The mental health and wellbeing of children and young people is a priority for the Scottish Government. To ensure that all school staff have access to quality and effective resources and training, we have convened a mental health in schools working group. The group will develop a new mental health and wellbeing professional learning resource for primary, secondary and special school staff, which will provide the essential learning that is required to support children’s and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. The training will be made available in addition to the current Scottish mental health first aid training programme.
The Scottish Government’s commitment to providing mental health first aid training is commendable, but the funding for it was first provided six years ago. Some time has passed, and it was targeted at the schools that were most in need, which meant that a huge majority of school staff were not able to access it.
When I requested information from the Government on how many staff had received the training, it stated that it did not hold that information and did not intend to include it in its forthcoming evaluation. Without knowing how many staff have even received mental health first aid training, does the Government really believe that it is going to meet the needs of our young people’s mental health in schools?
A variety of different interventions are being undertaken to support the mental health and wellbeing of young people in schools. Mr Greer will be aware that, with our local authority partners, we are taking forward the commitment to put in place a mental health counsellor in every secondary school in the country.
This morning, I was at Wester Hailes education centre. Before I left, I had the pleasure of meeting representatives of Place2Be, an organisation that is funded to provide mental health support to young people at the centre. It is a well-focused service that meets the needs of young people, and there are a range of interventions of that type in different parts of the country.
There is always a dilemma about how much data we gather and how much information we request of individual schools, which is where the information has to come from. I am mindful of the workload challenges that that puts on individual schools. However, I am confident that we have a range of measures in place that will provide the effective support that individuals are entitled to expect and that will be of advantage and of benefit to young people in Scotland’s schools.
A survey by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers in Scotland found that nearly two thirds of teachers feel that their job has adversely affected their mental health in the past 12 months. Can the cabinet secretary tell the chamber how the Scottish Government expects teachers to go further in supporting the mental health of pupils when they already face increasing pressures and stress on their own mental health?
Local authorities have a duty of care to ensure that all staff, in whatever capacity, are well supported in the work that they undertake, and we expect local authorities to fulfil that obligation.
While committing to increase mental health first aid training in schools, the Government has said that it will increase the number of available counsellors in schools by September 2020. Does the cabinet secretary recognise that there are difficulties in assessing that target because of insufficient information on the number of counselling courses that are currently funded by education authorities? Will the cabinet secretary consider requesting from local authorities a breakdown of pupil equity funding spend to assist with that scrutiny and to ensure that that important expansion is successful?
I return to the question of how much data we collect on these issues. I am conscious that, were I to do exactly what Beatrice Wishart has asked me to do, I would be adding to the workload burden on individual schools. I am constantly pressed in this Parliament to minimise the workload burden that I place on individual schools.
I do not doubt the significance of the issue—I recognise it. We have agreed with local authorities how we will take forward the distribution of resources to support the expansion of the counselling service, and I look forward to that taking place. I am sure that it will be of benefit to young people in Scotland’s schools.