School-based Counselling Services Debate

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Department: Department for Education

School-based Counselling Services

Kevan Jones Excerpts
Tuesday 9th November 2021

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Will Quince Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Will Quince)
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I congratulate the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) on securing this important debate. I am conscious that time has been short, but I would like to thank all those who have spoken for their constructive contributions to this debate. Colleagues will know me well enough to know that I have never refused a meeting with a colleague and, although I will not be able to cover all of the points raised today, I would be very happy to meet any Member from across the House to further discuss the points that they have raised. I have already accepted a request from my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Miriam Cates).

We know that mental health can have a profound impact on the whole of a child’s life. That is why the Government are committed to treating mental health with the same urgency as physical health and to deliver parity of esteem, and we are supporting mental health and wellbeing at all stages of people’s lives. We recognise that schools are in a unique position as they are able to help to prevent mental health problems by promoting resilience as part of an integrated, whole school approach that is tailored to the needs of their pupils.

Improving mental health starts with promoting good mental wellbeing and ensuring that children and young people get the help and support that they need. Schools with the right support from specialist services can play a vital role in that, which is why improving mental health support for schools has been a long-standing priority for this Government, with a shared approach led by the Department of Health and Social Care and supported by the Department for Education.

Supporting mental health and wellbeing is especially important at this time. As many Members from across the Chamber have referenced today, the covid-19 pandemic has had a particular impact on the wellbeing and mental health of children and young people. The Government’s national survey on the mental health of children and young people in England, which was published in September, found that rates of probable mental health disorder in six to 16-year-olds have risen from one in nine in 2017 to one in six in 2021. Those findings, which are helping us to ensure that the action we are taking is informed by the most up-to-date evidence, reinforce what we have been hearing from schools and colleges about how many children face issues and the need to continue to act.

Because of that, the Government have made children’s wellbeing and mental health a central part of our response to the coronavirus pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, we have prioritised keeping schools open above all else, as long as it was safe to do so, because it is so vital for children and young people’s wellbeing, as well as their education.

The Government have also invested £7 million this year in our Wellbeing for Education Recovery programme. That programme enabled local authorities to provide further support to schools and colleges to develop their curriculum and pastoral care provision in the context of the pandemic. The programme built on our £8 million Wellbeing for Education Return programme in 2020, which provided free expert training, support and resources for education staff dealing with children and young people experiencing additional pressures, including trauma, anxiety, or grief. Around 12,000 schools and colleges across the country have benefited from that support, which was delivered through local authorities.

In addition, we are investing up to £5 billion to support recovery for children and young people who need it most. That includes an additional £1 billion of new recovery premium funding for disadvantaged pupils. Our guidance is clear that schools can use that funding, as well as other funding such as pupil premium, to support their pupils’ mental health and wellbeing, including for counselling and other therapeutic services, alongside supporting their academic attainment.

As we move forward, the Government remain committed to improving the support available to schools by helping them to put in place whole school approaches to mental health and wellbeing which are tailored to the particular needs of their pupils. We know that school-based counselling by well-qualified practitioners can be an effective part of a whole school approach and that many schools already provide access to some counselling support. Our national survey of school provision, published in 2017, found that 61% of schools offered counselling services, with 84% of secondary schools providing their pupils with access to counselling support.

To further support schools that have decided that counselling support is the appropriate path for their pupils, we have produced guidance on how to deliver high-quality, school-based counselling. In the light of the impacts of the pandemic, we have committed to updating that guidance to make sure that it reflects the current context.

The guidance sets out our strong expectation that, over time, all schools will offer counselling services, alongside other interventions, because evidence suggests that counselling can have a positive effect, in particular on children’s psychological distress, self-esteem and general wellbeing. However, we have not mandated that all schools should provide access to counselling services as we believe that it is vital that they have the freedom to decide what support to offer their pupils based on their particular needs and drawing on an evidence base of effective practice.

We are taking action to help schools to build their capability to promote children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing, as well as ensuring that those who need help with their mental health receive appropriate support. The Government are providing £9.5 million to offer senior mental health lead training to about a third of all state schools and colleges in England in 2021-22. Part of the commitment that we made in our 2017 Green Paper, “Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision”, was to offer this training to all state schools and colleges by 2025. The senior mental health lead is a strategic leadership role, with responsibility for overseeing the school’s whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing.

As part of this training, leads will learn about how to develop a culture and ethos that promotes positive mental health and wellbeing, as well as how to make the best use of local resources, including counselling services, to support children and young people who are experiencing issues. I am pleased to report that nearly a quarter of schools and colleges in England—about 6,000—have already applied for one of these £1,200 grants. Many senior mental health leads have already started their training, which will enable them to start to apply their learning this academic year. That will help them to build on the incredible work that they and their colleagues have done throughout the pandemic to promote and support the wellbeing of their pupils.

Another important part of the whole school approach is ensuring that all pupils understand how to promote their own mental health and wellbeing, and that they have the knowledge and confidence to seek additional support when it is needed. That is why, in September 2020, we made health education compulsory—

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Kevan Jones
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On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Call me old-fashioned, but I thought that in a wind-up the Minister was supposed to respond to the debate. He has now been on his feet for seven or eight minutes, and all we have heard is a pre-prepared, read-out speech.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a point of order for the Chair. If he does not like what the Minister is saying, he is at liberty to intervene on him and suggest that he says something else. The Minister also has plenty more time to make plenty more points.