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'Suicide' pupil seemed happy

Additional support services might not have saved the life of a Neath schoolboy who apparently committed suicide last month, his headteacher said this week.

Assistant children's commissioner Sara Reid has hit out at a lack of information provided in schools for depressed teenagers, following new figures that suggest suicide rates for 11 to 17-year-olds in Wales are five times higher than in England.

But Roger Skilton, head of Llangatwg comprehensive, in Cadoxton, Neath, said 13-year-old pupil Nathan Smith had not shown any signs of distress or depression before his death by hanging in January. It was the second apparent suicide to hit Llangatwg comprehensive within a year. Nathan Thomas, also aged 13, was found hanging in his home in Resolven last March.

And in another incident last month, 15-year-old Jonathan Reynolds, a pupil at Bryntirion comprehensive, in Bridgend, is thought to have killed himself under a train at Pencoed. No one was available from the school to comment on claims that he had been bullied.

Ms Reid said early intervention for troubled teenagers and better access to counselling services could prevent them from taking their own lives.

But Mr Skilton said his school was already well supported. He also doubted whether early intervention would have helped as both boys had appeared happy in school. "I can only speak for Neath Port Talbot," he said.

"But we have good access to a counselling service and pupils at the school are aware of who they can talk to if they need it."

Special assemblies have been held at Llangatwg following Nathan's death, with counselling offered to pupils and staff. The tragedy has also been broached in personal and social education lessons, with advice on services to help young people with problems.

Home Office figures, based on suicide verdicts recorded by coroners, suggest Wales's teenage suicide rate is five times higher than England's, although the numbers are small.

Ms Reid, assistant children's commissioner, said: "Any young person should have someone to turn to if they feel they can no longer cope. Quite often nobody will know a child is feeling the way they do, and having more information available in schools could help them get help before it is too late."

Providing pupils with advice on support organisations such as ChildLine was a key recommendation of children's commissioner Peter Clarke's 2004 Clywch report on sex abuse at a south Wales secondary school.

He wanted advice disseminated within three months of Clywch's June 2004 publication. But guidance will not now reach schools until this April, according to a report to Assembly members this week.

The setting up of an independent school counselling service - another major recommendation of Clywch - depends on the outcome of research expected to take three years. Janet Ryder, Plaid Cymru's shadow education spokesperson, asked why a two-month review of existing counselling services had taken so long.

But Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, insisted the Clywch recommendations were being taken seriously. She told Assembly members: "We must test and evaluate before we roll out a pilot national counselling strategy. We need sufficient and qualified enough people to provide the counselling."

The minister promised Assembly members an update on progress on Clywch's recommendations after facing tough questioning in the debating chamber last month on vetting and barring arrangements for teachers convicted of sexual offences.

Meanwhile, an Assembly spokesperson said parents worried about their children's well-being would in due course be able to get advice from a bilingual helpline, announced in December as part of the government's parenting action plan.

Targets have also been set for waiting times for children needing to access child and adolescent mental health services.

She added: "The Assembly is concerned about suicide among young people and has been taking action across a range of areas."

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