Fianna Fáil Education Spokesperson Charlie McConalogue has accused the Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn of giving with one hand and taking away with the other in relation to supports for young people experiencing mental health difficulties.
Deputy McConalogue said the Government is completely undermining the potential success of any new anti-bullying initiative by simultaneously slashing one-on-one counselling supports at second level.
“There is no doubt that we are seeing an extremely worrying surge in mental health problems among young people, much of which results from bullying. Any initiative to tackle this pattern and increase the supports available to young people within the school setting is of course welcome,” said Deputy McConalogue.
“However, my concern is the hypocritical approach that Minister Quinn appears to be taking. On the one hand the Minister tells us he wants to enhance the role of schools in tackling bullying, however in reality he has crippled the ability of the school system to respond to students in difficulty.
“By removing ex-quota allocation for guidance counsellors, the Minister has radically reduced supports in schools for teenagers experiencing problems. If the Minister is serious about addressing the serious and growing problem of bullying and youth mental health problems, he would not have started by presiding over the unprecedented decline of the guidance counselling system.
“The Minister now has evidence that the decision he made in Budget 2012 has resulted in a massive 51% reduction in one-on-one counselling supports in secondary schools since September alone. The reduction is even greater in disadvantaged areas. How can schools be well enough resourced to take on this new initiative while their student support system has been radically undermined since September?
“Minister Quinn can count on my support, and that of my party, in introducing substantive policies to address mental health issues among young people, both within the school system and the wider community. But this must start with him realising he made a major mistake in cutting the guidance counsellor allocation in last year’s budget.”