The government has seriously ramped up its expectations of what schools should be delivering in terms of supporting children and young people's mental health. While this is a positive move and welcome, the move has placed extra responsibilities and expectations upon already stretched schools in an area they may feel less than confident about.
As three children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health problem, schools are extremely well placed to help detect and support vulnerable children who may be experiencing anxiety, depression, eating disorders or problems with body image as well as conduct disorders. However, this doesn't necessarily make schools equipped to deal with the complex issues surrounding children's mental health while may classroom teachers are already swamped with meeting curriculum requirements, addressing behaviour policies, supporting pupils, marking homework, planning lessons and preparing children for SATS and other vital educational milestones.
With teachers leaving the profession in droves and recruitment and retention remaining a vital challenge for many schools, academies, colleges and universities, adding a further level of responsibility to stressed and stretched teachers - many of whom have not received formal training in children's mental health - is only going to exacerbate the problem.
In fact, research by Leeds Beckett University in 2018 found that trainee teachers would struggle to spot signs of mental illness in pupils and the vast majority of trainee teachers would feel ill-equipped to handle the issue, even if it were detected.
Professor Jonathan Glazzard, of the Carnegie School of Education, who carried out the research, said: “While teachers are not health professionals, they are well-placed to spot issues and respond quickly to prevent problems from escalating.
“Despite the increased public awareness of mental health issues, not enough is being done to prepare the next generation of teachers to identify and then respond to health issues that can have a profound effect on a child’s education and life in general.”
According to Professor Glazzard’s research, almost 60 per cent of trainee teachers did not feel confident about identifying mental health needs in students, while 70 per cent did not feel confident in supporting children and young people with mental health needs.
When asked about whether mental health was given sufficient priority, 73 per cent felt that mental health was given insufficient priority in initial teacher training.
That is why WillisPalmer has extended its reach to provide experienced social work staff and educational psychologists to schools to help them navigate this complex arena.
WillisPalmer provides services to work alongside schools supporting them to help children who may be displaying signs of a mental health problem.
- Safeguarding surgeries which are an opportunity for safeguarding leads/class teachers to talk through safeguarding concerns with an experienced children and family social worker.
- Behavioural and Emotional welfare surgery - a comprehensive school-based mental health programme offering advice and intervention on behavioural and emotional issues presented.
- Educational Psychological Assessment and Treatment where an expert educational psychologist undertakes assessments in school to advise upon a range of emotional and social problems or learning difficulties.
WillisPalmer's Chief Executive Mark Willis said: "The government has rightly recognised that school staff are ideally placed to help identify children who may be experiencing mental health problems and we know that early identification and help is crucial. However, teaching staff have a huge agenda without considering the mental health of children, have busy schedules and are time poor and, at the end of the day, they are not trained social work professionals with expertise in child and adolescent mental health."
"That is why WillisPalmer has reached out to work with schools to work alongside them while relieving the pressure on school staff regarding children's mental health which teachers say all too readily that they are not confident in dealing with. Together, we can make a difference," Mark Willis added.
WillisPalmer provides schools with access to regular safeguarding surgeries. These surgeries are an opportunity for teachers to talk through any concerns they have relating to a child's mental health with an experienced children and families social worker. Written advice is provided to the school by the social work consultant on the day of the surgery and social workers can help school staff make referrals to children's services where necessary, saving stretched teaching staff time and stress.
The frequency of the safeguarding surgeries would be dependent upon need and would be set by the school themselves.
This consultation service does not take the place of child protection procedures. An outcome from our consultation could be that a referral is made to the local authority for an assessment.
Safeguarding Children’s Mental Health
WillisPalmer offers a comprehensive school-based mental health programme offering advice and intervention on behavioural and emotional issues presented by children at school. Through its team of Consultant Social Workers, school staff can engage in a Behavioural and Emotional welfare surgery whereby they can access a children's mental health specialist and meet with concerned teachers/parents and/or children themselves. WillisPalmer can make referrals to local authority children’s services or NHS services having first hand knowledge of the issues involved.
Educational Psychological Assessment and Treatment
WillisPalmer provides expert educational psychologists to undertake assessments in schools to advise school staff upon a range of emotional and social problems or learning difficulties. A report can be provided setting out a range of solutions including resources required, charged at a fixed fee price. The school would also be able to commission ongoing educational psychology advice and consultancy dependent upon need.
Who is this service suitable for?
The services on offer are suitable for primary and secondary schools and colleges. More specifically, the following people may find the services useful:
- Teaching assistants
- Class teachers
- Newly qualified teachers
- Heads of year
- Assistant heads/deputy head teachers
- Head teachers
- Mental health leads