Four-fifths of teachers say pupils’ mental health is getting worse

Teachers have warned of a growing “crisis” in pupil mental health, with over 80 per cent saying the problems have got worse in the last two years.

Less than half of the 8,000 teachers, school leaders and support staff surveyed by the National Education Union also reported having a school counsellor, with a third saying they had external specialist support and less than a third a school nurse.

The survey showed that 81 per cent of primary teachers and 86 per cent of secondary teachers reported an increase in the number of pupil mental health problems in the last two years, with respondents warning it had reached “crisis point”.

NHS statistics show that one in eight school-age children had an identified mental health disorder last year, while five per cent met the criteria for two or more disorders when interviewed.

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.

In January, the government admitted that it may take a decade for the increased mental health support to reach all schools.

According to the NEU survey, 64 per cent of teachers said struggling with workload or difficulties accessing external support services like CAHMS were the biggest stumbling blocks that prevented them from fully supporting pupils with mental health issues.

Fifty-seven per cent cited real-terms funding cuts as an issue, followed by the pressures of the exam system (53 per cent) and a reduction in teaching assistants (51 per cent).

Although 37 per cent of respondents reported having had training in the past year to help support pupils with mental health problems, the NEU said individual responses suggested the training was “frequently inadequate and ineffective or had to be sought outside of school and at a personal cost”.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary at the NEU, said government education policies are “contributing to a terrible and destructive situation for young people and the education workforce”.

“Schools can’t solve this alone and the government’s underfunding of public services is damaging the next generation from an early age,” he said.

“Above all this is about pupils, and it is incumbent upon the education system to do all it can to support anyone with mental health problems.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said children’s mental health was a “key priority” and that the new compulsory health education curriculum will ensure children are taught “how to look after their mental wellbeing and recognise when classmates are struggling”.

“We are investing more in mental health support – with an additional £2.3bn a year being spent by 2023-24. This means that by 2023-24 an extra 345,000 children and young people up the age of 25 will benefit from a range of services, including new support teams that will provide additional trained staff to work directly with schools and colleges.”