The government’s new youth mental health ambassador has taken a firm stance against schools using exclusions as pupils return after lockdown.
His comments came on the day when the new children's commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, stated in an interview with Tes that she wants to end exclusions and off-rolling.
Dr Alex George, a former star of ITV’s Love Island, was appointed by the prime minister last month into a role, which involves “shaping children’s mental health education and support in schools”.
Speaking to MPs at a meeting of the Commons Education Select Committee this morning, he said: “We should stop exclusions for now because they can really impact on certain disadvantaged groups."
Mental health tsar Alex George calls for an end to exclusions
He later added: “It’s been talked about previously how children behave differently when they have mental health conditions, particularly boys, and behavioural issues can represent underlying issues going on, and excluding children can put them in a situation where they’re not having any support from anyone – so my fear is, what happens to those children?
“I think we need to think very carefully about steps we can take before the point of exclusion. I know a lot of people have been asking for considerations of stopping exclusions, particularly at this time.”
Dr George also spoke about the suicide six months ago of his younger brother, who, he said, had not sought help prior to taking his own life.
He said: “I don’t want to mention my brother too much, but, you know, I wish so much that I could go back and tell him that actually you can reach out and ask for help and that we will help you and there is support available.”
He said his brother, an A-level student last year, had been under “a huge amount of pressure” over the uncertainty surrounding exams and that this was still "a huge issue” for young people.
He said: “My brother, last year leading up to the summer, was facing his A levels. Were they going to be cancelled or were they not? How was he going to be assessed? How were his grades going to be recommended? And I know that put a huge amount of pressure on him, so I would imagine that would be the case for a lot of young people at the moment.”
When asked how wellbeing support could fit in with academic catch-up as pupils return from lockdown, he said: “I think it’s important that we’re not just putting all the pressure on teachers to focus on the academia, and that we're taking time to integrate [pupils] back into the school…football and sport are very, very important and just giving children time to form their social groups and, again, trying to bring that focus on wellbeing as a whole. I think it is vital.”
Dr George also told MPs that he was trying to talk to the prime minister directly to push for more money to support young people's wellbeing.