Funding cuts block schools from delivering mental health support

A lack of funding has led to schools not being able to set up sufficient mental health support for pupils, a new Department for Education (DfE) study has found.

Researchers also found that almost all schools funded mental health provision for pupils “at least in part” from their own budgets, and were often left with “difficult decisions” about deciding whether or not it should be seen as a “priority” as funding is squeezed.

However the critical findings come after the government has announced further funding to train staff in mental health – although this money will not go directly to schools.

The DfE conducted two surveys, one at the end of 2015-16 and the other at the beginning of 2016-17, to understand what schools and colleges currently do to promote positive mental health and wellbeing among pupils.

Of the 2,780 institutions that completed the surveys, 71 per cent perceived funding as a “major barrier” to setting up mental health provision. This was particularly a problem among mainstream schools.

Nearly three quarters (74 per cent) of respondents said commissioning local services was also a major issue, as well as a “lack of internal capacity” , where 59 per cent reported it as barrier.

More than nine in ten (91 per cent) of those surveyed said they are forced to provide counselling services and other mental health provision from their own budget, leaving them “faced with difficult decisions” about managing their budget, including whether to “prioritise spending on supporting academic, special educational or mental health needs”.

The government is however attempting to ease the strain by funding mental health support outside of schools’ budgets.

Prime minister Theresa May has said that mental health is one of the “greatest social challenges of our time” and as such has launched a commitment to tackle the problem in schools.

In June she announced a pot of £200,000 to train 1,000 teachers next year as mental health first aiders, with training to be delivered by the charity Mental Health First Aid.

The project will then be extended to cover all secondary schools in England over the following two years and will eventually be delivered to primary teachers too, although the government is yet to agree how much it will spend to make this happen.

Two days ago the government announced it would also recruit 2,000 extra CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) staff.

Loic Menzies, director of LKMco, said this could help take some of the weight off “over-stretched teachers and schools whilst ensuring that the current dearth of support for youth mental-health is tackled”.

The survey found some mainstream schools and colleges “prioritised” spending their budgets on mental health support as they “felt they had no other option due to a lack of external support, at the same time as a perceived increase in the need for mental health support”.

The report added that case studies also acknowledged that for pupils to achieve academically then the school needed to fund mental health support to “enable each pupil to achieve”.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said: “Growing up can be challenging and in today’s world, with our increasing use of social media and technology, young people’s worries can be even more acute. It’s right that this government is stepping up support for their mental health, equipping them with the resilience they need to thrive.”

He added it’s “heartening” to see the “importance that schools are already placing on good mental health support”, but there are still areas where “we can do more”.

“That’s why I’m delighted that we have become the first country to roll out mental health first aid training to every secondary school, giving staff greater confidence in tackling mental health issues, and we are strengthening the links between schools and NHS services.”

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  1. Any additional support and funding made available to schools should be welcomed and raises the awareness of the paramount importance of pupil’s emotional and mental well-being.
    However, the detail is important in what is being proposed.

    If the money is being put into mental health first aid, then this would suggest to me that it is for reactive rather than pro-active situations. In the same way that first aid is for when a child in school hurts themselves, this suggests that it would be for treating the symptom rather than the cause.

    As well as this proposed measure, what needs to be happening is that schools need to be empowered to identify and even address the emotional/mental difficulties that students present with, (in the early stages).
    More needs to be done so that it does not escalate to and become the sort of mental health problems that disrupts the daily functioning of pupils and their education.