Schools are commonly asked to take on roles that support the emotional well-being of students. These practices are in line with humanistic education theory and can be difficult to fulfil by schools. Broader ecological pressures, such as periods of austerity, are likely to add to the difficulty in meeting students' needs. To explore whether professionals in schools believe that their work supporting pupils' emotional well-being has changed as a consequence of the current period of austerity. This project reports the views of staff from three secondary schools in the North West of England. A purposive sample of 29 individuals, including members of the senior leadership team and newly qualified teachers, were involved. All participants were interviewed about their perceptions of the impact of a sustained period of austerity upon their work. The transcripts of these interviews were analysed using thematic analysis. Educational professionals associated wider socio-political factors with a perceived increase in the need for emotional support of pupils. They reported taking on new roles and responsibilities to accommodate this and noted they are doing so with fewer resources and limited governmental support. This paper concludes that considering humanistic education theory alongside ecological theory helps to conceptualize how socio-political factors can impact upon the emotional well-being in schools. An ecologically informed humanistic framework is depicted based upon the findings of this project as a means of understanding how these two theories complement one another and interact. © 2019 The Authors. British Journal of Educational Psychology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Psychological Society.