Mental health

Thousands on waiting lists as trusts struggle to foot mental health bill

Schools have increasingly sought to fund more support themselves

Schools have increasingly sought to fund more support themselves

Schools have thousands of pupils stuck on waiting lists to access mental health support, with trusts instead funding provision from their own pockets or saying they cannot afford to help.

Schools Week asked the 50 biggest academy trusts for the number of pupils currently on a waiting list to see a mental health or additional needs provision, such as an education psychologist, speech and language therapist or school counsellor. 

United Learning – the country’s largest trust – has 1,526 pupils on a waiting list for mental health provision, averaging around 20 pupils at each of its 75 schools. 

We all know where to go – the problem is you get there and there’s no one there

That’s followed by 512 pupils waiting at Enquire Learning Trust (18 pupils per school), 762 waiting at The Kemnal Academies Trust (17 pupils per school), and 635 pupils waiting at Ormiston Academies (15 pupils per school).

Schools have increasingly sought to fund more support themselves.

Dixons Academies Trust, which has 77 pupils currently on waiting lists across 15 schools, hired an in-house therapist seven years ago. Nicole Dempsey, an assistant principal in Bradford, said this was the “only way” to plug the gap of an “immediate problem”.

Of 19 academy trusts to provide full data to our freedom of information request, 84 per cent have increased the proportion of counsellors they’ve employed over the past five years. 

United Learning, which has 51,672 pupils, had 96 counsellors last year – one counsellor to 538 students. The Elliot Foundation, which has 12,047 pupils, had 48 counsellors last year –one for every 250 pupils.

Schools turn to online treatments and pay for training

Other schools are turning to online treatments. Mabel Therapy, a firm offering private virtual counselling, treated 83 per cent more children last year than in 2020. But a “credit” with the service starts at £45, and each treatment varies between 4 to 12 Credits. 

mental health
Read the nine-page investigation here

Meanwhile some schools have paid for training to better understand their most distressed students. 

The Aspire Academy trust, in Cornwall, brought in charity Trauma Informed Schools UK to teach staff how to help children with “adverse childhood experiences” feel safer in school, says its inclusion lead Evelyn Kyne.

All senior leaders received two days of training and a “trauma informed practitioner” in each school got 10 days of training.

Despite these efforts, six of the biggest academy trusts warned they are struggling to afford the required levels of mental health support for pupils.

Anthem Trust said “we would like to employ more counsellors but don’t have the money”, while Anglian Learning said “private counselling is too expensive and the school is not able to fund this”. 

Ofsted inspections exposing failing council services found SEND pupils and their families are being left to fall into crisis before getting help. 

Some were waiting more than two years for support, with delays exacerbated by the pandemic.

Mental health teams will reach 1 in 3 areas

The government has rolled out mental health support teams (MHST), funded through the NHS. But they will only reach 35 per cent of the country by next year.

Each team has four education mental health practitioners (EMHPs) who complete one year’s training to provide therapeutic interventions for low to moderate mental health issues in pupils, and signpost staff to services.

Kate Richardson, mental health lead at The Cabot Learning Foundation, says EMHPs are helpful “signposters” who “help us explore other avenues” for support instead of just waiting for CAMHS. 

Kate Richardson from The Cabot Learning Foundation

But Jem Shuttleworth, a director at the Elliot Foundation Academies Trust, says “the immediate issue is capacity, not signposting. We all know where to go – the problem is you get there and there’s no one there.”

Nearly £10 million has been allocated to train a senior lead for mental health for more than 8,000 schools since September. 

Another £3 million committed this week will speed up reaching more schools by May. All schools have been promised training by 2025.

Samaritans are available 365 days a year. You can reach them on free call number 116 123, email them at or visit to find your nearest branch.

More from this theme

Mental health

Inquiry will examine mental health impact of exclusions and isolation

Former minister fears children are 'punished for behaviour that is linked to their mental health'

Freddie Whittaker
Mental health

5 tips for schools on mental health support

Always refer and be flexible, charity says

Schools Week Reporter
Mental health

Mental health solutions? Early intervention and more support inside schools

A 'complete rethink' is needed, experts say

Jess Staufenberg
Mental health

Speech and language therapists ‘completely booked out’

Demand for support is outstripping supply

Jess Staufenberg
Mental health

The wasted millions: Parents use life insurance and savings to fight for SEND support

Councils say the system is under 'extreme stress'

Samantha Booth
Mental health

Collapsing mental health support pits parents against schools

Some parents reported for 'fabricating' mental illness

Jess Staufenberg

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.