Mental Health: Counselling in Schools

What did this investigation focus on?

We wanted to know whether the Scottish Government’s policies, healthcare services and other professional practices were meeting the mental health needs of children and young people in Scotland. The crisis affecting children’s mental health has worsened, deepened by the aftermath of a global pandemic. It was vital to identify the issues that prevent and stunt the provision of adequate mental health services and support for children and young people. To do this, it was essential that we based our solutions to this crisis on the views and experiences of children and young people.

Reasons for investigation?

Children’s mental health services were in crisis before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. Our office received frequent enquiries from young people, parents/carers and professionals about difficulties in accessing diagnoses and support. A 2018 report from the Auditor General for Scotland found that, while children’s mental health was a priority for the Scottish Government, mental health services were under significant pressure; data and evidence, particularly on outcomes, were inadequate; and that a step-change in Scotland’s response to children’s mental health was required.

Getting young people involved!

The Commissioner’s office assembled a team of Young Investigators to inform and lead the investigation process. They worked together to explore and talk about the issue of mental health, the impact of Covid-19 on children and young people’s mental health and how this impacts their rights.

They worked with the Commissioner’s Advice & Investigations and Strategy teams to explore issues around children and young people’s mental health and the services that are provided.

They exercised the Commissioner’s legal investigation powers to ensure they could access the evidence they need to make recommendations on what needs to change.  

They expressed the view that they wanted to focus on school counselling. Specifically, to consider whether and to what extent the current model is sufficient to deliver a rights-based approach to mental health provision given the increased need post-pandemic.

How did the investigation take place?

Following discussions with the Young Investigators, the investigation was broken down into four stages.

  1. Research into Local Authority approaches to the provision of school counsellors
  2. Round table evidence sessions with key senior professionals
  3. Interviews/surveys with school counsellors about their role
  4. Interviews/surveys with children and young people


What were the findings of the investigation?

Data was requested from all 32 local authorities by summer 2022, but one did not have school counselling services in place until January 2022, so was unable to respond. After examining the evidence from the 31 authorities who responded, the Mental Health Investigators published a report in May 2023, recommending that all children should have a right of access to counselling at school, and that local authorities should ensure that counselling is available outside school hours, during school holidays, and outside school premises, on request.

The group also recommended that the Scottish Government should expand school counselling provision to all primary and special schools in Scotland, and that all local authorities should have clear waiting times for children who want to access services, and information should be child-friendly. The investigators presented their report to the Convenor of the Education Committee, Sue Webber MSP, and Convenor of the Health Committee, Clare Haughey, at the Scottish Parliament.

At the launch of the report in May 2023, Mental Health Investigator Rebecca said:

“The process of advising the office in the Mental Health investigation has been much more than a tokenistic, quick survey of how young people feel. We, as school-aged young people, were involved in every decision made and I feel as though the findings of this investigation represent the broad range of experiences of young people across Scotland – good and bad.”

Mental Health Investigator Izzy said:

“School counsellors are super important as it allows young people with mental health issues to get the help they need quickly without having to wait years, or not get support until their condition deteriorates to an extremely unsafe level. “There’s been a lot of talk about youth mental health crises and how services aren’t good enough to cope with increasing demand, so being able to discuss school counselling and highlight potential strong and weak points meant that we could play a part in helping the government and local authorities try to improve their services.”

You can view the report in full below.

What’s the human rights background to the investigation?

Rights relevant to this investigation are outlined in the articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), including:

  • Article 24 says that children are entitled to the highest attainable standard of health and that no child should be deprived of health services.
  • Article 2 says all children have the rights the UNCRC lays out, and no child should be discriminated against.
  • Article 3 says adults should think about the best interests of children and young people when making choices that affect them.
  • Article 6 says all children and young people have the right to survive and the right to develop. It says government should do as much as they can to prevent the deaths of children and young people.
  • Article 12 says that the opinions of children and young people should be considered when people make decisions about things that involve them. Their opinions shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand on the grounds of age. They should be taken seriously, with their evolving capacities taken into account.
  • Article 16 says that children’s rights to privacy and family life should be respected, which includes the right to bodily integrity.
  • Article 23 says children with disabilities should enjoy full lives in an environment that upholds their dignity.
  • Article 4 says the Government must use all of its powers to ensure children’s rights are respected.

Resources and Documentation

Before the investigation, we published the Terms of Reference. This document provided notice that the Commissioner intended to use their powers under section 7 of the Commissioner for Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2003 and the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.

In May 2023, we published our report detailing the recommendations made by the Young Mental Health Investigators.

You can browse or download both documents below.


Download Terms of Reference PDF

Download Report PDF

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