Ratio of students to guidance counsellors as high as 800 to 1 in some Ontario high schools: report

Guidance counsellors are in extremely short supply in most elementary schools and in many high schools across Ontario, while their role is greatly widening in scope, says a new report by People for Education.

New report by People for Education finds role of guidance counsellor also widening in scope

Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education, says the Ontario government needs to clarify the role of guidance counsellor and to change how it funds education to ensure the ratio between guidance counsellors and students in grades 7 and 8 is the same as that for secondary school students. (Muriel Draaisma/CBC)

Guidance counsellors are in short supply in most elementary schools and in many high schools across Ontario, while their role is widening in scope, says a new report by People for Education.

The report, "Guidance counsellors: expanding roles, limited access," also found that guidance counsellors are spending a growing amount of time on helping students with mental health needs.

People for Education, an independent charitable organization that works to advance public education through research, released the report on Tuesday.

In 10 per cent of Ontario high schools, for example, the report found that the average ratio of students to guidance counsellors is 826 to 1. That compares with the average ratio of students to guidance counsellors, in all Ontario high schools, of 396 to 1. 
Guidance counsellors help students with transitions and academic programming, special education support, discipline proceedings and supporting students with mental health issues. (Shutterstock)

The report says only 14 per cent of elementary schools have guidance counsellors. And of those that have them, the counsellors are available only for about 1.5 days a week.

Only 20 per cent of schools with grades 7 and 8 have guidance staff either full or part-time.

Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education, told Metro Morning that the numbers are concerning. 

"If you make the goal of education graduating these people who can thrive in the world, then you have to make sure you are staffing your schools effectively in that way. You have to staff accordingly then," Kidder said on Tuesday.

"We have to make sure that we have the staff beyond the classroom teacher so that we really are able to support students in that way." 
In 26 per cent of high schools and 20 per cent of elementary schools, principals reported that the most time-consuming task of the guidance counsellor was providing one-on-one counselling to students with mental health needs. (Waterloo Unlimited)

The role of guidance counsellor varies among schools, depending on needs, staffing and board and school priorities. 

According to the report, schools report that guidance counsellors help students with transitions and academic programming, special education support, discipline proceedings and supporting students with mental health issues.

Role needs to be clarified

In 26 per cent of high schools and 20 per cent of elementary schools, principals reported that the most time-consuming task of the guidance counsellor was providing one-on-one counselling to students with mental health needs.

Kidder said People for Education is calling on the Ontario government to clarify the role of guidance counsellor and to change how it funds education to ensure the ratio between guidance counsellors and grade 7 and 8 students is the same as that for secondary school students.

School boards receive funding from the Ontario government for guidance counsellors based on enrolment.

According to the report, boards receive funding for one full-time secondary guidance counsellor for every 385 high school students, and one elementary guidance counsellor for every 5,000 elementary students.

The report is based on results from the 1,244 Ontario schools participating in People for Education's 2018 Annual Ontario School Survey.