ERO found growing numbers of students seeking guidance and counselling support. The provision of good guidance and counselling in schools and wharekura requires a shared understanding and a strong whole school ethos of care that values positive and caring relationships as an essential foundation.

ERO’s findings suggest that current guidance and counselling provision can, and in many schools and wharekura does, work well. However, in just over one‑third of schools and wharekura in this sample, guidance and counselling was not well provided.

The varying importance schools and wharekura place on the role of guidance and counselling in promoting student wellbeing, and student achievement, contributes to the variable quality of provision highlighted in this report. The findings signal the need for a stronger focus on guidance and counselling roles in appraisal and the provision of relevant PLD for those involved in guidance and counselling roles. Schools need to give priority to the provision of guidance and counselling for students through their strategic planning and associated self review. Consideration also needs to be given to how the Guidance Staffing Entitlement funding is used as part of a strategic approach to guidance and counselling that responds to students’ needs and takes into account both the approach to such provision and the wider school context.

ERO’s findings raise concern about the lack of accountability for the use of the Guidance Staffing Entitlement funding in some of the schools and wharekura. Although some were adding considerable additional resources to provide guidance and counselling for students, others were not able to account for how they spent the funding they received. This lack of accountability was often coupled with concerns from staff in these schools and wharekura about not having sufficient resources to meet the growing demand for guidance and counselling support.

The capacity of just over one-third of schools and wharekura to effectively provide good guidance and counselling for students was compromised through a lack of strong leadership and understanding of the importance of student wellbeing on achievement. Shared understandings, or indeed special character, must be supported by appropriate structures, practices, relationships and self review.

Guidance and counselling staff in schools and wharekura are faced with the increasing complexity and interconnectedness of the problems facing students. The main student problems schools and wharekura were facing were those arising from household poverty, poor mental health, family dysfunction, bullying, relationships, and drugs and alcohol. The nature of many of these student problems suggests that the ‘circle of care’ around a student extends well beyond that of the guidance and counselling team at a school or wharekura. Students highlighted the importance of them knowing how to access guidance and counselling support in their school along with having assurances about confidentiality.

In many of the schools and wharekura in this evaluation, guidance and counselling staff have the professional capacity to either resolve these problems or refer students to external help in the outer layers of the ‘circle of care’. ERO identified the challenges most of the schools were facing in working with external agencies, in particular CYF and CAMHS. Although the approach of each school or wharekura is important, the response to student wellbeing and ultimately youth mental health problems requires a coordinated response across the education, health and social sectors.