‘Enough, they can only do so much’ – MP's concern over teachers' mental health responsibilities

5th January 2018 at 11:03
Thelma Walker raised concerns about the responsibilities teachers are being given for pupils' mental health.
Former headteacher turned MP aims to be a mouthpiece of teachers and headteachers in Parliament

Teachers risk being overburdened by new demands to help protect children’s mental health, a former head who sits on the House of Commons Education Select Committee has warned.

Thelma Walker’s three decades working in education included leading two primary schools, before she was elected the Labour MP for Colne Valley, in West Yorkshire, last year.

She told Tes her priorities for 2018 included social justice and mental health support for young people, which her committee will start taking evidence on later this month.

In December, the government unveiled its mental health Green Paper, which encourages every school to appoint a teacher as a senior lead on mental health, and ensuring teachers at every primary and secondary school are offered mental health awareness training.

However, Ms Walker said the extra demands being put on teachers deserve particular scrutiny.

She said: “I think teachers are saying: ‘Where does my brief end? I came into this as an educator. Of course there’s a pastoral role, but I’m not a mental health nurse. What else am I responsible for?’

“I just feel that part of my role will be watching over how these things unfold. I feel almost like I am protecting my profession, really, saying teachers always care about their pupils, and there always has to be the safeguarding and pastoral role, but it’s about saying, ‘Enough, I can only do so much.’”

Tom Madders, director of campaigns at YoungMinds, a charity which campaigns to improve the mental health of young people, said many teachers are already finding ways to promote good mental health among their students.

He added: “Teachers should never be seen as a substitute for mental health services. But from the work we do in schools across the country, we know what a crucial role they can play in building resilience, and identifying problems when they first emerge.

"We welcome the government’s recognition that schools have a fundamental role to play, but this must be underpinned by enough resource to provide real support in the classroom.”

Ms Walker said she was still in contact with people in schools, and added: “I am the mouthpiece of these teachers and headteachers.”

This is an edited article from the 5 January edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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