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All schools need professional mental health services on site

Almost two thirds (64%) of primary schools in England do not have a counsellor based on-site, and the majority (59%) of those that do, provide counselling on-site for one day a week or less. That’s according to new research published by children’s mental health charity Place2Be and NAHT on the first day of Children’s Mental Health Week (8 – 14 February 2016).


One in five children will experience a mental health difficulty at least once in their first 11 years*, and many adults with lifetime mental health issues can trace the symptoms back to childhood.  Head teachers in schools across England have raised pupil wellbeing and mental health as one of their top concerns. The Department for Education has stated that: “Our strong expectation is that over time all schools should make counselling services available to their pupils.”** 


The research, based on responses from 1,455 primary school leaders across England, provides a clear picture for the first time of the scale of the problem for school-based mental health provision.


Nearly all schools who responded to the survey are engaging in activities to help support pupils’ mental health, including working with parents (86%), signposting to specialist services (75%), and teaching lessons on mental health (63%). 


However, the survey revealed barriers to putting in place professional mental health support for pupils. For those who did not already have a school-based counsellor, financial constraints were the most common barrier (77%), followed by the lack of services or qualified professionals locally (61%) and the lack of physical space in the school (46%).


Catherine Roche, CEO of children’s mental health charity Place2Be said: “Primary school leaders are well aware of the challenges that their pupils face, whether it’s coping with parental separation, the illness or death of a loved one, or even witnessing domestic violence or substance misuse at home. The vast majority are already working hard to support them so that they’re ready to learn and can get the most out of their education. But teachers are not counsellors, and sometimes schools need professional support to make sure that problems in childhood don’t spiral into bigger mental health issues later in life.” 


Russell Hobby, general secretary of NAHT said: “Three quarters of school leaders say they lack the funds to provide the kind of mental health care that they’d like to be able to. Although increasingly common in secondary schools, almost two thirds of primary school leaders say that it is difficult to access local mental health professionals. This new study should remind the government that while we have a better acknowledgement of the extent of mental illness amongst children and young people than ever before, the services that schools, families and children rely on are under great pressure. Rising demand, growing complexity and tight budgets may be getting in the way of helping the children who need it most.


“NAHT is campaigning on mental health, after our members overwhelmingly called for this to be a key priority. Collaboration with colleagues in local special schools can add greatly to the capacity for support and managing transition to secondary education requires careful consideration. The work of Place2Be is also strongly recommended by NAHT.  Many of our members use their services in their schools. Their work demonstrates the crucial role that schools can play in supporting children’s mental health and building their resilience.”


One school leader who responded to the survey underlined the importance of pupil wellbeing in schools: “If there was more funding we would provide even more [support] as we feel this is the key to supporting our children. If they are not feeling emotionally safe, secure and happy then they are not in a place to learn.”


Other key findings from the survey include:

·         59% of school-based counsellors are on-site for one day a week or less

·         Larger primary schools, and those with a higher proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals, were more likely to have access to a school-based counsellor

·         Two in five primary schools (41%) have trained a member of staff on mental health issues

·         84% of primary schools with a school-based counsellor say they are fully or partly funded by pupil premium funding


The full report can be read here: https://www.place2be.org.uk/our-story/our-report-childrens-mental-health-week/

*Gutman L et al 2015, Children of the new century. London: Centre for Mental Health http://www.centreformentalhealth.org.uk/children-of-the-new-century


**Department for Education: Counselling in schools: a blueprint for the future (published 25 March 2015)


***Regional breakdown: Availability of school-based counsellors




East Midlands


North East

North West

South East

South West

West Midlands



With school-based counsellor











Without school-based counsellor











Sample size











The NAHT SEND Conference 2016 runs 10th/11th March, promoting wellbeing for children, young-people and staff.

A new NAHT course is available to book now: 'Decoding mental health; promoting emotional wellbeing', 26th May - http://www.naht.org.uk/welcome/naht-events/courses-list/suspicious-scared-and-sad/

Page Published: 08/02/2016

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