Education and Society - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:04 am on 8th December 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Neuberger Baroness Neuberger Crossbench 11:04 am, 8th December 2017

My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to the most reverend Primate for introducing this debate which signals the coming of Christmas and, dare I say it, of Hanukkah, too. I should also say that although we Jews do not believe in the Second Coming, it is a great pleasure to see the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Chartres, in his place to speak in today’s debate. He was a huge support to me in my days at the King’s Fund. Here I declare an interest and noble Lords will see why in a moment. I am a former chief executive of the King’s Fund and vice-president of the Centre for Mental Health. I am also a vice-chair of the independent review of the Mental Health Act 1983, chaired by Sir Simon Wessely.

I want to address what the most reverend Primate has described as human flourishing and what I would describe as the emotional well-being of children. While congratulating the Government on their announcement that mental health support will be available in schools from 2022, I should like to ask the Minister why the date cannot be brought forward, given that we know how serious the issues are around the mental health and well-being of young people, something alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and others.

On average, in every classroom three children aged between five and 16 will have a diagnosable mental health problem. We know that over half of all mental ill-health starts before the age of 14 and that 75% of it has developed by the age of 18. Studies suggest that when problems which start in childhood and adolescence are not addressed early, there is often a lifelong trajectory of mental ill-health. Rates of depression and anxiety among adolescents have increased by 70% over the past 25 years, which places huge costs on the economy, let alone on individuals. We know also that supporting mental health in schools is not just about responding to signs of emerging mental health problems. It is also about early education and support. We now know that helping children to become emotionally literate is a vital part of any social and emotional well-being focus and needs to be part of how we think about education. You shall teach your children and they shall teach theirs; it is not only about getting GCSEs.

In a recent report on school readiness by the National Association of Head Teachers, school leaders noted a decline in young children’s school-readiness over the past five years, with concerns about personal, social and emotional development high on the list. If children are starting school already at a disadvantage socially and emotionally and are unable to catch up, this increases their vulnerability in terms of their emotional well-being and their potential to achieve and succeed. A lack of social awareness, understanding and the ability to regulate emotions underpins many of the behavioural problems we see in schools. Studies have indicated a link between better academic outcomes and a reduction in behavioural issues in those schools that deliver an effective social and emotional curriculum.

We know that we need to do more. We know that emotional literacy education needs to be embedded in approaches to teaching all children about their mental health. Over the years, a range of social and emotional intervention programmes has been delivered in schools, often as part of the personal, social, health and economics curriculum, but it is not a statutory requirement in state schools. Although most faith schools provide it, many state schools do not. I hope to persuade the most reverend Primate that one day we should have multifaith schools as well as single-faith schools, much as I admire Church of England schools. We know that it works well. When social and emotional learning is a key area of focus for all children, it makes a huge difference as part of a whole-school approach. Whole-school approaches have been shown to work and we have many examples in the UK. I am indebted to the voluntary organisation Place2Be, which provides such support, for the education that it has given me on how it works. It is a charity that both I and, indeed, my congregation support wholeheartedly.

The approach not only involves teaching children about the nature and recognition of emotional states in themselves and others, but also promotes social competence and well-being. A good deal of research evaluation has gone into how to do this in the United States, Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand, but much less in the UK. A systematic review several years ago concluded:

“Positive evidence of effectiveness was obtained for programmes that adopted a whole-school approach, were implemented continuously for more than a year, and were aimed at the promotion of mental health as opposed to the prevention of mental illness”.

Can the Minister tell the House whether this is the approach that the mental health support announced by the Government this week will take? Can he also tell us that he supports investing in a curriculum that values emotional understanding, communication and problem solving with regular and well-delivered lessons that address emotional awareness and understanding?

Of course we need teachers, school leaders and governors to promote a “mentally healthy school” and, like others, I pay tribute to teachers, school governors and leaders—I am the mother of a teacher. We need them to foster warm relationships, develop pupil and teacher autonomy, and maintain clarity about boundaries, rules and positive expectations. We need them to prevent bullying and identify those with problems early. But the Government and educational leaders need to give a steer in this direction. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell the House that this is the approach the Government support and will foster, and that emotional literacy education will be as much a part of what schools need to provide as passing GCSEs.