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Chorus to support young people improve mental health swells

18 Aug

Localis, the think tank, published a report recently asking the government to make it compulsory for a mental health module to be included in initial teacher training (ITT). The report stated that mental health services for youngsters should be brought into schools/academies to prevent more than half-a-million pupils from being failed by the agencies.

Readers may recall that Prime Minister Theresa May announced recently that every secondary school in England would be provided with free mental health training.   Localis has now asked government to give school leaders more detail about what form this will take. It pointed out that in spite of the £1.4 billion recently committed to improving Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), more than 555,000 primary and secondary pupils who have mental illnesses will not receive NHS care and attention by 2020-21.

The Times Educational Supplement (TES) reported in the summer of 2017 that an increasing number of pupils had become suicidal in their attempts to secure help because CAMHS had raised the threshold for triggering that help.   A pupil of a school in South West London attempted suicide with an overdose. When her headteacher asked her how she was feeling when she was saved, she replied: “Pretty awful.” And then she revealed that she had attempted to kill herself to attract the attention of CAMHS.  In her school alone, three other pupils also attempted suicide for the same reason.

According to the TES, Heather Dickinson from Papyrus, the teen-suicide prevention charity, says that helpline advisers frequently hear from pupils who have expressed suicidal tendencies to see professionals from CAMHS.  “People either can’t access CAMHS or aren’t getting enough from them,” she told the TES.  “Sometimes young people feel that they’re not taken as seriously by CAMHS as they might be….So they escalate their behaviours.” Dickinson has seen a dramatic rise in calls and text messages the charity receives from teenagers with suicidal thoughts.

Growing numbers of pupils are being driven to make what look like suicide attempts just to get help, because the thresholds for accessing CAMHS’s services have increased. While CAMHS is planning school-based approaches to mental health, only 3% propose placing counsellors in schools.

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Mental Health: a case for placing it centre-stage

18 Apr

I           The Health and Education Select Committee

In the last week of March 2017, MPs on the Health and Education Select Committee received oral evidence from experts in the final session of their joint inquiry into the role of education in preventing mental health problems in children and young people.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield, the chair of the values-based child and adolescent mental-health system commission, Lord Layard, director of the Well-Being Programme at the London School of Economics, and Natasha Devon, a former government mental health champion, among others, presented evidence.

The main points raised during the session included the following.

  1. Embedding well-being and mental health awareness across the whole school was very important. Baroness Tyler explained that well-being in the school context includes parents and teachers. She welcomed the move to place Sex and Relationships education (SRE) on a statutory footing and called for compulsory personal, social, economic and health education (PSHE) in all schools.
  2. Senior leaders should be encouraged to measure how schools were influencing the well-being of children through surveys, and their integration into school improvement plans. Lord Layard asked the committee to run a pilot with volunteer schools to re-balance the present focus on measuring academic performance only.
  3. The impact of school funding pressures on mental health should be measured. Natasha Devon highlighted the effect of cuts on access to school support services including counsellors, to the enrichment curriculum and to subjects like sports, drama and music which support positive mental health.

The cross-party group of MPs on the Committee questioned ministers on their record on education and children’s mental health. Edward Timpson MP, Minister of State for Vulnerable Children and Families, said: “There was still much to be done” to address patchy and variable access to mental health services for young people across the country.

The MPs involved recognised that governing boards are responsible for promoting the well-being of children and young people and required to ensure that they set a supportive ethos and culture.

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Call to raise the profile of and provision for mental health in schools and academies

1 Jan

For the well-being of a nation to be promoted, children’s mental health must be safeguarded.  They are our future.   We commit a heinous crime by neglecting children’s welfare and happiness.   However, children’s mental health is taking a backseat in the provision we make for them within our schools/academies and the wider society.  The focus, at times, is exclusively on a narrow curriculum dominated by English and Mathematics and, when in their teens, the English Baccalaureate.

In the 61st issue of Governors’ Agenda, (see here) we focused on the promotion of children’s mental health.  It is now time to revisit this important matter, especially as there have been developments.

