What good is spotting mental health problems if there's no funding to help tackle them?
The union which represents teachers has described Theresa May’s plans to train teachers to spot pupils’ mental health problems as just a “sticking plaster”.
The National Education Union (NEU) said training new teachers is a good thing but not enough.
The government should focus on the causes of mental ill health and reverse cuts to mental health services, said the NEU’s secretary general Mary Boustred.
“The aspiration to train school staff to spot signs of mental illness amongst pupils is welcome, but it will amount to little more than a sticking plaster. If the Prime Minister is genuine about wanting to focus on prevention, then a cross-Government strategy on tackling poverty and inequality is needed”
“The ‘exam factory’ culture of testing, driven from Whitehall, is one significant cause of anxiety and low self-esteem among young people. It is why the NEU has been urging Government to put child wellbeing at the heart of education policy.”
“Schools need strong pastoral systems, but teachers cannot cover for the cuts to mental health specialists. Recognising the early signs is important but timely routes to appropriate professional treatment is essential.
“At the moment referrals lead to long waiting times – children and young people should not have to threaten or attempt suicide before accessing child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).
“School leaders are deeply anxious that real-terms cuts mean they must let go counsellors and parental engagement posts. Mental health services, like schools, have been significantly reduced from the effects of underfunding throughout May’s premiership.”
“Cuts to all children’s services have increased pressure on families. Schools plainly can’t tackle this aspect of child health alone. The growing problem of child mental health illness must be tackled by much greater capacity in specialist service, matched with the reversal of cuts to school budgets’’.
These comments were echoed by the Labour Party, whose Shadow Health Minister Barbara Keeley said:
“Once again we hear warm words from the Prime Minister on mental health, but the reality is that mental health services are stretched to breaking point and people with mental health problems aren’t getting the support they need.”
“The Prime Minister is failing to address the real crisis in mental health. Training for teachers and other professionals is welcome but when we know thousands of children and young people are either turned away from mental health services or have to wait too long for treatment, it’s clear that she’s missing the real issue.”
As the Tory-led governments have cut schools’ budgets, schools have had to reduce their own budgets. Many have done this in part by cutting mental health support.
As well as schools, CAMHS services are funded by local authorities and the NHS. Their budgets are also increasingly stretched.
According to figures obtained by the Health Service Journal, 500 children a year have to wait more than 12 months to access CAMHS services.
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