Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Working Group minutes: 4 October 2019

Notes of the meeting held on 4 October 2019.

Attendees and apologies


  • Gareth Allen, Scottish Government (Chair)
  • Catherine Brown, Scottish Government
  • Steven Paxton, Scottish Government (Secretariat)
  • Natalie Wilson, Scottish Government (Secretariat)
  • Neil Guy, Scottish Government
  • Sophie Avery, Scottish Government
  • Liam McCabe, NUS Scotland
  • David Livey, NUS Scotland
  • Fiona Burns, Scottish Funding Council
  • Emma Roberts, Scottish Funding Council
  • Gavin Bruce, Scottish Funding Council
  • Jon Vincent, Glasgow Clyde College
  • Andy Witty, Colleges Scotland
  • Colin Sinclair, NHS Scotland National Services
  • Steve Mulligan, BACP
  • Kirsten Amis, BACP
  • Ronnie Millar, University of Edinburgh and Heads of University Counselling Services
  • Murdo Mathison, UCU
  • John Kelly, EIS
  • Maree Shepherd, UNISON
  • Marianne Reilly, Unite
  • Mark Wild, Universities Scotland
  • Nicola Dean, SAAS
  • Jill Stevenson, University of Stirling and AMOSSHE
  • Jennifer Russell, South Lanarkshire Health and Social Care Partnership
  • Fiona Drouet, Emily Test
  • Mairi Gordon, The Samaritans


  • Ruth Unsworth, University of St Andrews
  • Nicola Dickie, COSLA
  • Professor Pamela Gilles, Glasgow Caledonian University and Universities Scotland
  • Lauren McNamara, SAAS

Items and actions

Welcome and introduction

The Chair welcomed everyone present to the meeting, including the new members of the group and the attendees introduced themselves.

Minutes of previous meeting

The minutes of the meeting of the working group held on 24 June 2019 were approved.

Matters arising

All the matters arising from the meeting are included in the agenda for today’s meeting.

Web page

The working group were advised that as previously agreed, the remit and agreed minutes of meetings are now published on a Scottish Government dedicated webpage.

Colleges Scotland: national training programmes

Andy Witty, Colleges Scotland advised that some colleges had experienced difficulties in accessing training for staff as Mental Health First Aiders by Health Scotland. The mental health first aid training is due to be updated in May 2020 and there appear to be a number of issues around licensing and remuneration.

It was agreed that the Scottish Government work with NHS Scotland and the SFC and report back to the next meeting of the working group on this issue. 

Draft announcement and guidance on the additional funding for counsellors in AY 2019-2020 and equality impact assessment

The working group agreed to consider these items earlier than as intimated in the agenda:

  • draft announcement and guidance on the Additional Funding for Counsellors in AY 2019-2020

Gareth Allen advised that members had already received a copy of the draft announcement and guidance, and welcomed comments on the draft from members of the group at the meeting, and following the meeting by close of business on Monday, 7 October 2019. Thereafter, the SFC’s relevant governance processes will further consider the draft announcement and guidance, which will include individual allocations to institutions, aiming for if possible a publication in week commencing 14 October 2019. The working group  would be alerted to publication. It was highlighted that an additional principle had been added, following consultation with key stakeholders, in relation to supporting ‘equity of access to counselling support across colleges and universities.’  It was further advised that it was proposed to develop an additional document to the guidance, in a question and answer form, which could be helpful to the SFC, Outcome Agreement Managers and Institutions, in answering more specific questions around implementation. It was suggested that this be taken forward by a Virtual Technical Working Group. 

It was also explained that Scottish Ministers had also approved a  resource to the SFC of £50k per year for two years to support the implementation of mental health counsellors across colleges and universities, and particularly work with the college sector in building up and sustaining a counselling service, in colleges, and support equity of access to counselling support by all students across both sectors.  

  • Equality and Human Rights Impact Assessment (EHRIA)

Emma Roberts, SFC, explained that the Scottish Funding Council proposed to undertake an Equality and Human Rights Impact Assessment (EHRIA) on the announcement and guidance on the additional funding for counsellors in AY 2019-2020.
In the discussion that followed, the establishment of the Virtual Technical Working Group and the additional resource for the SFC were welcomed, and the importance of equity of access for students to counselling services across colleges and universities underscored. The working group discussed the timescales for achieving equity of access over the four year period of the Programme for Government commitment, and the importance of students having better access to counselling services and the range of tools available to measure progress (for example, the College Counselling Measuring Tool).  

