New findings suggest that mental health support for children is not adequate in UK schools due to teachers not being provided sufficient training.
A team of experts in the fields of education and health has identified that some schools and teachers are feeling the burden of a lack of training, resulting in a severe lack of mental health support for children that may culminate in devastating outcomes for their mental and educational development.
The team’s report is published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.
Mental disorders among children
Statistics demonstrate a stark rise in mental health conditions in children, increasing by around 50% within the last three years alone, with only a quarter of these children receiving support from mental health professionals. Data published by the Office of National Statistics highlights that teachers are the most common source of mental health support for children. However, similar to other frontline healthcare professionals who are considerably understaffed and overstretched, a disproportionate number of teachers also experience mental health issues themselves.
Teachers, GPs, and social workers comprise ‘tier 1’ of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), meaning they should be able to administer general advice and treatment for less severe problems and refer individuals to specialist services. However, the researchers say that in a real-world setting, teachers end up providing mental health support for children across the entire spectrum of need, due to it being challenging to access specialist services.
Chloe Lowry, of the Institute of Education at University College London, the lead author of the study and a former teacher, said: “It is both astonishing and alarming that teachers are not adequately trained for these roles. Given the essential role schools and teachers play in supporting children’s long-term health and wellbeing, and responding when problems arise, funding support from the health sector to equip this forgotten health workforce could be transformational.”
Current mental health support for children
Funding from the UK government only finances mental health awareness training for one teacher per school, with the researchers outlining that government research found that only 40% of classroom teachers in England feel equipped to teach children with mental health needs. Moreover, only 32% know how to direct children who need support to mental health specialists outside of school.
Dame Alison Peacock, another one of the study’s authors and CEO of the Chartered College of Teaching, said: “Despite this background of unprecedented need, inadequate training, and a workforce eager to learn, training in promoting children’s healthy development was omitted in the final stages of the recent teacher training reforms in England, in favour of a narrow focus on improving academic attainment.”
Kids who have better social and emotional development achieve higher GCSE results regardless of their socio-economic status, whereas those with mental health problems tend to perform poorly. Furthermore, previous studies have shown that teachers can have an equal impact on pupils’ mental health as their influence on academic test scores.
The team outlined some recommendations to enhance mental health support for children, including integrating comprehensive training in child development, health, and wellbeing into training courses for teachers, which should be provided free of charge for all current teachers. Additionally, they suggested more investment for schools to become hubs for children’s services, becoming home to social workers and prescribing link workers.
Dame Alison added: “We offer these recommendations to create a healthier education system, turning vicious cycles of poor pupil and teacher wellbeing into virtuous circles that enhance children’s long-term physical health, mental health, educational and economic outcomes.”