I write this particular monthly column wearing my academic Head of Department hat.
I am perplexed with the issue of counselling unsuitable students off their programme of study and we are fast approaching that time of year when the harsh decisions must be made. I am aware that I am raising a very complex issue (not for the first time, I know, I know) in this short piece. But really, it’s meant just to get people thinking.
Only on a few occasions over the past decade as an academic, have I been required to counsel a student off a Child and Youth Care Programme. It is certainly not something that I like to do and it is fraught with potential difficulties. First, there is the issue of the student having chosen to study at third-level after either obtaining the points in his/her Leaving Certificate Examination or qualifying through the mature student route (over 23 years at the time of application to college in Ireland). Neither is easy for a student. Second, there is the issue of the potential “clients” that the student will work with whilst out on field placement. What are their expectations? What role do they play in receiving a student from a college? What level of care are they entitled to? Third, there is a duty of care to all the students in my faculty. Each student deserves time and effort from the Instructors and one disruptive student in a Group Dynamic class, or Self-Development seminar can make life difficult for all the students. All can be held back because of one student. Fourth, I have to consider the wishes of my Instructors around safety of expression. If a climate develops where an Instructor feels uneasy with a particular student and refuses to allow him/her partake in a class, the problem inevitably ends up in my office.
Of course, the enlightened reader is probably thinking that a forward-thinking faculty would have clear, written guidelines for counselling students off programmes. The truth is that most of us don’t – and even if we do not all of our colleagues in the other third-level training colleges operate the same policies for the same issues. Where there is disuniformity there is perceived to be weakness. Irish students are increasingly running to Law on matters they feel they have been wronged. This, in itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. Its what often happens as a result that worries me.
Unfortunately, for some staff, the easiest option may simply be to allow disruptive or unsuitable students progress from one year of study into another, or to hope that the student will fail a number of exams and self-counsel off a programme. Many staff want to avoid confrontation and would prefer if a problem went away of its own accord. One thinks, for example, of a staff member on contract who does not want to “rock the boat” until made permanent. A staff member who is about to retire may not want to leave a college in a blaze of controversy. A staff member who services a Child and Youth Care course from another faculty with no real understanding of Child and Youth Care discourse may want only to discuss their particular contribution. The list is potentially endless.
So, as we approach the External Exams boards in all of the Irish colleges, I would make an appeal to the Child and Youth Care Net readership. Let’s post up a section on “Counselling Students off Programmes" that we can all add to and then sign off as a community. That would really be a challenge.