Schools have become 'fourth emergency service' due to poor mental health and social care for young people

Headteachers say they have become a "fourth emergency service" due to inadequate provision for children's mental health and social care.

The Association of School and College Leaders surveyed 1,120 headteachers in state-funded schools and colleges in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Some 99% said children's mental health services were inadequate and 96% said children's social care services were inadequate.

Ahead of the ASCL's annual conference in Birmingham, President Evelyn Forde, said: "We've become a 'fourth emergency service'.

"By default, we've ended up with the unsustainable burden of trying to fill in the gaps from budgets and workforces that are stretched beyond breaking point.

"We step into the breach because we have a moral purpose to look after children.

"But we also have to do this for the practical purpose of ensuring they are fit to learn."

London Enterprise Academy is one of the many schools in the country which provides additional help to vulnerable pupils.

It is based in Tower Hamlets, which has the highest levels of child poverty in the country.

They offer a breakfast club for students from low-income families and Ali is one of the children who benefits from it.

He said: "When I come to school and I have a bite of toast, the hunger that I had from the night before - it just goes away."

Read more: Rise in number of children needing help for serious mental health problems, NHS data shows
Robots could help detect mental wellbeing issues in children

The ASCL survey revealed how the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis impacted pupils - 86% of headteachers said more students have been affected by poverty and 99% said more students were affected by poor mental health.

With poverty directly impacting the mental health of children, London Enterprise Academy provides on-site counselling.

But Principal Ashid Ali said social and economic factors are beyond their control.

"We are surrounded by the wealth of Canary Wharf and the City of London; I want my kids to aspire to jobs in these places.

"But the reality is they have very difficult home lives, they are living in severe overcrowding.

"A lot of families are being rehoused continuously and the current austerity is having a huge impact."

A government spokesperson said: "We recognise the challenges that many families face in getting access to education, health and care that meets their needs.

"We recently published our plan for children's social care, backed by £200m, which will prioritise early help and intervention for families to help them to stay together where possible and overcome adversity."