Looking back on 2017 there has been a major political emphasis on mental health and, in particular, the role of schools and teachers in supporting children and young people with mental health needs. According to the Prime Minister, this is one of the burning injustices of our time. Finally, in December the Department of Health and Department for Education jointly published the Green paper: Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision.
The paper boldly sets out a three-pillared approach to addressing mental health needs in our schools: Firstly, it is proposed that every school and college will be incentivised to identify a Designated Senior Lead for Mental Health to oversee the approach to mental health and wellbeing.
Secondly, it is proposed that new Mental Health Support Teams, supervised by NHS children and young people’s mental health staff, will be established to provide specific extra capacity for early intervention and ongoing help. Their work will be managed jointly by schools, colleges and the NHS. These teams will be linked to groups of primary and secondary schools and to colleges, providing interventions to support those with mild to moderate needs and supporting the promotion of good mental health and wellbeing.
Finally, it is proposed that a four week waiting time will be trialed for access to specialist NHS children and young people’s mental health services. A specialist working group of social media experts will be established to consider how to keep children safe online and it is proposed that all children and young people will learn about mental health through embedding it into curriculum areas such as personal, social and health education and sex and relationships education.
The consultation period will extend into 2018 so we will need to wait to see which aspects are taken forward. The most immediate priority for training providers will be to establish appropriate courses to train the Designated Senior Mental Health leads in schools and colleges.
We anticipate that Ofsted will increasingly focus on the quality of mental health provision in educational institutions over the next few months and there will be a greater need for schools and colleges to evaluate the impact of their mental health provision on outcomes for learners.
Initial teacher Education (ITE) providers will need to give greater emphasis to mental health provision on courses so that new entrants to the teaching profession are able to more effectively identify needs, provide support and guidance to students and refer students on where appropriate.
We anticipate (or hope) that additional government funding will be made available to schools, colleges and research organisations to take forward these proposals. More research informed practice will be required which evaluates specific whole school approaches to mental health so that we have robust evidence of ‘what works’. In addition, we also need practice informed research so that we can learn from case studies of good practice.
We know that one in ten, or 850,000 children and young people, have a diagnosable mental health disorder. We are encouraged that the government is making this a priority and we hope that these proposals will improve outcomes for many children.