Parliament is set to debate the content of new mental health lessons this spring. Meanwhile, schools standards regulator Ofsted is poised to begin assessing wellbeing provision as part of its inspections programme. There is much to be optimistic about, but only if the government confronts holes in its strategy, argue teachers. 

Building better awareness of mental health can benefit everyone and teachers need to be able to recognise signs of poor mental health in their classroom. Teachers should be able to signpost to the school Special Educational Needs Coordinator who will know when qualified professionals are needed, such as educational psychologists and counsellors. Teachers can’t offer expertise in diagnosing mental health issues or providing counselling, but can help reduce the stigma around mental health.

Teachers witness that the number of students with complex mental health problems is increasing. A clear majority of teachers feel schools don’t have enough support to assist students with acute problems such as anorexia, depression and self-harm.

What's needed...

We need a holistic system to address children’s mental health and education policy which puts child wellbeing at its centre.

Teachers’ mental health is being put under strain by watching the school cuts calamity impose cuts to pastoral systems in school and reduce the number of staff posts focused on child well-being and family liaison.

We can’t lecture teachers about mental health of children at the same time as taking away the staff posts and time needed to build individual relationships with young people who are struggling. Immediate and straightforward changes to education policy could reduce some of the school stress pressures children are identifying as problematic.

The government’s mental health support team proposals are inadequate and will only reach a quarter of areas within five years. We disagree with a ‘first aid’ approach for solving mental health issues in schools. The focus should be on increasing the number of well trained counsellors, and reducing some of the causes of mental illness which are in our control, such as child poverty and exam factory pressures.

Children in poverty experience higher rates of mental illness so the Government needs to tie up its policies on mental health and take responsibility for the child poverty its policies is actively causing.

Rosamund McNeil is the National Education Union's Assistant General Secretary.

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