Almost half (45%) of school leaders in England have found it difficult to commission mental health support for their pupils, and over a third (34%) of counsellors and psychotherapists who work with children and young people said it was difficult to provide their services to schools. That’s according to new research published by children’s mental health charity Place2Be, in partnership with NAHT, BACP, and UKCP* as part of Children’s Mental Health Week (5 – 11 February).

The research, based on responses from 655 school leaders and 1,198 counsellors and psychotherapists in England, provides a picture of the challenges faced by schools and school-based mental health professionals. 44% of school respondents said “knowing what type of support is needed” is a barrier to providing mental health support for pupils, and 37% said they don’t feel confident in commissioning a counsellor or therapist.

Similarly, the counsellors and psychotherapists currently working in schools in England said that common difficulties faced were “schools’ understanding of counselling and psychotherapy for children” (57%), followed by “expectations not being clear” (30%). For both schools and therapists, a lack of funding remains the most common barrier to providing support. These barriers are of critical concern as evidence shows at least 50% of mental health problems in adults are established by the age of 14.

The UK Government’s recently published green paper on ‘Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision’ in England recognised the “vital role” that schools can play in identifying and supporting young people experiencing problems. However, its proposals did not include any additional funding for the majority of schools, and proposed new ‘Mental Health Support Teams’ could only reach a quarter of the country by the end of 2022/23, running the risk of greater inequality for young people.

Catherine Roche, Chief Executive of Place2Be said:
“School leaders are already under immense pressure to deliver academic progress – and we shouldn’t expect them to become mental health experts as well. Our evidence and experience shows that embedding skilled mental health professionals in schools, as part of a whole school approach, can have an enormously positive impact for pupils, families and staff. It’s encouraging that the Government’s green paper proposals have recognised this, but to really transform children’s mental health provision, we need all schools to have access to dedicated funding, support and training to be able to source, commission and evaluate services effectively.”

One school leader who responded to the survey said: “I don't think schools have anything like the awareness needed to choose appropriate styles of therapy.”

A psychotherapist working with children and young people added: “I think schools need a better understanding of how counselling and psychotherapy can help not only the children, but the school as a whole.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union, NAHT, said:
“Schools have always been on the front line with children's mental health because school is often where issues first become apparent. This is why a significant number of schools choose to commission counsellors and psychotherapists themselves. However, school leaders are not experts in therapeutic interventions so it can be difficult to know what kind of support is needed. NAHT has continually argued for a more rounded approach, to take some of the emphasis away from schools and re-assert the importance of well-resourced and accessible local support services.”

Dr Andrew Reeves, chair of British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) said:
“It is clear from these results that although school leaders can see the benefits of school-based counselling as an early intervention in reducing psychological distress; many feel that they need more guidance in recruiting the right mental health support in their schools. The benefits of school counselling are well established, as we have seen from the success in Wales and Northern Ireland. We must enable school leaders with the information and funding to be able to recruit counsellors and be confident that they have the right training, skills and knowledge to work with children and young people. BACP has a competence framework for working with 11-18s, with one for 4-10s in development, and these are one way of demonstrating a counsellor’s ability.”

Prof Sarah Niblock, Chief Executive of the UK Council for Psychotherapy, said:
“Urgent steps must be taken to bridge this gap given that 50 per cent of mental health problems in adults are established by 14 and 75 per cent by 24. We need a senior professional therapist in every school, able to carry out individual assessments of clinical need, and to develop and oversee an organisation-wide culture capable of supporting children’s and adults’, including teachers and parents’ emotional and mental health – individually, in groups, families, classes and whole-school.”

Primary schools will soon be able to visit the Mentally Healthy Schools website, launched by HRH The Duchess of Cambridge in January as part of the Heads Together campaign, to find more advice on therapeutic support for schools. The UK Department for Education’s Blueprint for Counselling in Schools provides guidance for schools in England about setting up and improving counselling services for pupils. School leaders can also visit the BACP and UKCP websites to find lists of accredited counsellors and psychotherapists.

Other key results of the survey include:

  • Schools rely on word of mouth to find a counsellor or therapist (45%), followed by Local Authority or Multi Academy Trust lists (35%), and Counselling / Psychotherapy professional body lists (26%)
  • Schools felt the most important factors to consider when commissioning a counsellor or therapist were experience of working with children and young people (90%), professional body membership or affiliation (76%), and experience of working in a school environment (75%)
  • The majority of counsellors and psychotherapists providing therapeutic support in schools work 'part time' 75% work less than 20 hours per week
  • 64% would like to do more – on average 8 hours per week

A report about the survey can be downloaded from


*NAHT represents more than 29,000 school leaders in early years, primary, secondary and special schools and is the largest association for school leaders in the UK.

BACP is a professional body representing counselling and psychotherapy with over 44,000 members and works toward a better standard of therapeutic practice.

UKCP UK Council for Psychotherapy is a professional body for research, education, training, accreditation and regulation of psychotherapists and psychotherapeutic counsellors.

For further information, please contact:

Media Officer: Alice Harper
0207 923 5546

Head of Communications: Susan Rogers
0207 923 5581

Notes to editors

Place2Be is a leading UK children's mental health charity providing in-school support and expert training to improve the emotional wellbeing of pupils, families, teachers and school staff. School-based teams of professional counsellors and therapists build strong links with students, staff and parents to help develop a ‘mentally healthy’ ethos within the school environment. Place2Be is also a leading provider of specialist training and university-validated professional child counselling qualifications. The charity also trains people who work with children and young people to enhance their understanding of children’s mental health and wellbeing. The charity works directly with more than 282 primary and secondary schools across England, Scotland and Wales.

NAHT represents more than 29,000 school leaders in early years, primary, secondary and special schools, making us the largest association for school leaders in the UK. We represent, advise and train school leaders in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We use our voice at the highest levels of government to influence policy for the benefit of leaders and learners everywhere. Our NAHT Edge section supports, develops and represents middle leaders in schools.

BACP is the leading professional body for counselling in the UK. Our primary purpose is to support counsellors and help them better serve their clients. Our Association was formed nearly 40 years ago by a group of counsellors who were passionate about the value of counselling and its potential to improve the lives of individuals and communities. This passion and commitment, and the knowledge that counselling changes lives, are still at the heart of everything we do.
For further details please contact or phone 01455 206393

The UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) is the leading professional body for the research, education, training, accreditation and regulation of psychotherapists and psychotherapeutic counsellors. Our register of therapists is accredited by the government’s Professional Standards Authority. As part of our commitment to protecting the public, we work to improve access to psychotherapy, to support and disseminate research, to improve standards and to respond effectively to complaints against therapists on our register.