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A school governor’s view on mental health in schools

23rd May 2019

Sharon Long, a school governor in Lewisham, talks about the importance of London-wide approach to delivering early intervention to support staff in schools and colleges.

We all know the impact of mental health on children, young people and families, in London, 9% of 5-19-year olds have a mental health disorder. In schools, this manifests in many ways, and it is critical that we look at the ways in which we can support children, young people and their families. As a school we also know that this must be a whole school approach, one that cuts across everything …. safeguarding, inclusion, the curriculum, staff training, teaching and learning, behaviour and something that as governors we need to consciously review and challenge ourselves to improve. 

As a school, we want to look at our practice, learn from other places and are keen to see what the trailblazer areas develop. We have been looking at a new approach around behaviour and inclusion, we have a great inclusion team, which includes a family support worker and a therapist for two days a week and we have seen the impact of these interventions. Like other schools, we have regular staff training, we review our policies and practice, we do deep dives on behaviour and inclusion with a focus on the needs of key children.  We are working in a challenging environment like all schools, our budgets are facing an 8% real time decrease. 25% of our children have Special Educational Needs and we are looking at how we support those children effectively.  We are looking at innovative ways of supporting all CYP, 80% of whom get no additional funding, yet need specialist support and staff who have been trained around key areas such as autism and mental health.

Mental health and young people in London

The trailblazer areas will be establishing mental health support teams in schools, focusing on early intervention around mild to moderate mental health issues. Having these teams in place help address a very clear challenge in schools, the vast majority of school staff are teaching, very few have the capacity to build those relationships and improve develop our links with CAMHS, and other services. We need both a whole school approach and whole family, we are lucky to have a children’s centre attached to the school, but this doesn’t meet the needs of all parents and carers. Trailblazer areas should hopefully help resource this and make sure that there are systems in place to work with the families as well as children. 

Some of the resources on offer via Healthy London Partnership Children and Young People’s Programme already offer us some guidance and support on what we can do.  We should maximise the support on offer to make sure whatever services we put in place are effective, designed with children and young people. Healthy London Partnership has developed a fantastic school’s mental health toolkit which provides a wide range of information and guidance on how to promote emotional wellbeing and mental health within schools. 

As we know, supporting children and young people with their mental health is critical if we want them to achieve their potential; we need to listen to what they want and what better start than the feedback from the Healthy London Partnership and Young Minds (Amplified) review which provides an overview of 10 ways young people in London want schools to support their mental health. As a school, we must ensure that we get children to feedback on existing provision, what else they need and constantly come back to the values and ethos of the school and inclusivity. 

Within all of this we need to also focus on staff and what they need to help their emotional health and well-being. Research by the National Education Union found that 26% of teachers with less than five years’ experience planned to quit within five years, quoting workloads and accountability regimes as key factors. 

In March, the Secretary of State for Education announced the creation of a new expert advisory group on wellbeing to support teacher recruitment and retention, alongside the significant reforms introduced via the new Early Career Framework. The group will include Paul Farmer, the Chief Executive of Mind; Peter Fonagy, the Chief Executive of the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families; and Nancy Hey, Director of the What Works Wellbeing Centre. Serving teachers and leaders and other representatives of the schools and colleges sector will also be involved, including the Association of Schools and College Leaders. 

This is also well documented within the NHS around the recruitment and retention of staff, where young peoples mental health care is impacted by staffing challenges and workloads. As well as the challenges in securing CAMHS where only 6% of the NHS mental health budget is spent on children and young people. 

Finally, having just been inspected recently, we know that looking at the new Ofsted Inspection Framework there will be a welcome emphasis on how our curriculum extends beyond the academic/technical or vocational and how we support children to discover their talents, build their resilience and help keep them physically and mentally healthy. 

About the author

Chair of Governors Beecroft Garden School London Borough of Lewisham 

Strategic Director, Partnership for Young London 

Mental Health in Schools Advisor to Healthy London Partnership

 

 

In partnership with the Greater London Authority we developed a Schools’ mental health toolkit.

If you would like to know more about this programme, please email us.

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