We're hugely disappointed that Northern Ireland's Department of Education is to cut another vital service used to fund school counselling.

The department has confirmed that its Extended Schools Programme is to end on 30 June - two months after the cancellation of the Healthy Happy Minds primary school counselling programme and funding for free school meals.

The Extended Schools Programme allows schools serving the most disadvantaged areas to offer a wide range of services or activities outside of the normal school day to help meet the learning and development needs of pupils, their families and local communities.

Many schools had used this funding to buy in additional counselling and therapeutic support, alongside support to counter the huge impacts of cost of living pressures. Many were considering using this fund to replace provision lost by the recent cancellation of the Healthy Happy Minds programme.

How we're challenging these cuts

We've already written to the Department of Education about these funding cuts and are planning to write a letter to Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton Harris MP, who is responsible for setting Northern Ireland's budget.

We'll also be holding a roundtable event in Belfast in May to bring politicians, organisations and counselling providers together to discuss how we can work collaboratively to campaign and to challenge these cuts.

Steve Mulligan, our Four Nations Lead said,

“We are hugely disappointed to see yet more cuts impacting Northern Ireland’s most vulnerable children and young people, with decisions continuing to be made without anyone being accountable to their devastating impact”

“This is yet another source of funding that was being used by schools to provide much needed counselling provision to some of our most vulnerable communities. Its removal will additional negatively impact on many third sector services and counsellors who have been providing these vital services”

Public and political support

“Our recent campaign to help secure the Healthy Happy Minds programme demonstrated significant public and political support for ensuring that accessible evidence based therapies are available to children and young people of all ages across all school sectors.

"We're now convening a dedicated roundtable meeting in May in Belfast to discuss how we can secure counselling and creative therapeutic interventions in Northern Ireland's schools, with the British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT), the campaign group, Pure Mental and many providers working in Northern Ireland’s schools”.

“We’ll be discussing how we can best navigate the challenging road ahead and how we might work together to harness public and political support to ensure recommissioning of these vital services."

Budget pressures

Launched in May 2006, more than £150 million of funding has been provided through the Extended Schools Programme, with more than £9 million provided to about 500 eligible schools in 2022/23.

In a letter to schools, Stormont's Department of Education said it had to make "significant savings" in 2023-24 and the programme "is no longer available due to the extent of budget pressures”. The department said it was making about £2.2m available so schools could continue to offer support paid for by the scheme until the end of the school year in June.

Get in touch with us

If you are a BACP member or from an organisation in Northern Ireland and want to share your experiences of these services and raise concerns about these cuts with our policy and pubic affairs team, please email publicaffairs@bacp.co.uk.