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Why every school should have a school-based counsellor

‘We are asking for a paid school counsellor in every school’ – the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy’s national campaign has started and MPs of all parties are being asked to lobby for the introduction of this provision at a national level; a counsellor to be available, in school, for all young people.

This campaign sings to my heart as a school-based counsellor, who is often frustrated by the patchiness of provision of school-based counselling for young people in England. It is time to catch up with our fellow nations and provide this soothing, healing and enabling service for all of our troubled and worried young people and our overstretched schools.

I have been passionate about school counselling as both a job and a profession ever since Dan, the School Counsellor, appeared on my screen in an ancient episode of Home and Away. Here, I first learned of a role that could help remove important emotional barriers to learning that, as a teacher, I had often seen hold pupils back. I retrained and eagerly re-entered the educational world as a school counsellor.

In the intervening years I have had the great fortune to come to work in a school that has embraced school counselling as an integral part of its education and wellbeing offer to the whole school. The result has been the steady, demand-led growth of a comprehensive school-based counselling service for pupils and staff, which is embedded in the school’s pastoral and wellbeing teams and processes. Face-to-face therapy has a lot to offer, but it is even more powerful when we are in a position to help our most vulnerable pupils by using a ‘team around the child’ approach with teaching and counselling professionals working together, coherently and enthusiastically, in the best interests of the young person.

The embedded nature of our counselling service is not overly typical, indeed some schools do not offer school counselling yet in any form. Knowing from feedback that we have created a particularly effective version of a whole-school school-based counselling approach – an approach advocated by the DfE, the BACP and leading school counsellors – we began looking for ways to see how we could put our experiences to good use to help promote school-based counselling at a national policy level, to contribute to the creation of school counselling opportunities for all young people.

Last September, that work led to a visit to school from Jo Holmes, the BACP’s national Lead for Children, Young People and Families. Jo met with our pupils, school counsellors, pastoral staff and members of SLT to find out more about our school-based counselling model, how it is perceived in the school and, crucially, how our pupils experience it. The resulting conversations were turned into ‘case studies,’ which now form part of the BACP’s current ‘a paid school counsellor in every school’ initiative. The students’ stories highlight the real life benefits of school-based counselling and make a compelling and concrete contribution to what we hope will be a very successful campaign.

It is exciting to know that our ever-evolving commitment, as a school, to our young people’s emotional and mental wellbeing, is now helping to add momentum to the call for similar support for many more young people across the country.

Niki Gibbs

If you would like to learn more about the BACP’s campaign please follow this link;