The working group noted the funding envelope over the four year timeframe for the Programme for Government commitment, and that consideration of the data from the first year will further help in the achievement of equity, and that as early as possible consideration of this would be needed, in respect to the approach in future years. 

The assumed cost per FTE counsellor based on up to £45k per annum, and the requirements of quarterly reporting, were also raised. It was noted that the former is based on existing NHS Scotland pay scales, and will be kept under review through monitoring and evaluation data as set out in the announcement and guidance,  while the latter is a Ministerial requirement.    

The working group also discussed possible challenges around the recruitment of counsellors. It noted that the Scottish Government is working across Directorates, acknowledging that both schools and colleges and universities will be recruiting from a pool of counsellors across Scotland the UK. Steve Mulligan, BACP, also welcomed the additional investment in the sector by the Scottish Government and would be happy to work with sector colleagues on recruitment issues. He further suggested a demonstration pilot at a Glasgow Clyde College around student mental health and wellbeing. 

The working group agreed that Colleges Scotland, NUS Scotland, Universities Scotland, AMOSSHE, NHS Scotland, Emily Test and EIS be members of the Virtual Technical Working Group.   

Draft work plan 2019-2020

The working group considered a draft work plan to inform its activities in 2019/20.  Steven Paxton, Scottish Government explained that the work plan was a living document and asked members to comment on the plan, prior to it being brought back for agreement to the next meeting of the working group.

The working group noted the current position. 

Proposed engaged conversations

The working group considered a report setting out a proposed series of Engaged Conversations to further inform its work in 2019/20.  

The working group, in agreeing the proposal, further suggested that Veterans Groups, including the Royal Caledonian Educational Trust be involved in the engaged conversations.  

Children and Young People’s Mental Health Taskforce

Neil Guy, Scottish Government gave an update on the work of the Children and Young People’s Task Force, the final recommendations of which had been agreed by the Programme Board at its meeting on 4 July 2019. These recommendations will be taken forward together with those of the Youth Commission Report. There are four strands to the Programme Board’s work:

  • universal
  •  additional services
  • specialist services
  • workforce

The Programme Board was keen to hear more about the experiences and needs of 18–25 year olds especially around crisis services and night line services. NUS Scotland offered to contribute to this.

The working group noted the position.

Developing an evidence base 

David Livey, NUS Scotland advised that BSV Associates had been appointed to take forward its work around student experience as part of the Think Positive Project. He confirmed that the research would include colleges, with four case studies from HEIs and four from colleges and be complete by the end of March 2020.

In noting the update, the working group highlighted the proposed new Public Health Scotland body which it is understood would be established in the spring of 2020.

Effective elements of a whole system approach

Ronnie Miller, University of Edinburgh/HUCS gave a short presentation on suggested key principles to inform the development of a whole system approach, drawing on the work at his university and the University of St Andrews. He highlighted the importance of referral pathways to NHS Scotland services and the third sector, training for tutors and wardens, the role of a mental health support worker, and the ongoing development of online resources such as Silver Cloud and Big White Wall. There is also ongoing work by UUK which will help shape a whole system approach. 

The working group noted the importance of providing support for staff who are helping students with the mental health needs, the efficacy of a Public Health Model and consideration of Adverse Childhood Experience (ACES) to shape a trauma informed whole system approach. It was agreed that Colleges Scotland present on a college whole system approach at a future meeting.

Developing the role of the Mental Health Coordinator 

Gareth Allen, Scottish Government, advised that it had been agreed that the working group develop proposals, for consideration by Ministers, once counsellors are in place, for a co-ordinator role within counselling teams, to support the establishment of effective referral pathways and partnership working with NHS Scotland Boards, Health and Social Care Partnerships, schools, social work, and third sector services. The working group agreed that a sub group consisting of Scottish Government, BACP (Kirsten Amis), University of Edinburgh/HUCs (Ronnie Millar) and AMOSSHE (Jill Stevenson) take this work forward. Membership of the group should also include the University Mental Health Advisers Network.

Membership of the group

The working group agreed that SPARQs and Allie Scott, Perth College, UHI be included in its membership. 

Date of next meeting

The working group agreed that it next meeting take place around the first week of December 2019. 

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