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Policy & legislation

There’s no legal requirement on schools in England to provide counselling services in-school, although they are subject to other relevant duties.

The Department for Education (DfE) published guidance on counselling in schools (February 2016). As this document notes, there are various models for delivering counselling including:

  • Counsellors employed directly by schools – either a single school or working across several.
  • Arrangements with voluntary sector or local authority partners, where counsellors visit schools for a certain number of days per week, or just to counsel particular students.

The 2016 DfE guidance (linked above) identified a number of priorities for the development of school-based counselling services:

  • increasing the extent to which practice is evidence-based
  • greater use of outcome monitoring
  • ensuring equity of access to young people who are currently under-represented, for example those from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds
  • ensuring services are equipped to meet the needs of vulnerable children and young people, including looked after children and children and young people with SEND;
  • increasing children and young people’s involvement with development of services; and
  • better integration with other mental health and wellbeing support within the school and beyond it, allowing for improved assessment and referral. Integration with local specialist child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) is key to this.[1]

Looking more generally at mental health support in schools, Government policies have recently been focused on strengthening partnerships between education providers and mental health services through pilot schemes linking schools with single points of contact in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). The DfE published an evaluation report of pilot projects in 2017.

November 2017 saw the publication of a Green Paper for consultation: Transforming children’s and young people’s mental health provision, and the Government subsequently confirmed it would go ahead with its three core proposals:

  • To incentivise and support all schools and colleges to identify and train a Designated Senior Lead for mental health;
  • To fund new Mental Health Support Teams, which will be supervised by NHS children and young people’s mental health staff;
  • To pilot a four week waiting time for access to specialist NHS children and young people’s mental health services.

A March 2021 DfE press release provided details of “£79 million to boost mental health support for children and young people”. Part of this funding would help expand mental health teams in schools:

The number of mental health support teams in schools and colleges will grow from 59 to 400 by April 2023, supporting nearly 3 million children. Mental health support teams work in a variety of ways, including enabling children to text their local mental health support team, with a health professional responding within an hour during the school day offering them advice, or providing families with tips on how to spot that the children and young people are struggling with their mental health.

In May 2021, the Government announced more than £17 million to improve mental health and wellbeing support in schools and colleges, to help them recover from the challenges of the pandemic:

Up to 7,800 schools and colleges in England will be offered funding worth £9.5 million to train a senior mental health lead, part of the Government’s commitment to offer this training to all state schools and colleges by 2025. Funding also includes a new £7 million Wellbeing for Education Recovery programme, to provide training, support and resources for staff dealing with children and young people experiencing additional pressures from the last year – including trauma, anxiety, or grief.[2]

In response to a PQ on 12 July 2021 on school counselling, then-Health Minister, Nadine Dorries said the Government hadn’t made it mandatory for schools to offer access to counselling “as it is important for schools and colleges to have the freedom to decide what support to offer to students.” On the roll-out of Mental Health Support Teams, she said:

There are over 280 mental health support teams in operation or in training, with a further 112 teams planned to be established in 2021/22. We are accelerating the roll-out of Mental health support teams will so that they support approximately 35% of pupils by 2023.[3]

Other relevant legislation

Maintained schools and academies (including 16-19 academies) are required by section 100 of the Children and Families Act 2014, as amended, to make arrangements to support pupils with health conditions, including mental ill health.

The Department for Education (DfE) has also published guidance on supporting students’ mental health, as has Public Health England (PHE). These two documents are non-statutory, but settings are encouraged to follow them:

Current provision: evidence

The DfE doesn’t routinely collect school workforce data that would allow us to identify the number of schools employing their own counsellors, or those that jointly commission such services with other schools/ their academy trust, but there is data from surveys.

