsellors has also found that guidance counsellors were unsatisfied about their role compared to five years earlier. This is because many counsellors are now dealing with difficult issues such as suicide attempts, drug and sexual abuse, bullying, depression as well as family violence (as cited in Crowe, A. 2006 p. 20).
As mentioned earlier, Guidance Counsellors play a very profound role in managing programmes such as peer support, which is extremely effective and crucial part of a pastoral care network. They also supervise students and provide training and evaluation. Having run a peer group or anti-social behaviour in schools, peer group can provide much needed guidance could by large benefit all students involved.
Although there seem to be a very little support nowadays to guidance counsellors in schools as teachers are taking fewer pastoral care roles, counsellors still manage many positive pastoral programmes in school. Cox (2002) reported that there are some good pastoral care programmes in most schools; however, their effectiveness is inadequate due to lack of enough funding and staff to run them. In addition to lack of time given for pastoral care programmes ,there are paralyses and limitations to such programmes for them to be more effective. Cox suggested, for pastoral care programmes to be extra effective, there is a need for a good network and commitment from both wider school management team and principal; nevertheless, all the teachers need to be made aware of the purpose, value and outcomes of creating a positive environment within school and development for all students (Cox, 2002 as cited in Crowe, A. 2006 p.23).
Refugee children within a pastoral care network in school
Having to work with refugee children and their family, while working for Special Education, I worked with psychologists, school counsellors and teachers. I learned that there are needs to create a holistic network and concrete pastoral care programmes to benefit refugee children. Furthermore, while working for Trans-cultural Care Centre (ONTRAC, jointed Sectors including Special Education, Child Youth and Family and Auckland District Health Board), when a refugee child is referred to us, there were always multiple underlying layers to their presenting needs the child was referred to us for. The specific problems or concerns which are always being identified within schools can be typically linked to their journey, both pre-immigration and post-immigration. For instance, a refugee child at school may be presenting with behavioural needs or suffering from anxiety, depression, grief, reduced sense of self-worth, somatic complaints or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which may be directly linked to their experiences prior to migration. However, upon their arrival to New Zealand, children and their families are confronted with additional stressors and challenges as a result to resettlement and adjustment to a new culture. For a child getting into New Zealand school is a cultural shock because some might have not been to a formal class before (limited schools experience), new peers, and language issues. Therefore, it is important to recognise that the clusters of complex challenges and stressors affecting the child at school are also often reflected in the family environment.
A pastoral care network is effective if there is a programme run in both at school and home where a behaviour modification programme can be established and run concurrently by the family at home, and by counsellors and teachers at school. The school involvement is very important because it provides refugee children access to school’s counsellors when they become anxious or unsettled. As an outside agency, we usually talk to schools staffs and counsellors to help them understand the issues faced by refugee children and their families before they come to New Zealand and how these might impact at school. As Behaviour Support Worker, my main role was to develop, in collaboration with school counsellors and teachers a specific social programme for refugee children. Such programme has to be built around the skill and interest of the particular child to help him/her with socialisation skills and to reduce anxiety. The intervention normally incorporates the introduction of a sports team (e.g., I run a sport programme at Tamaki Primary School in 2005) while networking and coordinating with Principal, DP and all the other teachers concerned. This provides opportunities for the child to improve his social standing with his peers as well as teaching him/her about team work, sharing and taking turns.
As the role of school counsellors depends from one school to another, and having work with many counsellors in different schools, clearly some school coordinates their pastoral care network than others. Though, refugee children come to school with many challenging and complex behaviour which are often identified in the educational setting first. Individual behavioural problems and other related deeper psychological disorders/needs may first present as task avoidance, non-compliance, underdeveloped self-esteem, lack of confidence stress, anger, anxiety, grief, loss, emotional fragility and lack of friendship in their new environment. Class-teachers most are likely to refer such children to school-counsellors and school-counsellors then referred them to Special Education. Lack of a good network and understanding can lead to a child getting expelled from school, as school becomes too overwhelmed and frustrated by the behaviour. It is important to notice that having a good pastoral care in place as well as good network between counsellors, teachers and outside service providers can lead to enhanced support to such children. This is because academic delay can often be masked by complex behaviours and may be overlooked as an underlying concern. Comprehensive, ecological assessment is enormously important for early detection and well pitched intervention by not only counsellors, but both including teachers and other helping service (e.g., Special Education).
