Almost half of headteachers find it difficult to commission mental health services for pupils

Eleanor Busby
Nearly half of headteachers struggle to commission mental health services for pupils in need: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Nearly half of headteachers struggle to commission mental health services for pupils in need, new research suggests.

More than two-fifths of school leaders said a lack of knowledge of the support needed was stopping them from helping pupils, the survey from children’s mental health charity Place2Be found.

And more than a third of heads said they did not feel confident in commissioning a counsellor or therapist, according to the findings.

Headteachers, counsellors and psychotherapists were interviewed as part of the study – and nine in 10 respondents said funding issues limited the provision of mental health support at schools.

Place2Be, who published the study on Children’s Mental Health Week, argued that mental health services in schools are critical as half of mental health problems in adults start by the age of 14.

Catherine Roche, chief executive of Place2Be, said: “School leaders are already under immense pressure to deliver academic progress – and we shouldn’t expect them to become mental health experts as well.”

Schools need to have access to “dedicated funding, support and training to be able to source, commission and evaluate services effectively”, she added.

The findings come after education minister Nick Gibb told MPs during a select committee on mental health this week that examining pupils earlier on in their school careers could help alleviate stress.

And yesterday Ged Flynn, chief executive of suicide prevention charity Papyrus, said teachers should be prepared to speak to pupils about suicide if they noticed a change in the child's behaviour.

The charity leader said school staff should not feel embarrassed or scared to ask children about their mental health as part of a drive to cut self-harm and depression among young people.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “School leaders are not experts in therapeutic interventions so it can be difficult to know what kind of support is needed.

“NAHT has continually argued for a more rounded approach, to take some of the emphasis away from schools and re-assert the importance of well-resourced and accessible local support services.”

Yesterday, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced a new £5m programme to train primary school staff in mental health first aid.

It will help teachers spot the early signs of mental illness in young children and scheme introduced in secondary schools last summer.

A Government spokesperson said: “To support schools, the Government has pledged £1.7bn to help promote, protect and improve children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

“Our proposals outlined in the children and young people’s mental health green paper will provide significant additional resources for early mental health intervention for all schools.

“This includes improving the links between the NHS and schools, speeding up access to more intensive support, as well as boosting capacity to ensure early intervention and help schools to decide what other support to provide.”