Two in five pupils would not know how to access mental health support services in schools, and almost half of those who have accessed the support did not find it helpful.
Surveys carried out by mental charity Mind also found that half of teachers did not feel they had enough information to support pupils with poor mental health, and just one quarter were confident they could help pupils access help outside of school.
Despite this, 71 per cent of staff said they were confident pupils who needed it were being adequately supported.
Last month, out-going prime minister Theresa May announced that new teachers would be trained to spot the signs of a pupil struggling with their mental health, backed up by updated statutory guidance to “make clear schools’ responsibilities to protect children’s mental wellbeing”.
A survey by the National Education Union in April revealed 80 per cent of teachers think pupils’ mental health has got worse in the last two years, but less than half of the 8,000 staff surveyed said their school had a counsellor.
But the Local Government Association has warned of a “children’s mental health crisis”. Figures released yesterday show the number of children seeking support from social services has more than doubled in four years, with 560 seen by social workers every day, but the LGA warned councils are struggling to keep up with demand, as children’s services face a £3.1 billion funding gap by 2025.
Ministers announced plans to spend more than £300 million on new mental health leads in schools and support teams to link education and health services in December 2017. However, headteachers, health experts and MPs have warned the funding settlement is too small to tackle the growing problem, and earlier this year the government admitted that it may take a decade for the increased mental health support to reach all schools.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the government’s plans do not “go far enough, quickly enough” and warned schools “cannot take care of children and young people’s mental health on their own”.
“Schools are being left to pick up the pieces, struggling to do as much as they can to support children and their families without the expert help which is needed.”
The Mind survey of over 12,000 secondary school pupils and more than 1,500 school staff in England and Wales showed 38 per cent of pupils said they would not know where to go to access mental health support in schools, and half (52 per cent) would not feel confident approaching teachers or other school staff if they needed help.
Around one in five pupils (21 per cent) had accessed support for their mental health in schools, but 43 per cent of these said it was not helpful and two thirds (63 per cent) said they were not involved in the decisions made about that support.
Louise Clarkson, head of children and young people at Mind, said schools were not “at fault” and were under “increasing pressure to provide wellbeing support for pupils at a time of rising demand and gaps in NHS mental health services”.
“We know that many are doing the best job they can with limited resources and staff need the right expertise and support from other parts of the system.”
Anna Cole, parliamentary and inclusion specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, accused the government of moving “at a snail’s pace” on the issue and said schools “desperately” need better funding to support pupils and “restore the counselling and pastoral support that has had to be scaled back over recent years”.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said the government has made children’s mental health “a key priority”.