Mental Health and Wellbeing in Schools

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:30 pm on 4th December 2018.

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Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows SNP Whip, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Small Business, Enterprise and Innovation) 3:30 pm, 4th December 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate Layla Moran on securing this very important debate. I will not run through all hon. Members’ contributions because we are running very short of time, but I have a few words to say. The hon. Lady’s knowledge and breadth of experience shone through her contribution, and her clinical dissection of the high stakes in the school system was informative and chilling.

As a member of the Education Committee, I am aware that the UK Government are not responsible for education matters in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, but that does not mean that I or anybody else in the House have no desire to improve the mental health and wellbeing of children right across the UK. Schools are on the frontline of supporting children and young people’s mental wellbeing. We can shift the focus on to preventing mental health problems and building resilience through simple methods. In one of my granddaughter’s schools, children are being taught to think not, “I can’t do this,” but, “I cannot do this yet.” That is a huge step forward. It was never done in schools in my and my children’s time.

Increasing the availability of learning tools and experiences in health and wellbeing ensures that children and young develop knowledge about mental health and understand the skills, capabilities and attributes that they need for mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing now and in the future. The Scottish Government’s mental health strategy focuses on early intervention and prevention, which feeds into this issue.

Over the course of their education, children spend more than 7,800 hours in school. Emotional wellbeing is a clear indicator of academic achievement, success and satisfaction in later life. Combining mental health awareness and coping mechanisms is critical for prolonged resilience. The Scottish Government have spent quite a bit of money recently. I spoke to Clare Haughey MSP, the Minister for Mental Health, who had recently taken on the recommendations of the “Children and young people’s mental health audit” report, which was produced by the Auditor General and given to the Public Audit Committee on 22 September.

It is important that we do not just throw money at these problems. There has to be a change in attitude. Money helps by making counselling available. In Scotland, our hope is that £20 million will provide 250 additional school nurses, and that £60 million will provide 350 counsellors. There will be other counsellors in further and higher education.

In Scotland, we are also doing mental health first aid programmes for teachers so that the early signs of mental health problems are spotted and children can be moved forward into services. In the package of money given by the Scottish Government, there is also provision for community support. The Scottish Government have set up a Mental Health Youth Commission, which is working with the Scottish Association for Mental Health and Young Scot to put young people’s issues front and centre. The Scottish National party Government are committed to meeting their commitments to ensure all children are given the tools they need to achieve a happy and prosperous life.

The UK has signed up to the UN convention on the rights of the child, but has stopped short of making it part of its legislation. That has been done in Wales, and the First Minister of Scotland is committed to making it part of domestic law in Scotland. Article 19 of the UNCRC says:

“State Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence”.

The First Minister’s commitment will better enable positive mental health and wellbeing practice in Scottish schools.

Will the updated guidance, which is intended to come into force in September 2020, apply in academies and free schools, as well as local authority-maintained schools? It is my understanding that those types of school do not have to follow national school curriculums.