Sympathetic ear can boost pupils' academic results

Children need to discuss emotional problems if they are to achieve potential

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds need someone to listen to their emotional problems if they are to achieve their academic potential. Teachers, too, benefit from being able to offload the stresses of the school day.

But school counsellors employed to listen to these problems need to be careful to avoid stigmatising as "mad" those who seek help.

Academics from Bedfordshire University examined the impact of school counsellors for children aged 10-13 by speaking to parents, teachers and counsellors.

The findings from their research are being presented at the annual British Educational Research Association conference, which will take place in Edinburgh next week.

Many teachers felt they needed support in order to deal with pupils' emotional troubles. One said: "With children who have pretty tough home lives, they need somebody there to listen to them and respect their thoughts."

Such pupils saw the school counsellor as "someone in between a mentor and a psychologist", who would not only listen but also help them to solve any problems in their lives.

Some interviewees believed it was not just pupils who would benefit from being able to discuss their emotions. One teacher said: "Staff these days have worries and concerns. They may need someone neutral to speak to as their partners at home often get dumped on in the need to offload."

But many participants objected to the title "counsellor". It was felt this could have negative connotations, such as madness.

Instead, it was suggested that pupils and teachers should refer to the counsellor by his or her first name, which would create a greater sense of confidence.

The interviewers concluded that the more a school nurtures children's emotional needs, the better its academic results are likely to be. They said: "If children's emotional needs were met, then this could have a positive effect on personal, social and academic development."

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