The government has pledged £200,000 to back up its proposal to provide every secondary school with a member of staff trained in mental health first aid.
The funding will be used to train 3,000 teachers and teaching assistants over the next three years. Teachers will receive practical advice on how to deal with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, suicide and self-harm.
The aim is to extend the programme to primary schools by the end of the current Parliament.
After making the announcement, the government amended its statement to say that the £200,000 was only for the first year of the programme. Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, claimed that this amounted to a U-turn.
Training will be delivered in schools by social enterprise organisation Mental Health First Aid England. Participants will be expected to educate other members of staff in their school about the best ways to handle mental health problems.
The programme was first announced by Theresa May in January. Today, she said: “Tackling poor mental health is a huge challenge, and we will keep our promises and meet that challenge with the comprehensive cross-society response that is required.”
'Only part of the solution'
But Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, pointed out that investment in mental health training in schools is only a first step. “School leaders know the importance of good mental health, and investment in staff training is crucial in identifying children and young adults in need,” he said.
“Schools may help in identifying problems, but if the mental health support services are not there, then this is only part of the solution. We know of the long waiting times for child and adolescent mental health services, which must be addressed to give children the support they need.”
Around one in 10 children is believed to have a diagnosable mental illness. More than half of all mental health conditions begin before the age of 14.
However, recent research by the NASUWT teachers’ union found that, of the 98 per cent of teachers who had come into contact with pupils with mental health problems, only 46 per cent had received relevant training.
From exam stress to bullying
Education secretary Justine Greening said: “Growing up in today’s world is not always easy, and for some young people the problems can be acute. That’s why we are stepping up our support for children with mental illness, to help them become resilient, confident adults who can go as far as their talents will take them.
"This new training will give teachers more confidence in tackling mental health issues and build on the fantastic support we know they already give their pupils.”
Sarah Brennan, chief executive of the mental health charity YoungMinds, welcomed today's announcement. “Children and young people today are facing a huge range of pressures, from exam stress to online bullying, which inevitably take a toll on their mental health,” she said.
“Many of these pressures become particularly intense during secondary school, so it is important and welcome that mental health first-aid training will be available for secondary schools.”