Ofsted should inspect how effectively schools respond to the mental health needs of their pupils, the Care Quality Commission has said.
The CQC’s review of children and young people’s mental health services has also found many schools rely on volunteers to treat mental ill-health, and wants basic support training for everyone who works with children.
There are also concerns about the slow pace of reforms to mental health policy and delays to treatment caused by poor collaboration across public services.
Ofsted inspectors already consider how school leaders “ensure that the curriculum supports pupils’ personal development, behaviour and welfare” when they visit schools, but the CQC wants them to go further.
The inspectorate should “strengthen its assessments of schools and academies to consider how effectively they respond to pupils’ mental health”. It should also take into account the impact that “school life and the curriculum” have on pupils’ mental health when it develops its new inspection framework, which is due to be in place from September 2019.
This should include looking at how effective the new senior leads for mental health, set out in the government’s mental health green paper at the end of last year, have been.
“This would provide an independent assessment of the effectiveness of schools and academies in supporting children and young people’s wellbeing and, in doing so, help to drive improvement,” the report said.
“Schools and academies have such an important role to play in supporting children and young people’s wellbeing, so they must be supported and encouraged to take a whole-school approach that promotes mental wellbeing in all aspects of school life – and they must be held to account for their efforts.”
A spokesperson for Ofsted said it will “consider how inspection can take into account the impact that school life and the curriculum have on pupils’ mental health and well-being” as it develops the new framework.
The CQC examined how different services worked together in 10 areas of England and conducted 1,300 interviews. It’s worried that many schools no longer fund counsellors, and rely instead on nurses or trainees working for free to provide care.
Education, health care and other public services are not “working together as effectively as they could” to support young people with mental health issues including through data sharing. This causes confusion and delays to treatment, and improved collaboration is urgently needed.
Dr Paul Lelliott, the CQC’s lead for mental health, said the wellbeing of young people should be “put at the heart of every decision, be that planning, commissioning or resourcing”.
“We all need to act now and to act together. If we do not, we risk letting down children and young people across the country and undermining their potential in adult life,” he added.
Although the regulator welcomes government proposals to strengthen mental health support in schools, it warned that “unless the pace of delivery is accelerated, these commitments will not be enough to achieve the scale of change that is required to protect children and young people from unnecessary distress and avoidable deterioration in their mental health”.
The government’s green paper on mental health in schools, published in December, pledged more than £300 million to pay for “thousands” of new staff including designated senior mental health leads and support teams.
Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said the plans outlined in the green paper should be “fast-tracked” to help “tackle the crisis” in children’s mental health, and called for government-funded counselling services to be put in every school.