Revealing exchanges at IRC counsellors dispute

Joan Lemaire
Senior Vice President

School counsellors understand curriculum, teaching and pedagogy as well as psychology

On September 1, Federation and the Department of Education made their final submissions to the Industrial Relations Commission over the dispute concerning the employment of school psychologists on an interchangeable or replacement basis for school counsellors. The Commissioner will now consider the evidence and submissions made by both parties and make a decision.

Federation is seeking to maintain the role of school counsellors as teachers with psychological qualifications who have “responsibility for 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” (Award definition).

Federation wants an Award variation to maintain the base allocation of school counsellor support and time that each public school in NSW had at the commencement of 2016 and that any changes to this allocation should be negotiated with the union and take into account student enrolments, student needs and workload implications.

Federation’s application does not prevent the employment of school psychologists.

Federation argued that the effectiveness of support and advice provided by school counsellors results from the fact that the counsellors understand curriculum, teaching and pedagogy as well as psychology and can apply this knowledge to supporting both student wellbeing and student learning.

President Maurie Mulheron pointed out in his affidavit that the Department’s “Schools Excellence Framework, intended to drive strategic planning in schools, is made up of three domains, Learning, Teaching and Leading, and 14 elements. Only one element is devoted to wellbeing. The work of school counsellors, as teachers with psychological qualifications, assists with student wellbeing but, more importantly, can do this in a way that can directly support quality student learning. This work is described in the school counsellor role description and manual”.

The Department conceded that dual-qualified school counsellors should be given preference in terms of filling vacancies that are not filled through transfer consistent with the Staffing Agreement.

The Department also indicated that it would advertise any vacant school counsellor position and only recruit a school psychologist if the position could not be filled by a dual-qualified school counsellor. This was not the Department’s original position.

The Department has claimed that the Federation was seeking to create a two-tiered system. This claim was turned on its head when, under cross-examination, a question was put to the Department's Executive Director of Learning and Wellbeing, Brian Smyth King:

Q: Coming back to … your assertion that there would be a two-tiered system, the Department has produced distinct role descriptions for a school counsellor and a school psychologist, correct?

A: Yes.

Mr Smyth King was also asked:

Q: And you accept that those aspects of the roles of the school counsellor is able to perform reflective of their school ­— their education qualifications and their experience — will either be not done or taken up by other staff, correct?

A: They will be done by the people in the school, yes, correct.

Q: By classroom teachers or executive teachers?

A: Yes.

Mr Smyth King was also asked whether Federation’s application prevented the employment of additional school counsellors or school psychologists.

Q: ... [Y]ou agree you didn't understand it preventing additional allocations?

A: Correct.

Despite accepting each of these issues, the Department has opposed the Federation application to ensure that each school maintains a base allocation of school counsellor time and support that could be supplemented by school psychologists or other appropriate staff.

The Department claims that “the predominant tasks performed by school counsellors and by school psychologists are not actually teaching work".

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