Call for mental health services to be brought into schools

Thinktank also urges the government to make mental health a mandatory part of initial teacher training

Adi Bloom

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Mental health services for children and teenagers should be brought into schools, to prevent more than half a million pupils from being failed by the system, a new report says.

Published by the thinktank Localis, the report also urges the government to ensure that a mandatory module on mental health is included as part of initial teacher training.

And, following the prime minister’s recent announcement that every secondary school in England will be provided with free mental health training, the thinktank calls for the government to provide school leaders with more details about what form this will take.

It argues that, despite £1.4 billion recently being allocated to improve child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs), more than 555,000 primary and secondary pupils with a diagnosable mental illness will not receive NHS-funded mental-health care by 2020-21.

Tes revealed earlier this month that growing numbers of pupils are being driven to make what look like suicide attempts just to get help, because the thresholds for accessing Camhs services have increased.

The Localis report states that, "despite school-based interventions being one of the most cost-effective and proximate to a young person’s everyday life", very few local authorities are planning to commission school-based services.

Specifically, the report highlights the fact that while 75 per cent of Camhs' improvement plans cite school-based approaches to mental health, only 3 per cent propose placing counsellors in schools.

'Young people feel like nobody cares'

The news comes as a report, from the NSPCC children’s charity, reveals that reports of emotionally abused children have risen by 200 per cent in seven years.

The charity’s annual child-protection report, published today, shows that the number of reports of children being subjected to emotional abuse – such as domestic violence or alcoholic parents – has risen from 3,341 in 2009-10 to 10,009 this year. It calls on people who work with children to look out for signs of such abuse.

However, the Localis report claims that many public-service professionals, such as teachers, lack the confidence to support young people in the early stages of dealing with mental health issues. As a result, they refer pupils to Camhs, overburdening specialists.

Liam Booth-Smith, chief executive of Localis, said: “The system is bedevilled by months-long waiting lists, because it fails to differentiate between young people in crisis and those close to it – a situation that makes vulnerable young people feel like nobody cares and nothing can be done.

“A challenge of this scale demands fundamental reform at both local and national level, to ensure our mental health system for young people quickly provides help for those in crisis, and offers support at an earlier stage to those who feel they need it.”

School-based support

The Localis report recommends that local authorities should be statutorily obliged to provide school-based support services for all secondary pupils. Up to 6.5 per cent of pupil-premium money should be retained in order to fund these services, it says.

And it calls on the government to make it compulsory for academies to provide school-based support services as well, potentially by opting into services provided by the local authority.

In addition, it suggests that school forums in every local area should be awarded the powers to suggest a lead mental health coordinator to oversee local strategies.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “No child should suffer alone from mental health issues, and we are investing a record £1.4 billion to ensure all children get the help and support they need.

“We are strengthening the links between schools and NHS mental health staff, and have announced plans for every secondary school to be offered mental health first-aid training. Later this year, we will publish a Green Paper with proposals for further improving mental health services.”

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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