A survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) has discovered 50% of education professionals believe the number of children with mental health issues has risen over the last two years. Alarmingly, more than one in six (16%) believe these issues affect at least 25% of students in their school or college.
Over 850 education professionals were surveyed, with almost 90% saying that their workplace has had to provide more support to these pupils over the last two years. When asked for their thoughts, many blamed cuts to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) as a major hindrance to helping children in difficulty; 43% believe these services have become far more difficult to access in the last two years, while just five per cent believe it has become easier over the same period.
A head of department at a Reading secondary school said: "CAMHS is completely overwhelmed. Unless there is significant risk of harm to either the child or others, there is pretty much no point contacting them."
Along with budget cuts to social services, 59% of those surveyed believe their school or college does not devote adequate time and resources to tackling mental health issues.
A special educational needs coordinator in a Wiltshire primary school said: "Supporting children with serious behavioural issues takes a huge amount of our time and resources - we often have to provide one-to-one support for children out of our own budget. This is very difficult and means some children are on part-time timetables, as we simply cannot afford one-to-one support full time."
Despite the obvious need for greater expertise amongst education professionals, just 9% of school staff feel sufficiently trained to identify the signs of mental health issues in pupils. A worrying 32% of respondents stated they were given no training whatsoever to help spot potential issues, while 45% feel the training they received was insufficient.
Although the Government published a document offering guidelines on mental health and behaviour in schools in June 2014, 65% of those surveyed were unaware of its existence, while only 23% feel it has been useful to them and their colleagues.
Bella Hewes, a specialist dyslexic tutor from Oxford and the proposer of a debate on mental health support for pupils at ATL's annual conference*, said: "The expertise to put these guidelines into practice is just not there. Where are the school nurses? Where are the school counsellors? Where are the expert social workers who have the time and resilience to support families in crisis? They've been made redundant!"
As well as identifying their own lack of training as an issue, 91% of respondents agree that it is important to make children aware of the issues surrounding mental health, with many calling for statutory personal, social and health education (PSHE) lessons to help remove the stigma surrounding a subject many pupils cannot identify with.
A primary school teacher from Wiltshire said: "There needs to be a well-structured PSHE curriculum - this subject needs to be made statutory. More money needs to be allocated to schools to help put strategies into place and for training. All schools need access to trained counsellors to support children who need it before it is too late."
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said: "It comes as no surprise that so many education professionals are feeling so utterly let down on all sides when it comes to support for children's and young adults' mental health. The systematic stripping away of social services and CAMHS funding by the current Government has left pupils dangerously at risk and, once again, it has been left to school staff to plug the gaps in social care as best they can.
"The latest announcement of an extra �1.25 billion for CAMHS over the next five years, while welcome, smacks of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. Before it pats itself on the back, the Government might want to look at the circumstances that can induce poor mental health, such as poverty, poor housing, unemployment and financial insecurity.
"Removing the stigma around mental health and increasing support for education staff, social care and specialists would make great strides towards a solution. The introduction of statutory PSHE - something ATL has consistently campaigned for - would enable appropriate training for staff and more time to talk during timetabled hours."
As part of its ongoing work to combat mental health issues in schools, ATL is delighted to announce YoungMinds, the voice for young people's mental health and wellbeing, as a partner in its Safer Schools network. The network brings together the expertise of leading organisations, practitioners and academics to signpost education professionals, young people and parents to resources, debate and support.
Lucie Russell, Director of Campaigns at YoungMinds, said: "This survey demonstrates the huge burden teachers are under in attempting to support the thousands of young people with mental health issues. Teachers are under massive stress dealing with their existing workloads already - having to manage a growing crisis in young people's mental health and decreasing access to expert support makes their jobs so much harder. The recently launched Department of Health Future in Mind report makes a range of proposals to support schools in dealing with young people's mental health problems, including the provision and training of a named contact for child and adolescent mental health services in every school. YoungMinds will be holding the next Government to account to ensure these proposals are implemented fully and their effects are felt on the ground as quickly as possible."
The survey had responses from 861 ATL members working in state-funded and independent schools, sixth form colleges and further education colleges in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. It was carried out in March 2015.
Government guidelines released in June 2014 identify the following as the main types of mental health issues schoolchildren face:
Conduct disorders, anxiety, depression, hyperkinetic disorders (ADHD, hyperactivity), attachment disorders, eating disorders, substance misuse, deliberate self-harm and post-traumatic stress.
*Motion 17 at ATL's annual conference - Mental health support for pupils.
To view the full survey release and stats click here.
Notes to editors
- The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) is an independent, registered trade union and professional association, representing approximately 170,000 teachers, headteachers, lecturers and support staff in maintained and independent nurseries, schools, sixth form, tertiary and further education colleges in the United Kingdom.
- ATL exists to help members, as their careers develop, through first rate research, advice, information and legal advice.
- ATL is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and Education International (EI). ATL is not affiliated to any political party and seeks to work constructively with all the main political parties.