Head teachers have cautiously welcomed a Department for Education announcement of £17 million to boost mental health support in schools and colleges.
Up to 7,800 schools and colleges in England will be offered funding worth £9.5 million to train a senior mental health lead from their staff in the next academic year.
A DfE press release states this is part of the government’s commitment to offering this training to all state schools and colleges by 2025.
The funding also includes a £7m Wellbeing for Education Recovery programme, which provides free expert training, support and resources for staff dealing with children and young people experiencing additional pressures from the last year – including trauma, anxiety, or grief.
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The DfE press release says this "builds on the success of the Department for Education’s Wellbeing for Education Return, used by more than 90 per cent of councils since its launch last summer".
That programme had been worth more, at £8m.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We’re pleased to see the government announcing this investment in mental health support...We have to say that this comes after years of government underfunding of schools and colleges which has taken its toll on their capacity to provide pastoral support, and very severe difficulties in accessing NHS children’s mental health services for young people with complex problems.
"However, the initiatives now being implemented are a step in the right direction, and we look forward to seeing further detail."
He added: “We do feel, however, that there needs to be a greater focus on the factors which cause poor mental health. We are particularly concerned about the impact of child poverty on the wellbeing of pupils and their ability to learn.
"It is a shocking state of affairs that so many young people experience very straitened and difficult circumstances, that they arrive at school cold and hungry, and that they are faced with the grim reality of generational disadvantage.
"As a wealthy country, we owe it to these young people to genuinely level up our society and we look forward to the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday to see how the government plans to live up to its rhetoric on this front.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Teachers and school leaders have seen the impact lockdown and the pandemic has had on children’s mental health.
“Children are returning to school needing not just academic help, but a wide range of pastoral, mental health and wellbeing support too, all of which requires additional resources.
“But schools cannot be the only place children or their families are able to turn for help with mental health. The support of well-integrated and well-funded social and health services is equally vital. Sadly, these services have been seriously damaged by a decade of austerity.”
The £9.5 million mental health lead training programme had been mooted back in 2017 and the DfE issued a procurement notice in 2019 offering up to £30 million for "a supplier, or consortium of suppliers to deliver a national Senior Mental Health Leads training programme... across all state funded schools and colleges in England...".
However, fresh procurement documents were later issued in February of this year, setting out that schools and colleges would "be provided with funding to pay training providers directly for courses that meet specified senior mental health lead learning outcomes: enabling senior leads to develop their setting's whole school/college approach to wellbeing and mental health".
In March, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced that it would allocate £79 million to support student mental health in schools.
Andy Mellor, national wellbeing director for Schools Advisory Service and strategic lead for the Carnegie Centre of Excellence for mental health in schools, told Tes last week it was important that this money shouldn’t be used as a "sticking plaster" but used to fundamentally change things.
In a comment piece for Tes today, children's and families minister Vicky Ford - who has previously written about her own experiences of mental illess as a teenager - says teachers "do an incredible job, but they cannot be mental health professionals and schools cannot provide specialist health services.
"They can, however, understand what children and young people are going through, support pupils to seek help and continue support as they are going through treatment."