Number of schools in England offering counselling for pupils doubles in four years

More schools are offering mental health support to children. Credit:  Barry Batchelor/PA Wire
More schools are offering mental health support to children. Credit: Barry Batchelor/PA Wire
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A teaching union has called for urgent action from the Government to address failings within the NHS which have left many schools facing a mental health crisis among pupils.

The call comes in wake of a survey of school leaders, which reveals that the number of schools in England commissioning the services of professional counsellors has almost doubled since 2016.

Additionally, while three-quarters of schools said the majority of staff were confident in spotting signs of mental health problems among their pupils, just four per cent agreed that Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) responds quickly to requests for support.

The general secretary of the NAHT, Paul Whiteman, said: “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.

“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.

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“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.”

The survey compared current data with that collected in 2016 when just over a third of primaries and secondaries questioned said they provided school-based support for students’ emotional and mental wellbeing. By last year, the figure had rocketed to 66 per cent.

Catherine Roche, the chief executive of children’s mental health charity, Place2Be, said: “Three children in every classroom now has 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.

“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 findings of the report which have been released on the first day of Children’s Mental Health Week, are based on a survey completed by 653 headteachers and reveal wider failings in the mental health system.

However, the NHS has claimed that CAMHS is meeting its performance targets and is supporting more youngsters than ever before.

A spokesperson said: “Looking after children and young people needs to be a priority across society, the NHS is rolling out new schools-based mental health services along with 70,000 more children and young people getting treatment this year, rising to 345,000 more a year by 2024.

“The NHS is actually ahead of its target on mental health care – seeing an extra 53,000 children, teenagers and young adults last year, a 14 per cent increase on the year before and 22 per cent more staff in services than five years ago, against a backdrop of rising referrals.”