A small and modest motion at the National Union of Education (NEU) Support Staff Union Conference on 14 January requesting that the NEU makes representation to the Department for Education (DfE) Education and Skills Funding Agency to employ school counsellors as part of mainstream education might well go unnoticed or it may be dismissed as fanciful and impossible.
Why are we asking an education sector that is very overstretched and underfunded to fund school counsellors? Why is it not enough to campaign for all schools in England to have equal access to funding for counselling provision as they do in Scotland, Wales and Ireland?
Here are three reasons why:
1: Funding for school counselling, a senior level competency in the profession, remains precarious. School counsellors have regularly lost jobs due to a re-allocation or loss of funds. There's persistent competition for funds which can result in a wide array of pay for school counsellors. A commitment to school counsellors from the DfE would regulate salaries and conditions in the same way as they are for other professionals in education. It would also end the practice of employing counsellors in schools on zero hours contracts which is against good practice in employment law and has the potential to leave young clients exposed and harmed if counsellors have to leave employment at short notice.
2: By aligning school counselling with education, the professional identity of school counsellors would increase and result in the establishment of school counselling services, with proper accommodation and collaborative working. The training and expertise of school counsellors would not be conflated with other therapeutic interventions. They would be in a better position to promote counselling, and counselling supervision, as highly effective for young people, staff and parents in schools. The establishment of school counselling could also offer an avenue for more career development, training and upskilling of other support staff. Without positioning in education, this professionalism will continue to be invisible. The recent initiative to have mental health leads in schools appears to have largely ignored the role of school counsellors.
3: Education and counselling share the same goals. Education encompasses values of human rights, social justice, resilience and reaching potentials. Humanistic counselling, the most commonly used approach in schools, is also about the development of young people. School counselling is popular with young people in that it provides ease of access to help without mental health stigma. Even so, mental health problems can be quickly identified, addressed and followed throughout the school life of a pupil, a key advantage for the most vulnerable of clients.
School counselling is a preventative and effective measure for future wellbeing and offers a blueprint for mental health in education as a provision in its own right.
School counselling in England campaign
We believe that a paid counsellor should be available in every secondary school, academy and FE college in England.
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