Elodie’s voice shook with emotion as she stood up before a group of children, parents and MPs in the Houses of Parliament today and described how cuts to school mental health services nearly ruined her life.
The 17-year-old had been trying to access support from a counsellor at her school since Year 8, but because she hadn’t attempted suicide or started self-harming, her case was not deemed serious enough to warrant support.
On her 16th birthday she went to the doctor in hysterics begging for anti-depressants, but was turned away because she hadn’t been seen by the lone school counsellor who serves her secondary school – one of the biggest in the country.
“I remember driving home that night. Crying, screaming, breaking, I turned to my mum and said, ‘The only way I can get help is if I try to kill myself,'” she told the assembled crowd, as many parents and even some MPs wiped a tear from their eyes.
Her story was among many told by primary and secondary school pupils at an event organised by the Save Our Schools campaign to highlight the human impact of spending cuts to education.
Edie, 12, who goes to school in Derbyshire, was among several children who highlighted how cuts to arts subjects and services are hitting children from the poorest areas the hardest.
'We need more SEND-trained staff'
“Although my town is famous for the birth of the textile industry, if my head gets a dozen kids who want to do textiles, he can’t put the course on as he simply does not have the money,” she said.
Asked what he would pay for in schools if he had the choice, Michael, a 10-year-old with autism from Greenwich, London, said he would make sure there were more staff trained to deal with children with special education needs.
“All the EAs in my school got trained in one hour, and that’s nothing compared with what they need to know about autism,” he said.
The SOS event comes amid a furore over the Department of Education’s misuse of statistics regarding how much it is spending on schools.
Parent Louise Mellor told the assembled crowd, which spilled out of the room, that the government’s attitude toward concerned parents and teachers was “shameful”.
“A few weeks ago, headteachers marched to highlight their concerns, such as that there are 60,000 more kids in schools this year but 10,000 fewer staff,” she said.
“How did the government respond? With a misleading statistic.”
In a statement ahead of the event, a DfE spokesperson said the government is “investing in our schools” and referred to statistics showing that funding for 5- to 16-year-olds has been maintained across this year and next.
"We recognise that there is more pressure on schools to do more, which is why we have taken a number of steps to help them get the best value for every pound," said the statement.