Schools in England buying mental health support has nearly doubled in three years

As reported by The Guardian, a poll by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has found that the number of schools in England buying in professional mental health support for pupils has nearly doubled in three years, as prompt access to NHS services for those children most in need continues to be a problem

In 2016 more than a third (36%) of schools surveyed provided school-based support for students’ emotional and mental wellbeing. By 2019 66% of school leaders said they were commissioning their own professional support for pupils, including school-based counsellors.

Just four per cent of school leaders who took part in the survey agreed that child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) respond quickly to requests for support, and only five per cent felt children referred to it ‘get help when they need it’.

The survey found 79% of schools have a whole-school approach to positive mental health; 78% have a designated staff member responsible for mental wellbeing; at 67% of schools, staff have undertaken mental health training and 66% of school leaders said pupils feel confident to talk to staff about their mental wellbeing.

Just 44% of school leaders, however, thought staff would feel confident dealing with a pupil suffering a mental health crisis (compared with 39% in 2017).

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, acknowledged early intervention was critical and welcomed schools’ increased understanding of children’s needs, but warned that where there was more serious need, teachers needed to be able to refer pupils on to experts who would be able to provide timely support.

“We can see that schools are responding to an increasing need and a lack of capacity in specialist services by commissioning their own support such as counsellors. Although to be applauded, this is another area where schools are being forced to use scant resources for urgent provision that is not provided for in their budgets.

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“There is still concern that when children do have more serious mental health needs, professional help is not easily available. Teachers are on the frontline for children’s mental health, but they are not qualified medical specialists.”

The government has made children’s mental health one of its priorities, but despite additional investment and tangible progress the children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, last week said England was still a decade away from decent mental health services for all children.

The survey of 653 primary and secondary school leaders across England was conducted on behalf of both the NAHT and the children’s mental health charity Place2Be, which provides school-based support.

Place2Be’s chief executive, Catherine Roche, said: “Three children in every classroom now has a mental health issue, so it is positive to see these results which show that more school leaders are responding to this need by providing professional support for children and young people within school.

“But schools cannot tackle this problem alone. They need expert help in school, backed up by NHS services that can step in when more specialist support is required.”

The education minister Nick Gibb, commenting at the start of children’s mental health week, said: “As a government we are investing hundreds of millions every year in mental health support, including providing better links between mental health experts, schools and colleges and providing quicker access to specialist treatment where needed.

“Through our new compulsory health education, pupils will be taught how to recognise the signs of poor mental health so they can ask for help earlier.”

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