Teresa May has announced this morning that her plans for mental health care include mental health first aid training for primary and secondary schools.
I can’t speak for secondary schools, but let me tell you that in primary schools, we already know our children inside out. We spend all day, every day with the same group of children and are well placed to spot any changes in behaviour or attitude. We know if children are especially irritable, or tired or more emotional than usual. We mostly know if there’s been a bereavement or breakdown in the family. We’re very aware of how to spot possible signs of abuse or domestic violence.
Because of this, we are already giving the maximum amount of pastoral support we can offer. At my school we have a brilliant team, including the SLT, SENCo, and two other support workers who are there to offer advice to staff, support to parents and work tirelessly with children to help take care of their mental health. In addition, everything we do is underpinned by our school values, which we explicitly teach to our children, helping them to nurture relationships, develop resilience and reflect on what is important to them. All vital for promoting good mental health.
If a mental health problem can be solved in school, we’re already on it.
Some things can be solved by a teacher or TA understanding you, supporting your parents and giving you a bit of extra attention. But some things definitely cannot. It’s very frustrating to see children in front of you all day who have complex needs that you don’t have the time or resources or expertise to meet. What we really need is adequate funding for access to counsellors, clinical psychologists and CAMHS, so that when a child is bereaved, severely traumatised, self-harming or has chaotic attachment, we can get them access to the specialists they need.
To continue the medical metaphor, we already have first aid kits in school, but what some children need is open heart surgery. I didn’t hear Teresa May offering to pay for that. Did you?