Schools' record on mental health issues shows signs of improvement

25th March 2011 at 00:00
But children with the most serious needs too often miss out, says HMIE report

Schools have become much better at understanding mental health in recent years, but the children most in need of help are too often left floundering, a new HMIE report finds.

Staff lack confidence and need training - at a time when professional development budgets are under pressure - and progress with vulnerable pupils often comes undone after they leave school.

Count Us In: Mind Over Matter finds that, in the past five years, young people in almost all schools and colleges have benefited from a "positive ethos" built by staff.

Youngsters usually feel there is at least one adult who knows them well and listens to them, and early identification of mental health problems often takes place thanks to "staff vigilance".

But staff are not as confident in identifying issues of mental and emotional well-being as they are about learning needs - a major concern, given that HMIE calculates a school of 1,000 pupils will have 50 who are seriously depressed and 100 suffering "significant distress".

Links between bad behaviour and mental health problems are not always recognised and youngsters may not be getting the help they need in time, although treatment is generally given to those at risk of harming themselves or others.

Fewer young people with mental and emotional difficulties, as opposed to learning difficulties, have individualised educational programmes or co- ordinated support plans.

Voluntary bodies can play valuable roles, but programmes do not always enable youngsters to build skills when they go from pre-school to primary, primary to secondary, and leave secondary.

Schools are "committed" to working with parents and other agencies, but do not involve them enough in supporting mental and emotional well-being, particularly in the longer term.

The report has six main recommendations for pre-school, schools and colleges:

- establish clear and consistent approaches to promoting health and well- being, taking account of ethos, relationships, curriculum and wider achievement;

- review approaches to identifying and assessing mental and emotional well-being, and ensure staged intervention produces positive results;

- provide CPD for all staff;

- involve young people and parents more in improving services;

- ensure partners, including voluntary and community partners, are involved in curriculum planning;

- improve support for youngsters with long-term problems to ensure they find work, training or employment after leaving school.

The report is part of the wider online HMIE resource, Count Me In:


- Raigmore Primary, in Inverness, uses "check-ins" where pupils discuss their feelings and what has happened to them in and out of school;

- Angus College has run a campaign, "Take 5", which urges students and staff to take five minutes a day to demonstrate "respecting, giving, achieving and considering others", and stresses the duty to report incidents that infringe its code of conduct;

- Glasgow's Castlemilk High works with community health staff on obesity, physical activities, addiction, nutrition, sexual health and mental health; Castlemilk Stress Centre provides alternative therapies and the school has worked with police on restorative approaches;

- The school nurse at Kemnay Academy, Aberdeenshire, provides a "drop in" service for young people.

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