State school pupils less likely to have access to counselling support on site


Private schools are more likely to provide pupils with mental health counselling in the wake of the pandemic than state schools in less affluent areas, according to a think tank.

Fewer state schools appear to be offering support services for students, like on-site counselling and parental schemes, than a decade ago, an IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research) report suggests.

Less than half (48%) of teachers said their schools offered on-site counselling and 37% reported providing parental support programmes, according to a poll carried out ahead of schools fully reopening.

But the IPPR research found that independent schools and state schools in more affluent areas were more likely to provide key mental health support than those in the most deprived areas of the country.

Three in four (75%) of teachers in private schools said pupils had access to on-site mental health support, such as a counsellor, compared to 48% of teachers in state schools located in the least affluent areas.

Just over half (51%) of teachers in the state schools in the most privileged areas said students had access to on-site mental health provision, according to the polling by the Teacher Tapp app.

The think tank is calling on the Government to ensure there is on-site mental health and social work support in every school as it says they will be vital in addressing inequalities exposed by the pandemic.

The report suggests there has been a decline in provision of these services over the last decade.

It cites a Department for Education (DfE) study in 2010 which found that 91% of schools were providing access to on-site counselling.

The survey, of more than 6,900 teachers in England in August, found that more than three in four (77%) think on-site mental health services are key to improving attainment.

The think tank is also calling for a national entitlement to an extended school day after more than half of teachers said they felt regular after-school clubs are needed.

Harry Quilter Pinner, IPPR associate director and lead author of the report, said: “Without urgent government action to ensure every school can provide vital services, such as counselling and after-school clubs, there is a profound risk that the legacy of the pandemic will be even bigger educational and health inequalities.”

It comes as the Liberal Democrats are calling on the Chancellor to allocate funding in the forthcoming spending review to ensure all secondary schools and colleges can offer pupils access to counselling.

Tyne & Wear Citizens group, which is part of Citizens UK, is also launching a campaign to get schools-based counsellors in every single school in the local area and across England.

Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Daisy Cooper said: “Schools are best placed to provide rapid access to mental health support, but they simply don’t have the resources to do so.

“Young people are suffering needlessly as a result.

“The Conservatives must put that right, and get behind our plans to ensure every secondary school and college in England can provide access to counselling for their pupils through this difficult period and beyond.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Schools have had to severely cut their budgets because of government underfunding of the education system, so support services for vulnerable pupils have inevitably reduced over the past decade, alongside many other areas of provision.

“In fact, we have repeatedly warned the Government of the impact on these services as a result of funding pressures.”

Mr Barton added that schools “desperately need more money” for this type of provision.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders union NAHT, said: “It has never been more important for young people to get the support they need, but it still appears that it is lottery.

“The Government urgently needs to step in to correct this.”

A Government spokeswoman said: “We have invested millions of pounds in mental health charities and in support for teachers, including a new £8 million training and support programme delivered by local experts to tackle the impact of coronavirus on pupils, parents and staff, for all state schools and colleges.

“Our £1 billion Covid catch-up fund is supporting state schools to tackle the impact of lost teaching time, and can be used to support pupils’ social, emotional or behavioural specific needs, including time with an Educational Psychologist.”