This evaluation is part of the Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health Project. It focuses on the current provision of guidance and counselling in schools with students in Years 9 to 13and is being undertaken in two phases.

This report presents the findings from phase one of the evaluation and comprises the results of three online surveys. Phase two, undertaken in Term 2, 2013, involved visits to 49 schools and kura to evaluate their provision of guidance and counselling, and will be reported on separately.

Guidance and counselling in schools

The school guidance and counselling system plays a part in how schools fulfil certain legal requirements, including:

  • Section 77 of the Education Act 1989 that requires that the principal ensures students get good guidance and counselling
  • National Education Goal 2 that requires boards remove barriers to achievement
  • National Education Guideline 5 that requires boards provide a safe physical and emotional environment for students.

Schools are also guided by the key competencies in The New Zealand Curriculum, in particular, managing self, relating to others, and participating and contributing. [1]

Guidance and counselling in secondary schools was formally established and funded by the state in the 1960s. In 2001, a Guidance Staffing FTTE (full-time teaching equivalent) component was added to eligible schools’ total staffing resource. [2] This component is roll-based but not weighted for decile. Approximately 853.6 FTTEs were provided to schools under this component, totalling over $57 million in 2012.

The Ministry of Education does not provide any national guidelines or standards to schools about the provision of guidance support. [3] The New Zealand Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) includes information about guidance counselling on its website, provides guidelines to principals, boards, teachers and counsellors, and includes a code of ethics from the New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC).[4]

In 2001, the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand produced a set of Guidelines for Mentally Healthy Schools. [5] The guidelines include criteria for the implementation of mental health promotion initiatives in secondary schools that focus on:

  • student and staff empowerment
  • cooperation, participation and collaboration
  • the dynamic influence of school climate and ethos on mental and emotional wellbeing
  • the acknowledgement of schools as appropriate and valuable settings for mental health promotion.

In 2004, the PPTA surveyed guidance counsellors. [6] The survey found that most guidance counsellors were registered teachers with additional counselling qualifications. Most of these counsellors also had teaching responsibilities. The survey report concluded that guidance counsellors often felt isolated from their colleagues, and that their role was not fully understood by their schools. [7] Recent research about guidance and counselling in New Zealand schools supports these ideas of isolation and a lack of understanding. [8]

Child wellbeing in New Zealand

There are several New Zealand and international papers that report on child wellbeing in New Zealand and make international comparisons.

The OECD’s 2009 report, Doing Better For Children, looks at child wellbeing across 30 OCED member nations. [9] New Zealand ranks 24th for risk‑taking behaviours, such as smoking, drunkenness and teenage births. Youth suicide rates in New Zealand are the highest in the OECD – more than double the OECD average. The OECD report argues that these risk‑taking behaviours are a proxy for externalising or anti-social behaviour and are associated with poor educational performance. [10]

The Ministry of Social Development’s (MSD) 2008 report, Children and Young People: Indicators of Wellbeing in New Zealand, [11] reports on the monitoring over time of measures of child and youth wellbeing in New Zealand. It also compares New Zealand with other countries on measures of child and youth wellbeing. The report states that suicide is the leading cause of death among young people and an indicator of mental health in the youth population. Factors such as good coping skills, problem‑solving behaviours, feelings of self esteem and belonging, and connections to family or school all play a potentially protective role against suicidal behaviour.

Data from this MSD report show that young people from the most deprived areas are 1.5 times more likely to be hospitalised because of intentional self harm. A comparison between MSD’s 2005 youth suicide data shows New Zealand’s rate was below that of Finland and Japan. However, the OECD’s data drawn from the World Health Organisation Mortality database 2008 shows that rate is now higher than that of Finland and Japan. [12]

MSD’s The Social Report, released in 2010, reports on a range of social indicators and makes comparisons with other countries. [13] The report includes two indicators relevant to this evaluation: loneliness and health relationships. Loneliness can contribute to poor outcomes such as stress, anxiety or depression. It is most prevalent in 15-24 year old females. Healthy relationships are built through the quantity and quality of time spent together. The report states that having a close and caring relationship with a parent is one of the most important predictors of good health and wellbeing for young people. In 2007, 57 percent of secondary school students reported that they got enough time with at least one parent most of the time. MSD reported this as a slight decrease from 61 percent in 2001.

The Adolescent Health Research Group (AHRG) has conducted extensive surveys of New Zealand secondary school students, publishing results in 2001 and 2008. [14]The most recent survey results, from 2007, indicated that, while most young people in New Zealand have good mental health and wellbeing, suicide behaviours and deliberate self harm were not uncommon. [15] For all of these survey items, females were more likely to report suicide behaviours than males. Other groups who were at greater risk included young people from low socio‑economic communities, those who abuse drugs or alcohol, or are attracted to members of the same sex or both sexes, or have depression or mental health disorders.

Just over 10 percent of students reported significant depressive symptoms, and this was also more prevalent among females (15 percent) than males (seven percent). Bullying at school was an important risk factor for depressive symptoms. Analysis of the most recent survey results showed that students who were bullied at school weekly or more often were nearly four times more likely to report significant depressive symptoms. [16]

A 2004 study of students enrolled in alternative education schools found that these young people had a greater incidence of depression. [17] Among alternative education students, around 35 percent of females and 21 percent of males showed significant depressive symptoms. [18] This study identified risk factors including poverty, witnessing violence, and experiencing bullying, as well as protective factors such as strong family and peer connections.

Data from these studies show that child wellbeing, in particular youth mental health, is of concern in New Zealand, with risk-taking behaviours, loneliness, bullying, and poor relationships being indicators of mental health problems, self-harm and suicide.