MINISTERS are under pressure to act after figures showed more than 250,000 children have no access to school-based counselling services.

Opposition politicians demanded urgent improvements after research showed 14 of Scotland’s 32 councils had no on-site school counsellors.

Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour’s inequalities spokeswoman, called for access to school-based counselling to be available to all pupils.

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She said: “There is a growing child mental health crisis in Scotland and a lack of ambition on the part of the Scottish Government to respond, so we share the frustration of charities, parents and teachers.

“Young people deserve the best start in life and we will continue to press ministers on provision of school-based counselling.”

Alex Cole-Hamilton, health spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, also criticised the Scottish Government for its “passive approach”.

He said: “This is the latest in a string of revelations about the state of mental health provision in Scotland.

“From children waiting hundreds of days for treatment to a late and unambitious mental health strategy, the SNP government has yet to deliver on improving mental health provision.”

A BBC Scotland investigation found school counsellors have dealt with thousands of cases including substance abuse, self-harm and depression in the past year.

Unlike Scotland, counselling services were guaranteed in all secondary schools in Northern Ireland and Wales a decade ago.

But data obtained by the BBC revealed 14 councils have no formal school-based counselling services for their 254,000 students.

The number of students who do not have access to these services across Scotland is likely to be far higher.

The responses from the Scottish local authorities that do offer on-site counselling reveal that provision was often irregular even across their own network of schools.

Inverclyde provides services in one of its six secondary schools, and North Ayrshire currently has two counsellors in nine of its secondary schools.

Edinburgh and Glasgow councils had services in 43 per cent and 93 per cent of its secondary schools respectively.

Overall, on-site services were present in only 40 per cent of Scottish secondary schools - or 10 per cent of all primary and secondary schools.

Jo Anderson, from the Scottish Association for Mental Health, said the data showed counselling was “patchy”.

She said: “There’s a commitment in the Scottish Government’s mental health strategy to review schools-based counselling, but there’s no timeframe on when they will do this, nor indeed a commitment to providing access.

“We think Scotland’s young people are already missing out. The situation is urgent, it’s not getting better, and it’s got to change.”

Maureen Watt, Scotland’s mental health minister, said all education authorities had a responsibility to support the mental wellbeing of pupils.

She said: “Some will provide access to school-based counselling while - others will utilise the skills of pastoral care staff and liaise with educational psychological services and health services for specialist support when required.”

Earlier this year, the Scottish Government launched a new mental health strategy which stated that “support from teachers and other school staff was vital.