The long-term benefit to the taxpayer of access to counselling in all schools is eight times the cost of the investment, a first-of-its-kind report has revealed.

The figure rises to a 10-fold return on investment for counselling for primary school-age children, the report added.

The research, carried out by policy and economics consultancy Public First on behalf of the us and Citizens UK, is the first-ever report to look at the financial return on funding access to therapy in both primary and secondary schools.

Earlier intervention has greater impact

It concluded that earlier intervention has a greater impact on children’s lives – leading to more positive long-term consequences for the country’s finances.

The report highlights a range of economic and societal benefits of funding counselling for children and young people who need it in primaries, secondaries and further education colleges.

These included: improved job prospects and higher wages, reductions in referrals to NHS children’s mental health services, and declines in truancy, exclusions and youth crime. This would mean savings to government from less money spent on public services, reduced pressures on the NHS and a lower welfare bill. Improved job prospects would also lead to a fiscal dividend for government in the form of higher tax revenues.

Positive impacts for children

These are on top of the positive impacts on the children themselves, including a drop in psychological distress, reduced mental illness in adulthood and improved educational attainment.

England is the only country in the UK not to have government-funded school counselling.

A survey of teachers in England showed just 48% said their schools offered on-site counselling in 2020. Yet, a fifth of eight to 16-year-olds have a probable mental health condition, according to the latest NHS Digital data.

There are fears that children struggling with their mental health are missing out on vital support, as they don’t reach the threshold for ‘higher intensity’ NHS services or they are referred but never receive treatment.

The report said that more than 730,000 children could have benefited from school counselling if it was offered through all schools in England in 2024.

It added that investment in school counselling would pay for itself within the space of two Parliaments. And that universal access to school counselling in England would generate lifetime financial benefits to the government of £1.9 billion, against a cost of about £250 million.

Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard, our Director of Policy, Professional Standards and Research, said:

“This report gives a powerful economic case for investment in crucial early intervention counselling in all schools and further education colleges. It confirms how counselling not only transforms children and young peoples’ lives but also has a positive long-term impact on wider society and the economy.

“Counselling provides a safe space for pupils to be heard, to address their concerns, develop coping mechanisms and build resilience. The sooner children can access counselling, the greater the difference it makes.

“The next Government must deliver universal early-help counselling interventions across all England’s primary schools, secondary schools, further education colleges and sixth forms.”

The Revd Dr Simon Mason, of Citizens UK, said:

“Children and young people deserve the best education we can provide. That is why the worsening mental health of children and young people needs tackling proactively, even as early as primary school with qualified counsellors trained to work with children and young people.”

Pepe Di’Iasio, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said:

“Schools and children would benefit hugely from universal access to a highly-skilled counselling workforce. Government underfunding of education means many schools can no longer afford to provide counselling services. This study suggests that access may have almost halved since 2010. In that time the number of children suffering with mental health problems has soared. Policymakers must show a greater sense of urgency in addressing this crisis.”

The report includes comments from young people talking about how school counselling has made a difference in their lives.

Phoebe*, a year 11 student in Tyne and Wear, said:

“When I was 14 years old and in year nine my school attendance was 26%. I had no reason or wish to be in school. I didn’t feel as though I had any purpose. I was then referred to the school counsellor who became a massive incentive for me to come to school. Now I’m 16 years old and in Year 11 doing my GCSEs. I have high goals and ambitions for myself, including becoming a barrister.”

Millie*, a year five pupil from Leicester, said:

“If I didn’t have a counsellor, I would be lost. I used to have many panic attacks. I felt shaky, and used to constantly fidget and sweat. My counsellor has helped me with my anxiety, I can count to 10 to calm myself down. Now, things are different. My dad took me rock climbing. I was very nervous and scared. But I did it. I conquered my fear, and I’m proud of myself.”

* Names have been changed.