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.
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.
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.