Mental Health Education in Schools — [Mr Graham Brady in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:51 pm on 6th November 2017.

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education) 6:51 pm, 6th November 2017

The hon. Lady raises an important point that will be considered in the Green Paper that we will publish shortly.

My right hon. and learned Friend Sir Oliver Heald raised peer-to-peer counselling. One of the pilots that we have just launched relates to peer-to-peer support for children and young people with mental health. We are working with the Anna Freud Centre on it, and have just invited interested schools and colleges to apply. The programme is being independently evaluated so that we can share its findings with other schools and colleges when the pilot ends in 2019.

We want to provide all young people with a curriculum that ensures that they are prepared for adult life in modern Britain. Most schools already use their curriculum and school day to support pupil wellbeing, for example through the personal, social and health and economic education curriculum and a range of extracurricular activities. Good schools establish an ethos, curriculum and behaviour policy that teaches children about the importance of healthy, respectful and caring relationships. The Government want to ensure that all children receive a high-quality education in that respect. The Children and Social Work Act 2017 requires the Secretary of State for Education to impose a statutory duty on all primary schools to teach relationships education and on all secondary schools to teach relationships and sex education. The Act also gives the Government the power, which we will consider carefully, to make PSHE a compulsory subject in all schools.

A thorough engagement process will be undertaken to determine what schools should teach with respect to these subjects. We will say more about that process shortly; we announced today that Ian Bauckham, an experienced headteacher, will lead that work. We are also carefully considering what support schools may need to adapt to changes and improve provision. I can confirm that relationships education will focus on teaching pupils about different types of relationships and the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships, both online and offline, which will help pupils to understand their own and others’ relationships and their impact on mental health and wellbeing. That knowledge will support pupils to make good decisions and keep themselves safe and happy.

When considering how to teach these issues in schools, we need to look at what the evidence says. To help with this, the Department is undertaking a programme of randomised controlled trials to assess the effectiveness of school-based interventions to support children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. We are also exploring, through pilots, how pupils can support each other with their mental wellbeing. The aim of these trials is to determine whether approaches such as mindfulness are effective and to make information available to any school that might be considering offering such interventions. Of course, it is equally important that we identify approaches that are not effective.

My right hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Soames asked about teacher training. Our randomised controlled trials include two international mental health programmes—Youth Aware of Mental Health, and the mental health and high school curriculum guide—and programmes that link physical and mental health through exercise, activities and routines. Those evidence-based approaches will ensure that schools can provide the right support to children and young people.

The Prime Minister has committed to a range of other activities with regard to children and young people’s mental health. The “Supporting Mental Health in Schools and Colleges” survey showed that 90% of institutions offered at least some training to staff in supporting pupils’ mental health and wellbeing, and that in most cases that training was compulsory. To support school staff further, the Department of Health is funding a mental health first-aid training offer for every primary and secondary school in England. That training, which 1,000 schools should receive by the end of the year, will help teachers to identify and support pupils with mental health issues as early as possible.

The Government have also committed to tackling the effect that bullying can have on mental health. The Department for Education and the Government Equalities Office are providing £4.6 million of funding over two years to support 10 projects to help schools prevent and tackle bullying. These include projects that target the bullying of particular groups, such as those who have special educational needs and disabilities and those who are victims of hate-related bullying; a project to report bullying online; and projects specifically to prevent and respond to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools.

We are committed to supporting the positive mental health of teachers, in particular by alleviating the workload pressures that teachers tell us have an impact on their mental health and wellbeing. We have worked extensively with unions, teachers, headteachers and Ofsted to challenge practices, such as triple or dialogic marking, that create unnecessary workload. As a consequence of this work, we established three independent review groups to address the priorities emerging from our 2014 workload challenge: ineffective marking, use of planning and resources, and data management. Work is progressing to meet all the commitments set out in the action plan published alongside the 2016 teacher workload survey, and we remain open to other ways in which the mental health of wellbeing of teachers can be supported.

As I said, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex raised the issue of teacher training. We have strengthened initial teacher training, ensuring that teacher standards include the requirement for trainees to understand mental health and wellbeing. The Department’s 2017 provision survey found that 90% of schools and colleges offered staff training on mental health.

I hope hon. Members are reassured that improving and protecting the mental health of young people remains a key priority for the Government. In 2015 we allocated £1.4 billion over five years for children and young people’s mental health.