In April 2012, the Government announced a package of measures to improve the mental health of young people aged 12 to 19 years with, or at risk of, mild to moderate mental health problems. These initiatives are known as the Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health Project. One of the initiatives agreed to by the Government included a national evaluation of the current provision of guidance and counselling in schools. The evaluation will contribute to an evidence base for the Ministry of Education’s policy and programme development to improve the quality of guidance and counselling for young people in schools.

The findings of this evaluation by ERO will contribute to a broader discussion about improving the school guidance system, including:

  • how the current school guidance system is operating, such as schools’ perception of pastoral care, the role of the guidance counsellor, and the quality, coverage and management of guidance and counselling in secondary schools
  • which practices best support youth wellbeing
  • better equipping schools to identify and deal with mental health issues
  • enhancing the quality, coverage and management of this resource in secondary schools.

This report presents the findings from phase one of a two-phase evaluation. This first phase included three online surveys of school leaders, guidance counsellors and students. The surveys were undertaken in Term 1, 2013. School leaders and guidance counsellors at schools receiving the Guidance Staffing Entitlement were invited to complete a survey. Students were invited to respond through the Ministry of Youth Development’s youth database. Responses were received from:

  • 91 students
  • 105 school leaders
  • 180 guidance counsellors.

What makes guidance and counselling in schools work well?

In all three surveys, ERO asked respondents questions about what makes guidance and counselling in schools work well. School leaders, guidance counsellors and students all agreed that having the right people is what makes guidance and counselling in schools effective. For school leaders and guidance counsellors this meant staff having appropriate professional knowledge. For students this meant the people responsible for guidance and counselling should be supportive and understanding, ensure confidentiality, be a good listener, and be non-judgemental. This focus on confidentiality and trust, along with accessibility, was reflected in guidance counsellors’ comments; and in school leaders’ comments about knowing students and the community.

School leaders considered a school culture that valued a collegial approach to student wellbeing also underpinned effective guidance and counselling. For guidance counsellors this was reflected in supportive relationships with school leaders and teaching staff.

For students, it was important that the people responsible for guidance and counselling found a solution and took action.


The challenges to providing good guidance and counselling identified through the ERO surveys included:

  • the increasing and diverse workload in guidance and counselling
  • increasingly complex mental health needs of students and the wider community, particularly in low income communities
  • not being able to be as proactive as school leaders and guidance counsellors would like due to increased reactive counselling and crisis management
  • poor and limited access to, and response from, external agencies and support services
  • the stigma attached to mental health that inhibited young people from seeking appropriate help.

The findings from the student survey showed students were most likely to seek help from a parent or caregiver, or friends and other students; and then from a guidance counsellor, dean or form teacher when at school. Nearly two‑thirds of students said it was socially acceptable at their school to see someone about guidance and counselling, but commented that assurances about confidentiality and privacy, and ease of access made it easier to seek help. Almost half of students said they were not asked to give feedback about guidance and counselling at their school.

School leaders mostly reported that their approach to guidance and counselling was a mix of ethos, people and resources. They highlighted the importance of a shared understanding about guidance and counselling; the many layers and roles integral to guidance and counselling; and the importance of time, people and space. Half of the school leaders reported that they undertook self review about guidance and counselling, with about half of those doing so by surveying students to seek their feedback. Almost one‑third said they reported to their board about guidance and counselling.

Just over two‑thirds of guidance counsellors reported that the nature of their position had changed due to the increased frequency and complexity of young people’s mental health needs in the last five years. Over half of guidance counsellors reported that they worked more than their allocated hours to try to meet demand. Almost all guidance counsellors reported receiving professional supervision, and most said it met their needs. While nearly three‑quarters of guidance counsellors considered their position was well managed and appraised, there was concern about the lack of appraisal as guidance counsellors, rather than as teachers.