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.”
Joint research between NAHT and mental health charity Place2Be has revealed that seven out of ten school leaders found that funding was the chief barrier to putting in place professional mental health support for pupils. Six out of ten cited the lack of services or qualified professionals locally as a significant barrier.
Mr Hobby continued: "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.
“Three quarters of school leaders say they lack the funds to provide the kind of mental health care that they’d like to be able to. 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.
“Eight out of ten primary schools with a school-based counsellor say they are fully or partly funded by pupil premium funding. This reinforces the need for the government to commit to measures that would see families automatically registered for the Pupil Premium. This money is a vital stream of income for both primary and secondary schools and as many as one in ten children are missing out at the moment.”
On accountability, Mr Hobby said: "Moves to make schools more accountable for the mental health of their pupils must first be accompanied by sufficient school funding and training for staff and should focus only on those areas where schools can act, including promotion of good mental health, identification and signposting or referrals to the appropriate services. Schools should not be accountable for the lack of mental health services available for children and young people and should not be expected to provide these to close the significant gap in provision.
"It is also vital to remember that one in five children will experience a mental health difficulty at least once in their first 11 years*, and many adults with lifetime mental health issues can trace the symptoms back to childhood. Any government initiative to improve children's mental health must include support and investment in primaries otherwise there's a risk some children's early needs will be missed.”
*Gutman L et al 2015, Children of the new century. London: Centre for Mental Health: http://www.centreformentalhealth.org.uk/children-of-the-new-century
First published 19 January 2017