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Teaching children to be mentally resilient is inadequate when the government is making life ever more difficult

What concerns me with this is that it does look a bit like schools are being called upon to paper over the cracks in society again

James Moore
Saturday 21 July 2018 15:06 BST
Mental health education is to be made compulsory as part of relationship and sex education classes from 2020
Mental health education is to be made compulsory as part of relationship and sex education classes from 2020 (iStock/Getty)

Kids! Worried about how prime minister Jacob Rees-Mogg is flushing your future down the toilet simply so he can be even more pleased with himself?

Concerned about cliff-edge exams that stake every bit of work you’ve done throughout your entire school career on the outcome of a three-hour paper?

Looking at a future in the gig economy without any employment rights, sick pay, holiday pay or pension as an alternative to racking up £50,000 worth of debt through spending three years at university and giving yourself no chance of ever enjoying the privilege of home ownership like your parents?

Fear not! Mr Rees-Mogg’s ministers – sorry Theresa May’s ministers because she’s still officially the prime minister in name – have the answer: they’re planning to give you mental resilience training!

Yes, mental health education is to be made compulsory in schools as part of relationship and sex education classes, at least from 2020, when the delayed plan will finally be rolled out. As if schools didn’t have enough to deal with in providing the nation’s children with an education while coping with stressed budgets, a blizzard of Whitehall directives and teachers leaving the profession in their droves.

Look, it’s not that I think it’s a bad idea in and of itself. It is very welcome that poor mental health is finally being recognised as a problem that needs addressing, although the government has spent a lot longer talking about it than it has taking action (plus ca change). Try accessing NHS mental health services if you don’t believe me.

The move follows a national call for evidence into which teachers, parents and most importantly, pupils, had input. So, there is clearly a demand there and it has received a guarded welcome.

What concerns me with this is that it does look a bit like schools are being called upon to paper over the cracks in society again.

Those cracks are contributing a great deal to the stress that kids and their teachers are under, along with the government’s permanent Maoist revolution that schools have been made subject to for as long anyone can remember. One of the vanishingly rare consolations of the current Brexit lunacy is that Tory ministers have become so paralysed by their party’s bitter divisions that there’s been a bit less opportunity for them and their officials to make trouble.

Schools fuel mental health crisis by isolating children in harsh 'consequences booths', ministers warned

After nearly a decade of austerity, ministers have got into the habit of blandly reading out press releases that say “everything’s super” in response to all evidence to the contrary.

In reality, there are fewer police officers around to respond to calls about domestic violence. There aren’t enough social workers to provide assistance to families under pressure. Universal credit has led to an explosion of real hardship among the disadvantaged and The Trussell Trust, which campaigns against hunger in Britain, has traced a sharp rise in the use of food banks in areas where it has been rolled out.

All these have a negative impact on children’s lives. Chuck in the cyber revolution and it really shouldn’t come as any surprise that they have mental health problems.

Talking about the issues they face while at school and helping them deal with their problems, is a good idea. And it’s a welcome development.

But these new RSE guidances do have the whiff of an attempt to provide a band aid to patch up a bullet wound and of ministers once again trying to dump the fallout they’ve generated on someone else’s doorstep.

Earlier this week, there was a welcome intervention from head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman. She warned that schools cannot provide a “silver bullet” to tackle childhood obesity and should also not be expected to solve society’s wider problems. Indeed not. That should be the job of government, but it has consistently sought to duck its responsibilities.

Perhaps her organisation should convene an inspection of ministers’ performances? The thought of them in special measures, which is surely what would happen, would raise a few smiles in classrooms and staff rooms up and down the country. And smiles can help to improve mental health.

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