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Some advice to Justine Greening – Secretary of State for Education

‘We shouldn’t accept…’ 1 in 10 young people with mental health conditions – but we do and more.. (Huffington Post 04-12-2017)

Justine Greening’s stated sentiments cannot be faulted, but don’t all of us who are adults have a responsibility to ask what those worthy sentiments really mean. Somehow the figures published by her own department; that by age fourteen 24 % of girls and 9 % of boys will have presented with depression have been overlooked. The ‘ambitious’ goal of the government’s review of child and adolescent mental services, carried out by the Care Quality Commission, expresses a ‘hope’ that the services will be able to respond to not 23% of the children in need of mental health services – as now – but 30% !

The counter to this shockingly underwhelming goal is – as Ms Greening proposes – that every school and college will be able to train a designated senior lead for mental health. This is beginning to sound good. However again we have to ask what it means and ask for answers to several questions;

1. Why will they just ‘be able…’ to train these mental health in school experts? Why not required to, or is this a recognition that some schools will say they cannot afford the time or resources ?

2. What training will these ‘senior leads’ be given, and by whom ?

3. Where will they send children when they reach the limits of this training?

4. Was it a slight of hand, or did the Secretary of State just forget to clarify who will pay for these ? extra members of staff. A senior staff member in a school costs at least £50,000. With most larger city complexes having between 60 and 120 schools in all, that is between 3 and 6 million pounds per large city complex – at a guess at least £600 million for England. I re-read the article but could not see any figure of the cost the government was prepared to meet at all.

5. Perhaps most important of all; if there is to be a senior ‘lead’, then who is to be led ? Given the actual cuts in Education budgets – overt or by stealth – how are our over stretched school staff to find the emotional resources as well as time to implement this very worthy move towards a ‘whole school approach’

As I suggested at the beginning of this blog, I am fully in support of the Secretary of State’s stated aims, but does this not sound reminiscent of the Prime Ministers very worthy aims voiced eloquently outside number 10, after she had just become Prime Minister.

However Justine Greening’s blog suggests that she has realised that children who are distressed and preoccupied cannot learn, and that therefore the education reforms initiated by Michael Gove – focussing only on narrow academic learning – were in that respect clearly counter-productive, and they seemed to be augmented by other aspects of government policy which reduced the support staff available to schools, and therefore their possible flexibility in responding to student’s emotional needs. One of the worst losses has been the reduction in school nurse provision, as school nurses are almost universally seen by young people as one of the safest adults in school to talk to about serious worries. So far the government has avoided making Personal Social Health Education (PSHE) mandatory, which would have at least been a symbolic indicator that they meant business in addressing children’s emotional lives.

Another area which has not been faced is the 3.4 Million (as assessed this year by a team from Ernst and Young ) children of parents who have a mental illness. 70 % of these children will present with at least minor levels of mental disorder, most of which is preventable – a prevention which our charity The Kidstime Foundation remains alone in specifically addressing.

So Justine Greening’s blog is very welcome, provided it opens the door to reviewing our priorities in Education, or priorities of Education over other spending sprees, and perhaps to review how we move back from a target and exam league table view of education to a genuine ‘ whole person’ as well as ‘whole school’ approach

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