Scottish Liberal Democrats today said it's critical that every pupil currently sitting assessments has quick access to a counsellor after documents published online by the Scottish Government show a target for counsellors in schools was missed and Parliament "given the run-around"
The SNP Programme for Government contained a commitment to "create around 350 counsellors” by September 2020.
A Scottish Liberal Democrat freedom of information request, just published on the Scottish Government website, shows ministers being told in December 2020 that only 215.35 counsellors had been “allocated to secondary schools”. They couldn’t confirm how many staff were otherwise available.
Ministers were advised to issue a press release and give the figures to Parliament’s library and three parliamentary committees. However, during the final weeks of the last Parliament, when asked by Scottish Liberal Democrats whether the target had been met - both in Committee and in parliamentary questions - the figures were withheld by John Swinney.
Speaking during Mental Health Awareness Week, Beatrice Wishart MSP said:
"It's a particularly stressful few weeks for pupils, at the end of a turbulent year. Young people are in the middle of exams they were told were cancelled.
"The documents published online as a result of our investigation show only 215 of the 350 counsellors promised by the Scottish Government in 2018 actually attached to schools.
"The Scottish Government says the target has been "reframed". However, it is far from clear how many more full-time counselling staff are actually available to pupils through other routes. Parliament was given the run-around in its efforts to get to the bottom of this.
"Assessments are coming thick and fast. The slightest delay to accessing support could have serious implications. After heaping so much on pupils', SNP ministers need to demonstrate that there is consistent and quick access to support. Young people deserve that reassurance.
"The routes to support must be more visible than ever. The full complement of counsellors need to be there for young people or, better still, even more staff could be added to help with the serious situation which is emerging."