Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1971 Mar 18 Th
Margaret Thatcher

HC S [Schools (Educational counselling and careers guidance) (adjournment debate)]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [813/1868-74]
Editorial comments: 0226-0253. MT spoke at cc1868-74.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 3239
Themes: Education, Secondary education, Higher & further education, Employment
[column 1863]


Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Hector Monro.]

Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)

I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss educational counselling and careers guidance in schools. These are two closely related subjects which have gained a little more prominence in school life during the last two or three years, but they have still to be clearly seen by teachers, parents and administrators for the vitally important educational subjects which indeed they are.

There have been careers masters in schools since before the war, but one can fairly say that in large part lip service has been paid to the idea, and that the job of careers master was a Friday afternoon job to be undertaken by the teacher who could most readily [column 1864]be spared from teaching duties for a few hours.

The youth employment officer has been in the background—sometimes on stage, sometimes off stage; neither wholly in the education service, nor wholly outside it. He has been tolerated by some headmasters, while others have spent their time protecting their charges from the academically corrupting influence of this outsider from the industrial world. Ironically, the youth employment officer has at the same time concentrated on schools to the exclusion of industrial apprentices.

I shall not be overstating the case when I say that the quality of vocational and even subject guidance over the great run of schools since the war has been something short of first-class, although there have been pockets of excellence here and there, very often outside the State school service. For example, the National Advisory Centre on Careers for Women has performed an excellent service in its work for women, and I have been privileged myself to play a small part in an imaginative series of career books published by an educational firm in Reading. [column 1865]

Educational counselling is an even less developed animal. At the moment, in Wales, for example, there are only 23 teachers in secondary schools who have received training in it. Indeed, of those 23, several are not employed in counselling at all.

Counselling as a service is probably most developed in a few universities—notably Keele, where the Appointments Counselling Service is possible unique in this country. Their experience over the last six years has clearly shown the great need for the service, which today is staffed by four carefully-chosen and highly trained and experienced counsellors, catering for the needs of 2,000 students. It is a joint careers and counselling service and the staff are persuaded that the two aspects of the service should be run together. Courses in this work for teachers have been run at the university for some years and more recently at a few other universities but it is doubtful whether so far more than 250 teachers have attended them.

Only a few local authorities take a positive attitude a good example being Stoke-on-Trent where my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Mr. Cant) has played a leading part. A larger number of local authorities are prepared to be benevolently disposed when pushed and the remainder the majority simply do not want to be bothered.

I received a letter only yesterday from a trained counsellor who is leaving her school after 20 years to take up counselling in another local education authority over 200 miles away. To have stayed in her native town would have meant her taking a drop in status from head of department to a special responsibility post grade 2 and a drop in salary of about £300.

The great need is for a lead by central Government and I hope that the Department will act as a spur and will not be left trailing behind as in so many educational developments to be dragged along half-heartedly by pioneers in the field.

Two national associations have recently been formed the National Association of Careers Teachers and the National Association of Educational Counsellors. Along with the Youth Employment Officers Association they form a triumvirate [column 1866]which might be fixing trends not necessarily in the best direction.

One question which for example needs answering quickly is whether it will be a mistake to split counselling from the careers guidance service. There are several reasons for believing it to be a mistake. There is a danger that pupils will come to believe that the counselling service was for the “sick” . It is important that an integrated service should have a “normal” or “prosaic” function such as careers guidance as well as counselling. This will help counsellors to keep a sense of proportion. Otherwise counsellors might themselves over time lose touch with reality.

I suspect that as our educational system develops the more imaginative teachers employer in this work would gravitate if the two services were split from careers guidance into counselling which can be more creative and offer more scope. So from the point of view of job enlargement the two should run together.

But the real question is how do we get the right men and women in the right quantities into careers counselling? If it is a truism that teaching is a vocation the educational counsellor or careers teacher needs qualities of sensitivity and imagination approached only by poets. The rôle of the counsellor is insufficiently understood by parents, teachers, students and pupils and it requires careful definition if it is to be used properly and within a long-term perspective.

I wish to use what little time I have to try to sketch in some of the rough outlines of the picture. Most important the counselling service is educational rather than remedial. It is preventive rather than crisis centered. It must start in the schools and be continued in the universities and colleges not only on humanitarian but on sheer economic grounds.

For example, in 1968–69, 1,400 students in Britain failed to complete the degree courses on which they had embarked. It has been responsibly estimated that by 1980, 20,000 students each year may be dropping out of universities before completing their courses. As we already know that this is not because of a lack of academic ability, we must look to a greatly extended use of skilled counselling for a solution to the problem. [column 1867]

Counselling differs from advice under the old advisory service in fundamental ways. To counsel effectively is to be non-judgmental in approach and to respect the integrity of the individual child. Teachers at school are committed in part to enforcing the discipline of the school, and this clearly limits the range of situations about which they are likely to be consulted by children.

