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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Supreme Court rules against term-time holidays for pupils

18 Apr

Jon Platt, a parent living in the Isle of Wight, lost his long-running battle in the Supreme Court on 6 April 2017 with the Council to take his daughter on a seven-day trip to Disney-land in Florida, USA. He had contested the Council’s £60-fine imposed following her absence.  He had argued that his daughter had had a good attendance record leaving parents such as he free to take their children on term-time holidays.

The High Court had backed his case but referred the matter to the Supreme Court.  The Government fought him in that arena, fearing that if he won it would open the floodgates for other parents/carers to make mayhem of their children’s school attendance.

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Assessing Assessments

18 Apr

Assessments in English schools are in a state of flux. There appears to be little likelihood that the government will be bring about a measure of clarity any time soon.   What exactly is happening?

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Data Protection law to be strengthened in 2018: Impact on Schools

18 Apr

Complying with the requirements of the Data Protection Act (DPA) 1998 is daunting.   A problem area is managing sensitive personal data.  Data on ethnicity, religion, union membership, medical information, special educational needs and disability (SEND) status, looked-after children, assistance or bursary recipients and sexual orientation are classed as sensitive. A school must have an operational need and/or explicit consent to process this data otherwise it is in contravention to the DPA.  Only people who need to use sensitive data for professional purposes can access it.  Consequently, such data should be accessed only with a password.

A separate taxing issue is making available all the data the school holds on a person to that person when s/he requests it and do so within one month of the request – part of the Freedom for Information (FoI) Act 2000.

Non-compliance has not led to much trouble so far.  In the second half of 2016, only 40 data security incidents – vis-à-vis the education sector in England – were reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).  However, very few school staff members are trained in how to comply with the DPA.  They will now need to be (trained) because the present system of managing data will change with the General Protection Data Regulations (GPDR) coming into force on 25 May 2018. This is a part of the European law which will take effect despite Brexit.

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What’s in it for me?

1 Jan

As we stand on the cusp of another US Presidential inaugural address and, with bated breath, wait to hear what the newly elected President-designate, Trump, has to say on 20 January 2017, I cannot help recalling John Kennedy’s speech 56 years ago, in particular, his stirring conclusion: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country……..Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask for you…..”

We have just come out of the festive Christmas season.   In many households, the occasion brought a glut of excess – over-eating, over-sleeping, over-drinking and everything else that could smack of degeneracy.   However, it was also a season of giving. In particular, I am thinking of the thousands, if not millions, of those who gave up their own celebrations to be of comfort and bring happiness, joy and companionship to those that were much less fortunate than themselves.  In particular, I pay tribute to Crisis at Christmas, which established centres all of the country, providing succour to thousands of homeless people – with warmth, food, drink, medical attention and counselling.   This would not have been possible without an army of volunteers.

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Unpacking the dilemmas of promoting British Values

1 Jan

Are we losing our way in promoting British values?  Take two recent test cases.

I        A tale of two incidents

(a)        In early November 2016, British Gymnastics suspended Louis Smith, the UK Olympian, after he appeared in an online video in October 2016 with his friend and former gymnast, Luke Carson.  The video shows him pretending to pray to Allah while laughing.   British Gymnastics issued a statement: “Louis Smith admitted his behaviour was in breach of the Standards of Conduct.  The panel upheld the allegation and, taking into account a previous breach of the Standards of Conduct heard in June this year (where it also was made clear to Louis the consequences of any further breach), the panel determine a cumulative penalty was appropriate and order a two-month period of suspension……”

Twenty-seven-year-old Smith accepted offers to learn more about the Muslim faith after admitting he had been “ignorant to people’s religion”.

(b)        Later in November 2016, a row broke out over free speech following a government ban on 32-year-old Milo Yiannopoulos, a right-wing journalist, after an invitation extended to him by sixth former pupils at his former secondary school, i.e. Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys in Canterbury, Kent.  Yiannopoulos is the editor of the far-right news website, Breitbart.   The Department for Education’s Counter Extremism Unit cancelled the arrangement over safety concerns and the “threat of demonstrations at the school”.

Yiannopoulos, labelled by Claire Fox, Director of the Institute of Ideas, a “notorious troll and Donald Trump supporter”, is a colourful character, to say the least, who has described feminism as a cancer, called Islam the real culprit of race culture and said women who are offended online should just “log off”.

However, the decision to cancel the journalist’s talk caused a major row over free speech.  More than 200 – 220 to be precise – sixth form students had signed up for the event – with parental permission.

Yiannopoulos wrote: “My old high school has been bullied into cancelling my talk …. by the ‘counter-extremism’ unit at the UK Department of Education.  Who even knew the DoE (sic) had a counter-extremism unit?  And that it wasn’t set up to combat terrorism but rather to punish gays with the wrong opinions.  Perhaps if I’d called the speech ‘Muslims are awesome’ they’d have left us alone. Disgusted.”

A Simon Langton student encapsulated the feelings and thoughts of many of his peers when he said, despite disagreeing with Yiannopoulos’s opinions, he felt the decision to ban his talk was “wrong”. He observed: “I feel the old adage applies: ‘I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’”

The school, which expelled Yiannopoulos when he was a student, stated that objections to his talk had come almost “entirely from people with no direct connection to Langton”.

“The staff and students of the school were overwhelmingly in favour,” said Dr Matthew Baxter, the Headteacher.  “While disappointed that both, the pastoral care and intellectual preparation we offer to our students, have been called into question, we, at Langton, remain committed to the principle of free speech and open debate, and will resist, where possible, all forms of censorship.”

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Green Paper: Schools that work for everyone

1 Jan

I        Preamble

On 12 September, the Government published the Green Paper, Schools that work for everyone, which the Department for Education (DfE) has taken off the websiteThe deadline for responses was 12 December 2016.   We now have to wait on the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, to give the nation a steer on where she wishes to go from here.

The Green Paper proposed a number of recommendations which, if implemented, will affect four discrete institutions:

  • Independent Schools
  • Universities
  • Selective Schools
  • Free Schools which are faith orientated

The proposals were issued against the background of increasing pressure on school places – especially good ones.  Primary numbers grew by 11% between 2010 and 2016. This will feed into the secondary sector for the rest of the life of this Parliament.   The most recent projections are that the primary school population is estimated to increase by a further 174,000 (3.9%) from the current year to 2020.  The secondary school population will rise by 284,000 (10.3%) over the same period.

While the Green Paper made it abundantly clear that the government would continue to support schools with the Pupil Premium Grant to promote the education of the most socially deprived children in our system – i.e. those entitled to free school meals (FSM) and in care – it expressed government concerns that those children whose families just fail to qualify – i.e. the just about managing (JAM) – were being short-changed.

Children entitled to FSM come from families in one of these classifications. Those in receipt of

  • Income Support
  • Income-Based Jobseekers Allowance
  • Income-Based Employment and Support Allowance
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Universal Credit

This effectively means that if either parent/carer is earning more than £16,190 annually, the child does not qualify for FSM.  In January 2016, the national average for those entitled to FSM was 14.3%. The government is, however, worried about children in families on modest incomes who do not qualify for such benefits but are, nevertheless struggling financially.

Information on the educational achievements of such children is opaque as it melds with data on those who come from well-heeled backgrounds.  Accordingly, the first two questions that the Green Paper posed for us were as follows.

  • How can we identify such children?
  • How can we better understand the impact of policy on a wider cohort of pupils whose life chances are profoundly affected by school but who may not qualify or apply for free school meals?

So what plans does the government has for the four groups set out above?

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