Ofsted should inspect schools’ mental health provision more frequently, says a report published today by a leading policy think tank.
Secondary schools are facing a “perfect storm” of mental health problems and early intervention in schools should be a government priority, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) report on mental health in schools, which is also calling for half a billion pounds to be earmarked in NHS budgets for school provision.
The report identifies four barriers to improvement, which – in addition to beefed-up inspections – include a lack of funding and schools’ mental health commissioning expertise, and the quality of school counselling services.
More specifically, it says secondary schools should receive one day per week of on-site mental health support from NHS specialists, rising to two days per week by 2022/23, which the government has said they agree with in principle.
However, the IPPR identifies cuts to mental health services as a problem, saying the value of the ‘early intervention’ allocation received by local authorities fell from £3.2 billion per year in 2010/11 to £1.4 billion in 2015/16.
The government has responded by saying the IPPR figures do not take into account the £1.4 billion investment over this parliament.
Schools Week has summarised the key findings and recommendations of the report:
Four barriers to improvement
1. Schools lack funding for mental health provision
2. Schools often lack internal expertise to commission mental health support effectively
3. Inconsistent quality of mental health support (particularly school counselling) available to schools
4. Ofsted isn’t adequately monitoring schools’ mental health provision
1. More funding for mental health provision in schools
All secondary schools should receive one day per week of on-site mental health support from NHS specialists, rising to two days per week by 2022/23. This should be funded by the health service but delivered in schools.
Headteachers should top this up from their own budgets, based on pupil need.
Government response: The government said mental health funding has increased to an estimated £11.7bn last year.
2. Improved communication between local health service and schools
All CCGs should be required to convene a regular headteachers’ mental health forum for the local area, so secondary schools can influence funding decisions in a more systematic and meaningful way.
All CCGs should be required to identify ‘beacon schools’, selected according to their pupils’ ability to access high-quality mental health provision. These schools should be used as a means of spreading best practice within local areas.
Government response: A government spokesperson said they agreed that secondary schools are well-placed to act as the hubs from which early intervention provision is delivered by health professionals, and they are working with NHS England to strengthen the links between schools and mental health services.
3. Better school counselling services
Counselling should become a regulated profession, with a clear ‘specialist’ route for working with children and young people in school settings.
There should be a new ‘school-ready’ kite mark that demonstrates counsellors’ specific knowledge on, and experience of, working with children, young people and families in a school setting.
4. Ofsted to inspect mental health provision more regularly
New criteria added to the Ofsted inspection framework in 2015 requires inspectors take schools’ mental health provision into account. But IPPR’s analysis finds that just one third of inspection reports make reference to the mental health and wellbeing of pupils.
The report says Ofsted must ensure that inspectors actually assess schools’ mental health provision according to the changes to the framework that were introduced in 2015/16, and inspect for:
– processes for monitoring pupils’ mental health and identifying at-risk pupils
– an internal triage system, conducted by professionals with mental health expertise
– arrangements for clinical supervision of mental health specialists
– strength of referral pathways to specialist services
– evidence of the effectiveness of school-based interventions
– the strength of schools’ links to CCGs
It says Ofsted should also work with the Care Quality Commission to undertake ‘joint targeted area inspections’ for children and young people’s mental health.
Government response: The government has promised to discuss the report’s findings with Ofsted.