A survey by the National Education Union of their members about the mental health of pupils in England has revealed real concerns amongst teachers.
Mental health concerns revealed.
8,600 school leaders, teachers and support workers contributed to the survey. Of these, 83% said they had witnessed an increase in the number of children in their care with poor mental health, rising to 90% among students in colleges.
That means 8 out of 10 teachers believe their pupils’ mental health has deteriorated in the past two years. There are rising reports of self-harm, anxiety and even cases of suicide. Many teachers are concerned that there is inadequate support in schools.
One teacher said it was:
“like a slow-motion car crash for our young people that I am powerless to stop and can’t bear to watch or be part of anymore”.
Others described feeling helpless in the face of a growing crisis. Complaining that real-terms funding cuts in schools were making it harder to support pupils in need, with fewer support staff available.
“We are at a crisis point with mental health,” one respondent said. “Much more anxiety, self-harming. Three suicides in three years in my school alone,” said another.
More support is needed for pupils with mental health problems.
Less than half also reported having a school counsellor. With a third saying they had external specialist support. Less than a third had a school nurse. And only 12% had a “mental health first aider”, as favoured by the government.
The survey showed that 81% of primary teachers and 86% of secondary teachers reported an increase in the number of pupil mental health problems
37% had training in the past year to help with supporting young people with mental ill health. But there were complaints that it was often inadequate and ineffective.
“Mental health first aid is a lip service,” said one. “Seven members of staff trained. Nothing we didn’t already know and it does not make us mental health practitioners. Massive myth.”
One teacher talked about the pressures for some pupils. “Sats pressure and general expectations are taking their toll on more vulnerable pupils. We have nine-year-olds talking about suicide.”
Another said: “I am currently working with 15 children who have been bereaved, have anxiety, have PTSD or a parent with a terminal/life-threatening illness.”
What barriers do teachers face in helping pupils with problems?
School staff were asked what are the biggest barriers to helping pupils with mental health issues. They blamed real-terms funding cuts (57%). Cuts to teaching assistants (51%). An “exam factory” assessment system (53%). And problems accessing external support services such as CAMHS, the NHS’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services for young people and parents. (64%).
NHS statistics show that one in eight school-age children had an identified mental health disorder last year, while 5% met the criteria for two or more disorders when interviewed.
Government Ministers announced plans to spend more than £300 million on new mental health leads in schools and support teams to link education and health services in December 2017. However, headteachers, health experts and MPs have warned the funding settlement is too small to tackle the growing problem.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary at the NEU, said government education policies are “contributing to a terrible and destructive situation for young people and the education workforce”.
“Schools can’t solve this alone and the government’s underfunding of public services is damaging the next generation from an early age,” he said.
“Above all, this is about pupils, and it is incumbent upon the education system to do all it can to support anyone with mental health problems.”
What the Department for Education said.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said children’s mental health was a “key priority” and that the new compulsory health education curriculum will ensure children are taught “how to look after their mental wellbeing and recognise when classmates are struggling”.
“We are investing more in mental health support – with an additional £2.3bn a year being spent by 2023-24. This means that by 2023-24 an extra 345,000 children and young people up the age of 25 will benefit from a range of services, including new support teams that will provide additional trained staff to work directly with schools and colleges.”
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