The government should create a national network of “wellbeing supervisors” in state and independent schools to provide “one-to-one personal support” for staff with mental health responsibilities, a coalition of leaders has said.
The Coalition for Youth Mental Health in Schools also called for mandated national waiting time standards for all child and adolescent mental health services, a greater element of mental health training in teacher education and a national survey of youth mental health.
It comes as analysis by the Education Policy Institute found that of 135 government policies introduced since 2015 to boost youth mental health, just 36 per cent have been fully implemented.
A Schools Week investigation last year revealed how schools had thousands of pupils stuck on waiting lists to access mental health support, with trusts instead funding provision from their own pockets or saying they cannot afford to help.
And a report from the children’s commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza earlier this year found a third of children referred to mental health services last year did not receive treatment, prompting calls for quicker rollout of school support amid fears existing services can’t cope.
Members of the coalition include leaders from academy trusts Star Academies, Oasis Community Learning and Reach Academy Feltham, as well as representatives of private institutions such as Alleyn’s school, Eton College and St Paul’s.
‘Our calls for action have gone unanswered’
The group released a report in 2021, highlighting difficulties facing young people in the wake of the pandemic and calling for urgent action. Calls, the coalition said, that have “gone unanswered”.
Vulnerable students “are still being let down by delays in the system and insufficient availability of care”, they said in their latest report.
“And while there is a colossal effort underway in schools to tackle these challenges, there are still too many hurdles for too many pupils when it comes to accessing mental health support.”
The group looked at approaches to mental health in participating schools and other settings to find out “how schools – making the very best of what is available to them – are tackling the crisis”.
“But while our research demonstrates how schools-based interventions can have a positive impact, we must stress that these measures should not preclude access to child and adolescent mental health services in the community.”
They warned the state of mental health provision “has reached a tipping point”.
“We are keen that no teacher or school finds themselves unsupported when it comes to protecting their children’s mental health.”
Call for external support for mental health staff
The report called for a national network of wellbeing supervisors to support schools staff with mental health responsibilities.
Their work would be different from clinical supervision – more of a “personal check-in and opportunity to ask how they are coping, rather than caseload management”.
Such support would have to external, “at least from another school, and detached from any line management responsibilities”.
Oasis director of safeguarding Jon Needham said they were “seeing a significant increase in the number of children who need support, and a worrying decrease in the resources available to them, all within a fractured system that is too difficult for most to navigate”.
“It cannot be for schools alone to fix this problem, it calls for all parts of society, families, local authorities, government, health services and charities to work together to give every young person the support they need, when they need it.”
And Sir Hamid Patel, chief executive of Star Academies, said schools did “exceptional work to support pupils who are struggling with their mental health, but there is only so much education providers can do alone”.
“In the wake of the pandemic, waiting times are growing at the exact time when the need is greatest. There needs to be a much greater focus from government on youth mental health services to ensure every young person has the opportunity to thrive.”
Greater focus in teacher education
The coalition also said teacher education should include a “greater element of mental health training”.
There should also be mandated national waiting time standards for all CAMHS, and a new national survey drawing on the success of the BeeWell pilot in Manchester.
The report also said schools and trusts should consider a “caught and taught” approach to mental health and wellbeing in the curriculum.
“Caught” approaches involve fostering a “sense of belonging” and actively encouraging the development of social and emotional skills. “Taught” approaches involve the explicit teaching of skills relating to emotional health and wellbeing, such as through PSHE lessons.