Spotting mental health issues in schools is a matter for teachers, MPs told

Helen Ward

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Schools do not necessarily need specialist staff to help with the early identification of mental health issues, MPs heard today.

Last week the children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, told the Commons Education Select Committee that schools should provide professional counselling for all students, as already happens in Wales.

But asked about Ms Longfield’s recommendation today, experts expressed some caution, stating that providing counselling was not the same as improving access to specialist mental health provision. 

Professor Peter Fonagy, the national clinical adviser on children and young people’s mental health for NHS England, warned that while counselling could be useful, it was not a solution for specific mental health disorders, in which case counsellors would need to “signpost” people towards specialist services.

Claire Bethel, deputy director of the Department of Health, told the committee that she did not think the member of staff referring students to outside services needed to be a specialist.

She highlighted a £3 million pilot project that is assessing the effect of having a single person in schools who can be contacted on mental health issues and can help students to access services.

In the pilot, this person wasn't necessarily a specialist but a teacher or special educational needs and disabilities coordinator, who had received training, she explained.

Committee member Lucy Frazer, a Conservative MP, expressed concerns about the "additional burden" this could place on teachers.

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