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Huge rise in number of school-based counsellors over past three years

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3 February 2020 – A survey of school leaders published today by school leaders’ union NAHT and children’s mental health charity Place2Be reveals that the number of schools commissioning professional help for children’s mental health issues has increased significantly since 2016.

In 2016, just over a third (36 per cent) of schools in England provided school-based support for students’ emotional and mental wellbeing. By 2019, this had almost doubled to 66 per cent.

The findings are released on the first day of Children’s Mental Health Week (3-9 February 2020).

The latest survey was completed by 653 school leaders at the end of 2019, and the results can be compared to similar joint surveys in 2016 and 2017*.

The latest findings show an improved understanding and recognition of children’s mental health in schools, but access to external NHS help has not and more schools are now buying in their own support.


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  • 74 per cent of school leaders said the majority of their staff are confident at recognising the signs of mental health problems among children and young people (versus 61 per cent in 2017). 
  • Just 4 per cent of school leaders agreed that Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) responds quickly to requests for support. Just 5 per cent agreed that children referred to CAMHS get help when they need it.
  • 66 per cent of school leaders said their school commissioned external professional support for children and young people’s mental health issues in school (versus 36 per cent in 2016). 

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “We know that early intervention is absolutely key when it comes to mental health and wellbeing. We can see that schools are responding to an increasing need and a lack of capacity in specialist services by commissioning their own support such as counsellors. Although to be applauded, this is another area where schools are being forced to use scant resources for urgent provision that is not provided for in their budgets.


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“There is still concern that when children do have more serious mental health needs professional help is not easily available. Teachers are on the frontline for children’s mental health, but they are not qualified medical specialists. Where schools consider that a pupil’s needs go beyond their experience and expertise, their role is to refer those pupils to other professionals to address those needs, and they should be able to expect timely and effective support.”

Catherine Roche, Chief Executive of children’s mental health charity Place2Be, said: “Three children in every classroom now have a mental health issue, so it is positive to see these results which show that more school leaders are responding to this need by providing professional support for children and young people within school.

In this, Children’s Mental Health Week, we want to highlight that school staff need support to deal with the many and often complex emotional issues of their pupils. At Place2Be, we work with schools leaders to help them better understand mental health and to develop a ‘whole school approach’ to improving mental health, so that pupils can focus on their learning. But schools cannot tackle this problem alone. They need expert help in school, backed up by NHS services that can step in when more specialist support is required.”

The survey also revealed an improved picture of mental health understanding and support in schools overall. School leaders said the majority of their staff would be confident understanding the issues that may underlie children’s and young people’s behaviour (74 per cent in 2019 compared to 68 per cent in 2017) and understanding how children and young people’s mental health impacts on their engagement with learning (81 per cent compared to 77 per cent).

However only 54 per cent of school leaders think their staff would be confident in knowing how to respond when mental health is negatively affecting pupils (compared to 47 per cent in 2017), and only 44 per cent in knowing how to respond if a pupil had a mental health crisis (compared to 39 per cent in 2017).

Other findings from the school leaders surveyed included:

o   79 per cent agreed their school has a whole school approach to promoting positive mental health and wellbeing

o   78 per cent said there is a designated member of staff responsible for mental wellbeing in their school or college

o   67 per cent said staff have undertaken training to help them identify pupils with mental health needs or problems

o   66 per cent agreed that pupils feel confident to talk to staff and peers about their mental wellbeing 

Notes to editors:

*In 2016, the survey was completed by 1,455 primary school leaders across England.

In 2017, the survey was completed by 1,115 primary and secondary school leaders from across England and Wales. 

In 2019, the survey was completed by 653 primary and secondary school leaders across England.

Press and Media contacts:

Steven George
NAHT Head of Press and Media
01444 472886
07970 907730

Rose Tremlett 
Senior Press Officer 
07545 354363

Email: press.office@naht.org.uk