Mental Health Education in Schools Debate

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Department: Department for Education

Mental Health Education in Schools

Nick Gibb Excerpts
Monday 6th November 2017

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Education
Mike Kane Portrait Mike Kane
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The right hon. Gentleman spoke eloquently about the need for better mental health provision for teachers throughout our country, but I point out to him, as part of the litany of despair, that a third of teachers who have trained since 2011, on this Government’s watch, have already left the profession. We must deal with these issues if we are to have a future cadre of teachers who are adequately trained in mental health education.

On the upside, there are things that we can do. We could invest in CAMHS early interventions by increasing the proportion of mental health budgets spent on support for children and young people. In order to protect service, we could also ring-fence mental health budgets and ensure that funding reaches the frontlines. We know that school counselling is an effective early intervention; Labour have committed to ensuring that access to counselling services is available for all pupils in secondary schools.

Early intervention is much cheaper to deliver, as has been pointed out. The Department of Health estimates that a targeted therapeutic intervention delivered in school costs about £229, but derives an average lifetime benefit of £72,525. That is a cost-benefit ratio of 32:1. Of children and young people who had school counselling in Wales in 2014, 85% did not need any onward referral to children and adolescent mental health services.

The sad fact is that the Government’s plans for school budgets will result in further cuts to school counselling and wellbeing services. Labour has said that it will fund and ensure that every secondary school in England and Wales offers counselling. This Government’s sticking-plaster approach to our children’s mental health has not been, is not and will not be good enough. I urge the Minister to look closely at the recommendations of the first joint report of the Education and Health Committees, “Children and young people’s mental health—the role of education”.

Teachers are not mental health professionals, but they are the frontline professionals in daily contact with our children and young people, and are often the first to spot the signs of mental ill health. They are also overworked, underpaid and under-resourced, so adding an additional responsibility to their workload without the necessary training and investment will only deepen our teacher recruitment and retention crisis. Our schools need an honest approach from the Government that acknowledges the £2.8billion real-terms cuts in school budgets since 2015.

We must act now and give our children the knowledge and confidence to take charge of their own mental health. If we do not, we will never be able to relieve the huge strain on our NHS, CAMHS, social services and teachers. The Prime Minister must make good her pledge and act on children and young people’s mental health. If the Government believe in parity of mental and physical health, they will ensure not only that age- appropriate mental health education is available for children in our schools from primary school upwards, but that our schools are properly funded with the resources to deliver that.

Nick Gibb Portrait The Minister for School Standards (Nick Gibb)
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6 Nov 2017, 6:52 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on introducing the debate and on her excellent informative and powerful speech. I congratulate HeaducationUK and the Shaw Mind Foundation for securing more than 100,000 signatures—the first time a mental health charity has achieved that level of support on the petition website. I also congratulate other hon. Members and my right hon. and hon. Friends on their informed and powerful contributions to what has been a consensual and broadly united debate about some important and far-reaching issues.

The mental health of our children is a key priority for the Government. We want all children to have the opportunity to fulfil their potential and to develop into confident and happy members of society. In our manifesto, the Prime Minister set out a commitment to publish a Green Paper on children and young people’s mental health by the end of the year. The Department of Health and the Department for Education have been working together on the Green Paper to achieve a step change in the way we support the improvement of children and young people’s mental health.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris), who I congratulate on a moving speech, that the Green Paper will be bold. It will look at the roles of health and education in supporting the mental health of children and young people, how we can prevent mental illness from occurring and how we ensure that children and young people receive the right treatment in the right place at the right time. I confirm to hon. Members that evidence and recommendations from the joint report of the Education and Health Committees have informed the proposals in the Green Paper. I thank all members of those Committees for their work in producing that report.

A child’s attainment at school is linked to their mental health and wellbeing. We are determined to improve both by ensuring that children with mental health issues are given all the support required to allow them to focus on their education. Schools can play a key role in how they teach about the importance of mental health and in the prevention and identification of concerns. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North raised the issue of exam stress. Good teaching is one of the most important factors in helping pupils to achieve. Academic success is important and good headteachers know that positive wellbeing is necessary to support that achievement. Schools should encourage pupils to work hard, but not at the expense of their wellbeing. We have removed incentives for things that add to stress, such as the culture of multiple exam resits. We are helping schools to spot mental health problems through programmes such as mental health first aid training, and through resources such as the MindEd website, funded jointly by the Department of Health and the Department for Education, which has resources and information on mental health for adults working with children and young people.

We recognise that, as been said a number of times in the debate, teachers are not mental health professionals. When more serious problems occur, schools and colleges should expect the pupil to have additional support from elsewhere, including professionals working in specialist children and young people’s mental health services, voluntary organisations and local GP practices. To help with that, the Department ran pilots to look at how joint working between health and education could be improved by having single points of contact in schools and in mental health services. The evaluation found that the pilots led to increased satisfaction with working relationships, improved knowledge and awareness of mental health issues among school leads, and improved timeliness and appropriateness of referrals.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) asked about the future of the pilots. We are extending them to up to 1,200 more schools and colleges in 20 additional clinical commissioning group areas. Our survey, “Supporting mental health in schools and colleges”, found that 73% of schools and colleges provide specific lessons to help to promote positive mental health and that 64% of schools and colleges report that the promotion of young people’s mental health and wellbeing is integrated in the school day.