Counselling must, therefore, operate outside the disciplinary structure of the school and in a non-authoritarian rôle. The counsellor must try to see the school society from the child's, as well as the teacher's, point of view, and his central rôle is the exploration of and help with the personal problems of the child. His approach is non-didactic, informal and non-directive. It is, therefore, an approach only possible through a close personal relationship with the child, for the building of which adequate time must be available.

As excellent example of the sort of case that will increasingly face counsellors came to my notice recently in a London borough. An Indian girl in her teens was arriving home from school late, usually not before 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. Her father went to the school to complain about it. The school counsellor interviewed the girl and found that she stayed on at school to do her homework because when she got home her father, presumably in accordance with Indian custom, expected her immediately to attend to housework rather than school work. Here was a case of a girl who was living at home in one culture and living in school in another. This is the sort of problem with which school counsellors will be increasingly called on to deal.

One can readily appreciate the human warmth, sincerity and skill required of the counsellor and the careful training that he must undergo before being able to undertake this type of work. I suggest that the time has arrived when every secondary school should have a counsellor responsible for creating, running and promoting a department of social relationships which would co-ordinate all counselling and guidance activities in the school—educational, vocational, personal tutorial and remedial. Ideally, this service should cater for all children throughout their school careers, and this would be [column 1868]possible only by having a team of teachers trained in counselling and led by the school counsellor to carry out the work.

The aim, which, I emphasise, is over-whelmingly educational, is, with the aid of the team, to encourage all children to make choices and decisions meaningful to them alone, not to others.

I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for being here at this ridiculous hour, and I hope that she will be able to reassure me and the teaching profession that the Department is not only aware of the real need for a greatly expanded and improved counselling and careers service and for the professionalising of the patchwork efforts which up to now we have put up with, but is also in a position actively to take a lead in promoting the development of such a service.

2.41 a.m.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) for raising the question of educational counselling and careers guidance in schools in this debate, even at this ridiculous hour. I agree with a great deal of what he said. I anticipated some of his remarks and prepared some in reply, and, as time is short, I shall make my remarks as quickly as I can.

The educational opportunities available—in the schools and in further and higher education—are greater now than they have been at any time in the past. The selection of a career is more complicated than it used to be. New types of jobs with demands for specialist qualifications seem to be coming into being all the time, while the demands for all skills in some trades are diminishing.

The need for up-to-date informed guidance is growing all the time. But the schools themselves are going through a process of change which must impose strain on the effectiveness of the services for guidance. The tendency is for secondary schools to become bigger. Unless some conscious effort is made to avoid losing touch with the child as an individual, it is all too easy for the larger units to become impersonal and to fail to meet the individual needs of their pupils. The hon. Gentleman is very much aware of that. The schools have [column 1869]also a special responsibility, as he said, towards their older pupils.

I welcome the trend which has been growing in recent years for pupils to stay on beyond 15, the age at which they may leave school, in order to extend their education and to acquire qualifications in G.C.E. or C.S.E. But the presence of such pupils, who often form a minority in a school whose main purpose is not directed towards the attainment of academic qualifications, has presented the staffs with new and unfamiliar problems to which they have had to find solutions as they went along.

Looking to the future, the schools are now preparing themselves for the raising of the school-leaving age in 1972. This development will retain in the schools about 250,000 15-year-olds whose aims and ambitions are likely to be very different from those of pupils who have hitherto stayed on voluntarily.

There are three aspects to the guidance which we can offer to pupils at school. The hon. Gentleman mentioned them himself. First, educational counselling, to which the hon. Gentleman devoted the main part of his speech; I often prefer the older term, pastoral care. Second, the education about careers and the careers guidance given by the school itself. Third, the careers guidance and help in placing in jobs given by the Youth Employment Service, which also the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Although it is useful to distinguish these three aspects for the purposes of discussion, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that one cannot emphasise too strongly that they are interdependent.

I take counselling first. Schools have, in practice, always accepted a responsibility for providing guidance for their pupils beyond the bare necessity of the curriculum. The particular emphasis given has, of course, varied according to the nature of the school, but generally such personal care has been implicit in the life and conduct of the school and has called for little in the way of special organisation or of specialised training for the teachers. The traditional concern of the schools has been with curricular guidance, and they have tried with varying degrees of success to guide or direct pupils into the right choices of subjects or examination courses at the [column 1870]right time. Such choices, however, cannot be made in isolation. They must be linked to vocational aims, on the one hand, and personal strength or difficulties, on the other hand.

In small schools, personal guidance can be a combined team effort of the whole staff. In large schools, this is no longer so and various forms of social organisation are adopted, such as houses, year groups, or tutor systems. All of these try to maintain a personal service to the pupils. There will, of course, always be the special cases where, because of particular problems, some of which the hon. Member mentioned, the school needs to enlist the help of outside services, sometimes such as the school psychological service or child guidance services, but for the majority of cases the work is done by experienced teachers.

