MPs urge cuts review as budgets affect school mental health services

Budget cuts mean an increasing number of schools have cut back on mental health provision, according to a report by parliament’s education committee.

Witnesses told the cross-party MPs who sit on the committee, that schools were facing increased budgetary pressures, and 8 in 10 surveyed headteachers said these were creating barriers to providing adequate support for young people in need of mental health services.

The report recommends that the next government reviews the impact of constrained school budgets on mental health services as well as urging more training for teachers, and greater consideration of children’s well-being by school inspectorate Ofsted.

Back in January, Theresa May pledged money to train every secondary teacher in mental first aid. May said she was committed to transforming mental health services across the country, with the shift starting “not in our hospitals, but in our classrooms, at work and in our communities”.

In 2015, the government also pledged an additional £1.25bn for children’s mental health services.

But today’s report suggests the measures would not go far enough.

While MPs recognise the value of training teachers in mental health, the report states that more work is also needed to create a “structured” approach to referrals with greater consistency in the timely delivery of services.

Schools Week investigation earlier this year revealed how the average waiting time between a referral and “first contact” has increased from 7 days at the start of last year, to 28 days.

It also advocates for more training of teachers when they are completing their initial qualifications, and claims that Ofsted are currently only paying “lipservice” to well-being when visiting schools.

The report has been published earlier than expected, due to the snap general election, and states that not all of the 280-plus pieces of submitted written evidence have been taken into account in the final write-up. It urges the next government to continue the inquiry.

A source of contention among the education community is the prevalence of mental health. In 2015, Schools Week revealed how no data had been collected on children’s mental health since 2004, limiting provision planning.

When asked by the MPs about the sparsity of data, Edward Timpson, the children’s minister, said the government was now undertaking a “comprehensive national mental health provision survey in schools and colleges” in order to gain an up-to-date picture of needs.

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