Young people and the mental health crisis - an update from the Education Committee

07/02/18

The Education Committee met for a double session to discuss the joint Green Paper, Transforming Children and Young People's Mental Health Provision, which was launched in December 2017. It heard first from the Department of Health and Social Care, and then from the Department of Education. The government bodies are working together on tackling issues of mental health provision in schools and for young people. 

Session one

Chaired by Dr Sarah Wollaston. Witnesses comprised:

  • Claire Murdoch, National Mental Health Director, NHS England
  • Professor Tim Kendall, National Clinical Director for Mental health, NHS England
  • Professor Lisa Bayliss-Pratt, Chief Nurse and Interim Regional Director for London and the South East, Health Education England

Why is the Green Paper focusing on schools?

Tim Kendall said that the Green Paper doesn't cover under 5s, and doesn’t specifically focus on children from deprived backgrounds and the consequences of social deprivation, but advocates a provision of intervention for all children. They are going through schools as a way to get to children who need help, but this isn’t limited to regular attendees.

What about parents and families?

Claire Murdoch said that many schools are brilliantly meeting the needs of local communities, families, and children living with complex social factors. However, Michelle Donelan MP asked why the Green Paper doesn’t recommend support for all families. Rather than helping children after diagnosis of a mental health condition, she suggested providing families with information and tools to help them identify and even prevent mental health problems developing in their child. She said that schools and families shouldn’t be working in silos, and there has to be communication between the two, especially because she hears children say they are two different people between being at home and being at school. She was also concerned that teachers are already overburdened, so empowering parents to intervene would benefit everyone. Tim Kendall agreed that there is robust evidence that family-based support helps, and if parents want help in dealing with behavioural issues, it should be available to them, perhaps through parenting and behavioural support programmes referable to via the family’s GP. Claire Murdoch agreed that mental health awareness in young people for GPs would help, since they are a constant in the family’s life, and without intervention in early years, infants can carry mental health issues into childhood. She suggested a longer-term strategy is needed. Luciana Berger MP noted her concern that there was little mention of parenting in the Green Paper.

Should teachers take on the additional role of mental health leads?

Lisa Bayliss-Pratt said there is enthusiasm among teachers, but that observing progress in the trailblazer areas would be important. Emma Hardy MP voiced concern that the burden on teachers, already leaving the high-stakes accountability profession in large numbers, is too great. She felt that training teachers to be leads in mental health wouldn't be a matter of days but much longer, and was unconvinced that the initiative would be adequately funded.

Session two

Chaired by Robert Halfon MP. Witnesses comprised:

  • Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP, Minister for School Standards, Department for Education
  • Jackie Doyle-Price MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Mental Health and Inequalities, Department of Health and Social Care
  • Jonathan Marron, Director General of Community Care, Department of Health and Social Care
  • Ann Gross, Director of Special Needs, Children in Care and Adoption, Department for Education

This session was more specifically about the school system, which Schools Minister Nick Gibb spoke about in detail.

What’s the scope of the Green Paper?

Chair Robert Halfon expressed concern that there was only a passing nod to mental health in young people in the Social Mobility Action Plan, when it’s known that children from more deprived backgrounds are vastly more likely to develop a mental health issue. Nick Gibb responded by saying that the action plan related to addressing inequality in different parts of the country, but the mental health Green Paper was about tackling a particular problem that is becoming more common in all schools.

What solutions are suggested?

Nick Gibb wants to see designated mental health leads in schools, along with a mental health support team, supervised by mental health clinicians. The leads will be properly trained once programmes have been created and rolled out from September. The set up, he proposes, will prevent children with existing mental health issues deteriorate. It’s possible that some trailblazer areas trying out the approach in schools will also be social mobility opportunity areas.

How will the initiative be funded?

Robert Halfon was keen to know if the £95 million proposed for bringing mental health leads into all schools was part of the education budget or an additional resource. Emma Hardy was also concerned that schools would not have additional money to cover the costs of teachers being away on training courses. Nick Gibb said that training costs would be covered, and that schools are keen to tackle this issue as it will save time in the long-term once fewer resources have to be expended on it. On funding, he suggested if it isn’t adequate, they would revisit it, but he was confident in his estimates. He wasn’t sure from where in the education budget the £95 million would come, but confirmed it would be found, and represent value-for-money to the taxpayer.

The link between families and schools

We were glad to hear Michelle Donelan return to the issue she raised in the first session – which was a concern that no link between schools and families has been suggested within the plans, nor the idea that parents and schools should collaborate in sharing information. She pressed on wanting to see tools for parents to pick up mental health issues early, and see a conduit between teaching staff and parents.

Nick Gibb said that mental health support units will work with families as well as schools, and help will be available to any family of a child experiencing mental health difficulties.

Should there be a prevention strategy rather than early intervention?

Jackie Doyle-Price responded that the difficulty with this approach is that there’s more than one cause of mental health difficulties, and the overall strategy has to tackle the problem bit by bit.

Are schools the problem rather than the solution?

Nick Gibb said he wants to see children have a happy school experience. Granting teachers more powers to deal with poor behavior has helped, because good discipline eases, rather than raises stress levels in children. Exams cause stress, but they have always been part of the system, and the 'retake culture' has been eliminated, as well as the modular approach, which has decreased the number of examinations children take, so nothing in the reforms exacerbates stress or pressure on young people. Jackie Doyle-Price said that exam stress can exacerbate already existing mental health conditions (in one out of every ten young people), but won’t necessarily cause any mental ill-health. Emma Hardy was concerned that the system is breaking some children. Nick Gibb said he felt young people are capable of dealing with the more demanding curriculum, but children face issues of online safety and other pressures of modern living that simply did not exist for previous generations. Jackie Doyle-Price said that exams can give additional pressure to children, but their aim was to provide resources to avoid a crisis point by making children more resilient. 

Image of Michelle Donelan MP via Wikimedia Commons. 
View the session on Parliament TV.