Primary schools in counties Cavan, Laois, Leitrim, Longford, Mayo, Monaghan, and Tipperary will be able to access free counselling and mental health supports for pupils from September.

The seven counties have been chosen to participate in a €5 million pilot scheme.

It will enable schools to offer up to eight one-to-one sessions with a Department of Education-approved counsellor to pupils in need.

The department said the programme has been designed "to recognise the impact of Covid-19 on primary school-aged children and will work to mitigate the mental health challenges, which may be experienced in schools".

All primary schools in the seven counties will have access to the early intervention measure, which is aimed at preventing the escalation of difficulties and the need for onward referral.

The department said schools would receive information about the programme next week, which will include information for parents.

Under the scheme parents and other school staff will be part of the intervention and will be encouraged to support the child at home and at school.

The Department of Education said the seven counties were selected following an analysis of the availability locally of counsellors and after liaison with local National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) teams.

Announcing details of the programme, Minister Norma Foley said: "Well-being is at the very heart of all that we do in the education system.

"Developing and promoting well-being is essential to allowing children to learn and grow to the very best of their abilities.

"This new pilot project aims to support, enhance and nurture well-being in our primary schools with two new support models."

Ms Foley said the scheme would "complement ongoing work and resources to support children's mental health and well-being being provided in schools by the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST), the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) and, in post-primary schools, guidance counsellors; as well as the wider mental health supports available to children and young people through the health services."

Minister for Education Norma Foley said well-being is essential to a child's development

A second strand of the pilot programme is due to be announced in coming weeks.

Primary teachers' union, the INTO, has welcomed the pilot scheme and said it looks forward to hearing details of the second strand.

The union said the new service was in response to a campaign that it had led and was a significant step in addressing the growing need for mental health support among primary school pupils.

However, it said it believes that every school in Ireland needs on-site support to promote well-being and to meet the mental health challenges of pupils.

The union said the pandemic had had a profound impact on the mental wellbeing of children, leading to an increased number of pupils seeking behavioural and emotional interventions.

It said referrals to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service and other relevant services have risen by 40%.

The union has urged Government to set funding aside in Budget 2024 to facilitate the nationwide rollout of supports in all primary schools from September 2024.