Thousands risk picking the wrong CAO course Huge flaws in career guidance system exposed in new report
5 August 2011
THOUSANDS of school-leavers are ill-prepared for crucial choices about college courses and future careers, a major new study reveals.
It exposes deep flaws in the careers guidance system.
And that means that thousands of the 55,000 Leaving Cert candidates receiving their results this week may already have opted for the wrong course when filling in their CAO forms.
The study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) was carried out for state education advisers, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).
The ESRI identified a series of problems with the current system of careers advice offered in schools.
It did so by tracking the experiences of up to 900 pupils in 12 schools right through their second-level years.
Among its key findings are:
> Too little guidance is being offered too late during a pupil's school years.
> Too much emphasis is placed on points and gaining entry to prestigious college courses.
> Pupils complained of feeling "overwhelmed" and rushed by the enormity of the decisions they faced in their Leaving Cert year.
> There is a lack of one-to-one sessions to tease out each individual situation.
The ESRI report's findings -- on how thousands of second-level pupils are being badly served by an inadequate guidance system -- have been seen exclusively by the Irish Independent.
According to the ESRI, as many as 80pc of sixth years said that they would like to have more information before making college and career choices.
And about 50pc of pupils said they felt "overwhelmed" by decisions that would affect the rest of their lives.
They demanded more guidance in the early years of second-level education. Pupils make key choices on their future before they even sit the Junior Cert -- including which subjects to sit, and whether to take higher or ordinary level.
But many pupils complained that they had not received early advice on how this would shape their future college and career choices.
An inadequate guidance system meant that school-leavers were being pointed towards options that were not always right for them.
As many as one in four students will drop out of college -- particularly in courses such as computing and technology.
This is a serious burden on the taxpayer, who is left funding the empty college place.
However, the ESRI report also highlighted instances where pupils were advised not to target college, even if they were ambitious.
Scandalously, the study said students in working-class areas were told to "be realistic" and to restrict their ambitions to a Post-Leaving Cert course.
Schools and guidance counsellors blamed the scale of the problem on a lack of resources for career guidance in schools.
The Department of Education allocates guidance counsellors on the basis of pupil numbers.
For instance, in a 500-pupil school, the department pays for one teacher to act as a counsellor, who also has a wider role in terms of the personal and social development of pupils.
President of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, Eilis Coakley, said that it was stretched and there was pressure to concentrate on the fifth and sixth years.
She said that in disadvantaged areas, guidance counsellors were not trying to dampen down student expectations, but also had to deal with family expectations.
Ferdia Kelly, of the secondary school management body JMB, said that, because of cutbacks in recent years, the scope for a school to provide a guidance service was being narrowed.
The report on career guidance is the latest piece of ESRI research on the experiences of second-level students.
- Katherine Donnelly