Access to counsellors in secondary schools: summary report - January to June 2021

An analysis of information provided by local authorities on the school counselling service in their area, from January to June 2021.

This document is part of a collection

The 2018/19 Programme for Government included a commitment to invest in access to school counselling services across education. This commitment ensures that every secondary school has access to counselling services, while improving the ability of local primary and special schools to access counselling.

Access to counselling support through secondary schools is now in place across Scotland. Scottish Government continue to support our local authority partners with £16 million in funding to ensure that every secondary school has access to counselling services. 

This report provides analysis and combined information, provided by local authorities, on the school counselling service in their area. Some authorities provided information in different ways, based on how the services are run in their own localities. Where possible, information has been aggregated to show overall trends. 

Returns were submitted by local authorities in July 2021. This summary includes information from almost all local authorities. The information set out below represents that provided, in some cases the totals and subtotals do not add up to the same figure. We have sought to provide explanatory information where information is available.

Children and young people accessing the service 

In total across all returns, 10,029 children and young people were recorded as having accessed counselling services. 

There were more girls (6,532) than boys (3,115) recorded as accessing counselling provisions. 108 young people who accessed counselling services did not identify as male/female or preferred not to specify their gender. 

For those local authorities who provided a breakdown of pupils by class, the two classes with the highest total number of service users were S3 and S4.

P4 P5 P6 P7 S1 S2 S3 S4 S5 S6
* 21 581 736 1268 1529 1736 1607 1301 628

* = less than 10

A small number of pupils accessing the service were not attending school and 59 did not specify which year group they were in. 


The overall picture on improving children and young people’s outcomes is positive. The returns from local authorities recognise that there are a number of pupils who are currently continuing to access counselling, and have not yet completed. 

Some local authorities provided this information in numbers of young people, while others used percentages. Recognising this, it is clear that 4854 children and young people have improved outcomes as a result of receiving counselling. Where outcomes have been provided in percentage terms, the average reported is 90.75% and range from 82% to 100%. 


The majority of recorded referrals came from school staff. 

Referral Total recorded across LA reports
Self-referral 1065
School staff 7989
Social services 33
GP 60
School nurse 32
Health professional 70
Other  271
Unknown 15

Local authorities were also asked about onward referrals. Where this data was provided, onward referrals were more evenly split between CAMHS, Child Protection and other services. 

Onward referrals Total recorded across LA report
Child protection 181
Other service 222

The onward referrals to ‘other services’ reflected the different services which are available in local authorities, for example third sector organisations. Children and young people could also be referred on to other health services, for example GPs. 

Issues presented by children and young people

There was wide variation across local authorities on the issues reported by children and young people accessing counselling services. Officials provided authorities with 10 suggested categories of issues with which children and young people may present.

  • exam stress
  • trauma
  • bereavement
  • gender identity
  • substance use
  • self harm
  • depression 
  • anxiety 
  • emotional/behavioural difficulties 
  • body Image

Local authorities were invited to offer further categories based on their own locality needs. A total of 52 other issues were reported, including issues such as bullying, family relationships, stress, self-esteem, sexuality, and domestic abuse. A full list is included at Annex A. This confirms that young people are dealing with a wide range of concerns within their lives and demonstrates the need for young people to be able to access support quickly, and effectively for their mental health and wellbeing.

Online and in-person provisions

Local authorities were asked to provide information on the number of children and young people accessing in-person provision and virtual provision. 

Of those who provided information, the majority of CYP were accessing counselling in-person (6,495) rather than virtually (3,490), although several responses noted that this was impacted by coronavirus restrictions.

Annex A

The following is a combined list of further issues reported by local authorities, for which children and young people sought the support of counselling services. The information is presented in no particular order. 

  • aggression
  • bullying
  • social media bullying/issues
  • eating disorder
  • disordered eating
  • eating disorder - undiagnosed and OSFED
  • trauma/abuse
  • work/academic
  • peer relationships/relationships
  • family/family relationships
  • stress
  • confidence
  • anger
  • self and identity
  • sexuality
  • self-esteem
  • self and identity 
  • sleep
  • sexual abuse
  • victim of rape
  • harmful sexual activity
  • physical abuse
  • emotional abuse
  • loneliness/isolation
  • abuse
  • risk-taking behaviour
  • behaviour
  • low mood
  • emotional regulation
  • general wellbeing
  • neglect
  • suicide/suicidal ideation
  • school attendance
  • school refusers
  • school issues (peer/teacher/study issues)
  • domestic abuse
  • domestic violence
  • negative coping strategies 
  • health related Issues (including covid)
  • parental issues (separation/substance/alcohol/mental health)
  • transition/loss
  • child sexual exploitation
  • care experienced/young carer 
  • obsessive thoughts
  • OCD - unspecified
  • hearing voices
  • lack of motivation
  • attachment
  • interpersonal skills
  • peer pressure
  • lockdown
  • other
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