Mental Health in Schools: The News This Week

Becky Banham
By Becky Banham,
updated on Jul 18, 2019

Mental Health in Schools: The News This Week

We round-up the latest news on wellbeing in education, including calls for bereavement plans in schools and the PM’s promise for all new teachers to have mental health awareness training

Calls for ‘urgent’ bereavement plans in schools

Today campaigners are calling for schools to develop bereavement plans “as a matter of urgency” after research has revealed that in the UK, around 45,000 children lose a parent or a sibling every year. This equates to a parent with one or more dependent children dying every 22 minutes.

According to Winston’s Wish, the UK’s first childhood bereavement charity, these children are being let down as they try to cope after losing a parent or sibling because support in schools is inconsistent.

A report by researchers at Cambridge University’s Faculty of Education has been published today, investigating the consequences of childhood bereavement within the British school system. The report states: “Staff in schools are ideally suited to offer support at a time where bereaved families might not be able to, because family members are themselves in the throes of grief.

“Not only can such support help the child deal with grief, studies indicate that it can also help limit the social and educational issues that can arise as a consequence of the loss.”

However, despite experts pointing towards schools as a vital source of support to a child in times of grief, there is currently no government-led national bereavement policy for schools.

It is thought that 85% of schools do not have a planned bereavement response, despite the equivalent of every classroom in the UK containing at least one child who has lost a parent or sibling. This leaves teachers feeling ill-equipped to support bereaved children.

Fergus Crow, Chief Executive of Winston’s Wish, said the report is a wake-up call. “The support a child receives after the death of a close loved one can help define the rest of their lives. The better that support is, the better the chance that they can find a way to cope with the devastation of their loss. Schools are key.”

Crow added: “Until we get to a point when we can say with certainty that every school has a plan in place to help the bereaved children in their classrooms then we are letting children down. A school bereavement policy is not a luxury, it is an absolute essential.”

The charity is calling for Ofsted to ensure a revised inspection framework takes into account the impact of bereavement on children and young people’s lives. In response, an Ofsted spokesperson said, “Schools should have in place support systems to help pupils cope with such bereavement.

“How schools do this will be up to them. But pupils’ wellbeing will be considered under our personal development judgement, and inspectors will want to see how well schools are providing high-quality pastoral care and support.”

In a bid to offer a temporary solution, the charity has created a strategy and a guide to support teachers and schools with child bereavement. They have also proposed that all trainee teachers should receive bereavement training.

New teachers to be given mental health training

Every new teacher in England will be trained in how to spot early warning signs of mental illness, under a plan being unveiled by Theresa May yesterday. The move, part of the Prime Minister’s attempt to cement her legacy before she leaves the post on July 22, aims for pupils as young as four to be given regular mental health checks at school, in a bid to prevent problems from escalating to crisis point.

Mrs May, having stepped away from debates about Brexit, is using her last days in office to focus on what she sees as key domestic issues. “Too many of us have seen first-hand the devastating consequences of mental illness, which is why tackling this burning injustice has always been a personal priority for me.

“It’s time to rethink how we tackle this issue, which is why I believe the next great revolution in mental health should be in prevention.”

Teachers will be taught to carry out ‘mental wellbeing assessments’ as part of the national curriculum. It will be backed up by updated statutory guidance to make clear schools’ responsibilities to protect children’s mental wellbeing.

The announcement includes a pledge for “world-class teaching and training materials for all teachers to use in classrooms to meet the new requirements for mental health education for all primary and secondary pupils”.

The training programme is already set to be rolled out to teachers currently in secondary schools from September 2019, but it will now be extended to include training for all new teachers. This is in addition to the move for all pupils in state-funded schools to be taught health education from September 2020, including mental health and wellbeing.

However, details of the pledges and any funding commitments are yet to be revealed and critics are concerned that there will not be enough funding provided to make these promises a reality for teachers and students across the country.

According to the Department for Education, about 61% of schools, including 84% of secondary schools, offer counselling services to pupils. However, previous research has found that schools are forced to provide counselling and other mental health provision, at least in part, from their own budget. This can leave schools “faced with difficult decisions” about managing their budget, including whether to “prioritise spending on supporting academic, special educational or mental health needs”.

Implementation of these plans and corresponding funding will rely on her successor and the agreement of the Treasury, but Mrs May could still set out her plans for spending more on schools.

For more information about mental health, including childhood mental ill-health or bereavement and the support available, visit Counselling Directory. You can also search for therapists in your area by entering your location in the box below.

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