Emily Frith of the Education Policy Institute published in November 2016 Children and Young People’s Mental Health: Time to Deliver.  The report calls for a “high profile, national government programme to ensure a stronger focus on mental health and wellbeing within schools”. The recommendations in the report – set out in three sections – are as follows.

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Boost staff morale to control expenditure in schools/academies

28 Aug

I        Staff: Human Resources v Resourceful Humans

With the financial noose tightening around the necks of schools/academies, governing bodies have to keep a close check on expenditure and find innovative ways of raising funds.   Staff costs consume the lion’s share of a school budget – anything from 80% to 85%, though one school, with which I worked a few years ago, bucked the trend by spending 102% of its budget share on staff salaries.  The governors leaned heavily on parents – through voluntary contributions – and charities to make up the shortfall in the overspend.

Spending 80% of the budget on staff is unsurprising given that staff members are the most valuable resources of a school.   For governors to keep a firm rein on this area of spending, they don’t have to operate curmudgeonly.  However, they should ensure that the ambience at the school invigorates and motivates staff.   There are sufficient pressures on teachers, in particular, to make this exercise challenging.  They are subject to myriad demands coming from disparate sources.  The mix is toxic: government wishes, parental expectations, Ofsted inspections, changes to the curriculum and assessment, league tables – to name just a few.   The over-emphasis on data has led some taking their eyes of the ball – i.e. the children, for whom the overwhelming number of teachers became teachers in the first place.

The pressures have taken the stuffing out of many, so that, come the holidays, they collapse in a heap.  However, in term time, teachers who are the victims of the hot house environments of their schools, fall ill over varying periods of time, causing their governing bodies concern as they have to find extra monies to cover for their absences.

Education data consultants, SchoolDash, analysed teacher absences for the academic year 2014/15 using the workforce census data published by the Department for Education (DfE).  They discovered that in primary schools/academies rated “Inadequate” by Ofsted, teacher absences averaged 9.97 days compared to 6.26 days for those working in “Outstanding” schools/academies.   In secondary schools/academies rated “Inadequate” the average teacher absences was 8.94 days compared to 5.72 days for the outstanding ones.

The good news is that for teachers taking sick leave, the average number of days lost was 7.6 – down from 7.9 the previous year.

Primary teachers were more likely to go off sick in the West Midlands (55%) and least likely in the north-east (48%).  At secondary level, almost two-third of teachers in the south-west (65%) took time off last year, compared to 56% in the north-east.  However, teachers in the north-east were more likely to be absent because of sickness for longer periods of time.  The lowest average number of days off by region was achieved by London’s primary teachers, i.e. 6.03 days and the capital’s secondary teachers – 5.97%.

The schools suffer in other ways, even if they have the financial wherewithal to hire supply teachers, in that the stand-ins are not that good, consequently, not welcomed by the pupils whom they have to teach.

If schools/academies are to flourish, they need to promote staff happiness. This does not mean that the atmosphere should be one described by Tennyson in his poem on the Lotos-Eaters where “slumber is more sweet than toil” and brother mariners are exhorted to rest and wander no more.

Even if our schools/academies are not haemorrhaging teachers out of the profession, ignoring their welfare is detrimental to the quality of education we are keen to promote.   Several of our school leaders, who themselves are under considerable pressures, pass these pressures onto their staff contributing to the low morale and driving them to sick beds and doctors’ surgeries.  Headteachers want the best for their schools.  However, the methods deployed are sometimes counterproductive and the outcome is plummeting staff morale leading to absences which puts pressure on school budgets.  Continue reading

Campaign to improve young people’s mental health develops steam

13 Apr

(1)       Campaign of The Times

Children’s health and well-being have become national issues.   Schools are finding it increasingly difficult to promote them as they have to countenance a rise in the incidence of mental ill-health among their pupils.   In fact, mental ill-health has become such a big issue that The Times has been running a campaign Time to Mind to draw its readers’ attention to the inadequacy of provision and prompt the government to take action to do something about redressing the balance for our young folk.  It appears that provision for children’s mental health is being seriously denied.  The NHS allocates only 6% of its budget to mental health overall and 0.6% to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).

An investigation by The Times revealed that vulnerable children with mental health problems are being forced to wait for up to three-and-a-half years for assessments and almost two years for treatment. Continue reading