Schools: Mental Health Support - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:37 pm on 27th November 2018.

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Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education) 2:37 pm, 27th November 2018

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to develop mental health support in schools.

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, many schools already promote their pupils’ mental health and we are providing significant new support to them. In July, we confirmed our commitment to train mental health leads in schools to develop whole-school approaches to promoting and supporting good mental health. But schools cannot act as mental health experts, so we will also provide increased specialist support from new, clinically supervised mental health support teams.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education)

I am grateful for the Minister’s reply. He will be aware that 65% of children and young people who have mental health problems currently get no support. I am aware of the trailblazers but they will take time to be established and teach good practice. We have a resource in schools which, sadly, is underfunded. It has too many vacancies and spends all its time on its statutory responsibility of reviewing cases under the Children and Families Act—I mean, and thus mention, our educational psychologists. Why can we not provide extra resources so that educational psychologists who are in post can do this work to provide support for children and young people with mental health problems?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, we are improving specialist children’s and young people’s mental health services with our £1.5 billion investment from 2015. We recognise that we need to do more, which is why the NHS will invest at least £2 billion a year in mental health, including children’s services, under the recent Budget proposals. Our Green Paper proposals are about providing support quickly through teams directly linked to schools and testing four-week waiting times for more specialist follow-up. We are absolutely not complacent about this vital area.

Photo of The Countess of Mar The Countess of Mar Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, frequently children with ME are diagnosed as having a mental health problem at school, which leads them into child protection proceedings. Can the Minister please ensure that the people responsible are aware of the fact that ME is not a mental health condition so that these children are not treated as mental health patients?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, that is the reason we are rolling out mental health training in schools. Since April last year, we have already trained 1,300 teachers across 1,000 schools to increase awareness of subjects such as the one the noble Countess raises.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour

My Lords, I understand that the numbers of school nurses and counsellors has dramatically decreased over the last few years. Can the Minister confirm this? What is the role of school nurses and counsellors, or do they no longer have one because they have disappeared?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, it is up to individual schools to deploy their resources as they see fit. Where school counsellors provide an important role, I am sure they are used, but as I said in answer to the supplementary question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, we are deploying more resources into this area in schools.

Photo of Lord Polak Lord Polak Conservative

Is the Minister aware that the Jewish Leadership Council has just launched a scheme to improve mental health in schools? Trained counsellors/well-being practitioners are being recruited to five schools—two primary schools, Rimon and Broughton Jewish, and three secondary schools, JFS, JCoSS and Yavneh College—for a three-year pilot. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Yavneh College, Spencer Lewis, the head teacher, and the staff as, according to the Sunday Times, it has just been announced as the best performing non-selective school in the country?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, many faith schools are high performing and achieve consistently high exam results. I am happy to join my noble friend in congratulating Yavneh College. Many of the best schools focus on well-being as an intrinsic part of their job, so I welcome the initiatives highlighted by my noble friend. Promoting well-being can help prevent problems arising or escalating, ensuring that both the school and pupils are provided with the tools they need to achieve the best results.

Photo of The Bishop of Worcester The Bishop of Worcester Bishop

My Lords, while I am grateful for the increased funding that is now available for mental health services for young people, is the Minister aware of the real difficulties facing young people in a crisis situation? I am thinking of a 14 year-old who asked his father to take him to the GP because he was afraid he might do something silly. The GP sat and listened very sympathetically, but then said, “I’m afraid there’s very little I can do for you. If I give you a referral to CAHMS you probably won’t get an appointment for a year”. Is that not a crisis situation?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, there are always going to be individual incidents such as that, and that is why we have made such a big commitment to increasing mental health funding over the few next years, including children’s mental health. As I mentioned in answer to an earlier question, improving awareness of mental health issues, such as the trauma just mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, will help us deal with these cases.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does the Minister agree that having a few people trained in every school does not mean you will get throughput unless you have basic awareness within the staff? That can be achieved only by continuous professional development structured in an awareness package, so that you get to the people you are training.

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, we are introducing mental health training as part of teacher training. We are beginning a voluntary scheme in September next year, and that will become a compulsory part of teacher training programmes. Returning to the earlier point about funding, we aim to add another 8,000 mental health professionals into the system over the next few years.

Photo of Baroness Boycott Baroness Boycott Crossbench

My Lords, may I add another element to this vital debate? It is about all schools having a school garden. I shall quote from a recent report by the King’s Fund:

“The mental health benefits of gardening are broad and diverse. Studies have shown significant reductions in depression and anxiety”,

and “improved social functioning”. This costs unbelievably little, and lessons can be based around it. In my time running the London Food Board I put many gardens into London schools, and the effects were dramatic. The cost is as little as 50 quid—with a bit of volunteering—and it has a permanent, long-term effect.

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I strongly support the noble Baroness’s comments on children’s exposure to outdoor activities. There is a very good trust, the Country Trust, which takes children on to farms in the same spirit as just mentioned. I think this is enormously important. I am the Minister responsible for the disposal of land in schools, and I intervene weekly to ensure that land used for such outdoor pursuits is not disposed of.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Labour

My Lords, does the Minister not realise that the answer he gave to the right reverend Prelate about it taking a year to get help for a child in need was extraordinarily disappointing? Can nothing be done to deal with these urgent cases, about which the right reverend Prelate made such a persuasive point?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, we are committing to and experimenting with much shorter waiting times in the NHS to bring that down to four weeks. The rollout of the trailblazers will be in exactly the same spirit: to learn best practice, which we can then adopt across the whole system.