Millions to go towards boosting mental health support in schools to tackle impact of Covid pandemic

Gavin Williamson says next few months are ‘crucial’ in supporting recovery

Zoe Tidman
Monday 10 May 2021 19:11

Millions of pounds will go towards improving mental health support in schools to tackle the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The government has announced more than £17m will be used to upgrade support in education as part of Mental Health Awareness Week.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said the pandemic has been “difficult” for many children’s mental health and wellbeing and the next months would be “crucial in supporting their recovery”.

The funding boost will be put towards training thousands of senior mental health leads in schools across England and to provide training for education staff to deal with children experiencing pressures brought on by the pandemic.

It comes amid a “dramatic acceleration” of an NHS scheme aimed at supporting pupils by putting mental health experts in schools, with the NHS expanding services in light of the impact of the coronavirus and lockdowns.

Last week, NHS England said its mental health support teams were ready to support more than one million children in the country - a figure expected to increase to around three million by 2023 as the scheme’s rollout continues.

As well as facing coronavirus restrictions over the past year in everyday life, such as socialising, most children stopped going into school during the lockdowns last spring and at the start of this year.

Experts have found tens of thousands more children have sought help for mental health problems since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

When the figures were released last month, Dr Bernadka Dubicka from the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists said: “Our children and young people are bearing the brunt of the mental health crisis caused by the pandemic and are at risk of lifelong mental illness.”

When all children were allowed back on site in March, after most had spent two months at home, schools were warned to look out for serious mental health problems among pupils.

Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector at Ofsted, said pupils have faced “boredom, loneliness, misery and anxiety” and there had been a rise in issues such as self-harm and eating disorders.

Announcing the new £17m funding boost, the government said it will provide students with “better support and expert advice” in school and college “to help them recover from the challenges of the pandemic”.

Mr Williamson, the education secretary, said: “Success in school and college goes beyond an excellent education - as parents we want our children to feel settled, calm and happy while they learn.”

He added: "That’s why we’re providing new funding to make experts available for support, advice and early intervention or specialist help, so every young person knows who and where to turn to as we build back better after the pandemic."

Geoff Barton from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said the union was “pleased” to hear about the latest investment in mental health support, on top of the recent announcement on NHS mental health support teams.

"We have to say that this comes after years of government underfunding of schools and colleges which has taken its toll on their capacity to provide pastoral support, and very severe difficulties in accessing NHS children’s mental health services for young people with complex problems,” the ASCL general secretary added.

"However, the initiatives now being implemented are a step in the right direction and we look forward to seeing further detail."

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: "Teachers and school leaders have seen the impact lockdown and the pandemic has had on children’s mental health.

"Children are returning to school needing not just academic help, but a wide range of pastoral, mental health and wellbeing support too, all of which requires additional resources.”

He added: "But schools cannot be the only place children or their families are able to turn for help with mental health. The support of well-integrated and well-funded social and health services is equally vital. Sadly, these services have been seriously damaged by a decade of austerity."

Official data has painted a picture of young people experiencing more mental health problems during the pandemic compared to before.

Statistics published by NHS Digital last October showed a 50 per cent rise in mental health disorders among young people compared to the year before.

Earlier NHS data showed a greater proportion of five- to 16-year-olds were identified with mental health problems last July compared to in 2017. 

Additional reporting by Press Association

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