Robert Halfon Portrait Robert Halfon
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6 Nov 2017, 6:58 p.m.

Is the Minister referring to the pilots of 1,200 schools that were announced by the former Children’s Minister, Mr Timpson, when he gave evidence to the Select Committees, or is it another tranche of 1,200 schools on top of that?

Nick Gibb Portrait Nick Gibb
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6 Nov 2017, 6:57 p.m.

It is the same point that Ed Timpson made at that Committee, but it is important for this debate that we are extending those pilots to 1,200 more schools and colleges in 20 additional clinical commissioning group areas.

As well as the role of the wider teaching staff, many schools have staff with more specific roles in relation to mental health. Around half of schools and colleges have a dedicated lead for mental health; more than two thirds of schools have a designated member of staff responsible for linking with specialist mental health services; and 87% of institutions reported that they had a plan or policy in place for supporting pupils with identified mental health needs.

Evidence shows that a whole-school approach, established with a commitment from senior leadership and supported by external expertise, is essential to a school’s success in tackling mental health. A whole-school approach involves the work of all staff and students, with clear links to school policies, for example on behaviour, and a culture and atmosphere that promote good mental health. Tom Bennett’s review of behaviour in schools found that a consistently applied whole-school policy, with clear systems of rewards and sanctions, was key to securing good behaviour. He argued for the importance of a whole-school culture that is effectively communicated to all staff and pupils and stated that the best behaviour policies balance a culture of discipline with strong pastoral support. The combination of clear boundaries and known sanctions for poor behaviour with a caring atmosphere is fundamental to promoting good behaviour and wellbeing for all pupils.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow suggested a study of the impact of social media on children’s mental health. We are working closely with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the internet safety strategy, which includes working on online safety with experts, social media companies, tech firms, charities, mental health practitioners and young people. I am sure that that work will highlight gaps in the evidence, as he suggested.

My right hon. Friend also asked when we would next publish a survey on children’s mental health. The Department of Health has commissioned a new survey that will examine the prevalence of mental health and wellbeing problems among children and young people nationally. The new prevalence survey will enable us to make comparisons with the prevalence recorded in the 2004 survey and will be published in 2018.

A number of hon. Members asked about Ofsted’s role in helping to deliver these objectives in our schools. Under the current inspection framework, inspectors reach a graded judgment on pupils’ personal development, behaviour and welfare and consider their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. We will work with Ofsted on any implications that arise from mandatory relationships education and relationships and sex education.

My hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) raised the important issue of mental health and children in care. The forthcoming Green Paper will consider how to improve support for vulnerable children and young people, including children in care. This includes ways of improving access to support, better joint working among services and improved training for professionals. An expert working group has been established to look at ways of improving support and care for children and young people in care; it will report shortly and we will fully consider all its recommendations. We will pilot new approaches that draw on the group’s findings to improve the quality of mental health assessments for looked-after children.

Lisa Cameron Portrait Dr Cameron
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6 Nov 2017, 7:03 p.m.

Will the report also consider transition from child services to adult services? Transition is a crucial time: young people who may previously have received services often fall through the gaps and do not get the continuation of care that they need.

Nick Gibb Portrait Nick Gibb
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6 Nov 2017, 7:03 p.m.

The hon. Lady raises an important point that will be considered in the Green Paper that we will publish shortly.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) raised peer-to-peer counselling. One of the pilots that we have just launched relates to peer-to-peer support for children and young people with mental health. We are working with the Anna Freud Centre on it, and have just invited interested schools and colleges to apply. The programme is being independently evaluated so that we can share its findings with other schools and colleges when the pilot ends in 2019.

We want to provide all young people with a curriculum that ensures that they are prepared for adult life in modern Britain. Most schools already use their curriculum and school day to support pupil wellbeing, for example through the personal, social and health and economic education curriculum and a range of extracurricular activities. Good schools establish an ethos, curriculum and behaviour policy that teaches children about the importance of healthy, respectful and caring relationships. The Government want to ensure that all children receive a high-quality education in that respect. The Children and Social Work Act 2017 requires the Secretary of State for Education to impose a statutory duty on all primary schools to teach relationships education and on all secondary schools to teach relationships and sex education. The Act also gives the Government the power, which we will consider carefully, to make PSHE a compulsory subject in all schools.

A thorough engagement process will be undertaken to determine what schools should teach with respect to these subjects. We will say more about that process shortly; we announced today that Ian Bauckham, an experienced headteacher, will lead that work. We are also carefully considering what support schools may need to adapt to changes and improve provision. I can confirm that relationships education will focus on teaching pupils about different types of relationships and the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships, both online and offline, which will help pupils to understand their own and others’ relationships and their impact on mental health and wellbeing. That knowledge will support pupils to make good decisions and keep themselves safe and happy.

