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Study: School counselling would ‘pay for itself’ in 10 years

Every £1 invested in primary and secondary school counselling could bring a £8 return for the government through improved job prospects and attendance, a new study suggests.

Data modelling by researchers at Public First found that universal access to counselling would generate lifetime fiscal benefits to the government of £1.9 billion against a cost of about £250 million.

They claimed the policy would start to pay for itself within the space of two parliaments. 

Commissioned by Citizens UK and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), the study said the support could help the “missing middle” of children sitting just below the NHS threshold for mental health treatment. 

Public First said gains from increased employment and higher wages would account for £1.7 billion, with reduced rates of depression in adulthood saving £106 million. 

For reduced truancy, the long-term saving could be £19 million and for reduced exclusions, £15 million. The report suggested 5,300 counsellors would be required to deliver the 4.4 million sessions in England.

‘Workforce challenges’

Joanna Holmes, from BACP, said its workforce mapping data showed more than half of 19,000 members could take on an extra five clients a week. Extrapolated, this could mean 51,000 additional per pupils per week. 

But she added: “There will be some workforce challenges as counsellors pay for their own training and tend to opt for courses where there is a good return on securing paid work.”

A 2020 survey found 48 per cent of teachers said their school offered on-site counselling.

A 2016 study of 329 pupils found those who underwent counselling reported significantly less psychological distress. But it had no effect on their willingness to engage with school – however, this was only over a 24-week period. 

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have pledged to put mental health professionals into schools, but haven’t specified if these would be counsellors. 

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