Most school leaders do not think their staff can get specialist help for pupils with mental health problems, a government-commissioned survey has revealed.
The findings come two weeks after Theresa May pledged to put young people’s mental health at the centre of her vision for a “shared society”.
Although the prime minister’s comments were given a guarded welcome by many unions, they were also met with concerns that cuts to councils, health and education had reduced support for children with mental health issues.
The survey of 1,874 serving teachers, published on Friday by the Department for Education, showed that 56 per cent of leaders disagreed or disagreed strongly with the statement that most staff have “good access to a mental health professional if they need specialist advice on students’ mental health”.
The figure was higher in primaries (58 per cent) than secondaries (52 per cent).
When classroom teachers themselves were asked if they had "access to" mental health professionals, 38 per cent said they did, while 39 per cent said they did not.
Trouble accessing support from outside school
Teachers were more positive about identifying pupils' mental health issues than their ability to get external help for them.
Half of senior leaders said most staff were equipped to “identify behaviour that may be linked to a mental health issue”, compared to a third who disagreed.
Classroom teachers were more confident, with 57 per cent saying they felt equipped, compared to a third who felt they were not.
However, the survey showed that while the majority of teachers were confident about getting mental health support for children offered by their schools, they were much less confident about helping them access specialist support from outside.
Only 27 per cent of senior leaders agreed or strongly agreed that most staff could do this, while 32 per cent of classroom teachers said the same.
Nearly half of school leaders – 48 per cent – also disagreed, or disagreed strongly, that most of their staff were equipped to teach children in their classes who have mental health needs.
This trend was stronger in primary than secondary schools.
Classroom teachers themselves were more positive, with 40 per cent saying they did feel equipped, compared to a third who said they did not.
The research report said: “The government believe that schools can play an important role in supporting children and young people’s mental health. Ensuring that schools are equipped and supported to identify and help pupils with mental health needs is a key part of improving support for vulnerable children."
The Teacher Voice Omnibus Survey was carried out online last May, while the Senior Leader Booster Survey was completed online and on paper in June and July.
In total, 1,874 serving teachers from 1,573 state-funded schools took part – 47 per cent from primaries, and 53 per cent from secondaries. 56 per cent were classroom teachers, and 44 per cent were senior leaders.