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We need support to protect pupils' mental health, primary heads warn

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Nearly two-thirds of primary schools do not have a counsellor on site, despite research showing that a fifth of children will suffer mental health problems in their first 11 years, a new study finds.

A survey of headteachers has revealed that pupils’ mental health is among their chief concerns, but too few have the support on hand to deal with it.

The research by the heads’ union the NAHT and mental health charity Place2Be comes just weeks after Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner told MPs that every school in the country should have a counsellor on site.

In a poll of just under 1,500 heads, more than three-quarters cited financial constraints as the main barrier preventing them from hiring a counsellor.

Almost two-thirds of heads said they were limited by a lack of qualified professionals locally.

Schools 'trying to do their best'

Catherine Roche, chief executive of Place2Be, said schools were working hard to support pupils affected by mental health issues.

“But teachers are not counsellors, and sometimes schools need professional support to make sure that problems in childhood don’t spiral into bigger mental health issues later in life,” she added.

More than half of heads said that while they had counsellors on site, they were on site for just one day a week or less.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, said: “This new study should remind the government that while we have a better acknowledgement of the extent of mental illness amongst children and young people than ever before, the services that schools, families and children rely on are under great pressure.”

The Department for Education said it was working with closely with schools to provide better guidance to support staff and pupils.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We’re at a turning point in how we tackle children’s mental health issues and are determined to get it right. That’s why we’re investing £1.4bn over this Parliament to transform mental health support for children and young people, and have also given £1.5m over the last three years to projects involving Place2Be."

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