The DfE’s most recent survey took place in 2017, and data collected was weighted to reflect non-response. This estimated:

  • 61% of schools and colleges overall reported offering access to counselling services for their pupils;
  • Secondary schools were more likely to offer access – 84% of secondary schools did so, compared to 56% of primary schools.[4]

The report also looked at whether school-based counsellors were qualified and/ or registered with a professional association. Of schools offering counselling:

  • 47% said their counsellors were registered with a professional body such as the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP) or the UK Council for Psychotherapy;
  • 44% said their counsellor(s) held a diploma in counselling;
  • 40% said their counsellor(s) held other professional qualifications or registrations.

However, one in seven (15%) of institutions offering counselling services said their counsellor(s) didn’t hold any professional qualifications or registrations.[5]

A joint survey of school leaders by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and mental health charity, Place2be, undertaken at the end of 2019, estimated:

  • In 2016, just over a third (36 per cent) of schools in England provided school-based support for students’ emotional and mental wellbeing;
  • By 2019, this had almost doubled to 66 per cent.[6]

Commentary/ proposals for reform

The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) reported the results of a weighted survey of adults in 2019. They estimated:

  • 72% of people believed that schools should offer counselling services;
  • This increased to 79% among parents with children under the age of 18;
  • 16-24-year-olds were the most likely to advocate school-based counselling (83%).[7]

BACP continues to campaign for the expansion of school-based counselling services to every school and FE college in England. They argue that the country is behind other UK nations in terms of Government financial support:

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 behind 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 support.


We believe that a paid counsellor should be available in every secondary school, academy and further education college in England.

This is a message we continually stress to politicians, commissioners, funders and education leaders.

We campaign to complement existing investment by providing a cost-effective and universal, non-stigmatising early intervention.

School counselling reaches the ‘missing middle’ of young people, those who do not meet the threshold for support for CAMHS but need more help than can be offered by mental health support teams.

Funded school counselling provision will also help the 65% of pupils not supported under the MHST [Mental Health Support Team] model, as well as being able to work with more complex issues with a bespoke focus on what that particular child or young person needs from counselling.[8]

The Local Government Association has also recently urged the Government to fully fund counselling services in all state-funded secondary schools. It called for at least £100 million per year, which it said would “ensure access to a school counsellor for at least two days a week for more than 90 per cent of schools”.[9]

A Welsh Government toolkit on school- and community-based counselling sets out the legal and policy background for Wales. This was updated in 2020 and contains guidance on employing suitably-qualified counsellors and working with other health services. Similar guidance exists for Scotland, and Northen Ireland.

Former Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, also called for NHS-funded counsellors to be available in every school. In her annual report on children and young people’s mental health services for 2020/21 (January 2021) she said:

The Government’s current plan – to roll out NHS-led counselling in schools to 20-25% of areas by 2023 – was never ambitious enough. This was my response to the original Green Paper, and a view shared by the joint inquiry of the Education and Health Select Committees. At the time I called for more collaboration with existing voluntary sector provision to help roll this out faster. This would have provided greater capacity and flexibility – something which has been needed more this year than ever. It is vital that these counselling services are available for every school as quickly as possible. When we see what the NHS has achieved within the last year, it shows what can be done with the right level of ambition and determination. It should not have to take another decade to create a decent mental health service for all children.[10]

[1]   Department for Education, Counselling in schools, February 2016, p10

[2]   Department for Education, Schools and colleges to benefit from boost in expert mental health support, 10 May 2021

[3]   PQ 27108, 12 July 2021.

[4]   Department for Education/ NatCen, Supporting Mental Health in Schools and Colleges, August 2017, p29

[5]   As above, ps 29-30

[6]   Place2Be/ NAHT, ‘Huge rise in number of school-based counsellors over past three years’, 3 February 2020.

[7]   British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy news story, ‘Three quarters of people believe schools should offer counselling’, 13 June 2019.

[8]   British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, ‘School counselling in England campaign’, 9 September 2021.

[9]   Local Government Association news story, ‘LGA: Make school-based counselling available to all children to tackle rising child mental health issues’, 15 October 2021.

[10] Children’s Commissioner for England, The state of children’s mental health services 2020/21, 28 January 2021.

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