Schools ‘under increasing pressure’ to provide mental health services

Russell Hobby. Photo : Chris Ison/PA Wire

Russell Hobby. Photo : Chris Ison/PA Wire

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TWO THIRDS of primary schools do not have a counsellor on site, according to a new survey published today to mark the start of Children’s Mental Health week.

A poll of almost 1,500 school leaders also showed that the majority of schools which do have a counsellor on site provide this service to pupils for one day a week or less.

The findings have been announced by the National Association of Head Teachers and mental health charity Place2Be.

They warned 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.

Head teachers in schools across England have raised pupil wellbeing and mental health as one of their top concerns.

Nearly all schools who responded to the survey were engaging in activities to help support pupils’ mental health, including working with parents (86 per cent), and teaching lessons on mental health (63 per cent).

However, the survey revealed barriers to putting in place professional mental health support for pupils. For those who did not already have a school-based counsellor, financial constraints were the most common barrier (77 per cent), followed by the lack of services or qualified professionals locally (61 per cent) and the lack of physical space in the school (46 per cent).

Place2Be’s chief executive Catherine Roche said: “The vast majority [of primary schools] are already working hard to support them so that they’re ready to learn and can get the most out of their education. But teachers are not counsellors, and sometimes schools need professional support to make sure that problems in childhood don’t spiral into bigger mental health issues later in life.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of NAHT said: “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. Although increasingly common in secondary schools, almost two thirds of primary school leaders say that it is difficult to access local mental health professionals.

“This new study should remind the government that 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 may be getting in the way of helping the children who need it most.

“NAHT is campaigning on mental health, after our members overwhelmingly called for this to be a key priority. Collaboration with colleagues in local special schools can add greatly to the capacity for support and managing transition to secondary education requires careful consideration. The work of Place2Be is also strongly recommended by NAHT. Many of our members use their services in their schools. Their work demonstrates the crucial role that schools can play in supporting children’s mental health and building their resilience.”

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