BACP found that 72% of people believe schools should offer counselling. The figure increases to 79% for parents who have children aged under 18.

“I don’t think I would have done my GCSEs if it hadn’t been for counselling. I would have sat at home, hiding away, like I did before."

The age group most in favour of schools providing counselling to pupils was 16-24 years old, with 83% of respondents agreeing all schools should offer the service, according to the survey of 5,731 people conducted by YouGov.

The research

All survey figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 5,731 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between March 4 and 14, 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 16+). Less than a third (31%) of the 338,000 children referred to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) in 2017 received treatment within a year. Another 37% were not accepted into treatment or discharged after an assessment appointment. Some 32% were still on waiting lists at the end of the year.

School-based counselling has been shown to minimise pressure on CAMHS services. The Welsh Government’s evaluation of school-based counselling services found that of the 11,365 children and young people who received counselling services in 2017/18, 87% did not need an onward referral after completing their sessions. 

Jo Holmes, BACP’s Children, Young People and Families Lead, said:

“We know that having access to a school-based counsellor can not only have a profound effect on young people’s mental health – but also on their confidence, family relationships, friendships, school, attendance, and academic achievement. School counsellors can open a door for young people that allows them to flourish and thrive.

“With long waits for NHS services, school counselling is often the only chance to give crucial support to young people who are unable to access these over-stretched services or do not meet the threshold for that care. It can be a vital early intervention that prevents further mental health problems in later years."

Mental health in schools

School counsellors help young people cope with issues that are affecting their mental health and wellbeing, their family relationships, friendships, and schoolwork.

Many support young people who are struggling with pressures from social media, body image concerns, exam stress, the transition to secondary school, and difficult family situations including domestic abuse. Fears around rising knife crime and the impact of austerity on their family’s financial situations are also talking points within the therapy room.

Some 61% of schools in England offer counselling services, according to a Department for Education survey carried out in 2017, with 84% of secondary schools providing their pupils with access to counselling support. Wales has statutory provision of school-counselling for all secondary-school age children and Northern Ireland has a national school-based counselling programme. Scotland announced last year that it is to invest £80 million over the next four years in providing counsellors in education.

BACP believes England is lagging behind the other three nations, and that a school counsellor should be provided in every school.

Jo added: “Our survey findings show the importance people place on schools investing in children’s mental health and wellbeing by providing counsellors. We need the Government and education funders to see this as a priority as well. We appreciate that school budgets are tight – and funders and head teachers face many difficult financial decisions. But school counselling is a crucial investment that can transform young people’s lives.”

One in eight children and young people have one or more mental health disorders, according to NHS figures published last year.

“Those counselling sessions have saved me. They completely changed my life".

Liam Bellchambers, 17, was first seen by NHS mental health services at the age of six. For many years he struggled with anxiety, depression, and hearing voices in his head.

But it was when he began weekly sessions with a counsellor at his Northamptonshire school that his life began to turn around. Last year he did his GCSEs and performed in a school production of Grease.

“Those counselling sessions have saved me. They completely changed my life,” he said. “I don’t think I would have done my GCSEs if it hadn’t been for counselling. I would have sat at home, hiding away, like I did before. My counsellor would work with me in different ways to help me cope.

“It was so much easier talking about it, rather than sitting and coping with it alone every day. I can still remember some of these sessions as if they are fresh in my mind. If I’m struggling, I think of what my counsellor said in those moments and I use that to help me cope.”

Last year, Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield said she believed there should be an NHS-funded counsellor in every school.

Jillian Hyde, Head Teacher of Ince CofE Primary School in Wigan, said:

“I think it is essential that there is money within primary school budgets to pay for counselling. There are multiple barriers to learning that children may face; these may be problems at home, domestic violence, anxieties of many kinds. The counsellors have the skills to be able to raise those barriers. Children’s social and emotional needs have to be addressed so that they have every opportunity to reach their full potential.

“It also gives children the emotional tools and skills to develop resilience so that they can better deal with anxieties that they may face in the future. Our children have told us how our professional counsellors have helped them. Parents have praised the service that their children receive. Staff have observed the positive impact that the counselling has had on the children in their classes.”