‘Pupils must feel free to speak out if they are struggling with mental health issues, without fear or shame’
Sam Gyimah, childcare and education minister, writes:
There is no denying that support for young people with mental health problems is complicated. It is impossible to sum up what I would like to achieve in one pithy sentence, but I hope that teachers, who have such an important role to play in the lives of our young people, will join me in striving towards ending the stigma that still surrounds mental health once and for all.
I am inspired by the excellent work of schools, charities and other voluntary organisations, including the outstanding Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in North London which I visited this week. The school’s character building and enrichment activities, the vibrant PSHE curriculum, and support through form tutors, pastoral leads and an on-site psychologist as a single, whole-school approach to pupils’ wellbeing should be an example to all.
We want to see more of this. That is why the secretary of state has tasked me with the great responsibility and vitally important mission of improving access to mental health services for children in schools.
We know we need to help teachers to support their pupils when things go wrong. Our new behaviour guidance is helping teachers spot the difference between bad behaviour and underlying mental health concerns – preventing children from being wrongly labelled as “troublemakers” and, more importantly, making sure they are given the support they need.
Our work has not stopped there. As part of our Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) grant we have identified mental health as a priority area. This funding is a fantastic opportunity for organisations to develop and establish approaches that really have an impact on children’s lives.
But there is, of course, more to do and we must act now. Today’s young people face new challenges that can have repercussions on mental health. Worries, ranging from cyberbullying to low body confidence, can all negatively affect mental health. We need to make sure that the support we offer young people takes into account the way their lives are changing.
For this reason, today, I will announce the beginning of a series of actions to help tackle mental health issues in schools. I am working with the PSHE Association to produce new guidance for teachers. This will provide valuable support for teachers across the country to use when discussing mental health issues in the classroom – helping to destigmatise this issue, and improve support.
However, we are going to go even further. We are devising a new DfE strategy to inspire good quality counselling in schools. We know many schools already make good use of counselling services. I want to bring together experts, including young people, to distil what it is that makes excellent school counselling services. In the new year we will report back on what lies at the heart of excellent practice and examples of the different ways in which this can be achieved.
This is not just a concern for schools. We are working closely with the Department of Health to improve Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), through a task force that brings experts together to investigate how CAMHS can be planned and provided in a way that makes it easier for young people to get the help they need, when they need it.
I want teachers to have access to the guidance, knowledge and support they need to provide for their pupils. I want a system where we try to prevent problems from developing in the first place. Where they do arise, difficulties should be spotted and we should intervene early. I want pupils to be able to speak out if they are struggling, without fear or shame and for them to be given the help they need quickly and sensitively. If we can achieve this, then we are offering our young people the best step forward into adulthood.