Benefits of mental health counselling in primary schools 'worth six times the cost'

Call for government to fund universal roll-out of mental health and wellbeing support in schools

Helen Ward

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The potential benefits of providing mental health counselling in primary schools are worth six times the cost, according to a new report.

Better job prospects for pupils, and lower rates of ill-health and crime, would mean that for every £1 spent on one-to-one counselling in primary schools, there is a potential long-term benefit of £6.20, an economic evaluation of the charity Place2Be’s school-based mental health services has found.

An estimated one in 10 children has a mental health condition, and difficulties that start in primary school can have long-lasting effects, including an increased risk of adult mental illness, says the report.

The analysis by Pro Bono Economics estimates that the £4.2 million spent by Place2Be on one-to-one counselling in primary schools in 2016-17 has the potential to create benefits of £25.9 million in total.

This works out as a potential lifetime benefit of just over £5,700 per child, breaking down as:

  • £3,568 in higher lifetime earnings
  • £2,050 in savings to the government from increased taxes and lower spending on public services, and
  • £88 in benefits to other people, mainly due to a reduction in smoking.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, said the report shows that a universal roll-out of mental health services in schools by the government would be a “sensible investment”.

Call for mental health support in all schools

The analysis is based on the predicted improvements in mental health of pupils from 251 primary schools, covering 4,548 children who had received one-to-one support from Place2Be counsellors over the school year 2016-17.

The economic analysis allowed for the possibility that half of the improvement in a young person’s mental health would either have occurred anyway, since some children will recover without counselling support, or that their recovery might not be sustained over time.

“We believe that all schools should be able to access evidence-based mental health support for their pupils, but they cannot do it alone,” Catherine Roche, chief executive of Place2Be, said.

“Investing in school-based support, as well as training for school leaders and teachers, will not only help children here and now, but will have a long-term benefit for them and the wider economy well into the future.”

Mr Whiteman said that school leaders were concerned about funding the support that some pupils need.

“School leaders regularly raise concerns about support for pupils' mental wellbeing,” he said. “They are doing everything they can to give the children in their care the support they need, but it is becoming harder and harder as funding and resources get cut both for schools and for specialist mental health services.

“It would be a sensible investment for the government to fully fund a universal rollout of mental health and wellbeing support in all schools.”

The Department for Education published a survey on mental health services in schools in 2017 which found that 56 per cent of maintained primary schools offered counselling services, compared with 84 per cent of maintained secondary schools.

A government spokesperson said: "Being able to identify mental health problems early and making sure children and young people have the right support when they need it is imperative. That is why we have allocated £300 million to provide significant additional resources for early mental health intervention for all schools – primary and secondary - and committed to ensuring all children and young people learn about mental wellbeing.

“We are also helping schools to intervene early by offering mental health first aid training for a member of staff in every primary and secondary school.”

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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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