‘The number of schools in England buying in professional mental health support for pupils has nearly doubled in three years, as prompt access to NHS services for those children most in need continues to be a problem, a new survey has found.
In 2016 more than a third (36%) of schools surveyed provided school-based support for students’ emotional and mental wellbeing. By 2019 66% of school leaders said they were commissioning their own professional support for pupils, including school-based counsellors.
The poll, by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), indicates that schools have developed an improved understanding and recognition of children’s mental health needs, but headteachers say there is still a lack of capacity in specialist services for those with more serious problems.
Just 4% of school leaders who took part in the survey agreed that child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) respond quickly to requests for support, and 5% felt children referred to it “get help when they need it”.
Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, acknowledged early intervention was critical and welcomed schools’ increased understanding of children’s needs, but warned that where there was more serious need, teachers needed to be able to refer pupils on to experts who would be able to provide timely support.
“We can see that schools are responding to an increasing need and a lack of capacity in specialist services by commissioning their own support such as counsellors. Although to be applauded, this is another area where schools are being forced to use scant resources for urgent provision that is not provided for in their budgets.”
He continued: “There is still concern that when children do have more serious mental health needs, professional help is not easily available. Teachers are on the frontline for children’s mental health, but they are not qualified medical specialists.”