Mental Health and Wellbeing in Schools

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:04 pm on 4th December 2018.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:04 pm, 4th December 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I want to focus on my constituency in particular, and I will certainly echo comments made by hon. Members today. I thank Layla Moran for securing today’s debate.

We have some real challenges in York. The severity of the challenges facing young people is the one thing that keeps me awake at night. There have certainly been challenges with funding and staffing, which I will refer to. We have a service that is seriously overstretched. We had 1,930 referrals to CAMHS in the past year, and we are seeing some of the challenges increasing in York. Young people in the city are very vulnerable, and research is being undertaken to ascertain what challenges they face—I am sure that the Minister will tell us about the results—but what is the school system doing to our young people?

One issue that has been raised is the narrowing of the curriculum. The perfectionism that is expected of our young people—and the exam methodology itself—is putting incredible strain on them. That has been seen particularly in our schools, but also in York College, where there has been a 23% increase in the number of young people with mental health challenges in the past year. At Askham Bryan College there has been a massive increase in the number of young people experiencing mental health challenges.

This challenge is very real. Much can be put back into the methodology that is used in the education system, which is why it is really important that in today’s debate we look at how that discussion can move forward. Transition points for young people between primary and secondary school, and between school and further or higher education, are places of vulnerability in our system. We need to ensure that we do not make just the educational connections; the health connections for those young people are essential for driving that forward and supporting them. We also need to address bullying in our school environments. Some 30% of children in York have experienced bullying in the past year, which is serious indeed.

I have read through the Vale of York clinical commissioning group’s “Transformation Plan for Children and Young People’s Emotional and Mental Health 2015-2020”, which has been revised due to the scale of the challenge in York to start to address some of the issues. Across the whole of York we have only six wellbeing members of staff in our schools. They might not be professionally trained in mental health, but they have had training in those roles—four are funded by the CCG and two by the schools—to address some of the low-level areas of mental health that children face. They have had more than 300 consultations with children over the past year and have made 36 referrals to CAMHS. As we have heard already, the threshold for accessing CAMHS is extraordinarily high. If a child has an eating disorder—sadly, York is one of the worst areas in the country for eating disorder services—they are often told that their BMI is too high for them to be able to access those services. We need to ensure that we make early interventions so that children do not become so poorly. Sadly, should they be refused at that point, then we have problems.

This service has been evaluated, and it is helping. Staff across our schools have gone through some training, which has helped them to deal with children who face mental health challenges, but there is so much more to do. Essentially, we need to look at health professionals being in place in our schools; we should not be relying more and more on our teaching staff to try to address many of these issues. Something that really disturbs me is the level of high risk that children have—it is generated particularly from trauma in their life—and the lack of wrap-around care and support services.

I was in a school on Friday, where I talked to the chief executive of York’s mental health services. I also had discussions with parents in my surgery about the level of self-harm that children are experiencing—including repeated suicide attempts in some cases—not having support workers, and the interventions around them being processed in a system, as opposed to putting the child at the heart of the equation. We need to change the system so that education and health services wrap around the child, as opposed to the child being in a process of services. That can be demonstrated where children have been discharged from acute care. They might not be poorly enough to be in acute care, but they have got real challenges that they try to deal with and they cannot see a way forward. The system as it works at the moment does not address that.

I want to mention the funding issue. York’s schools, as I have mentioned many times, are the worst funded in the country. That has an impact because schools cannot supply the additional support services required, as demonstrated by a school I visited on Friday. It therefore has an impact on the children’s wellbeing. We have to address the issue of school funding. Likewise, our health authority is one of the worst funded. The money that was given to the CCG to address mental health issues in our city has been used to clear the deficit. As a result, money is being pulled away from the partnerships that are so essential for addressing the wellbeing agenda. Money therefore matters in this equation. The Minister will need to answer my question one of these days about the challenges we face. Clearly the funding formulas are not working. They cut across multi-agencies and the demographics of our city. We are therefore being failed.

I want to mention briefly the national shortage of staffing. Although we can recruit for the medium and longer term, we must look at what we do in the short term. We need to look at overseas recruitment to try to fill some of the skills gaps with immediacy, because it takes time to address such issues. We also need to make sure that we have the right facilities in place. School is one location to have good mental health facilities for young people. Off the school campus is also important. We need to see that moving forward.

Our Labour group will propose a motion to our council next week highlighting the real challenges facing local authorities and the local area around mental health in our schools. Despite the number of debates that they and we have had, it seems that we go round and round in circles. In conclusion, would the Minister be willing to have a meeting with the mental health Minister and the Members who have participated in this debate to discuss the serious issues in our constituencies and to see whether we can find some real solutions between us?