Last week a group of 52 educators from the Department of Education (DoE), including teachers and Education Psychologists, as well as Counsellors from The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), attended a training and feedback session organised by the Ministry of Education and coordinated by Jackie Linares and Wayne Barton.

The core session was delivered by Ms Giselle Carreras from the Care Agency. Both departments have been collaborating for some time in advance of the implementation of a School Based Counselling Service with significant work going into detailed planning and a continuous consultation process with key stakeholders from both the public and private sector, inclusive of NGOs. This has culminated in a comprehensive Operational Policy and associated referral pathways being established and agreed upon for primary and secondary sectors and the College, by those directly involved in students’ wellbeing. By following a pre-established timeline a range of issues have been formalised and documented which include key components such as service standards, roles and responsibilities including line management and clinical supervision arrangements, confidentiality, overlap with safeguarding and child protection measures, record keeping and the continuous monitoring, evaluation and review arrangements for the future service.

The session which was delivered at the University of Gibraltar, focused on the specific role of the School Counsellor and future interactions with internal and external agencies. Ms Giselle Carreras, as the current Head of Psychology and Therapeutic Services in the Care Agency, was able to effectively convey her significant experience for the benefit of those educators who it is envisaged will work closely with School Counsellors. These include Heads of Year/Year Coordinators, Deputy and Head Teachers, Behaviour Education Services Team (BEST) and Special Education Needs Coordinators (SENCo). These teachers formed the target audience for the session together with members of the Positive Mental Health Steering Groups, which includes Education Psychologists.

Giselle covered themes such as the rationale and evidence base for Counselling in Schools, an evaluation of UK studies, approaches in primary and secondary, referral thresholds and golden rules for information sharing, among many others. Jackie Linares and Wayne Barton were then able to apply these principles in their shared presentation and looked at the strategic implications of the Operational Policy in practice, validating the implementation plan through open engagement and discussion. Colleagues from CAB led by Mrs Pili Rodriguez where also instrumental in providing feedback and guidance through their experiences with many members being Counsellors themselves. The training culminated with a group session where a number of questions/scenarios were examined with potential approaches deliberated on using the material covered during the day. The Department of Education will continue to work closely through their Positive Mental Health Steering Groups with key stakeholders for the benefit of children’s and young adults’ positive mental health, social and emotional wellbeing. Future events are anticipated to include students, parents and other teachers not directly involved in the counsellor referral process.

Minister for Education John Cortes said: “We have made excellent progress over the past year in tackling the issues surrounding mental health in the school population. The preparatory work done by the multi-disciplinary teams to ensure that the new School Counsellors, soon to be recruited, work in a well-prepared environment is impressive. The new service will benefit pupils and teachers, and is long overdue.”