Upon recent review of a government mental health Green Paper, National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) General Secretary Paul Whiteman said, “We worry this is just another stick to beat school leaders and teachers with, rather than being a serious and positive intervention to look after children’s mental health.”
The green paper, which was published in December, proposed £95 million to fund a senior lead for mental health in every school in England; £215 million to pay for mental health support teams in schools; and other initiatives that provide support and treatment at schools.
Mr Whiteman addressed his concerns for teachers and schools, saying: “The evaluation and accountability that will stem from this – we work in a system at the moment that’s high stakes, and our members suffer terribly at the hands of the system.”
Although the need for mental health services in schools is supported, the controversy comes with whose responsibility it is to both fund and to provide that support. “It’s not about training people to be therapists or counsellors, but simply ensuring they’re equipped with the knowledge and confidence to be able to have conversations around mental health and signpost young people to further support,” Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England Director and Youth Lead, Caroline Hounsell, said of the training.
A government spokesperson said in a statement to Happiful, “We continue to work with teachers, unions and Ofsted to tackle unhelpful practices that create extra work. Our consultation on our green paper aims to make sure our plans improve mental health services for young people – they are not designed to add to teachers’ workloads, or to bring in new responsibilities or accountability for schools."
“These measures simply build on what we know good schools already do to support and tackle mental health problems among their students. Our proposals will bring together the NHS and schools, provide significant additional resource for early intervention, improve knowledge and awareness of mental issues among school leads, and aim to speed up referrals,” the government spokesperson said.
Mental Health First Aid England works to help school staff better support themselves and their students by delivering Youth Mental Health First Aid training in schools all over the country. Ms Hounsell thinks the government’s green paper on Children and Young People’s Mental Health is “a good first step towards improving mental health provision in schools”. She added: “The concerns raised in yesterday’s Select Committee hearing highlight, however, that there is much more to be done to support ‘whole school’ approaches to mental health that so many in the education sector are aspiring to.”
“Experience tells us that a lack of training in managing these situations as a first point of contact can in itself be a cause of additional stress, so taking action to better support staff should be a priority. A focus on self-care should also be part and parcel of this training and higher education institutions are beginning to incorporate this into courses for frontline professions like nursing,” said Hounsell.