School funding cuts harming pupils' mental health, MPs warn

The government must review its funding cuts, cross-party group of MPs demands

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Pupils’ mental health and wellbeing will suffer if the government does not review its funding cuts to schools, MPs have said.

In a report published jointly by the parliamentary education and health committees, MPs call on the next government to reconsider the impact that funding cuts are having on the education sector.

They also highlight the fact that increased academic pressure is having an adverse effect on pupils’ mental health – which, in turn, can affect their exam results.

As part of a joint inquiry into pupils’ mental health, MPs found that an increasing number of schools are having to cut back on mental-health provision – such as counselling services – despite an increase in the prevalence of mental ill-health among pupils.

'Frontline role'

Neil Carmichael, chair of the Commons Education Committee, said: “Schools and colleges have a frontline role in tackling mental ill-health and promoting wellbeing. We have heard, however, that the financial pressures are restricting their ability to run services.

“Schools and colleges must be well-resourced, to provide on-site support, and make referrals where necessary.”

Half of all cases of mental illness start before the age of 15. And one in 10 children aged between five and 16 has experienced a diagnosed mental disorder.

Recommendations

The MPs’ report, published today, makes a number of recommendations as to how the government can better support pupils’ wellbeing:

  1. Funding
    Budget cuts are adversely affecting pupils’ mental health, the MPs said. Their report states: “It is...a false economy to cut services for children and young people. We strongly urge the next government to review the effect of budget reductions on the in-school provision of services to support children and young people’s mental health and well-being.”
     
  2. Exam pressure
    The MPs acknowledged that exam stress can have a deleterious effect on pupils’ mental health. Their report states: Their report, published today, states: “Achieving a balance between promoting academic attainment and wellbeing should not be regarded as a zero-sum activity. Greater wellbeing can equip pupils to achieve academically.
    “If the pressure to promote academic excellence is detrimentally affecting pupils, it becomes self-defeating.”
     
  3. Inspections
    Ofsted now includes pupils’ wellbeing among its inspection criteria. However, MPs felt that insufficient priority was being given to wellbeing by inspectors.
    Their report states: “The recently appointed chief inspector should, as a matter of priority, consider ways in which the inspection regime gives sufficient prominence to wellbeing.”
     
  4. Teacher training
    While noting that teachers cannot be expected to replace mental-health professionals, the report calls on the government to include mental-health training as part of the initial teacher-training course. Serving teachers should receive similar training, as part of their continuing professional development.
     
  5. PSHE lessons
    While MPs noted with approval the government’s decision to make personal, social and health education (PSHE) compulsory in school, they added that the promotion of wellbeing cannot be confined to these lessons. The report states: “Senior leadership must embed wellbeing throughout their provision and culture.”
     
  6. Social media
    PSHE lessons should include lessons on internet safety. Teachers and parents should also work together to equip pupils with the skills to make safe choices in their use of social media.
     
  7. Cooperation between education and mental-health services
    MPs call for a structured approach to referrals from schools to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services to be developed across the country.

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