This morning, MPs from the education and health parliamentary select committees heard evidence from a range of school and mental health experts, about how to transform mental health provision for young people.
Panellists including Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, children’s commissioner Anne Longfield and Rowan Munson, former member of the parliamentary youth select committee, gave their opinions on the government’s recent mental health Green Paper.
The following concerns arose during the session:
- New mental health plans could become just another stick to beat teachers with
The Green Paper recommends that schools have an on-site mental health lead, responsible for developing a whole-school approach to wellbeing.
But Mr Whiteman said: “The evaluation and accountability that will stem from this – we work in a system at the moment that’s high stakes, and our members suffer terribly at the hands of the system.
“We worry this is just another stick to beat school leaders and teachers with, rather than being a serious and positive intervention to look after children’s mental health.”
- Tweaking the system will not be enough
Three out of four children are not receiving the treatment they need from child and adolescent mental health services, Ms Longfield said. Some simply do not meet the necessary thresholds – others spend months on waiting lists. “There’s a seismic shift needed,” she said. “These are issues that aren’t going to go away. The scale of changes needed is incredible. I think this should be a priority across government.”
- School leaders often choose to fund health or social care services from their own budgets
But, Mr Whiteman argues, there should be no expectation that schools do this, or that these services are routinely funded from school budgets.
- School mental health leads need to be mandatory…
The Green Paper proposes placing a mental health lead in every school. “These should be mandatory, otherwise this plan will fall apart,” said Bernardka Dubicka, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Other panellists commented that teachers should not be expected to pick up this role.
- …and consistently trained
“We also have some concerns about the training of mental health leads,” Dr Dubicka said. “The paper suggests schools should be able to pick and choose these approaches. But there should also be guidance about best practice, and that should be rolled out nationally, so there’s some consistency of quality.”
- Exam pressure is having a discernible effect on pupils’ mental health…
“Education is a real cause of people’s anxiety,” Rowan Munson said. “Exams, fear of failure. They’re constantly reinforced with the idea that they’ve got to revise, they’ve got to study hard, they’ve got to do well, or they’ll fail.”
- …and also on teachers’ mental health
“Teachers are visibly stressed in lessons,” said Mr Munson. “I even know of one teacher who had a panic attack in the middle of the class. It was very distressing for the teacher concerned, and even more distressing, I would argue, for Year 8 sitting in that class.”
- Teachers should not be expected to double as mental health professionals
“We need to understand the limits of what a school can do,” Mr Whiteman said. “Their job is to educate children. They can’t do everything, and they’re not resourced to do everything.”
- The government’s consultation on the mental health Green Paper is incomprehensible to the majority of pupils
“We’re not talking to children and young people enough,” Mr Munson said. “The Green Paper was very tricky to read, and I have experience of being on the youth select committee. The questions…they’re not accessible. You wouldn’t be able to understand them as a layman.”