'Lack of funding isn't the only danger we're facing'

Tory candidates are promising cash for schools – but they also need to look at pupil mental health, says Colin Harris

Colin Harris

A lack of funding isn't the only problem is schools, says Colin Harris - we are also facing a child mental health crisis

Once again, education has become a political football. Government ministers bidding for the Tory leadership are queuing around the block to shout out about how much extra money they’d give to schools. True, it’s good news for us that school funding is being thrust into the limelight in such a way. But the people promising us the world have very little knowledge of what it’s like to be a teacher or pupil in 2019. Money IS a major concern. Austerity has kicked education in its bits – the impact of which cannot be underestimated, but funding is not the only danger we’re facing today.

For far too many pupils – more than any other time in my living memory – education is a totally negative experience. If you’re not turned on by maths or English, then it seems our present education experience isn’t for you. It seems that our schools are defined by teaching the narrowest curriculum you could get with a total reliance on testing pupils to supply others with information.

This has led to a mental health disaster, which will impact our society for years to come. Pupils no longer have self-worth: being told they’re "failing" has eroded their confidence over time. It’s time for our politicians to recognise that this erosion starts at the age of 5 and continues until they leave school.

At every juncture of their lives, we take the opportunity to tell pupils that they could be doing better: just before joining secondary school, we tell them whether their work is age-appropriate or not. Whoever thought that doing this was acceptable clearly didn't understand a child emotionally.

The child mental health crisis

Is it any wonder that the number of pupils with mental health issues has risen to a point where schools are unable to cope? In 2016 the ATL union, now part of the NEU, found that 89 per cent of teachers thought testing and exams were the biggest cause of pressure that children faced.

And at the same time, austerity has led to the emasculation of child and adolescent mental health services across the country. 

If the prospective Conservative leaders want to support education, they should take a look at the legal advice for teachers. It states: "Every school teacher owes a pupil a duty of care,” and that “the school has to do what is reasonably practicable to ensure they care for their pupils, as any reasonable parent would do.”

Does the current education service allow teachers to do that? 

We can all appreciate that mental ill-health is caused by many differing issues – however, can we honestly say that our education system meets the needs of all pupils, and supports them irrespective of what these issues are?

Money is needed yes, but what’s more important is a change of mindset into what education is all about in 2019.

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were “outstanding” across all categories

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