School-based Counselling in Every Primary and Secondary School in England

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2022 Local Government Service Group Conference
18 February 2022

The grief, anxiety and depression children have experienced during the pandemic is welling over into classrooms and hallways, resulting in crying and disruptive behaviour in many younger kids and increased violence and bullying among adolescents. For many other children, who keep their sadness and fear inside, the pressures of school have become too great.

Good mental health is fundamental to be able to thrive in life. If we’re not tackling mental health problems early, then we risk failing the next generation right at the start of their lives.

We know there is no one single way for schools to provide such an environment. To make them mentally healthy places for all who attend and work in them, we need to pursue a “whole-school” approach to prevention. School staff, leadership, the curriculum, children, and access to support all contribute to creating a mentally healthy, nurturing environment for children and young people.

Speaking to a school counsellor can be a transformative experience for children and young people. It can help them cope with the difficult circumstances they face in their lives and to go on and flourish in the future.

But England is lagging in its provision of counselling in schools. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland all have government funded school counselling services. England does not.

As children face increased change and uncertainty in their lives because of the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever before that they have access to this vital therapeutic support.

A trained school counsellor gives a young person a place that is focused 100% on their needs, a safe space to help them to understand and cope with what they’re going through.

Counselling has a positive effect on young people’s confidence, resilience, sense of self-worth, family relationships, friendships, school attendance and academic achievement.

A survey this year by NAHT showed an increased prevalence of other mental health issues among pupils this school year, including staff seeing:

1)86% noted an increase in low self-esteem

2)76% said they’d seen an increase in depression

3)68% witnessed an increase in sustained feelings of anger

For staff working in secondary schools, 72% have noticed an increase in self-harm, 61% in suicidal thoughts, and 56% in eating difficulties among pupils.

Unfortunately, only 23% of staff said they had regularly been able to access specialist support for pupils with mental health needs, leaving most children and young people struggling without access to the support they need.

Poor mental health in school age children has a negative impact on UNISON members working in schools due to:

a)Pupils’ not engaging in learning

b)Pupils’ poor behaviour increasing

c)Staff workload increasing

d)Staff wellbeing impacted negatively

Positive mental health in pupils leads to better workplaces for our members.

Newcastle City Branch has been working with Citizens UK on their campaign with the British Association for Counselling to secure a fully funded statutory provision of school-based counselling in every primary and secondary school in England.

We call upon the Local Government Service Group Executive to support the Citizens UK school-based campaign by:

i)Publicly endorsing and promoting the Citizens UK campaign;

ii)Encouraging other UNISON branches to collaborate with regional chapters of Citizens UK on this issue; and

iii)Encouraging individual UNISON members to promote the campaign within schools they work in.