Mental health training programme for schools rolled out nationally

A programme to improve mental health training in schools and strengthen partnerships with professional NHS services will be rolled out nationally.

Under the £9.3 million scheme, announced by the Department for Education today, every school, college and alternative provision will receive training through a series of workshops as part of the Link Programme alongside mental health specialists.

The scheme, led by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, will be rolled out in phases over the next four years, beginning this September, and is expected to reach 22,000 schools and colleges.

A further 1,500 schools and colleges have already taken up the training during the pilot stage of the programme, launched in 2015.

The DfE said the Link Programme will deliver just under 1,000 training sessions in England, featuring two-day workshops for selected staff members from 20 schools at a time. Training will be prioritised in the 25 areas already attached to mental health support teams.

Another 124 mental health support teams will be created in 48 areas across the country, each of which will support around 20 schools. The teams will speed up access to specialist services and build on support already available for young people, and focus on early intervention for pupils with mild to moderate mental health needs.

However, the timeframe for the scheme has faced criticism. In January, the NHS Long Term Plan said that, by 2023-24, an extra 345,000 children will be able to access mental health support via local health services and new school-based mental health support teams.

But a goal of ensuring all children get access to the specialist care they need would only be achieved “over the coming decade”.

In the original consultation on mental health, ministers said both the mental health support teams and plans to put senior mental health leads in schools would be in place in certain areas from 2019.

However, the DfE announced today that it has just begun recruiting for a specialist provider to deliver training for the leads.

Damian Hinds, education secretary, said teachers “are not, and should not be, mental health professionals”.

“That’s why this new training is important, by bringing school and college staff into the same room as NHS professionals and encouraging them to work together, sharing their expertise and making sure they have the information they need so that more pupils get the right help at the right time.”

A survey by the National Education Union in April revealed four in five teachers believe pupil mental health has got worse in the last two years.

In December 2017, the government published a green paper on children and young people’s mental health, allocating £300 million in funding for mental health staff to work in and with schools.

This included £95 million for schools to appoint and train designated senior leads for mental health from this year, and another £215 million is promised for new mental health support teams, which will work with the NHS to offer support and treatments in schools, including cognitive behaviour therapy.

But a damning report by the parliamentary education and health committees last year criticised the government’s plans, warning they “lack any ambition” and will put additional pressure on teachers without providing schools with extra resources.