Pupils 'failed' by lack of mental health training for teachers

Calls for training programme for all Scottish school staff and specialist counselling services in every secondary

Henry Hepburn

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At least two-thirds of teachers have not received adequate training in pupil mental health support and feel unable to do their job properly as a result, a major survey has found.

Research from the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) also shows that only one in 100 recall doing detailed work on mental health when they were student teachers.

The survey has fuelled calls for a national training programme for schools and specialist counselling services in every secondary.

SAMH surveyed 3,366 school staff and found that 66 per cent of teachers felt they lacked training in mental health to carry out their job properly, with only 12 per cent saying they had received enough training in issues such as self-harming and eating disorders.

One per cent of teachers said mental health was covered in detail in initial teacher education; 63 per cent said it was not covered at all. Thirty-four per cent said their school had an effective way of responding to pupils experiencing mental health problems.

SAMH chief executive Billy Watson said the responses showed that the need to improve mental health training was “clearly an issue [school staff] feel passionate about”.

One teacher said: “Teachers are not encouraged in this area. They are not provided support or time. They make flippant remarks in error. The current system is failing our young people.”

SAMH, which underlines the importance of a “whole-school approach” to mental health, has also surveyed other school workers – including classroom support, administrative, catering and janitorial staff – and found that 69 per cent had never completed any training on mental health.

Mr Watson said: “With three children in every class experiencing a mental health problem by the time they’re 16, teachers and school staff should feel confident to spot the signs and be equipped to help.”

He added that the Scottish executive – since renamed as the Scottish government – had promised a programme to train teachers in mental health by 2005, yet “there is still no comprehensive programme in place”.

SAMH wants a staff training programme to be in place by 2018, which it said would require £4.4 million of initial investment. It is also calling for counselling services in all secondaries by 2020 – noting that these have been available in both Northern Ireland and Wales for about a decade and that England’s Department for Education has made it an aspiration – at an initial cost of £9 million.

Mental health minister Maureen Watt said the government recognised the importance of giving every pupil “access to emotional and mental wellbeing support in school”, and had started a review of personal and social education, including the role of counselling in schools.

She added that councils and schools should decide how to support and develop pupils’ mental wellbeing “on the basis of local circumstances and needs”.

This is an edited version of an article in the 6 October edition of Tes Scotland. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Tes Scotland magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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