Is the state of mental health in our schools finally reaching the DfE?
Whist this is a relatively small piece of research (2780 surveys and 15 case studies across mainstream and specialist providers) and the respondents were largely senior leaders, it is an interesting read and many of the findings ring true from my experiences.
- 1/10 young people have a diagnosable mental health need
- 93% of respondents relied upon Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) for support
- 71% indicated that funding for mental health needs posed an issue with other difficulties cited as being: commissioning local services (74%), internal capacity to offer support (59%) and a lack of pupil/parental engagement (26%)
The most fascinating part for me was where schools and colleges identified what successful mental health support looked like. I am confident that their suggestions are nothing new to many staff working in schools but it is positive that this message is reaching the DfE.
1. A shared vision
This is where school culture is so important. You cannot create a shared vision for supporting mental health needs if you are a lone voice battling against a tide of indifference.
The whole school, from the headteacher down, need to value mental health and see it as a priority which impacts upon all areas of school life.
2. Mental heath of staff is important
This is such an important message to get across to the DfE and it is really powerful that the schools that took part in the research identified this.
A parent at a Charlie Waller Memorial Trust day described her need to keep good mental heath to support her daughter and the same is true for staff in schools. Her analogy was you cannot help pull someone out of the well if you are down there with them. If schools are talking on more and more responsibility for identifying mental health needs and offering support, the staff need to be in a positive place to do this which needs awareness of both in-school and out-of-school factors.
If you have a teacher who is caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s, or a TA who has had a miscarriage, they need to be offered support for their own needs before you can expect them to be in a position to support someone else.
3. Senior leaders need to be driving mental health in schools
This made me think of an earlier blog post about the role of the SENCo in schools. Responsibility for mental health needs is often that of a SENCo or a Pastoral Lead. If they are not members of the SLT then they are not in a position to champion mental health at a strategic level and their influence will be limited.
It is not enough to make a mental health policy for your school website or have a corridor display. It needs to be led and repeatedly raised by someone passionate and with the authority to take action.
4. Clear processes
Within schools, we are all familiar with how we deal with safeguarding concerns. Raising mental health concerns needs to have its own system, developed by each school, and understood and accessed by all staff. This will help with early identification of need and also make it clear who is responsible for managing the support. It can be as easy as adapting the SEN Short Note/SEN Support Plan to have a mental health concern area.
5. Government support
….especially regarding funding, training and access to resources. Staff need to feel confident in supporting young people with mental health needs and schools need to be able to access resources for supporting both low level concerns and to buy in additional support from partners, such as school counselling, for those who need it.
For The Future
The final point is the heart of the issue: school budgets.
The frustrating piece about the whole of this summary report is the concluding sentence,
‘The DfE intend for this work to provide a foundation for future policy and research.’
This sentence is a stark reminder that any research conducted for the DfE does not necessarily mean that it will translate into policy and practice as ‘intend’ is a plan to act not a a total commitment to do so. The word ‘future’ reminds us that it will not happen with any great speed. There is already a crisis within mental health support in schools, although some commentators such as Helene Guldberg argue we should stop saying ‘mental health crisis’ as it risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Many of us will have heard stories of long CAMHS waiting lists, pupil’s discharged too soon or simply declined to be seen.
We know that there are whole families in crisis who are not accessing the support they need due to cuts in services.
If schools are to continue to offer the support they do, and even increase their offer, they need to be supported by a strategic national approach towards mental health support and have access to the funding needed to ensure that they are able to adequately train and resource staff.
The fact that the DfE commissioned the research is important as it does show an awareness that it is an issue within schools. However, it is only scratching the surface. I am looking forward to reading the research in full but I wonder what impact it will have in the future.