Celebrating school counsellors

Lyn Wooden was a school counsellor in the Parramatta Diocese for 23 years. She came into the role after 13 years of being a PE teacher. At that time, the position of school counsellor wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now.

In the absence of a formal role, Lyn said, “many kids came to me with their problems.” This experience, the completion of her Masters in Pastoral Guidance and her subsequent position as Pastoral Care Coordinator, prepared Lyn to undertake the role of school counsellor in 1995.

Over the years, Lyn attended regular professional development and training in therapeutic interventions, with a focus on school counselling. She also accessed regular outside supervision from experts. Lyn began studies in a Masters of Social Work in 2013.

Typically, only one school counsellor per 100 students was appointed in secondary schools. Primary school counsellors worked across a number of schools for Marist Education Centre.

“This made it difficult at times and isolating, so we organised ourselves into a network of school counsellors from different schools and we met on a regular basis.”

A school counsellor’s main role is to provide individual counselling to students based on the school’s referral system and to provide consultation to school executives and teachers on student mental health issues.

However, an integral part of being a school counsellor is regular professional development and training.

There also needs to be regular supervision of therapeutic interventions as well as keeping up to date with the required policies and procedures.

A major part of the role has also involved liaising with child and adolescent health care professionals – both in private practice and the area health service sector.

This often involved case management of students and fulfilling mandatory legislation requirements when required.

School counsellors in the diocese were covered by the same enterprise agreement (EA) as teachers. School counsellor salaries were paid according to the teacher’s salary scale.

But in 2012 the Catholic Education Office Parramatta began a ‘realignment’ process which drastically reduced their salaries and job security.

“The EA for teachers no longer covered us. We changed from being under NSW legislation, to being under Fair Work Australia, which was a national legislation.”

Counsellors Lyn Wooden, Martin Graham, Paul Smith and Venessa Goode, and the Union, entered discussions with the CEO in 2013.

“In 2015 discussions stalled, but in 2016 the Union applied to Fair Work Australia and we voted for protected action.”

Of counsellors on the roll, 76.67% voted in the ballot and 100% of those who voted supported the protected action.

This brought the CEO back to the bargaining table, and a proposed EA was accepted in October that year.

Lyn retired in 2018, but in the last five years of her tenure, together with Martin Graham and representatives from the IEU, she was instrumental in providing other school counsellors with genuine clarity and legal enforcement of their rights.

Since the re-alignment of 2012, the CEDP has taken over responsibility for school counsellors and provides support in their role, such as management, policies and procedures, individual and cluster supervision, professional development, and well being/behaviour management courses for schools

“As a group, we have always been vocal and proactive in matters concerning our role and conditions of employment.”

This communal and dynamic approach to the issues facing counsellors is part of their everyday role.

“Being a school counsellor means working individually with students, but also with their families and teachers.”

“Many students have individual needs that can be challenging for teachers to address. As a school counsellor you are an advocate for the students. Sometimes the school, the family and the student need to work together to achieve the best outcome.”