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Pupil Emotional Health and Well-being Programme

Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 2nd November 2009.

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Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP 2:15 pm, 2nd November 2009

1. asked the Minister of Education what results have been achieved to date as a result of the pupil emotional health and well-being joint programme with the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.            (AQO 274/10)

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

Tá clár um fholláine agus leas mothúchánach daltaí á fhorbairt ag mo Roinn — a dhíreofar ar earnáil na hiarbhunscolaíochta i dtosach — i gcomhpháirtíocht le réimse leathan de pháirtithe leasmhara tábhachtacha, lena n-áirítear an Roinn Sláinte, Seirbhísí Sóisialta agus Sábháilteachta Poiblí.

My Department is developing the pupil emotional health and well-being programme, with an initial focus on the post-primary sector, in partnership with a broad range of key stakeholders, including the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. Five working groups are in place that will examine the following aspects: self-assessment by schools of their approach to emotional health and well-being; the training and support of teachers and other school staff on the issue of emotional health; identification of existing good practice in schools, and its dissemination; mapping of existing services and sources of support available to schools, and sharing of that information; and preparation of new guidance for schools on the management of critical incidents, and a review of our current arrangements to support schools when an incident occurs.

A definition of what is meant by pupils’ emotional health and well-being has been agreed. Research has been commissioned to evaluate tools that schools might use to audit all activities that contribute to promoting positive emotional health. Discussions are in hand about building on an existing directory of services for children and young people, and moving it to a web-based facility that schools can access. Along with our partners, we will host an event this month to review what we have achieved so far and, perhaps more importantly, to determine how we deliver the products to schools in time for the next school year.

Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP

Will the Minister elaborate on the implementation of the programme and give some examples of the activities that will be offered to primary and post-primary pupils?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

First, the Member will be aware that we have a counselling service in post-primary schools, which some 220 schools make use of every week. Since September 2009, following a public tendering process, three organisations have provided the service. The new contracts have been awarded to New Life Counselling, Counselling for Youth and Familyworks.

The counselling support that is provided conforms to current best practice and professional standards for schools-based counselling. Furthermore, the programme will consider the prevention of suicide and self-harm, the Bamford review and the mental-health action plan. Clearly, equipping young people with a positive outlook on life and the skills to be emotionally resilient will also make a less direct contribution to other strategies such as the children’s strategy; Hidden Harm, which helps children of drug and alcohol abusers; and the tackling violence at home strategy. It is fitting that we are debating the Ryan report today.

Photo of Dominic Bradley Dominic Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

An bhféadfainn a fhiafraí den Aire an raibh aon chomhoibriú idir a Roinn féin agus an Roinn Sláinte nuair a bhí an plean gníomhaíochta ar an uathachas á phleanáil? An mbeidh aon pháirt ag a Roinn i gcur i gcrích an phlean sin?

What level of co-operation took place between the Minister’s Department and the Department of Health, Social Service and Public Safety in formulating the autism action plan? Will her Department be involved in the outworking of that plan? Go raibh Maith agat.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

As the Member may be aware, an all-Ireland conference on autism will take place soon. My Department works with the Department of Education and Science in the South, and the Health Departments, North and South. The original question was specifically about the pupil emotional health and well-being programme. I will forward details of the autism conference to the Member and look forward to his participation in it.

Photo of Sue Ramsey Sue Ramsey Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I thank the Minister for her detailed answer to the question, in which she highlighted some of the positive strategies, which are to be welcomed. What outcome will the programme have once it is established and up and running?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat as an cheist sin. Glacfaidh gach iarbhunscoil leis go bhfuil ról ríthábhacthach aici maidir le cothú folláine agus leas mothúchánach a cuid daltaí.

All post-primary schools accept that they have a unique and significant role to play in the promotion of the emotional health and well-being of their pupils. We expect those schools to sign up to a shared, agreed understanding of pupil emotional health and well-being; to audit their practices across a range of activities in the school; to identify the activities that can contribute to the promotion of pupil emotional health and well-being; to evaluate honestly their practice; and to identify how they can improve, as well as what further practice could and should be introduced.

We expect that all post-primary schools will prepare a plan as part of the school development plan, developed in partnership with the school community — staff, pupils and parents — that will set out how pupil emotional health and well-being will be promoted, and how the effectiveness of the plan will be evaluated. They will also be able to access information about evidence-based good practice and community-based services available to support pupils, both inside and outside the school. We also expect that they will be prepared to deal with any critical incident and will have appropriate support in order to do so.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

Will the Minister explain why there is a reluctance to use the term “mental health”? Given that some 20% of our young people suffer from mental health problems in schools, why is her Department reluctant to take the lead on that issue?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

It is accepted in society that we all have mental health: there is positive mental health, and there is poor mental health. My Department is not reluctant to use the term “mental health”. We want to contribute to the positive mental health of all our young people. The terminology that we use is “emotional health and well-being”. We try to ensure that our young people have the resilience to deal with the issues that they are faced with. We also try to put child protection measures in place and to deal with issues around bullying, suicide and self-harm, along with many other issues in our society.