The government “completely rejects” the finding of two committees that its mental health green paper lacks ambition, will be rolled out too slowly, and does not prioritise early intervention.
The powerful Commons education select committee joined forces with the health and social care committee to produce a damning assessment of the government’s green paper, called Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision, which they published in May.
Now the government has published its response to the committees’ assessment, maintaining that its proposals are “genuinely transformational” and will not create extra workload for teachers.
At the same time, the government has also published its own response to a public consultation on the green paper, in which it announces that all proposals will go forward.
The “designated mental health leads” the government hopes to see in all schools will not be mandatory. It also assures schools they will not be expected to deliver therapeutic mental health interventions themselves.
Here are the government’s key claims from both documents:
1. The plans do not lack ambition
In May, the education and health and social care committees expressed alarm that the green paper’s proposals would be rolled out to just 20 to 25 per cent of areas during a “trailblazer phase” over the next five years – ignoring the needs of hundreds of thousands of children in the meantime. Their report advocated for “much more widespread implementation.”
But the government has said that the £300 million roll-out “will in itself be a significant achievement”, given that it encompasses more than 20,000 schools and colleges. It is “essential” that the new approach is carefully tested, it said.
Once complete, mental health support teams of 8,000 new staff will link schools and child and adolescent mental health services, and offer support and treatments in schools. That’s the equivalent of the NHS’s entire mental health service for young people at the moment, notes the government.
2. The most vulnerable pupils will be monitored
The committees raised concerns about a seeming “lack of commitment” in the proposals towards targeting the neediest pupils, such as looked-after children, those in the criminal justice system, or in alternative provision.
The government agrees that its proposals should benefit these groups the most, and argues that during the trailblazer phase of the next five years, they will test and monitor how the mental health support teams can benefit them particularly.
3. Teachers will not be under more pressure
Without better funding, the green paper proposals will just lay more duties at the doors of teachers, warned the committees.
This was echoed by respondents to the consultation on the green paper, with “some” concerned that teachers will be expected to co-ordinate the mental health support teams.
But the government insists the plans “do not create new jobs for teachers.” Engaging with the new mental health support teams will require “some staff time”, but schools are already spending a lot of time trying to support mental health issues for pupils, it claimed.
“Our expectation is that this engagement should be more than offset by the benefits of increased mental health support.” The impact of proposals on workload will also be monitored over the next five years.
4. The designated senior lead doesn’t have to be a mental health professional
“Some” respondents to the government’s consultation were worried that making the designated lead role mandatory would create a new accountability burden.
“Many” respondents also asserted that education staff should not be involved in diagnosing mental health problems or delivering any treatment.
The government says it agrees the designated lead role should not be mandatory, and that staff should have a strategic rather than diagnostic role. So the lead could oversee the school’s approach to mental health and well-being across the curriculum and pastoral support services, for instance by inputting into behaviour policies.
The lead could also make sure pupils at risk of mental health issues can be identified, and signpost pupils to mental health support teams and other services.
Training for each lead will be offered to “every school by 2025”, says the government.
5. Early intervention is not being ignored
The government says it remains committed to providing mental health awareness training to every secondary school by 2019 and every primary school by 2022.
A third of secondary schools already have one member of staff trained through the programme. A further 1,000 schools will have received training by next summer, claims the government.
But the committees warned the government should “place a greater emphasis on, and provide a strategy for, early intervention and dealing with some of the root causes of child mental health problems”, particularly since half of all mental health conditions present by 14 years old.
The government does not directly rebut this criticism, instead insisting that its new health and relationships education means primary school pupils will be learning about mental health as part of the curriculum.
6. Exams are good for long-term mental health
The committee report urged the government to gather evidence on the impact of exam pressure on children’s mental health.
But having qualifications which allow pupils to be prepared for the world of work is a key part of “promoting their long-term mental health,” says the government.
It claims to already be helping pupils build “coping strategies and resilience” to the stress of exams, again referring to how pupils will now learn about mental health through the curriculum.
The government has also published a new set of “high-level principles” about how accountability should operate, which should empower school leaders to focus on improving outcomes for their pupils.
7. Guidance on behaviour is being updated
A steering group led by behaviour tsar Tom Bennett is developing revised mental health and behaviour guidance, which is to be published later this year. The guidance will include information on how schools can identify pupils whose behaviour may be a result of underlying mental health difficulties.
Most respondents to the consultation also felt that the behaviour, safeguarding and special educational needs policies that schools publish are not very helpful for parents.
So the government has commissioned research, which it will report on later this year, into the ways in which schools publish these policies help or hinder pupils’ mental health.
Note: The government’s public consultation response did not include specific percentages. We have asked for these.