Citizens UK

Varndean School has been working closely with Brighton & Hove Citizens and citywide leaders in a drive to bring about schools-based counselling services to improve mental health provision for young people. As well as championing mental health provision, we have been working on transport, living wage and safe spaces successfully. 

You can keep up to date with all the latest news on this page.

Children's Mental Health Week - February 2024

BBC South East 8th February 2024

During Children's Mental Health Week Headteacher Shelley Baker, former Varndean students Fi and Tally and a group of current Varndean students have been speaking with the BBC about their success in securing the Citizens UK school and college based counselling scheme for Brighton and Hove.




Joint Statement - February 2024

Citizens UK, NASUWT, BACP, NAHT, NCPS and Parentkind

Children’s Mental Health Week - February 2024

School- and College-based Counselling in England

In response to the worsening mental health situation for children and young people in England Citizens UK, the largest civil society federation across the UK, has allied with the NASUWT, BACP, NAHT, NCPS and Parentkind to campaign for a fair, workable and long-term solution.

We ask the next government to legislate for the statutory provision of counselling by specialist children and young people counsellors or psychotherapists to address the mental health needs of pupils in primary and secondary schools and Further Education Colleges in England or wherever a child is educated within the state system. 

We know from our work with the BACP that there is a workforce with the skills, experience and capacity to take on these professional roles.

Even before COVID, children and young people were suffering from diagnosable mental health conditions - anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. Their mental health conditions worsen through extended wait times for treatment in overstretched NHS services across England. 

The mental health of children and young people has deteriorated further over the last few years. Now, one in five children and young people have a diagnosable mental health condition. Their mental health is made worse by the social determinants that condition their lives.

In 2023 Parentkind published The National Parent Survey of more than 5000 parents, which revealed:

  • 4 in 10 parents report their primary school-age child has experienced anxiety, rising to almost half for parents of secondary school-age children.
  • 1 in 7 parents say their primary school-age child has experienced depression, rising to 1 in 6 for parents of secondary school-age children.

The many children and young people who need more than pastoral care and mental health awareness support but do not satisfy a referral to specialist services are caught in the middle with little or no therapeutic provision available to them. We call this group of children and young people the “missing middle”. 

In the UK, England is the only country where counselling is not government-funded. Here, schools and colleges struggle to pay for in-house, sessional or commissioned service provision from their overstretched budgets or grants from local charities. 

We know anxiety and depression are amongst the most common mental health issues for children and young people. Early intervention by trained counsellors embedded in schools and colleges would have clear benefits. Children and young people would be more able to manage their mental health issues and challenges, and savings on CAMHS would be substantial.

That is why we ask all political parties to commit to providing government-funded counselling in all schools and Further Education colleges in England. 

Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of NASUWT

Dr Phil James, CEO of BACP

Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of NAHT

Jyles Robillard-Day, CEO of NCPS

Jason Elsom, CEO of Parentkind

Shelley Baker, Headteacher of Varndean School, Brighton

Rachel Bennett, Yr 12 Student, St Thomas More RC School, North Shields

Revd Dr Simon Mason, Citizens UK

Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of NASUWT, said, “We believe there are huge benefits for young people, school staff and the wider health service in having access to school-based counsellors. It is clear that the need for trained support is there and is growing. Investment in school-based counsellors and early intervention could help to prevent many young people reaching crisis point, remove barriers to learning, and contribute to tackling the problem of long-term absenteeism.”

Dr Phil James, CEO of BACP, said, “BACP’s partnership with Citizens UK, alongside key teaching unions and charities, has strengthened our ongoing call to secure funding for all children and young people to have access to a paid and appropriately trained school-based counsellor in every school and college in England. This would remove the current postcode lottery with some schools able to pay for additional counselling provision, others relying on third-sector providers and some having no access to counselling at all.

“Within our membership alone there is an underutilised workforce who have capacity to take on more work paid work, offering specialist early help counselling interventions within school and college settings which would significantly improve the mental health and wellbeing of our children and young people, their attendance and attainment and reduce pressure on CAMHS and other related services.” 

Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of NAHT, said, “There is a real urgency for additional resources to support the mental health and wellbeing of pupils. In this election year, we want to see all political parties commit to going further and faster, not only in extending access to school mental health support teams much more quickly, but also by funding counselling or creative therapies in all schools and easy-access support hubs in every community which offer early help to children who are struggling.” 

Jyles Robillard-Day, CEO of NCPS, said, “The NCPS are delighted to support this call. We know that mental health support in education is inconsistent, and is largely dependent on the area in which the establishments are situated. Those who attend schools in more affluent areas are more likely to be able to see a counsellor through their school than those schools in disadvantaged areas, and while there is guidance available around counselling in schools nothing is mandated. We would like to see the best practice that is happening in well-funded areas be replicated throughout England, so that all of our young people have access to the kind of support that will work best for them.”

Jason Elsom, CEO of Parentkind, said, “The National Parent Survey, one of the largest parent surveys in the UK, reveals that parents are worried about their children's mental health with almost half of parents of teenagers telling us their children have suffered from anxiety. Our national survey of parents tells us about one in six teenage children have suffered from depression, that’s about five in every classroom. Parents also tell us they are not happy with the support on offer to deal with these issues. We need to recognise the scale of this issue and take urgent action to address the mental health crisis sweeping through our schools. When it comes to the General Election parties need to put forward ambitious plans to help young people suffering from anxiety and depression. Parents are raising alarm bells with us and politicians need to listen.”

Shelley Baker, Headteacher of Varndean School, Brighton, said, “As a Headteacher, I see how significant mental health is a barrier to many young people on a daily basis. The extent to which teachers and pastoral support staff are having to fill the many gaps of trained mental health support has grown exponentially. This approach is not beneficial to anyone. When mental health support is delivered by trained counsellors, young people can readily access their learning; using strategies they've learned and can be taught by teachers who can then use their training to teach.” 

Rachel Bennett, Year 12, St Thomas More RC Academy, North Shields, said, "In year 10 I was really struggling with my mental health. I was in a really negative mindset to the point it was beginning to affect me in school. I began seeing the school counsellor mid-way through Year 10. Being able to speak to somebody about how I was feeling was really beneficial, she helped me navigate and understand what I was feeling and helped me develop skills to change my mindset. Without seeing a school counsellor, and getting the help I needed, my mental health would have gotten much worse. Seeing the school counsellor helped make me feel me again and allowed me to enjoy life again." 

Revd Dr Simon Mason, Citizens UK, said: “Children and young people deserve the best education we can provide. Anything that gets in the way is a problem that we need to find a solution for. That is why the worsening mental health of children and young people needs tackling proactively, even as early as primary school with qualified counsellors trained to work with children and young people.”

Elections Accountability Assembly - April 2023

Varndean students and staff came together again to speak passionately at the Citizens UK accountability assembly on Thursday 20th April, during the local election season for Brighton and Hove. The two main parties (the Green Party and the Labour Party) were held to account on previous proposals put forward by the citywide alliance.

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As part of the assembly they won:

  • Better wages for 1,000 workers (and more to come!),
  • Better lighting for some of our city's parks,
  • Cheaper transport and improved timetables,
  • Improved mental health services for 1,000s of young people,
  • More accountability for landlords and letting agents,
  • More affordable housing to rent and to buy.

Read the Citizens UK manifesto

Citizens UK Journey of the Manifesto

Citizens UK sought some clear commitments from the Green Party and the Labour Party and asked them the following questions:

  • Will you meet with us at least twice a year (including in the first 3 months of being in office) to update us on progress made on the asks in this manifesto and to find further opportunities to use our relationship for the common good?
  • Will you introduce us to key members of your teams in relation to the proposals discussed this evening so they can work together with us to put these ambitious ideas into action but also to find further opportunities to use our relationships for the common good?
  • And will you join us for a mid-term Accountability Assembly in May 2025 to review the progress made in relation to our Citizens priorities?

And got clear YES answers for all three questions!

Watch this space for more news to come...


