4 Aug 2023

Research connects mental health and poor education outcomes as school counsellor shortage bites

From Nine To Noon, 9:30 am on 4 August 2023
45247047 - sad teenager near the brick wall of the old house

Photo: sabphoto/123RF

A critical shortage of qualified counsellors has prompted the Government to expand the pool of those eligible to fill the positions in its Counsellors in Schools programme. It now includes equine therapy facilitators, Master Carvers, youth workers, creative art therapists and music therapists.

The Ministry of Education says most schools already have a counsellor and this rollout is mostly across selected primary and intermediate schools. But it's prompting concerns among qualified counsellors that students will not get the support they need, and could put children at risk.

Meanwhile a recent nationwide study which canvassed every year 9 student between 2013 and 2017 has found those with mental health conditions are significantly more likely to fail exams, or be suspended. Students with any prior mental health condition were 11 percent less likely to obtain NCEA Level 1, and 50 percent more likely to be stood down. Those with any behavioural condition were 38 percent less likely to get NCEA Level 1 and 2.3 times as likely to be stood down.

Sarah Maindonald is the president of the NZ Counsellors Association, and Professor Brigid McNeill is a researcher at Canterbury University.