Union in dispute over ‘school psychologists’

Joan Lemaire
Senior Vice President

Federation reports back to IRC on dispute

Federation reported back to the Industrial Relations Commission on March 24 regarding the dispute over the appointment of “school psychologists” to carry out the same role as school counsellors.

The union does not oppose the provision of additional support for student wellbeing by psychologists, social workers or other relevant staff. However, these people should not, and cannot, replace the work carried out by school counsellors.

A Determination has been made under Section 52(1) of the Government Sector Employment Act 2013, which allows the Department to employ “School Psychologists” and “Senior Psychologists, Education” at the same salary level as teachers (including school counsellors and district guidance officers). These psychologists will have public sector employment conditions with four weeks’ recreation leave and the Department’s Flexible Working Hours Agreement.

The Department has said that the role of school counsellors and school psychologists is the same. In a letter to Federation on March 11 the Department stated:

“The Federation’s proposal to separate the role of school counsellors and school psychologists is not feasible because both classifications of staff will undertake the same roles and are recruited on the basis of the individual’s accredited psychology qualifications.

“School Counsellors and school psychologists are employed on the basis of their accredited psychology qualifications recognised by the Psychology Board of Australia. They contribute to and enhance the wellbeing of students in NSW public schools by providing quality psychology services in schools and working with other agencies to support students and their families.”

In reply to Federation’s question, “Does the Department intend to employ school psychologists to replace school counsellors who are retiring?” the Department responded, in the same letter: “The Department’s intention is to employ school counsellors and school psychologists who are accredited to provide psychological services to students. The reason why a vacancy may arise is not relevant to that process.”

Federation believes that this determination is in breach of Clause 2.52 of the Crown Employees (Teachers in Schools and Related Employees) Salaries and Conditions Award (“the Award”) which defines school counsellors as: “a teacher with an equivalent of four years’ training and a major in psychology who has a responsibility of providing schools with advice and support in matters relating to student academic and personal development, welfare and discipline and provides psychological and other testing as required.”

The combination of teaching and psychological qualifications means school counsellors have the ability to understand the teaching and learning environment as well as having psychological skills and apply these in a manner that supports both student learning and wellbeing.

As teachers, school counsellors can ensure that strategies to support student learning match the demands of the curriculum, assessment requirements and the complexities of modern classrooms.

School counsellors rely on their teaching expertise when counselling students: for example, school counsellors draw on their classroom experience when helping students understand the school’s expectations regarding behaviour. Their understanding of curriculum and quality teaching enables them to support students struggling with learning or assessment challenges.

On March 6, 2015 Premier Baird promised to employ 236 additional school counsellors, not school psychologists. The dual qualifications held by school counsellors support teaching and learning as well as student wellbeing, school psychologists will not have teaching qualifications or experience.

Updates will be posted on Federation’s website.

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