Mental health and resilience are different things, says headteacher

Mouhssin Ismail, principal of Newham Collegiate Sixth Form (MURRAY SANDERS/DAILY MAIL)
Mouhssin Ismail, principal of Newham Collegiate Sixth Form (MURRAY SANDERS/DAILY MAIL)

The head of a London sixth form that is more selective than Eton said there had been an increase in students seeking mental health support but warned against “pathologising the slings and arrows of daily life”.

Mouhssin Ismail, principal of Newham Collegiate Sixth Form, where 95 per cent of pupils go on to Russell Group universities, said a distinction must be drawn between “mental resilience” and severe mental health problems.

He said his school works hard to boost the mental resilience of students, including making them study in the place where they will take exams so they feel less stressed, and a “no hands up” policy to get them used to being picked to answer questions.

But young people needing help for severe mental health problems were waiting too long because of the high demand, he added.

Those hoping to join the Newham sixth form need eight GCSEs at grade 7 (the equivalent of an A) for entry while Eton asks for a minimum of six.

Mr Ismail gave evidence to MPs on the education committee as part of an investigation into the mental health of young people.

He said: “We need to separate between acute mental health issues which require referral to Camhs (child and adolescent mental health services) and then the pathologising of the slings and arrows of daily life.

“We need to be careful that young people don’t catch onto words and use it automatically to deal with things that typically are what we would say are pressurised environments. So an external demand on your environment at that particular time and the mechanisms we have in place to be able to deal with those things.”

Catherine Roche, chief executive of children’s mental health services provider Place2Be, agreed that the issues must be separated, saying wellbeing and mental health was something that “all children should have and grow up with and be embedded in our school system”, but there should be access to specialist support where there are mental health problems.

Mr Ismail said he was seeing an increase in demand from students for in-house counsellors and also referrals to Camhs. This had an impact on students’ attainment because it could mean they miss days of school, were unable to “fully commit” to their learning and underachieve.

It follows the Evening Standard Young London SOS campaign which raised money to help more schools pay for an on-site Place2Be counsellor. Robert Halfon, chairman of the education committee, said the rise in young people needing mental health support was “horrific”.