Almost a quarter of children were turned away from mental health services last year, a new report has found.

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) found that among those turned away by child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) in England were youngsters who had self-harmed or suffered abuse.

It was also found that over the past five years, referrals to specialist mental health services have increased by 26 per cent.

Whitney Crenna-Jennings, report author and senior researcher at EPI, said: "Our research finds no significant improvement in access to children's mental services over the last few years, with a number of treatment gaps evident in a system that is coming under increased pressure from rising referral rates.

"As many as one in every four children referred are denied access to specialist mental health services, often because their condition is not deemed serious enough to warrant treatment.

"Those excluded from treatment include children and young people that have self-harmed or experienced abuse.

"With a significant number of local authorities phasing out crucial services that offer alternative support, these children may find it increasingly difficult to access any formal help at all".

It is estimated that at least 55,800 children were not accepted into treatment in 2017/18, and that the actual figure is likely to be much higher as some providers did not disclose their referral numbers.

The most common reason for rejection was that children's mental health conditions were not serious enough to meet treatment eligibility requirements, the report says.

Responding to the report, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: "The EPI findings are distressing.

"Schools witness on a daily basis the costs of the Government's decimation of mental health services and the misery caused to families and children and young people in need of professional mental health support.

"Schools must be enabled to support pupils' mental health and promote well-being, but they cannot do it alone.

"In the majority of schools, pastoral systems and personalised support are being cut because of the real-terms funding cuts."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "We are transforming mental health services for children and young people with an additional £1.4billion and are on track to ensure that 70,000 more children a year have access to specialist mental health care by 2020/21.

"We are improving access to mental health services through schools with a brand new dedicated workforce, as well as piloting a four week waiting time standard in some areas so we can better understand how to reduce waiting times.

"We are completely committed to achieving parity between physical and mental health as part of our long-term plan for the NHS, backed by an additional £20.5bn of funding per year by 2023/24."

Barnardo's chief executive Javed Khan said: "This disturbing report shows how urgent action must be taken to stop us sleepwalking ever further into a children's mental health crisis."