Does counselling for pupils work? New research project seeks schools to help find the answer

Researchers are looking for secondary schools to volunteer to take part in a major new study into whether professional counselling helps young people to cope with anxieties.

The £835,000 project will provide 18 schools with professional and experienced school-based counsellors at no cost for two years.

School staff will assist to identify pupils who may be helped by counselling and want to take part in the research. Students will then be divided into two groups, with half receiving up to 10 weeks of counselling and the other half being helped by the school’s existing support system.

The research team, which is being led by Professor Mick Cooper of the University of Roehampton in London, will then look at whether students’ psychological wellbeing has been affected six weeks, three months and six months after receiving help. The study will also assess whether there has been an impact on educational performance.

Professor Cooper said: “Young people in the UK deserve the very best care for their mental health, and this study will help us understand what that is. There are a number of possible ways that we might support young people to tackle mental health problems. This study will help us understand the contribution that school-based counselling can make, its cost-effectiveness, and the ways in which we might be able to improve it.”

Dr Cathy Street, director of the National Children’s Bureau research centre, added: “We know from the many children and young people we work with, how important mental health support in school can be. [Young people] emphasise the key role of schools in helping their pupils through difficulties.”

It comes after the children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, called for all schools to provide counselling for students.

Ms Longfield told the Commons education committee last month that counselling “probably should be made a requirement as part of school”.

Research suggests that in England between 64 per cent and 80 per cent of secondary schools currently have counsellors. In Wales, it is a requirement for counselling to be available in school for all children aged 11 to 18 and pupils in Year 6 of primary school.

The new study is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and involves researchers from the universities of Roehampton, Sheffield and Manchester; the London School of Economics; University College London; the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy; the Metanoia Institute, an educational charity which trains counsellors; and the National Children’s Bureau research centre. The study will be supported by the Manchester-based Clinical Trials Unit.

Schools wanting to take part in the study should contact Peter Pearce at the Metanoia Institute. The study will begin in April and take three years.

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