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Fewer than half of state funded schools have onsite mental health support

Less than half of state funded schools have on site counsellors, research by the IPPR thinktank has found.

A report which looks at the future of education after Covid-19, highlighted that The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that schools adopt a comprehensive ‘whole-school’ approach to promoting the physical, social and emotional wellbeing of students. Inevitably, though, it will be down to teachers to embed this agenda.

“Schools and teachers can, and do already, undoubtedly take a role in supporting young people with the vulnerabilities they face outside of school. But teachers are not doctors, counsellors or social workers. There will always be a limit to what they can and should be expected to achieve on their own. This requires schools to work closely with a wider array of public services to provide the support young people need. But, all too often, the support young people require is not accessible, joined-up with their school or tailored to their needs,” said the report.

The pandemic has exposed the need for more support for teachers to help them perform this task. A survey of teachers by Teacher Tapp for IPPR found that one in two teachers did not feel confident in knowing which children had experienced bereavement, abuse, poor mental health or new family caring responsibilities during the national Covid-19 lockdown. In addition, more than one in two did not feel confident in supporting children through these experiences.

The poll also revealed that less than half of teachers in state-funded schools say their students have onsite mental health support, such as a counsellor, while less than a third say they have onsite physical health support, for example, a nurse. Deprived schools were even less likely to benefit from these resources whereas more than 70 per cent of teachers in private schools benefited from mental and physical health support onsite.

Yet around three out of 10 teachers say they are unable to access external specialist support such as NHS child and adolescent mental health services when their students needed it. Teachers believe that improving access to such professionals would help improve attainment and be beneficial for parents.

Less than 20% of state schools and those in deprived areas had onsite social workers and less than 10% of private or affluent areas had onsite social work support.

The report highlights that since children returned to school in September with many having been out of education since March when lockdown restrictions were announced, there has been significant focus on ‘recovering’ the existing system, however, there is also an opportunity to ‘build back better’.

The research identifies three areas where the pandemic has the potential to open up new conversations about the future of schooling in England:

• a conversation about how our education system can prepare children for life, not just exams

• a conversation about where and how learning takes place – as well as who is involved in it

• a conversation about the need to tackle inequalities outside, as well as inside, the classroom.

The IPPR recommends that the government urgently reviews the publication of school performance tables, moving to a multi-year model to avoid the high-stakes win/lose dynamic of the current system.

The government should also use the pandemic as an opportunity to end the digital divide – with 1 million children still without access to the internet at home – by providing schools with the funding to ensure that all young people have the infrastructure required to benefit from technology-enabled schooling. It should also commit to building on Ofsted’s Parent View survey to create a regular published parent survey to embed parent voice and transparency in the system, after many parents were involved with their child’s learning during lockdown.

“We went into the pandemic with yawning inequalities in educational outcomes. The pandemic is likely to have widened this ‘attainment gap’. Recent government efforts – including the government’s Covid-19 recovery plan – largely focus on academic support to close this gap. But the pandemic has demonstrated that the government needs to take inequalities beyond the classroom just as seriously,” said the report.

“Such inequalities include disparities in parental support, the home environment, access to learning resources and exposure to vulnerabilities such as mental health problems (either children’s own or their families’), violence, neglect, abuse, bereavement and caring responsibilities. This demands that schools work with other public services to address the barriers to learning ‘beyond the classroom’ that children experience,” the report added.

The IPPR urges the government to endorse ‘parity of esteem’ between academic and wellbeing outcomes in schools, which should involve supporting schools to adopt a ‘whole-school’ approach to wellbeing.

The ‘new normal’ – The future of education after Covid-19

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