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Teachers must learn to tackle pupil distress, psychologists say

Training would help teachers recognise when pupils need specialist help with mental health problems, according to the British Psychological Society

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Training would help teachers recognise when pupils need specialist help with mental health problems, according to the British Psychological Society

Teachers need to be trained to recognise distress in pupils and to understand what is likely to help, psychologists have said.

As well as enabling them to support pupils, this will allow them to recognise when specialist help is needed, a new report from the British Psychological Society (BPS’s) states.

The report, What Good Looks Like in Psychological Services for Schools, launched today and also highlights the fact that the quality of bought-in mental health services can be patchy and inconsistent. It argues that trauma such as bereavement can lead to the development of later mental health problems in children.

The report states: “Training and support for teachers should be provided so that they both understand what normal distress is and what is likely to help, and recognise when more specialist help may be needed."

And it added that psychological intervention should be a "critical part" of the way in which schools and colleges promote emotional health and wellbeing.

Healthy staff

However, the psychologists point out that, while enhanced training for teachers is recommended, “it is essential that it is not seen as a stand-alone solution”.

Specifically, they say that the development of psychologically healthy schools requires psychologically healthy staff as well as students.

“Education has not tended in the past to have systems equivalent to clinical supervision found in the NHS and elsewhere – schools need help in developing these,” the report states.

“Training alone is not enough. Ongoing systems of consultation and advice for all staff and supervision for those undertaking a more formal therapeutic role are essential.”

Around one in four pupils will show signs of mental ill-health at some stage. This means that as many as three children in every classroom could be experiencing psychological difficulties, the BPS states. Yet only 25 to 40 per cent of these pupils receive mental-health care early enough, or at all.

'Poorly trained'

But the report highlights the fact that mental health support in schools can be patchy and inconsistent. Some schools lack the internal expertise necessary to provide effective mental-health support. And school staff may not know how to ensure that the mental health and counselling services they buy in are of a sufficiently high standard.

“Schools do not receive sufficient guarantees that the specialists they commission or purchase have suitable levels of training and experience,” the report states.

It later continues: “There are problems in some areas with staff who are poorly trained, or who have inadequate supervision. They can be the first or only point of help, without assessment as to whether this is appropriate for the child’s difficulties.”

In fact, the report states, there is a real need to commission research to examine the effectiveness of school-based approaches to tackling mental health problems.

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