School Counselling

Four in 10 secondary school pupils are currently unable to access school counselling mental health support, new research shows.

Children’s mental health charity YoungMinds found that 23 per cent of secondary school pupils asked, said that there was less mental health support in their school than before the pandemic.

Just nine per cent agreed that there was more mental health support.

Some 40 per cent of pupils said there was no counsellor available to support students in their schools while just over a quarter (27 per cent) had had a one-to-one conversation with a teacher or another member of staff in which they were asked about their wellbeing.

A further 69 per cent of respondents described their mental health as poor now that they are back at school compared with 58 per cent who described their mental health as poor before returning to school.

One young person said: “I used to have sessions weekly with a school counsellor which stopped due to lockdown and have not started again, even though I need them just as much.”

Another added: “Having pre-existing anxiety I feel that there is a lack of support or sympathy. The school is focussed on results and returning to normal, but have not taken into account the mindset of their students that have been isolated for so long. Travelling and socialising is exhausting, but it’s the continued workload that is most distressing.”

YoungMinds is calling on the government to provide a ringfenced resilience fund, which would ensure schools could commission the mental health and wellbeing support that young people need.

This could include commissioning in-school counselling services, working with local charities, bringing extra staff to provide pastoral support, commissioning digital services or prioritising staff wellbeing, the charity said.

The resilience fund would sit separately, but complementary to, the £650 million catch-up premium, which is likely to be used specifically for academic support by most schools, it added.

Emma Thomas, chief executive of YoungMinds, said: “The pandemic has put a huge strain on many young people who were already struggling with their mental health, because of traumatic experiences, social isolation, a loss of routine and a breakdown in formal and informal support.

“While it’s extremely welcome that secondary schools have reopened, our research shows that young people with mental health problems have often not had a ‘soft landing’ in their first few weeks back. The combination of a rapid return to academic pressure, worries about the pandemic, readjusting to seeing classmates again and too little targeted support has meant that many have struggled to cope.

“This is absolutely not a criticism of schools. We know that they have been under huge pressure and many simply do not have the resources to provide the level of pastoral support that is now required.

“While there has rightly been a focus on academic catch-up, young people can only learn effectively if they are in a good place emotionally. That’s why the government must provide ringfenced funding for schools to help them prioritise wellbeing and mental health this year.”

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