Mental Health In Schools

Reading time: 4

Helen Woodley

Helen Woodley is a primary trained SENDCo currently working in a large KS1-4 Pupil Referral Unit in the North East of England. She spent 3 years studying Theology in Durham; Helen has worked in a wide variety of special school settings, including all age schools....
Read more about Helen Woodley

Is the state of mental health in our schools finally reaching the DfE?

The DfE released a summary report Supporting Mental Health in Schools and Colleges of research conducted by NatCen Social Research and the National Children’s Bureau.

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.

Key Points:
  • 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.

4 thoughts on “Mental Health In Schools

  1. Spot on Helen – a huge amount still to do and commitment is critical at senior level within schools.

    There’s a load of (free) information, resources, toolkits and exceptional guidance out there but, if Local Transformation Plans cannot match the rhetoric, the crisis will worsen. And, whilst Helene’s point resonates with many, sadly her point has been made way too late. 10 – 15 years ago it may have held some sway but, in order to save literally millions (and possibly billions) of pounds in the future from reactive MH care, we have to get it right now starting in primary schools where most teen issues begin. The average of ten years between symptons and signs and subsequent diagnosis is of itself a safeguarding issue.

    There is definitely a momentum in schools but we need to move the monoliths a lot faster and that can only happen from the senior leaders. Headteachers were made aware (if not already) by their own unions so the vision should already be manifesting in SIP’s across the country one would hope?

  2. I agree, Helen. But I am also wondering how long it will be before the state of our teachers’ mental health reaches the DfE? Our teachers will not be able to support children with mental health needs effectively unless and until their own needs are addressed. Excessive workload and constant pressure have seen depression, anxiety and burnout rise to unacceptable levels.

  3. This is a great article and fully support any changes that can ease the workload for teachers and pupils.
    I was left aghast by a comment made by an Assistant Head at my daughter’s secondary school; his total disrepect for my daughter’s mental health was shocking, this took place in the second term of year 7, she was becoming more and more anxious about the amount of homework she was having and trying to balance this with other activities.
    Last year I spoke with said AH about my daughter and that she is still dealing with the lost of her brother and that she does a lot of out of school activities and may struggle getting time to do her homework, his response was and I kid you not, her homework is priority and sanctions (I cannot believe schools still follow this draconian practice) will be given if not done: i.e. detention.
    So since then I have done my daughter’s homework, she has be able to attend the activities that are helping her deal with the loss of her brother and has greatly improved scores on her report to, be working at or above in every subject.
    So there are still some teachers out there that do need educating on mental health and this individual is a senior member of staff.

    One day we’ll get it right of this I am sure, for if we lose our hope, what do we have left…

    Carl Pops
    Passionate FE Teacher

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.