Half of schools cannot offer on-site mental-health counselling

A new study by IPPR has found that only half of teachers say their school can offer pupils on-site mental health counselling in wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The think tank, who have unearthed clear signs of inequality and decline, says that the government should introduce a national entitlement to key support services within schools after the pandemic.

The new report, The New Normal: The future of education after Covid-19, finds that far fewer state schools appear to be providing key services to support vulnerable students, including on-site counselling and parental support programmes, than were doing so a decade ago. This is part of a ‘clear gulf in provision’ of all kinds of health support between state schools in more affluent areas and those serving least well-off communities - and an even wider gap with private schools.

Polling by Teacher Tapp for the IPPR report, conducted after the first wave of the pandemic, found 48 per cent of teachers said their schools offered on-site counselling, and 37 per cent reported parental support programmes. Private schools and state schools in more affluent areas were far more likely to provide crucial support services such as counselling, access to a school nurse and after-school clubs than those in less affluent areas.

Additionally, parental support services and before-school clubs were more likely to be provided by state schools in less affluent areas but are far from universal. More than a third of teachers (38 per cent) in the most deprived areas said their schools weren’t providing before-school clubs and more than half (53 per cent) said they didn’t provide parental support services.

The report says that access to such support services will be crucial to address the sharp inequalities in children’s home-learning environment highlighted by the pandemic. The report argues for schools to be developed as hubs for local services supporting children’s health and wellbeing. IPPR also proposes that the government establishes, and fully funds: a national entitlement to an extended school day (with activities before and after school); a comprehensive programme of parent engagement and activities; on-site mental health and social work support in every school .

Harry Quilter Pinner, IPPR’s lead author of the report, said: “Covid-19 has exposed the profound inequalities faced by young people in our society. It has highlighted the need to support children not just inside but also outside the school gates. This means ensuring children have a safe space to study at home, parents who feel able to support them and counselling to address mental ill-health.

“Many schools are unable to provide the support young people need to thrive. Without urgent government action to ensure every school can provide vital services such as counselling and after-school clubs there is a profound risk that the legacy of the pandemic will be even bigger educational and health inequalities.  

“The government has started to put in place some support for young people in the wake of the national lockdown. But it can and should go further: the pandemic should be seen as an opportunity to ‘build back better’. We must use this as a moment to ‘reset’ our education system and address some of the longstanding weaknesses that pre-date the pandemic.”