Citizens Manifesto Launch - March 2023

On Friday 17th March Varndean students came together with an alliance of schools, colleges, universities, faith groups and community organisations to launch the Citizens Manifesto in the run up to the May 2023 local elections. At 120 strong, the group met with the key candidates running for office in May to share with them what they feel they should focus on. 

Brighton and Hove Citizens is affiliated with Citizens UK, a national organisation working together and within communities across the country. 

You can read the manifesto here:

Brighton & Hove Citizens Manifesto May 2023

Headteacher Shelley Baker spoke at the event and also with the BBC South East news team:



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The Manifesto Launch was also reported by local news:

The Argus - Brighton campaigners call for action from election candidates

The students involved are also our first to be awarded our new Community badges in recognition of their work and commitment to this project. 

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Safer Spaces Campaign - March 2023

Varndean students collaborated with Brighton and Hove Citizens, students from other schools across the city and parents to highlight the importance of lighting in feeling safe when we move around our city parks.

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You can also read more about this news in the following The Argus article:

The Argus: Children demand city parks must be better lit - but council say bats are priority

Citizens UK Assembly at Varndean School - Nov 2022

The Brighton & Hove Citizens hosted their annual assembly here at Varndean on 10th November 2022 which was attended by approximately 300 people including Council Leader Phelim MacCafferty and Dr Jane Padmore from the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust as well as colleagues from schools, colleges, faith and community groups and families from across the city. Speaking at the meeting Headteacher Shelley Baker and Year 11 students Fi and Teddy, talked about the lack of this provision in schools and the impact it is having.  

Whilst a definitive 'yes' was not given on the night, we received a commitment for further meetings with the leader of the council and the NHS Trust.

Following the assembly Sebastien Chapleau (Lead Community Organiser) & Paris Palmano (Associate Community Organiser) reflected on the event and recent work:

At our Assembly, we reviewed commitments made to our alliance last year. This is what has been won over the past 12 months...

With regards to the Council:

  • Some extra money has been allocated from the Council’s budget to support the Schools Wellbeing Service and Mental Health Support Teams to develop bespoke resources and trainings for young people, school staff, and families.
  • Cllr Mac Cafferty (leader of the Council) and his team have met with us on three occasions to review progress. Our meetings have been accountable - tense at times - but accountable nonetheless and we have been assured that our voices - the voices of Brighton & Hove Citizens - would be included in key decisions.
  • Mental Health Emergency motion was something we wanted the Council to consider: a motion has been drafted. Some of our leaders have been involved in drafting the motion. Now, the motion will be voted on at Full Council in December and is highly likely to be carried. It'll be the first one of its kind in England.


With regards to the Sussex Partnership Foundation Trust (our local NHS Trust):

  • Some important work has happened to create a single-point of access to ensure that referral systems are much less difficult and more effective.
  • Some important work has happened to create virtual ‘waiting rooms’ to assist people on waiting lists (eg CAMHS, Autism Assessment, etc.) so they’re not left unsupported as they wait for key appointments. We are thrilled that some of those waiting rooms will be launched in April 2023!




To build on our wins, and based on the 1,000s of conversations we've had across our alliance in relation to the needs of our communities, we agreed to develop two new proposals.


  1. We want to see a pilot scheme whereby a community-based mental health worker could be deployed to support staff and volunteers at the Fitzherbert Community Hub and Whitehawk Foodbank. Usman Niazi (Deputy CEO of the Sussex Partnership Foundation Trust), when pressed, didn't seem too convinced that this would help. Nevertheless, he committed to meeting again to explore what this could look like.
  2. We want to see school- and college-based counselling rolled out across all schools and colleges in Brighton and Hove. This would help meet the needs of 7,500-8,000 young people who otherwise struggle to have their needs met. And when their needs are not met, those young people often end up needing CAMHS support (waiting lists for which are notoriously long). Usman Niazi (Deputy CEO of the Sussex Partnership Foundation Trust) said it couldn't be afforded, missing our point that for every £1 investing in school- and college-based counselling, £8 is saved on the system. Mr Niazi agreed to have a further meeting and we look forward to that. 

The movement has gained media interest and we are hopeful for more positive steps in the future following further work with Citizens UK.