Schools failing mentally ill pupils due to lack of support services available, heads warn

More than half of teachers who tried to seek help for children say they found it difficult to find a service or professional to meet their needs

Rachael Pells
Education Correspondent
@rachaelpells
Friday 10 February 2017 01:29
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Almost all (97 per cent) of the primary headteachers surveyed said people underestimate the level of mental health problems among schoolchildren
Almost all (97 per cent) of the primary headteachers surveyed said people underestimate the level of mental health problems among schoolchildren

Schools are struggling to find mental health services for pupils in need of support, headteachers have warned, amid growing concerns for mental wellbeing among children.

More than one in five school leaders who have tried to find professional aid for a young person were unsuccessful, a new poll has revealed.

At the same time, children and teenagers are bringing more worries into class than they did five years ago, it suggests.

Early this year, the Prime Minister pledged to take action to improve mental health provision in the UK, including a series of new initiatives to introduced in schools.

Theresa May's strategy includes mental health first-aid training for teachers as well as an initiative to tackle to the stigma surrounding mental health conditions.

The Government said it wanted to strengthen the link between schools and local NHS mental health services.

But the survey, published by the National Association of HeadTeachers (NAHT) and Place2Be, a children’s mental health charity, found some 22 per cent of those who had tried to commission mental health support for a pupil had been unsuccessful.

Of those who had tried to get help, more than half (around 57 per cent) said they found it difficult to find a service or professional to meet their needs.

Questioning 1,115 school leaders across England and Wales, researchers found just under half (46 per cent) said they found it difficult to work out what type of professional to meet their needs.

The most common barriers to getting help were a lack of capacity in services, no local services available and budget constraints, the survey found.

One school leader said: “There are not enough professionals to meet school needs across the country.”

The vast majority of those polled (93 per cent) said that pupils bring more worries into school than they did five years ago, while a similar proportion (96 per cent) thought that children's abilities to learn are affected by the concerns they bring to the classroom.

Almost all (97 per cent) of the primary headteachers surveyed said people underestimate the level of mental health problems among schoolchildren.

Catherine Roche, chief executive of Place2Be said: “In classrooms up and down the country, we know teachers are working incredibly hard to support the emotional needs of their pupils.

”They know when something is wrong, but it can be difficult to know how best to help, especially when there are no mental health professionals to turn to.“

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She added that evidence shows that making support available to children from an early age is beneficial to their wellbeing.

NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby, said: ”Just as we are becoming more aware of children's mental health issues the resources are being taken away. School budgets are being cut by £3 billion so it will become increasingly difficult to fund in-school care for children unless these cuts are reversed immediately.

“This problem is exacerbated when the school seeks to access help itself, because of the chaos in the health and social care system.”

Teenagers and young adults in the UK are said to have some of the poorest mental wellbeing in the world, a major global survey revealed this week.

The poll, commissioned by the Varkey Foundation, questioned the attitudes and opinions of more than 20,000 15-21 year-olds from across the world, ranking British millennials in 19th place out of 20 participant countries.

Responding to the NAHT report, Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said: “Young people’s mental health is one of the biggest issues our country is facing today and it is time to talk about tackling the problem.

“Half of mental health conditions are present by the age of 14 so we are calling for all schools and colleges to ensure all of their pupils have access to counselling onsite and during school time should they need it.

A Government spokeswoman said: “As the Prime Minister announced last month, we want to strengthen the links between schools and local NHS mental health staff to ensure children and young people get the help and support they need and deserve. This is backed by a record £1.4 billion government investment to transform the mental health support available and school funding is also at its highest level on record.”

She added that every secondary school is being offered mental health first aid training and there will be a major review of mental health services for children and young people.

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