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Half of schools struggle to get mental health support for pupils

More than half (56%) of school leaders say it is difficult to find mental health services for pupils, and more than one in five (22%) who attempt to find support are unsuccessful. That’s according to new research published by children’s mental health charity Place2Be and school leaders’ union NAHT as part of Children’s Mental Health Week (6 – 12 February).

The research, based on responses from 1,115 school leaders across England and Wales, provides a picture of the challenges faced by schools with 93% saying that pupils bring more worries into school than they did five years ago.

The most common barriers to finding appropriate support described by respondents were a lack of capacity in services (36%), lack of local services (31%) and budget constraints (28%)*. School leaders’ experiences also varied by region, with two thirds of those in the West Midlands and South West finding it difficult to find mental health services for pupils compared to only 37% of those in London**.

In primary schools, almost all school leaders (97%) felt that people underestimate the level of mental health problems amongst pupils. While 95% of Primary school leaders feel that their teachers already go ‘above and beyond’ to support their pupils’ wellbeing, only two in five (39%) feel confident that their staff would know how to respond if a pupil had a mental health crisis. Although the Prime Minister recently announced measures to introduce mental health training for teachers this will only apply to secondary schools not primaries.

Increased pressure on teachers 

The results highlight the pressure on teachers, and the pressing need to ensure schools have access to the right professionals, resources and training so that pupils can get the help they need. Catherine Roche, CEO 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. Place2Be strongly believes in the power of early intervention. Our evidence shows that making support accessible to children from a young age can have a hugely beneficial impact on their wellbeing, and also reduces the burden on teachers so they can focus on learning. Both primary and secondary schools need to be able to access this support.”

Removal of resources  

Providing mental health care is a growing problem for schools with budgets that are already stretched. Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, 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 £3bn 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.”

Schools are on the front line

Schools are frequently the first port of call for students and parents looking for support. James Bowen, director of middle leaders’ union NAHT Edge, said, "Schools have always been on the front line with children's mental health because school is often where issues first become apparent and a school is often a parent's first port of call if they are looking for support. While we have a better acknowledgement of the extent of mental illness amongst children and young people than ever before, the services that schools, families and children rely on are under great pressure. Rising demand, growing complexity and tight budgets are getting in the way of helping the children who need it most.” 

Other key results of the survey include:

  • 61% of school leaders were confident that the majority of their staff could recognise the signs of mental health problems for children and young people
  • 95% worry about stress levels among their staff
  • 92% say teaching staff have to manage issues for pupils that go beyond their professional role
  • 40% worry about retaining staff because concerns about pupil’s wellbeing put them under strain

Read the full report below. 

First published 11 January 2018