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Secondary Schools: Counselling Services

Volume 779: debated on Monday 20 February 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many secondary schools in England do not currently provide in-school counselling services for their students.

My Lords, school-based counselling can be very valuable and we have published advice, drawn up with experts, on the way that schools can provide effective access to counselling. It is right for schools to decide on the support they provide for their pupils and we do not make them report centrally. However, we are undertaking a large-scale survey to give us nationally representative data on how schools support the mental well-being of their pupils, including through counselling.

I thank the Minister for that response. He will be aware of the anguish caused to young people and their parents when they are unable to access the services they need through mental health support in schools, or through child and adolescent mental health services. Will the Minister review the criteria used by CAMHS in assessing mental health service referrals in the light of recent figures published by the Education Policy Institute’s Mental Health Commission on young people’s mental health, which show that a quarter of all referrals from schools to CAMHS are currently declined?

We are working with the Department of Health to commission a review of CAMHS in order to identify areas for improvement, and every clinical commissioning group has been asked to submit a plan to NHS England on how it is going to improve CAMHS provision. As the noble Lord will know, we are also expanding our joint training pilot for single points of contact in schools and in CAMHS from the original 225 schools to a further 1,200.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the earliest possible intervention in adolescent mental health issues is often the most effective? If that is so, will Her Majesty’s Government make it clear to schools that they have a duty of care to provide counselling services in all schools?

We expect all schools to provide counselling services. Our counselling advice sets that out pretty clearly.

Can the Minister say how children who are being educated at home are provided with counselling services?

I cannot. There is a long-standing tradition in this country of parents being able to educate their children at home. We rely on parents to ensure that where their children need counselling services, they get them.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that an excellent education in a medical setting for those with severe mental health issues is essential to their recovery? Will he join me in paying tribute to the importance of education in acute mental health settings, such as the Pilgrim Pupil Referral Units in Cambridgeshire, which provide a stable learning environment for children and young people?

I am delighted to join the right reverend Prelate in celebrating the value of this important work. I pay particular tribute to the Pilgrim PRU, which provides specialist support to build resilience and self-confidence, enabling children to reintegrate into mainstream or other settings. In her speech last month on mental health, the Prime Minister talked about ending the burning injustice of mental health problems. Children with more serious mental health problems deserve the same opportunities as everyone else. Ensuring that they get high-quality education is vital to their success in later life.

Will the Department for Education work with the Department of Health to carry out a joint cost-benefit analysis of having counsellors in schools compared to the cost of mental health services for children later in life?

I do not think there is any disagreement: as was just mentioned, we believe that the earlier children receive this kind of support, the better. The cost-benefit analysis is clear: all schools should provide counselling where it is needed.

My Lords, I refer the House to my non-financial registered interest as a trustee of Yavneh academy trust. Only two weeks ago, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales visited the school, and much time during the visit was taken up with sessions on charitable endeavours and helping others. We were pleased to be able to show how the college was taking seriously its in-school counselling. What more can the Government do to build on additional investment in children and young people’s mental health and to give schools support for specialist services?

We have committed an additional £1.4 billion for mental health services for children, young people and new mothers over the course of the Parliament. We are developing a Green Paper and as I said, we have asked all CCGs to submit their plans. We have extended our joint training pilot scheme and the Prime Minister has committed to strengthening the accountability of children and young people’s mental health provision.

My Lords, I can tell the House that schools are not providing counselling for financial reasons. The Conservatives’ 2015 election manifesto said that school funding would be protected. It is not. For the first time in 20 years, it is being protected in only cash terms, not real terms, which is leading to teacher shortages and failure to provide support services. The education services grant is supposed to provide such services, but it has been subject to savage cuts. Will the Minister tell the House how he really expects schools to respond to the increasing demand from children with additional needs, when the schools do not have the funding to provide for it?

A number of support systems and toolkits are available in the department. Any school that uses our toolkits, particularly following the new fairer formula we are bringing in, should be able to manage on their budgets.

My Lords, are there any plans for the CQC and Ofsted to work together to inspect how well schools are looking after the mental health and well-being of their children?

The noble Baroness makes a good point. We certainly will involve the CQC in looking at the accountability of children and young people’s mental health services. We are considering whether to involve Ofsted.