Ontario guidance counsellors 'spread too thin,' education advocates warn

Ontario guidance counsellors "are spread too thin and their job lacks clarity," an education advocacy group said in a report Monday, calling a lack of adequate training for counsellors an "urgent" problem.

Only 17% of elementary schools in Ontario have guidance counsellors

The non-profit group People for Education says there's an urgent need to get more guidance counsellors into Ontario elementary schools. (CBC)

Ontario guidance counsellors "are spread too thin and their job lacks clarity," an education advocacy group said in a report Monday, calling a lack of adequate training for counsellors an "urgent" problem.

Non-profit People for Education, which releases regular reports based on feedback from Ontario principals and staff, said its information shows a lack of clarity about guidance counsellors' role, a freeze on funding and a gap in support for vulnerable elementary school students.

Its annual report released Monday echoes the sentiments in its 2015 report.

"We think the more times we say it, someone will actually listen," said Annie Kidder, executive director of the group. 

"It's urgent."

The report uses the survey responses of roughly 1,014 Ontario principals. 

Education Minister Liz Sandals thanked the group for its research and said she will "carefully review" the group's findings and recommendations.

"We recognize and appreciate the important role that guidance counsellors play in our schools," Sandals said in a statement.

Sandals said the government spent $400 million on librarians and guidance services in 2015-2016. She also said education and career planning is built into other aspects of the curriculum.

Old-fashioned view of counsellors is obsolete, report says

Kidder said funding for Ontario guidance counsellors has remained unchanged since 1988. 

Only 17 per cent of elementary schools have guidance counsellors, which Kidder said is concerning when one considers how vulnerable Grade 7 and 8 students can be.

Those grades are a time when students are making crucial decisions about their high school courses that affect their future, while also experiencing more complex social and emotional issues both at home and at school, she said.

The report recommends elementary school guidance counsellor ratios in the province should match high schools: a ratio of 380 students to one guidance counsellor.

Kidder admits that number is even high for one counsellor to deal with — especially as the complexity of issues on their desk grows.

The old-fashioned notion of a guidance counsellor as someone who just helps pick careers and courses is obsolete, she said.

"One out of every five teenagers has struggled with mental health," said Kidder. "If we're relying on guidance counsellors for this, do they have the right kind of education? … They're being pulled in a million different directions."


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