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NAHT’s view on the role of the designated mental health lead

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What is a designated mental health lead? 

The Department of Health & Social Care and the Department for Education held a consultation on ‘transforming children and young people’s mental health provision: a green paper’ in which one of the key proposals was to incentivise all schools to identify a designated senior lead for mental health and well-being. 

In our responses to both the government's consultation and the Education and Health Select Committees' enquiry, NAHT has supported this role. In our survey last year, 69% of respondents reported that there is a designated member of staff responsible for mental well-being in their school, and more than 84% agreed that schools should have a single member of staff with relevant knowledge and expertise to act as the school lead for mental health. 

But, we have also been absolutely clear on the right role for schools and their staff in supporting pupils' mental well-being. The government has accepted this; it stated that the role of the new designated mental health leads in schools is not that of a mental health professional, and teachers and school leaders should not be involved in the diagnosis or treatment of mental health conditions. 

So, what should that role involve? 

NAHT is clear about the remit of the role of schools in supporting children and young people’s mental well-being. The key aspects of the school’s role that should be overseen by the designated senior lead are as follows: 

  • Contributing to promoting good mental health and emotional well-being among pupils of all ages by:

o   Developing a whole-school approach to support mental well-being

o   Teaching about mental health and well-being through a programme of PSHE

  • Playing a key part in identifying emerging mental health needs of pupils by: 

o   Making sure staff can recognise signs and symptoms of mental health needs in pupils and know what to do should they have a concern

  • Referring those pupils on to health professionals for appropriate specialist support and treatment by: 

o   Having a clear process to follow where a concern is raised about a pupil’s mental well-being

o   Developing links with specialist mental health services

o   Knowing what local and national help and support is available, so these can be signposted to pupils and their families to access help and support

  • Supporting and managing pupils with mental health needs in the school environment and in their learning by: 

o   Ensuring staff are equipped with the skills to support and manage pupils with mental health needs in their learning

o   Where appropriate, sharing information about pupils who are experiencing any mental health issues with those who work with them in school so that they can be supported in the school environment. 

The main incentive for schools to have a designated lead is that the DfE has said it will provide training. However, the details about this training are unclear, other than the comment in their response to the consultation, which says: “We agree... training for the role should be substantial and appropriately long-term.” The Department for Education plans to make training available to one-fifth of schools from September 2019, and therefore we assume that training to cover the lead in all schools will take several years to deliver. 

And this takes us back to our major area of concern about the scale and pace proposed by the green paper for the vital improvements to mental health provision.  Only 20-25% of the country will be involved over the next five years. This means significant numbers of schools, children and young people may see no improvement in mental health support in their area for many years and we continue to urge the Departments of Education and Health to actively seek ways to increase the pace of the roll-out of the green paper’s proposals across the country. 

Article by Sarah Hannafin, NAHT senior policy advisor 
First published 05 October 2018