By Lucinda Powell, former teacher
As a teacher with little time to delve beyond the headlines about the ‘mental health crisis’ I have wondered what exactly has changed. Thankfully Neil Humphrey was able to answer some of these really important questions. Yes and no! We are seeing more issues in some groups of children (mainly adolescent girls) but this has been compounded by changes and cuts to CAHMS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) meaning that problems that in the past would have been nipped in the bud are now able to manifest in our children and young people (CYP). However, the media coverage of mental health in the last 10 years or so has increased exponentially so it is really in the public psyche.
So the burden seems to be falling on schools to sort it out. I worry about this: teachers are teachers, not mental health experts. And let’s face it they are also suffering all sorts of mental health issues from work stress – they aren’t exactly the greatest role models. Professor Lord Richard Layard outlined some of the changes that need to be made at the highest level in order for schools to be able to take on some of the responsibility such as having PSHE as a dedicated subject for PGCE rather than a bolt on all teachers deliver with little or no training; closer ties between NHS, CAHMS and Schools; changes in OFSTED to incorporate wellbeing as a measure of school effectiveness. All of this costs money, but the savings made in the long term by early intervention, he argued, would far outweigh the costs in the short term and a budget should be made available to fund this.
In a bid to ‘do something’ head teachers often buy in shiny packages with all the right buzzwords but all too often these resources and workshops have no evidence suggesting they work, and the long term impact is questionable. Jess Deighton, in her talk, stressed the need for senior school leaders to demand to see the evidence before they buy into these packages. But that also if you do implement mental health programmes of any kind that you really need to monitor the impact that it has on your school, both long and short term.
So what should schools be doing? Sadly one size does not fit all as Pooky Knightsmith stressed in her talk. There is a vast array of possible options that can be great for many schools. When choosing these there are 3 key questions Pooky suggests you should ask as a school Wellbeing/Mental Health lead:
- What are we trying to achieve?
- What works for our children and young people?
- What works well for our staff?
Before you buy off the shelf you need to ask these searching questions. Don’t be afraid to ask other schools for advice.
To finish on a positive note. We were treated to the stories of 4 young champions who were inspirational. They clearly felt that the progress schools are making in this area, even in the last 7 years, gives them hope that young people today will not suffer in the same way they did.