Curricular guidance must also look at the career prospects of the pupils. This is where the distinction between curricular and personal guidance, on the one hand, and vocational guidance on the other hand, tends to become blurred. An early choice between subjects in the curriculum can determine the career opportunities which may be open in later life. Because of this, special responsibility for curricular guidance and some element of personal guidance has often fallen to the careers teacher. The hon. Member mentioned this. Where careers guidance is well organised—I agree with the hon. Member that in many schools we have a long way to go—the careers staff take an interest in pupils from an early stage in their secondary school life.

All too often the chance is lost of combining with guidance on careers the relevant information about appropriate courses in further education. The technical colleges have in recent years developed a flexible pattern of vocational work at all levels, and the Department provides a steady flow of material—some of it written for the young school leavers themselves—outlining the opportunities available. The local education authorities welcome this help and they have in the last month or two taken 400,000 copies of a regional guide to further education for the early school leaver. But close links are necessary at local level between schools and colleges if pupils are to be made fully aware of the facilities available. [column 1871]

I should also mention the work of the careers officers in the Youth Employment Service. Their work is complementary to that of the careers teachers and the schools. The task of the schools is to see that pupils—and their parents—are well-informed about the various choices open to them, about the minimum qualifications necessary to enable them to follow a particular career and about their personal chances of being able to do so, bearing in mind their abilities and performances at school.

The principal task of the careers officers is to assess the capabilities of the pupil and to give him vocational guidance in the light of the information which he gets from the school, pupil and parents and his knowledge of different occupations and the openings available in the area and outside it. But his contribution is not limited to knowledge of the employment market. Where he is also advising students in colleges of further education, he will be able to supplement the advice from the school about the need for qualifications for certain occupations.

The hon. Member mentioned one or two instances of training. Although the great majority of secondary schools have appointed a teacher responsible for careers guidance, by no means all of these have received any specialist training in the subject. One-year advanced courses in guidance and counselling already exist at the universities of Exeter, Manchester, Reading and Keele, which the hon. Member mentioned, and at the University College of Swansea, providing about 80 places in all. A one-term course which has been provided for a number of years at the Edge Hill College of Education is to be reconstituted as a one-year course in the academic year 1971–72 and a new course, also of one year, is to be opened at Sheffield City College of Education. In addition, a number of short courses is organised by the Department, by the Inspectorate, in collaboration with the area training organisations, and by the local education authorities themselves.

Not all of those who take the courses are teachers; there are some who come from other backgrounds concerned with counselling in schools and go back to non-teaching work. And not all the [column 1872]teachers return to posts identified as counselling or guidance posts. Although the Department does not collect statistics of the number of teachers employed under these titles we know that of those who have passed through the various university courses some are now employed full-time in counselling or guidance, others are employed part-time on counselling and part-time on other teaching duties, while others are holding posts such as deputy heads or second masters which may very well contain a large element of counselling or guidance work. I know that my right hon. Friend P. Thomasthe Secretary of State for Wales was able to give the hon. Member some details of the employment position in Wales in reply to a Question, and some of that information the hon. Gentleman used in his speech; this was the result of a special inquiry and similar information for England is not available. I hope, however, that the survey to which I shall refer in a moment which H.M. Inspectors are beginning in September of this year will provide some more information on this subject as well as on the organisation of careers guidance.

I should also mention the survey of counselling in schools prepared by the Schools Council in 1967 and the Department's publication “Careers Guidance in Schools” published in 1965. Both of these are aimed at the teachers and staff concerned rather than at the pupils. I am very conscious that in a field which is developing as quickly as this one, certainly the Department's publication is somewhat out of date after six years. But I stress that the Department is not being dragged along. It is tending to lead the way. A great deal of advice and a lot of publications are available.

It has been proposed that Her Majesty's Inspectors should carry out a survey of careers education over the next two years. This survey is designed to give information on the organisation of careers education on a broader basis than the information already available from surveys of individual areas which they carry out as a matter of routine. It will also produce statistical information about the qualifications of the staff employed and the way in which they are employed and will produce examples of effective work. We very much look forward to the results of the survey. [column 1873]

I stress that I agree that there is a lot of room for improvement in the provision we make for careers guidance and counselling in schools. There are new problems ahead for the service. Improvement can only be gradual. There is a good spirit of enthusiasm and determination among the teachers concerned, some of whose representatives from the National Association of Careers Teachers I met [column 1874]earlier this year. I hope that all those concerned with this service will be encouraged by the interest shown this evening by the hon. Member, and that the service will steadily improve to the benefit of all our pupils in our schools.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at seven minutes to Three o'clock a.m.