February 2014


  • Sense of direction?
    A new special needs code of practice is being heralded by the government as ‘the biggest shake-up of special educational needs (SEN) in 30 years’. Jonathan Fawcett looks at what leaders can expect and sees some potential problems looming. More
  • Market forces
    In the third topic in the Great Education Debate (GED) series, Robert Hill explores the roles of autonomy and diversity, the twin pillars of reform. More
  • Behind the headlines
    Bad news stories about the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results don’t give the whole picture of how our schools compare internationally, says Ian Bauckham. Nevertheless, PISA contains important messages that we cannot afford to ignore. More
  • Talking cures
    Access to professional counselling for students in school can help prevent deeper problems emerging later on, enabling students to realise all of their potential, finds Karen Cromarty. More
  • Warning signs
    Teacher recruitment is already down alarmingly in key subjects, says John Howson. So is 2014 set to be the year the teacher shortage becomes a full-blown crisis? More
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Access to professional counselling for students in school can help prevent deeper problems emerging later on, enabling students to realise all of their potential, finds Karen Cromarty.

Talking cures

In multiple studies, when young people are asked questions such as “What would make life better?” they repeatedly say that it would be having someone they can trust to talk to.

Access to a professional, qualified counselling service in their school can dramatically improve the wellbeing of a child or young person who has emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD). Counselling within the school environment can be successful in alleviating or preventing these problems from becoming more complex and costly and from requiring referral to other specialist services.

At Framwellgate School Durham, school counselling was introduced 14 years ago as part of a strategy to help improve the wellbeing of children in the school, alongside the drive for academic excellence. Framwellgate became an academy in December 2011 and was rated ‘good’ with outstanding features by Ofsted in January 2012.

Framwellgate’s Deputy Head, Peter Connor, says that initial reticence about the service has been replaced by growing recognition on the part of both staff and students. “At first some of my colleagues were uncertain that this would be a good use of funding, but these misgivings rapidly gave way to approval when we saw the tremendously positive effects of the service.”

Originally, says Peter, governors questioned whether the mental health of students was the responsibility of the school, and wondered if it was more appropriate for social services or the NHS to fund such services. But, he adds: “We were able to demonstrate that what the counselling did was enhance the motivation of students, impact positively on their attendance and learning, and, as such, improve standards.”

Framwellgate’s current school counsellor is employed by the local authority (LA) and their services are bought in by the school under a service-level agreement (SLA) with the authority. Previously the school employed its own member of staff.

‘More resilient students’

“We see the counselling service as part of our duty of care to our students,” Peter says. “We have been pleased at just how easy it was to employ a trained counsellor in the school, and we have been rewarded not just with happier, more resilient students, but with ones who are more focused and able to fulfil their whole potential, which of course includes their academic potential.”

Framwellgate uses some of its Pupil Premium funding for counselling but, even without it, the school would certainly find funding somewhere for the provision, and, in fact, would love to extend the service to full-time, says Peter.

“We are about to trial sessions where the counsellor and the student services manager meet with groups of parents to discuss issues that affect students’ wellbeing. The first will focus on exam stress, but thereafter we’ll see what parents need. We think there’s likely to be an appetite for advice and guidance on issues such as internet safety, for example.”

Peter also appreciates the level at which the counsellors have worked in school. “We have a tiered system of support, which has many staff trained in lower-level interventions such as restorative justice, and this leaves the trained counsellor to work with students with more severe levels of mental distress.” Peter’s enthusiasm is typical, according to recent research. A scoping report by Mick Cooper, Professor of Counselling at the University of Strathclyde, found that more than 90 per cent of school staff across four studies in England and Scotland said they were satisfied or extremely satisfied with their current counselling provision. More than 80 per cent rated it as value for money, and the majority felt that it was well-recognised and valued by school.

A perception of school-based counselling by the school community as ‘non-stigmatising’ and as a normal part of school provision is vital to successfully integrating the service into the school community. If counselling services are to be accessed in schools, young service users need to see them as approachable, trustworthy and effective. A school ethos in which counselling is understood as a professional activity and that regards counselling as an important part of its student support services is essential.

Clearly, appropriate training and expertise is paramount. School counsellors should be members of a relevant professional body that has an established ethical framework and complaints procedure. Therapeutic work with young people is complex; a colleague who belongs to a professional body will have expert support, advice and guidance when required. An ethical framework can provide a coherent structure for discussion, promote consistency, and provide a means for explaining reasons behind any decisions or actions taken.

Of course, school counsellors should always work within the school’s policies and will share an understanding that education is the core business of the school. Accountability, and the ability to demonstrate the affect that they have is also important – counselling services routinely provide reports to senior staff that log the trends the counsellor sees in the school (such as self-harm or bullying in certain year groups) as well as the effects of the service. This is a necessity and absolute best practice for school counselling services.

Just across the county from Framwellgate, a very different school is also seeing the benefits of an in-house counsellor. The Academy at Shotton Hall is in the ex-mining town of Peterlee, an area of high deprivation and unemployment, and the number of students at the school attracting the Pupil Premium is well above the national average.

Their counsellor, Caroline Manners, started working full-time at Shotton Hall in February 2011 when it converted to an academy. She is employed directly by the school and is a vital member of their pastoral system that was judged ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted in July 2013.

Caroline’s experience at the school reflects the challenges involved in working with children who may have a turbulent home life and for whom being able to talk to a trusted adult in confidence is a vital source of comfort and support.

She says: “The success of the service is it being embedded into school. I work very closely with school staff but without breaking the confidences of the young people I work with. The staff understand completely that their students learn most effectively when they feel emotionally well. They are fully supportive of counselling within the school and know that, although I can tell them how one of their students is doing generally, I won’t divulge any detail.”

‘Supportive cushion’

Val Bell, Head of Pastoral Care at Shotton Hall, says that the counselling service is held in high esteem throughout the school. “Counselling is a central part of our ‘supportive cushion’, which reassures and cares for those who are most in need. Our learning managers use counselling strategically in their pursuit of a happy and successful year group and I’m 100 per cent sure that counselling greatly supports the wider aims of the school.”

The Strathclyde report suggests that 40 per cent of children going for counselling in their school have had problems for a year or more. ‘Family issues’ is by far the most common topic they raise, accounting for approximately a third of visits in a recent study, with anger and behaviour following not far behind.

With these statistics in mind, the need for effective early intervention is clear, and school-based counselling provides this in a way that non-school-based ones can’t. There is wide evidence to suggest that young people may be as much as ten times more likely to access a school-based mental health service as compared with a non-school-based one. Combined with short waiting times, convenient location, and broad intake criteria this creates a compelling argument for school-based counselling as an effective early intervention.

The crux of school-based counselling is supporting young people to address their difficulties in a timely manner and to prevent those difficulties from developing into more serious problems later on. Some of the benefits to students are reflected in the responses given by the young clients of Caroline Manners’ service at Shotton Hall. When asked as to what they thought was the best thing about counselling they replied: “being able to talk to someone about it besides family”, “just talking to someone without being judged” and “it helped an awful lot and I was able to concentrate on school more”.

  • Karen Cromarty is Senior Lead Advisor, Children and Young People, British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP).

School-based Counselling in UK Secondary Schools: A review and critical evaluation by Professor Mick Cooper: www.iapt.nhs.uk/silo/files/school-basedcounsellingreview.pdf