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NAHT’s joint conference with Royal College of  Psychiatrists

This series covers both residential and mainstream education and is written by Dr Rona Tutt, a former Chair of NAHT's Special Education Needs Committee.
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By a strange co-incidence, Tuesday 30 January turned out to be the day when NAHT and the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPSYCH) held a successful inaugural conference on Collaborative approaches to the mental health of children: from issues to interventions, and, on the same day, the  Education and Health Committees held their first joint oral evidence session to scrutinise the scope and implementation of the Deprtment for Education’s green paper, Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision. This saw our General Secretary sitting alongside Dr Bernadka Dubicka, Chair of the Child & Adolescent Faculty at RCPSYCH, as witnesses.

The conference was held at the Royal College’s spacious venue near Tower Bridge in London. The 200 delegates who attended this sell-out event included school leaders, psychiatrists, researchers and other health professionals.

Opening the conference, Professor Barry Carpenter explained that, although the Duchess of Cambridge had been re-routed to Scandinavia instead of being able to attend, she and William had written to say they wanted to hear the outcomes from the day, to inform the work they have been doing with our Association and other organisations on ‘Mentally Healthy Schools’.

The first keynote speaker was Baroness Claire Tyler, who, as chair of the Values-based Child and Adolescent Mental Health System Commission produced the 2016 report: What really matters in children and young people’s mental health, which had helped to shape the conference. She referred to the involvement of Past President, Tony Draper, who had been a member of the commission, which illustrated another link the Association has built up with the Royal College.  

The next keynote was delivered by Dr Francesca Happe whose talk was entitled, Mental Health, Autism and Girls. Francesca began by referring to the work of the National Neuroscience & Special Education Forum (NFNSE) and the Autism and Girls Forum, both of which are hosted by NAHT. During her talk, which, as always, was both informative and thoroughly up-to-date, she mentioned her research into the thousands of ‘lost girls’ who remain undiagnosed and her concern for their vulnerability, with one of them telling her, ‘I’m prey in a world of predators.’

The eight workshops that followed were chaired by members of the NFNSE andbased on psychiatrists and researchers giving an account of the latest research in their field and school leaders explaining how they had used this knowledge to improve classroom practice. The workshops covered:

  • Self-harm
  • Anxiety (in primary pupils)
  • Anxiety (in secondary students)
  • Attachment
  • Delivering resilience and wellbeing
  • A mental health and well-being curriculum for primary schools
  • Values-based systems
  • Evidence-based practice.

The final keynote of the day was by Professor Dame Sue Bailey who provided a snapshot of the work of the Children & Young People’s Mental Health Coalition which she chairs. She referred to three overlapping principles for improving young people’s mental health in schools and colleges: 

  1. A better balance between attainment and wellbeing.
  2. Better support for children and young people when needed.
  3. Better mental health training and support for staff.

To round off the day, Anne Lyons, NAHT President, thanked the Royal College for hosting the joint conference. She referred to two of the themes that had been flagged up throughout the day:

  • the need for practitioners to know more about the interventions that are available and the research that underpins them
  • the need to adopt a whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing.

It was striking that, at a time when there are so many pressures on schools, there was a waiting list of school leaders wanting to attend. Those who did so were very positive about the opportunity to gather ideas about how to be a mentally healthy school for the benefit of both pupils and staff.