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 in its research on counselling 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%).
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.”
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%).
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.”
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.”
The survey also found that 84% of primary schools with a school-based counsellor say they are fully or partly funded by pupil premium funding.