Mental health strategy for schools will take too long to meet children’s needs – MPs

Plan to boost mental health care in schools fails to address the most vulnerable childrens’ needs, say MPs

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Plans to improve mental health care in schools and colleges lack ambition, and slow implementation means hundreds of thousands of children could be left without the support they need, MPs say.

A joint report by the Commons education and health and social care committees said the government’s strategy means young people in need of help now will miss out.

It said the narrow scope of proposals fail to take account of the needs of vulnerable groups, and they would put significant pressure on teaching staff without any guarantee schools would receive the resources they need.

Under the government proposals, set out in a green paper in December, schools and colleges in England are expected to appoint a designated senior lead on mental health to coordinate support services and help children access specialist therapies and other NHS treatments.

'This is tinkering, not transformation'

The plans will be backed by the creation of mental health support teams to improve links between schools and the NHS, while setting new targets for waiting times.

However, the report said the government’s ‘trailblazer’ approach, which involves using pilot projects, meant that by 2022-23 the strategy would still only have reached between a fifth and a quarter of the country.

It said the committees had heard evidence that the strategy failed to dovetail with other relevant policies, and that ministers were just tinkering with the system rather than trying to transform it.

MPs said the requirement for schools and colleges to designate senior leads from their existing staff would only serve to exacerbate the pressures on an already stretched teaching workforce.

Desperate need

‘The government strategy lacks ambition and will provide no help to the majority of those children who desperately need it,’ the report said.

‘The narrow scope does not take several vulnerable groups into account, and the proposals put significant pressure on the teaching work force without guaranteeing sufficient resources. There is also little or no attention to prevention or early intervention.

‘The suggested speed of delivery will leave hundreds of thousands of children with no improvements in provision for several years and with possibly worsened provision if staff leave to join trailblazer areas elsewhere.’

The health and social care committee chair, Conservative MP and GP Sarah Wollaston, said: ‘We want to see more evidence that the government will join up services in a way that places children and young people at their heart and that improves services to all children rather than a minority.’

Getting it right

A government spokesperson said: ‘We completely reject any suggestion that our plans lack ambition. These changes will transform mental health services for children and young people, including the first ever waiting-time standards for those with the most serious problems.

‘This will be supported by a new workforce – larger than the entire current workforce – and backed by £300 million of additional funding that will also provide significant additional resources for all schools. This builds on what good schools are already doing, without adding to teachers’ workloads.

‘We agree that every young person should be able to access mental health support. However, we need to ensure we get this right, which is why we will pilot this approach to make sure services are correct.’


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