Concern at student counselling cut

July 25, 1997

How many advantages have been gained by incorporation, apart from having a chief executive instead of a principal with an open-door policy? Yeovil College is facing a second restructuring; the first was only in 1995, when approximately 40 members of staff, including all the deans, with their wisdom and academic expertise, were swept away in favour of divisional heads and now, in addition, there are to be managers of curriculum clusters.

Yet the college is still in serious debt and the staff remaining are fearful of an uncertain future.

To view an educational establishment as a business inevitably poses problems. Examination results can be listed, numbers counted, but students will never be convenient end products, uniformly packaged. Individual choice is important, and since it became tertiary in 1974, the college has offered a very wide curriculum.

Any narrowing of the curriculum, and expertise in the area of student support, can only mean less choice and fewer students. The diminution of the counselling service must be viewed with anxiety. Nationally, the contribution that effective counselling can make to personal development and the realisation of full potential has been recognised at last. Yeovil College was one of the first further education institutions to appoint a student counsellor in 1969 and for the next quarter of a century I led the development of that service.

It is unfair and dangerous to place the responsibility for counselling on tutors who have insufficient time and seldom the necessary skills. To recognise the symptoms of mental illness, drug and sexual abuse, potential suicide, anorexia and bulimia requires specialist training and to offer one-to-one counselling requires expertise, time and supervision.

Outside agencies are already overstretched and waiting lists to see psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and social workers are lengthy. Referral to outside agencies is time-consuming and often inappropriate. Retention of students is a priority of a counselling service, which will always attempt to support those in greatest need.

In a recent press release, I note a recommendation by the inspectorate to strengthen student support and an acknowledgement that student services had been limited in their effectiveness.

It seems illogical that Yeovil College is planning to reduce its counselling provision to one fully-trained counsellor and a greater involvement of outside agencies, when other colleges appear to be increasing their number of counsellors.

Concerned parents or members of the community should contact the British Association for Counselling or the Association for Student Counselling, 1 Regent Place, Rugby CV21 3PJ (both tel 01788 550899), to seek their recommendations on the desirable ratio of counsellors to the student and staff population.

Further consideration needs to be given to ensuring that an effective counselling service is in place at Yeovil College and that it is of a high professional standard to support students and staff through their personal, educational and vocational growth.

Norma Walters Head of student service, Yeovil College, 1969-93

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