teacher 2New guidance that aims to help teachers better identify underlying mental health problems in young people – meaning fewer pupils will wrongly be labelled trouble-makers – has been published by the government.

Education Minister Elizabeth Truss said it would help ensure pupils with unmet mental health needs will get the help they need at an earlier stage. A 2012 Centre for Mental Health report estimated that about 15% of pupils aged 5-16 have mental health problems that put them at increased risk of developing more serious issues in the future.

It will also enable teachers to be more confident in spotting those children who are simply behaving badly.

The guidance, created by the Department for Education in consultation with headteachers, mental health professors and the Department of Health, is designed to ensure teachers are confident in finding help for at-risk pupils.

It advocates using pupil questionnaires, teacher training toolkits and mental health factsheets to help identify potential issues. This means problems can be tackled before they become more serious, as well as helping schools know when to refer pupils to mental health experts, such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. 

The guidance also outlines what schools can do to provide a stable environment for their pupils, including:

Establishing clear bullying and behaviour policies

Working with parents and carers as well as pupils

Introducing peer mentoring systems

Discussing mental health issues as part of the wider curriculum.

Teacher influence

“At the moment too many young people are unfairly labelled as trouble-makers when in fact they have unmet mental health problems,” Truss said. “Good mental health among pupils is fundamental to their wellbeing and success. We know schools want clear guidelines on how best to separate poor behaviour from underlying mental health issues.

“Teachers are not therapists but they play a vital role in the lives of their pupils. A healthier, happier classroom allows teachers to get on with what they do so well – teaching and inspiring the next generation.

“Teachers know their pupils and have real influence – but at the same time they understandably sometimes feel uncertain about what exactly they should do, or when to act.

“Teachers who know how and when to help can make all the difference for children with mental health problems.”

Teacher Fran Congdon, senior leader of personal, social, health and economic education), at St Marylebone C of E School, in Westminster, London – which was cited by the government as an example of best practice, as teachers use the curriculum to promote wellbeing – welcomed the guidance:

“School is a formative time for young people, during which their character and values are developing. Therefore it is essential to equip them with strategies to manage their own emotional lives, social pressures and personal goals and obstacles.”

Mick Cooper, professor of counselling psychology at the University of Roehampton, said: “Guidelines for addressing mental health issues in schools are an important new development. Schools should be positive and affirming of young people and help them explore and address emotional, as well as educational, problems.

“Research shows that young people with mental health issues can find it difficult to concentrate and learn at school. Addressing these problems early on may help young people to make the most of their education and wider life.”

For more information on the guidelines, click here.