NAHT: Mental health proposals shouldn't be a 'stick to beat schools'

New proposals to improve mental health support for pupils risk becoming “another stick to beat schools leaders with”, according to the leader of a headteachers’ union.

Paul Whiteman, the NAHT’s general secretary, said that although heads welcomed the recognition of the role schools could play in improving pupil wellbeing, some leaders are worried about the “evaluation and accountability” of new plans announced in a government green paper last year.

He also raised concerns about the amount of money and resources available.

The proposals out for consultation include having senior mental health leads in schools and mental health support teams. Mental health discussions and treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy will also take place in classrooms.

Heads already “suffer terribly” at the hands of the existing “high-stakes” school accountability system, Whiteman warned MPs at a joint hearing for the parliamentary education and health committees this morning.

“We work in a system at the moment that is high-stakes, and our members suffer terribly at the hands of the accountability system,” he told MPs. “We worry that this is just another stick to beat school leaders and teachers with, rather than it being a serious and positive intervention to look after children’s mental health.”

Announcements in the green paper included £95 million for schools to appoint and train designated senior leads for mental health from 2019, and £215 million for new mental health support teams, which will work with the NHS to offer support and treatments in schools.

But Whiteman cautioned against overburdening schools with the responsibility to resolve children’s mental health challenges on their own.

“We understand that we have a unique position in identifying emerging mental health needs of children in the care of our members,” he said. “But where we begin to worry is that the green paper gives a nod towards diagnosis and treatment from the leads that are to be identified, and we don’t think there’s a place for education professionals to do that.”

Schools need to know that they are working alongside other professionals in the community who have the right expertise.

“We’re concerned about the pace and scope of the proposals,” he added. “We don’t think they go far enough or fast enough, and therefore there are question for us around the amount of money that is available and the amount of resources that are available too.”