Counsellors play an important role in bridging the gap between home and school. Most often, the first community resource the refugee experiences in their new country always takes place in schools. Therefore, it has an important role to play in welcoming and nurturing the family through building trust and providing a welcoming environment. Networking by engaging refugee families and refugee communities in the dialogue with schools helps develop mutual understanding about such needs (this is done in some schools). This is an important step toward providing positive education for children from refugee backgrounds, as well as building the capacity of teaching staff and counsellors in how to work with families. Cushner (1998a) notes that a large gap often exists between the culture of home and the culture of school. A gap that is sometime too great for many students to bridge, meaning they are often left to struggle and mediate the dichotomy between the two. However, the effective school recognises this issue, and helps the child and family understand that links between home and school can be develop (Cushner, 1998a, as cited in Rogoff, 2003).
Therefore, refugee students flourish in education facilities, which are welcoming and supportive of cultural differences. Education facilities with a good pastoral care network which also has good policies and procedures to provide a culturally safe and welcoming environment normally help children and their families feel supported and understood. This entirely depends on how school is organised, their relationships with presents and the community, and how teachers and counsellors interact with students; all these factors dramatically affect the success of children. It also maximises their opportunities to develop social and supportive networks. This is because students from refugee backgrounds experience a loss of identity in their new home country. Having to learn English as a second language, may compound a sense of loss of identity and impact on learning outcomes. In another word, social identity can affect the way children acquire English as a second language, because it can affect the amount and nature of the exposure to the language. School facilities can play an important role in this process of adjusting to the schools’ environment, by not only helping refugee students to understand their new country, but also through helping New Zealand children to understand the context and background of the new residents, and be more accepting of them through nurturing pastoral network.
In New Zealand, apart from the provision of the school organisation of code of ethics, local government institutions and organisations have their Code of Ethics that encompasses the dealings of individuals that possess a managerial or professional level within an organisation. New Zealand Code of Ethics for Counsellors was created primary to govern the dealings or the work counsellors do. This is to ensure that the students and public under these individuals are informed and protected (NZAC, 2003). The New Zealand Code of Ethics is established based on specific core values, which have been considered as integral and essential to ensure that the interest of employees within the organisation are protected, particularly on the morality of the decisions carried out. These core values include the respect for human dignity, responsible caring, personal integrity and social justice (NZAC, 2003).
In conclusion, a school which integrates the ideals of good mission and better understanding among all the members of its educational staffs crucially achieve their goals it had set out to achieve. The pastoral care network must have to be illustrative of this position hence reinforces the needs and the indispensability of the school counsellors. The role then of a school counsellor is the delivery of services that further enhance and specifically cater to the individual needs of students as well as enrich the lines that bridge between student and mentors, the counsellor and the management, and that of the community at large (parents or guardians).
It is a gift to be able to have the empathy and communicate effectively the strategies in this helping profession. There is no rewarding profession as much as in the counselling profession. The danger is there, nevertheless, simply because we are living and breathing human beings capable of errors and may be short in judgment to some traps and deceptions within the profession. It is for these reasons that belonging to an institution, practicing accountability that minimises the risks of misbehaviour and abuses. Ethics as paradigm for responsible behaviour has tremendously helped practitioners, but it has its limits. It depends on whether the counsellor has understood the responsibilities by striving and observes the guidelines and avoids the pitfalls. It will be worth the effort. The role can be very confusing sometime and misunderstanding between the school-counsellors and other staffs members such as Principals, Deputy Principals, Teachers, and Deans may come up at school. Although each has different roles to play, duplication is always quite certain, especially when these roles are not clearly defined with a proper pastoral network. Some schools such as Mt Roskill Grammar School has well defined, clear and articulated descriptions of who do what (especially the roles the of school -counsellors) in school. It provided tensions-free environment, since the Counsellors and other staffs members are clear about their roles to follow in addition to their (e.g. NZAC).
Cox, R. (2002). Report on New Zealand Secondary Schools Pastoral Care Survey. Auckland: Project K Trust.
Crowe, A. (2006). Guidance and Counselling in New Zealand Secondary Schools: Exploring Issues. New Zealand Journal of Counselling, Volume 26/3.
Lee, C. C. (2001). Culturally responsive school counsellors and programs: Addressing the needs of all students. Professional School Counselling, 4, 257-261.
New Zealand Association of Counsellors (2003). Code of ethics. Retrieved from <http://www.nzac.org.nz/downloads/ethics.pdf>
Mt Roskill Grammar School, retrieved from <http://www.mrgs.school.nz/ourschool/houses.aspx>
Miller, J., Manthei, R. & Gilmore, L. (1993). School Counsellors and Guidance Networks: Role Revisited. Education Department, University of Canterbury.
Manthei, R. (1993a). School counselling in New Zealand. Part I: A profile of school counsellors and their work. New Zealand Journal of Counselling, 20 (1): 24-37.
Rogoff, B. (2003). The Cultural Nature of Human Development. New York: Oxford University Press.