When considering how to teach these issues in schools, we need to look at what the evidence says. To help with this, the Department is undertaking a programme of randomised controlled trials to assess the effectiveness of school-based interventions to support children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. We are also exploring, through pilots, how pupils can support each other with their mental wellbeing. The aim of these trials is to determine whether approaches such as mindfulness are effective and to make information available to any school that might be considering offering such interventions. Of course, it is equally important that we identify approaches that are not effective.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) asked about teacher training. Our randomised controlled trials include two international mental health programmes—Youth Aware of Mental Health, and the mental health and high school curriculum guide—and programmes that link physical and mental health through exercise, activities and routines. Those evidence-based approaches will ensure that schools can provide the right support to children and young people.

The Prime Minister has committed to a range of other activities with regard to children and young people’s mental health. The “Supporting Mental Health in Schools and Colleges” survey showed that 90% of institutions offered at least some training to staff in supporting pupils’ mental health and wellbeing, and that in most cases that training was compulsory. To support school staff further, the Department of Health is funding a mental health first-aid training offer for every primary and secondary school in England. That training, which 1,000 schools should receive by the end of the year, will help teachers to identify and support pupils with mental health issues as early as possible.

The Government have also committed to tackling the effect that bullying can have on mental health. The Department for Education and the Government Equalities Office are providing £4.6 million of funding over two years to support 10 projects to help schools prevent and tackle bullying. These include projects that target the bullying of particular groups, such as those who have special educational needs and disabilities and those who are victims of hate-related bullying; a project to report bullying online; and projects specifically to prevent and respond to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools.

We are committed to supporting the positive mental health of teachers, in particular by alleviating the workload pressures that teachers tell us have an impact on their mental health and wellbeing. We have worked extensively with unions, teachers, headteachers and Ofsted to challenge practices, such as triple or dialogic marking, that create unnecessary workload. As a consequence of this work, we established three independent review groups to address the priorities emerging from our 2014 workload challenge: ineffective marking, use of planning and resources, and data management. Work is progressing to meet all the commitments set out in the action plan published alongside the 2016 teacher workload survey, and we remain open to other ways in which the mental health of wellbeing of teachers can be supported.

As I said, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex raised the issue of teacher training. We have strengthened initial teacher training, ensuring that teacher standards include the requirement for trainees to understand mental health and wellbeing. The Department’s 2017 provision survey found that 90% of schools and colleges offered staff training on mental health.

I hope hon. Members are reassured that improving and protecting the mental health of young people remains a key priority for the Government. In 2015 we allocated £1.4 billion over five years for children and young people’s mental health.

Nicholas Soames Portrait Sir Nicholas Soames
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I am sorry to intervene on the Minister so late in his winding-up speech, but may I ask him to give the House an assurance that the very complex roll-out of all these new schemes will be properly co-ordinated, so that delivery throughout the system is even? It is often difficult to see that happening when new schemes are introduced, so I will be grateful if the Minister ensures it does this time.

Nick Gibb Portrait Nick Gibb
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6 Nov 2017, 7:10 p.m.

My right hon. Friend raises a very important issue, details of which will be set out in the Green Paper that will be published shortly. The purpose of the various pilots is to ensure that we have an evidence base, so that interventions that we make in the future are effective and deliver what we all want, which is a generation of young people who are secure in their mental health and able to identify and deal with mental health issues as they arise.

I was talking about mental health spending, which has been increased to record levels by this Government, with 2016-17 seeing a record £11.4 billion being spent, with a further £1 billion planned by 2020-21. That clearly highlights the importance that the Government place on mental health and wellbeing in this country.

Crucially, we can see that mental health is already a key priority for schools themselves. The commitment that we have made to making relationships education and RSE compulsory in all schools, and to considering the case for doing the same for PSHE, will further ensure that pupil wellbeing is supported in our schools. That sits alongside the wide range of other activity to support schools that I have set out today, and I hope that reassures right hon. and hon. Members of the Government’s absolute commitment to this vital agenda for children and young people.

Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell
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6 Nov 2017, 7:12 p.m.

I thank those who initiated this petition, because this has been an important, timely and high-level debate on this subject. Right hon. and hon. Members have made powerful contributions today, and I pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) for his very powerful testimony, not only about his own experience but about how that applies to a very practical approach to how we can do better for our young people and for our society in addressing this issue.

I appreciate the length of the Minister’s reply and the response that he gave to the variety of issues that were raised. There is a huge amount of cross-party consensus that we need to do things better and we need to see change. I will look out for the Green Paper and the proposals in it, and I know that the excellent organisations that initiated this debate—HeaducationUK and others—and the right hon. and hon. Members in Westminster Hall today will also look out for the Green Paper, to ensure that we get this matter right, that we address the issues, that we improve our education offer, that we remove the stigma around talking about mental health, and that we adopt a cross-sectoral approach, so that our health service is there to provide the professional support that must be available and that will match our provision within the education sector.

Personally, I would like to see a really bold message coming from the Government in the Green Paper that this issue has parity of esteem, and that we do not only talk about supporting better mental health within our education system but that the Government will take the steps to ensure that it is a priority and is delivered. All right hon. and hon. Members here today will hold the Government to account on that issue.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered e-petition 176555 relating to mental health education in schools.