Children as young as 9 talk about suicide in schools: more than 80 per cent of teachers have seen children's mental health issues increase, a survey by the National Education Union.
The survey of more than 8,000 teachers, support staff and school leaders in the UK found that 83 per cent confirmed that they had seen an increase in the number of pupil/student mental health problems in the past two years.
Furthermore, staff reported that children as young as nine years old were talking about suicide.
Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “These are alarming reports of a growing crisis in our schools and society."
Respondents conveyed tragedies that could be prevented by proper government funding and revealed fears of the effects of the ‘exam factory’ culture of over-testing, which is damaging to young people.
The number of young people with mental ill health has increased significantly since 2017, but this survey makes very clear that resources simply cannot keep pace with demand. The chronic under-funding of schools and external mental health services is only making matters worse, the union warns.
When asked if they had the right provisions in their workplace for supporting pupils with mental health issues, 59% of teachers reported they had learning support assistants and less than 50% reported a school counsellor. Only 30% identified external specialist support while less than 30% had a school nurse.
The government suggests mental health first aiders, rather than mental health professionals – but only 12% of schools even had these.
The survey also asked what prevents staff from fully supporting young people who are experiencing mental health issues.
- 57 per cent said real-terms funding cuts
- 51 per cent cited a reduction in teaching assistants
- 40 per cent said a reduction in learning support assistants
- 32 per cent blamed the narrowing of the curriculum
- 53 per cent attributed blame to an ‘exam factory’ assessment system
- 64 per cent said personal workload was a stumbling block
Furthermore, 64 per cent said the increasingly strained access to external support services (eg. CAMHS, specialist SEND assessment, and education psychologists) was significantly to blame.
One respondent reported: "I spend most lunchtimes and 40% of my time nurturing children experiencing a range of mental health issues… I am currently working with 15 children who have been bereaved, have anxiety, have PTSD or a parent with a terminal/life threatening illness.”
Another said: "SATS pressure and general expectations are taking their toll on more vulnerable pupils. We have 9-year-olds talking about suicide" while another added: "Much more anxiety, self-harming. Three suicides in three years in my school alone.”
More than a third of respondents have had training in the past year to help with supporting young people with mental ill health. However, individual responses suggest overall that the training was frequently inadequate and ineffective or had to be sought outside of school and at personal cost.
Kevin Courtney said: "It is very clear that this government’s policies on education and school funding are contributing to a terrible and destructive situation for young people and the education workforce. Schools can't solve this alone and government's under-funding of public services is damaging the next generation from an early age.
“Teachers are also witnessing an increase in child poverty and its terrible effects, which can all too often impact negatively on mental health.
“Above all this is about pupils, and it is incumbent upon the education system to do all it can to support anyone with mental health problems," he concluded.