Mental Health and Wellbeing in Schools

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 4th December 2018.

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Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education) 2:30 pm, 4th December 2018

I completely agree. It is especially shocking with respect to issues such as depression and eating disorders. Parents seek referrals, but when—after a waiting time of six months at the very least—they see a professional, they are told, “I’m sorry, but your daughter’s not sick enough.” They despair, because they do not know what to do any more. We need a much more joined-up service. A lot of these things are picked up in schools, so schools have a part to play.

There is a lack of resources for CAMHS across the country, and unfortunately the new commissioning service is not going to solve it. The funding problem for mental health services shows that we do not have parity of esteem between mental health and physical services; I know that the Government want it, but they cannot pretend that it has happened. If they say that children’s mental health is a priority within that, I ask people to look at the evidence given to the Public Accounts Committee’s inquiry into children’s mental health services and see for themselves that that is absolutely not the case. The Government know that there is not enough money for CAMHS.

The EPI study further points out that as many as a quarter of local authorities have phased out vital support services around schools, including school-based mental health services, family counselling and support for those living with domestic abuse. The median waiting time for treatment is 60 days, but I am well aware of many constituents who have had to wait as long as two years. That is extraordinary.

Last but not least, I want to discuss the impact of cuts, particularly on local government and on the support available in the wider community. As we know, schools never exist in a vacuum. As today’s Ofsted annual report points out, schools cannot fix everything, but for a lot of children they are often where the buck stops. Cuts elsewhere in the system, particularly in local government, have a massive impact.

I have secured quite a number of debates in Westminster Hall, but of all of them, this debate attracted the most responses when I tweeted about it. I would like to share one with hon. Members, from Vanessa Whitcombe, headteacher at Castle Manor Academy:

“Just emailing following your Facebook post regarding tomorrow’s debate. We are trying so hard to prioritise mental health and wellbeing in schools, applying for grants, paying for school nurse service as ours has been withdrawn, participating in Anna Freud school mental health award, peer mentoring programmes, reducing workload for teachers and putting in wellbeing support, and we are really proud of the small steps we are taking forward. But they are small, as they are against a backdrop of dwindling external services and decreasing budgets. External service provision and early help is only available at such a high threshold we feel like we are firefighting, and it is the most vulnerable children and families that are not accessing what they need. Amanda Spielman spoke wisely of the need for schools to be able to stick to their core business, and in our school we try to make sure that classroom teachers are able to do that as much as possible, but the surrounding investment that is needed to be put in to safeguarding, emotional support, educating parents, feeding students is not going to go away without more provision outside school.”

We have seen that for ourselves in Oxfordshire. Every single one of the children’s centres in my constituency was closed by the Conservative county council, and the more than 40 across Oxfordshire have fallen to just eight. We were able to help families in children’s centres, at an early stage, before there were problems. I have not even started to go on about youth services and youth provision and the issues there. All the wraparound services for young people have gone from the local community, and that leads to all sorts of issues. It is not just about social media—in fact, there is some evidence to show that a little bit of social media for teenagers is a good thing, although a lot is very definitely a bad thing. The debate often focuses too much on that point and less on the much more intractable issues that surround the child.

In conclusion, I believe that this is an issue of deep concern. Even on a day such as today, when the shenanigans of Parliament might make us forget that there are big issues in the country, this is one of the biggest issues we have, and I am concerned that the Government response is simply a sticking plaster. What they are not doing is looking at the core issues that are driving the problem. Unless they do that, they are always going to be playing catch-up; I am not convinced that the laudable aims in the White Paper are actually deliverable. We need to change the culture in schools. We need to stop the pressures on young people. I am grateful in advance for the contributions from other Members, because I am sure that I have missed many of those issues out of my speech.

It is time for change. I am so proud that my party has managed to take a massive step forward in our conference debates. The issue I had in my early years of teaching was under a Labour Government. That has happened again and has got much worse under a Conservative Government. I am not blaming anyone; we have reinforced bad practice across the political spectrum. It is time that we made it stop. This is our next generation and there is nothing more important than that.