Schools increasingly tackling mental health in-house, survey finds

Schools are increasingly taking matters into their own hands when it comes to dealing with mental health issues among their pupils, a new survey has revealed.

A poll by the NAHT school leaders’ union and children’s mental health charity Place2Be found 66 per cent of schools reported commissioning their own professional help for pupils. A similar survey in 2016 found just 36 per cent took that approach.

The increasing pressure on schools to provide more pastoral and health services to pupils as other local bodies struggle under the weight of austerity has been well-documented.

Cuts to local mental health services have coincided with a rise in the number of children needing help. A landmark government survey found that 11.2 per cent of five to 15-year-olds had a mental disorder in 2017, up from 9.7 per cent in 1999.

And in January this year, the Education Policy Institute warned that schools are increasingly being forced to “pick up the pieces” of a crumbling mental health support system where over a quarter of referred children are being refused help.

The government responded to the growing crisis with a green paper in 2017 that pledged more than £300 million in funding for senior mental health leads in schools, support teams to work between schools and local health services and training for teachers.

But critics say the response was too small-scale to tackle the issue, and the latest survey shows schools are still having to provide services traditionally performed by outside bodies..

NAHT and Place2Be surveyed 653 school leaders at the end of 2019 and compared the results to similar joint surveys in 2016 and 2017.

Seventy-four per cent of respondents said the majority of their staff were confident at recognising the signs of mental health problems among children and young people, up from 61 per cent in 2017.

But just 4 per cent said that local child and adolescent mental health services responded quickly to requests for support.

Paul Whiteman, the NAHT’s general secretary, said: “We can see that schools are responding to an increasing need and a lack of capacity in specialist services by commissioning their own support such as counsellors.

“Although to be applauded, this is another area where schools are being forced to use scant resources for urgent provision that is not provided for in their budgets.”

Catherine Roche, chief executive of Place2Be, said: “Three children in every classroom now has a mental health issue, so it is positive to see these results which show that more school leaders are responding to this need by providing professional support for children and young people within school.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “As a government we are investing hundreds of millions every year in mental health support, including providing better links between mental health experts, schools and colleges and providing quicker access to specialist treatment where needed.

“Through our new compulsory health education, pupils will be taught how to recognise the signs of poor mental health so they can ask for help earlier.”