April 2017

The know zone

  • On your marks...
    A race around the park provides Dennis Richards with some gentle exercise and a golden opportunity to catch up on the latest thinking on pupil attainment… More
  • Halfway there
    Last December, the government finally released the second stage of the consultation on the national funding formula (NFF). So was it worth the wait? Julia Harnden says more funding must be invested in education for the formula to be a success. More
  • Minds matter
    Every week there is a new report or story in the media about the worsening mental health and wellbeing of children and young people. Here, Anna Cole highlights how leaders can develop a whole-school approach to deal with mental health and wellbeing. More
  • Mental health and wellbeing
    The government wants to offer schools in England mental health first-aid training and is looking at how to strengthen links between schools and the NHS. Have you seen a rise in mental health issues in young people in your school or college? Have you had any experience of accessing local specialist NHS services to help pupils? Here ASCL members share their views. More
  • Real-world opportunities to inspire students
    Focus on… Youth Grand Challenges More
  • Adding value
    Embracing new ways to communicate More
  • Stay in control
    Julie McCulloch highlights new guidance for schools considering joining or forming a multi-academy trust (MAT) and explains how you can stay in control of your school’s destiny. More
  • Leaders’ surgery
    Hotline advice expressed here, and in calls to us, is made in good faith to our members. Schools and colleges should always take formal HR or legal advice from their indemnified provider before acting. More
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Every week there is a new report or story in the media about the worsening mental health and wellbeing of children and young people. Here, Anna Cole highlights how leaders can develop a whole-school approach to deal with mental health and wellbeing.

Minds matter

Everyone seems to agree that the prevalence of mental health problems in young people is rising and that there is a lack of funding for specialist mental health support. This is sadly all too familiar to ASCL members alongside growing pressure on schools and colleges to come up with a solution.

Crisis point?

ASCL surveyed its members in February 2016 and asked about the prevalence of students’ mental health and wellbeing problems in the preceding five years; 90% reported a rise in their students experiencing anxiety or stress, 85% reported greater depression, 81% reported a rise in cyberbullying and 79% reported greater numbers of students self-harming. (See www.ascl.org.uk/mentalhealth-concerns). These results are echoed across the sector.

The reasons for rising problems among children and young people are multiple and complex and while we must be vigilant to guard against medicalising the normal anxiety and stress associated with growing up, government accepts that in an average class of 30 15 year-olds three could have a mental disorder (see https://tinyurl.com/kbz7x7n).

The huge technological changes, in particular, the ubiquity of social media use among young people and how it is changing communication must not be underestimated. At the last meeting of ASCL Council’s Inclusion Committee in February, Council members agreed to put together a task and finish group to take a closer look at what they see as the underlying causes of poor mental health in their students and to report back – look out for an update soon.

Investment is key

Alongside this greater prevalence of mental health problems in students, school and college leaders tell us that they are finding it increasingly difficult to secure appropriate specialist help and support for those who need it.

Mental health services have seen chronic underinvestment over a long period and particularly since 2010. We know that mental ill health equates to approximately 23% of all NHS activity and 38% of all illness for under-65s, but mental health funding is equivalent to less than 12% of NHS spending (https://tinyurl.com/gvc4or3). Members tell me that they are forced to take severely traumatised pupils to A&E because they have been unable to secure appropriate early support. Indeed, the number of under 18s admitted to A&E with a diagnosed psychiatric condition rose from 6,950 in 2010/11 to 14,917 in 2014/15 (https://tinyurl.com/jcpkw83).

In 2015, the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Taskforce published Future in Mind; a national plan for the transformation of mental health services (https://tinyurl.com/ka3vhdo). The government promised to invest £1.25 billion in mental health services over five years. However, even with these extra funds, the charity YoungMinds tells us that an additional 70,000 will receive specialist support but this means that one in three young people instead of one in four will get the support they need. This year, Theresa May announced a forthcoming green paper on mental health and education that promised that, by 2019, at least one member of staff in every secondary school would receive Mental Health First Aid training, and also promised to look at ways to strengthen the links between schools and local NHS, improve specialist services, put greater focus on prevention and fund randomised controlled trials of programmes that can be delivered in school.

This is a step in the right direction but it will not solve the problem. ASCL will continue to press for more, better funded services, and make clear to government that it is not the role of schools and colleges to provide specialist support or treatment for mental ill health. This should be delivered by suitably qualified, trained and supervised health professionals.

Whole-school approach

However, we do agree that schools and colleges have a vital role to play in educating pupils about mental health, resilience and wellbeing and to focus on prevention as well as intervention through a whole-school approach to emotional health and wellbeing. This approach requires senior leaders to create and sustain an environment where students are able to build emotional resilience, develop self-confidence, aspiration and ambition and learn how they can support their own wellbeing. This approach covers all aspects of school or college life: ethos and environment, relationships, curriculum and teaching, development and wellbeing of staff, student voice, how you identify need and monitor impact, work with parents and carers and target the support you can provide.


Anna Cole is ASCL Parliamentary Specialist