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Joint health and education select committee session on mental health

PW1 Select committee

More specialist services, training and statutory status for PSHE are the keys to success for better mental health provision in schools. 

On Tuesday 30 January, NAHT’s general secretary Paul Whiteman was in Westminster to give evidence at a joint health and education select committee session on children and young people’s mental health.

NAHT has long campaigned for a high level of awareness of children’s mental health and wellbeing and for children and young people with mental health issues to receive the support they need, both from the school workforce and from other agencies.

The joint select committee session was another opportunity for NAHT to represent the views of school leaders on this important issue. We were invited to give evidence after the committees read our in-depth written submission, which focussed on school leaders’ views on the scope and implementation of the government’s Mental Health Green Paper, published in November.

During Tuesday’s session, Paul Whiteman told MPs that NAHT welcomed the green paper, saying that co-working between schools and the NHS was the biggest positive, but that NAHT was concerned about the pace and scope of proposals. Mr Whiteman accepted and welcomed the recognition of the role schools could play in CAMHS provision but said: “We understand that we have a unique position in identifying emerging mental health needs of children in the care of our members. But where we begin to worry is that the Green Paper gives a nod towards diagnosis and treatment from the leads that are to be identified, and we don’t think there’s a place for education professionals to do that.”

NAHT hopes that this Green Paper firmly establishes the role that schools can play in supporting rather than replacing specialist mental health services.

NAHT's policy position on the role of schools

The role of schools is to:

  • Promote good mental health and emotional wellbeing amongst pupils of all ages.
  • Play a key part in identifying emerging mental health needs of pupils.
  • Refer those pupils on to health professionals for appropriate specialist support and treatment.
  • Support and manage pupils with mental health needs in the school environment and in their learning.

There is no role for education staff in:

  • The diagnosis of mental health problems
  • The delivery of treatment or therapeutic support. 

There can be no expectation on any school to provide health or social care services funded from the school budget, even though many schools choose to do this to get their pupils the support they need.

MPs asked about the drivers and root causes of mental health issues including test and exam pressure. Mr Whiteman said NAHT members tried to mitigate pressures wherever they could, but that the system was all pervasive. The competitive, success or failure environment certainly had an impact, he felt. Teachers could not do everything but were committed to doing as much as they could.

What is needed by schools for the proposals to work

  • The capacity of specialist services must be increased so that children and young people can access the support and treatment from trained health professionals.
  • Clarity of the roles and responsibilities of education, health and other relevant agencies. Schools can and should promote, identify, refer and support. Health professionals should diagnose and treat.
  • Teaching resources that show them what an effective whole school approach looks like and how it can be successfully implemented. The new Mentally Healthy Schools website is a fantastic resource which now needs support for its development and roll-out.
  • Statutory status for PSHE for effective delivery of the proposal that all children will learn about mental health. The Secretary of State must use the powers under the Children and Social Work Act to lay the regulations to make PSHE statutory for all pupils in all schools
  • Access to government funded training to enable schools to teach all children about mental health and support staff to play their part in identifying emerging mental health needs of pupils
  • Local and national directories to know what local and national help and support are available in order that these can be signposted to pupils and their families to access help and support.
  • Capacity, workload and funding concerns already evident in the majority of schools need to be taken into account before any new responsibilities are added.

Announcements in the green paper included £95 million for schools to appoint and train designated senior leads for mental health from 2019, and £215 million for new mental health support teams, working with the NHS to offer support and treatments in schools.

Mr Whiteman said: “The government is investing a significant sum in this project, for training, development and delivery, and that is to be welcomed. Every young person should be able to grow up feeling confident about themselves and their future. We now need the government to deliver on this ambition and NAHT will continue to work closely with the government to make sure that schools are able to deliver their part of the mental-health jigsaw.”