Speaking to a school counsellor can be a transformative experience for children and young people. It can help them cope with the difficult circumstances they face in their lives - and to go on and flourish in the future.
But England is lagging behind in its provision of counselling in schools. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have government funded school counselling services. England does not.
As children face increased change and uncertainty in their lives because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever before that they have access to this vital support.
Why we need school counselling
Studies show that school counselling can improve wellbeing and mental health, reduce levels of school exclusion and increase pupil attainment.
It’s an easily accessible, non-stigmatising and effective form of early intervention for reducing psychological distress in children and young people.
A trained counsellor gives a young person a place that is focused 100% on their needs – a safe space with no judgement to help them to understand and cope with what they’re going through.
They can have a positive effect on young people’s confidence, resilience, family relationships, friendships, school attendance and academic achievement.
78% of parents with children aged under 18 believe that counselling or psychotherapy should be available to all school children, throughout all schools. BACP /You Gov survey 2020.
- A survey in partnership with the University of Roehampton showed school counselling halved between March and July, mainly due to Covid-19 restrictions.
- The COVID-19 outbreak has caused an increase in anxiety in young people. 41% say they are more lonely than before lockdown, 38% are more sad and 37% more stressed. Public Health England
The current situation
In England, Government plans to support children and young people's mental health are inadequate.
Unlike in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, school and college counselling rarely features in these plans, though some clinical commissioning groups do fund counselling provision. Instead:
- the NHS Long Term Plan commits to providing additional access to support for children and young people by 2023-24 via NHS England’s funded mental health services
- this includes the development of mental health support teams (MHSTs), with the government announcing a £79 million boost to train additional psychological well-being practitioners to work in these roles. This is not new money and was part of the plan before the COVID-19 pandemic. The teams will still only work with just one third of pupils in schools and colleges in England by 2023. These services are not yet all in place other than in the earlier trailblazer sites.
England needs to catch up with the other UK nations in the mental health support it offers children and young people – and there is no more crucial time than now to do this.
What we're doing
We believe that a paid counsellor should be available in every secondary school, academy and further education college in England.
This is a message we continually stress to politicians, commissioners, funders and education leaders.
Our proposal aims to complement existing investment by providing a cost-effective and universal, non-stigmatising early intervention.
It will help the ‘missing middle’ of young people, who do not meet the threshold for support for CAMHS but need more help than can be offered by mental health support teams.
It will help the 65% of pupils not supported under this new MHST model.
Our success so far
In September 2020 we asked you to write to your MPs to put pressure on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider funding school and college counselling as part of the comprehensive spending review (CSR). We'd like to thank you for supporting this call - nearly 3,000 emails were sent gaining cross party support.
As a result, Nickie Aiken, Conservative MP for Cities of London and Westminster, raised a parliamentary question asking the Secretary of State for Education to provide access to counselling for all children in secondary schools, extending access to counselling in further education colleges. There have also been verbal questions in parliament from Shadow Mental Health Minister, Rosena Allin-Khan MP, Abena Oppong-Asare MP, Ian Lavery MP and Colleen Fletcher MP.
Jon Trickett, Labour MP for Hemsworth, then tabled an early day motion calling for funding for school counselling services which has been supported by 37 MPs from across a range of parties. A further 2,000 letters were sent to MPs to support this ask. We thank you for this too.
The evidence for school counselling
We need a spending commitment from Government to ensure that embedded, sustainable school counselling services are at the heart of our whole school approach so we can best meet the needs of our students, enabling them to flourish and thrive, leading to the best outcomes possible
School counselling provides vital support for children and young people. Our research shows that it can bring about significant improvements in mental wellbeing.
We know that school-based counselling is an investment that can transform young people’s lives. It doesn’t just benefit their mental health, but also their confidence, relationships, friendships, school attendance and academic achievement.
It was the first time I got to see someone and let everything out. It was amazing having that support. That lasted all the way until I finished school.
Life is just a lot better. I’m a lot happier and I’m able to go out and enjoy and experience things
Having counsellors in schools would take the pressure off the NHS-provided services. Young people will feel their mental health issues are being recognised, rather than going to extremes