Mental health charities call for more youth specialists to be trained

Schools struggle to get pupils seen by qualified mental health professionals because training for counsellors focuses too much on treating adults, warns the head of a children’s mental health charity.

Patrick Johnson, the director of learning at Place2Be, told a meeting of headteachers, charities and academics in parliament last week that it was “no surprise” there were shortages of qualified staff “given that approximately 90 per cent of formal counselling training courses are for those working in adult mental health, not with children specifically”.

Dean Johnstone, the chief executive of another charity, Minds Ahead, argued for youth mental health work to be “transformed into a career of choice for young graduates”.

Last year, Schools Week revealed that the number of educational psychologists working with schools fell 13 per cent over five years. The number employed by local authorities dropped from 1,900 in 2010 to 1,650 in 2015.

This doesn’t mean insulating young people to some of the inevitable pressures and stresses of school life

According to research by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), young people in some areas can wait up to 18 months to receive the mental health support they need.

Earlier this month, the CQC called on Ofsted to rate schools on how well they responded to the mental health needs of pupils.

According to Julian Astle, the director of creative learning and development at the Royal Society of Arts, schools had to choose between depth — expert provision from a professional — and breadth — where all school staff were trained to support young people presenting with mental health issues.

“In the RSA academies, we are purposefully going for greater breadth with an ongoing programme of training for all staff, non-teaching as well as teaching.”

At the meeting, hosted by the Liberal Democrat MP and former health minister Norman Lamb, the headteacher of Reach Academy Feltham, Ed Vainker, spoke of the “mistaken belief” that schools “are either rigorous, have high expectations and excellent results, or are supportive, nurturing and place mental health at their heart”.

Vainker said that his organisation believed those two elements “can go together and that excellent outcomes for pupils require a warm, nurturing, supportive environment for the pupil and their family”.

Jon Brunskill, a teacher at Reach Feltham, said there was “more that teachers should, and can, do”, but said ultimately the increased challenge “will only be met with a co-ordinated, multiagency approach with the child at the centre”.

David Hall, from the University of Exeter, said there was an “urgent need to lower the level of pressure on schools and children.

“This doesn’t mean insulating young people to some of the inevitable pressures and stresses of school life, but it does mean that these should be kept within tolerable levels.”

Evidence heard at the meeting will form the basis of a “call to arms” report by Minds Ahead and the education think tank LKMco, which will be published “soon”.

“So many of the issues we explore in our research trace their origin back to a youth mental health crisis that has been neglected for too long. Today’s session was an attempt to tackle the underlying issues head-on,” said LKMco director Loic Menzies.

A government consultation on young people’s mental health closed earlier this month. Proposals include £95 million funding for schools to appoint and train designated senior leads for mental health from 2019, and £215 million for new mental health support teams to work between schools and the NHS and treat pupils in the classroom.