UK: teacher unions highlight need of students’ mental health support

published 4 October 2017 updated 4 October 2017

Teacher unions in the UK have reiterated educators’ commitment to ensure that the government takes account of their students’ mental health to achieve quality education.

The unions – the National Education Union (NEU) and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) – have weighed in on the latest Education Policy Institute report and to Welsh plans round child and mental health services (CAMHS).

NEU: Improvement needed

“Children in urgent need of mental health support are being let down by the under-funding of the system,” said NEU Joint General Secretary Kevin Courtney, commenting on the latest Education Policy Institute report. NEU members in schools are concerned that many more young people need specialist support than can access it because CAMHS are so thinly stretched.

According to the report, children referred by GPs and schools for specialist mental health services wait 266 days for assessment and 490 days for treatment. This is “simply unacceptable”, said Courtney,  warning that the report’s finding that one in four of referrals are refused shows how urgent it is to increase capacity in these children’s services.

The NEU is urging the UK government to properly fund services so that every child who needs support is assessed and treated quickly, by the right experts and specialists. The union wants every child and their family to receive the right support, in good time, for as long as they need it. The pressure on schools to fill the gaps for specialist services is “simply indefensible”, he said.

NASUWT: Support scheme in schools welcome

Responding to the Welsh Government’s plan to pilot specialist CAMHS support in schools, NASUWT General Secretary Chris Keates said that “teachers and school leaders are deeply concerned about the mental health issues being faced by the children and young people they teach”.

A NASUWT survey has highlighted educators’ concerns about the lack of timely and effective access to CAMHS services when students exhibit mental health problems. Less than a quarter of the teachers surveyed were confident they would be able to get timely support from expert services such as CAMHS. Keates said this announcement that dedicated CAMHS professionals will be recruited to work in pilot schools will be welcomed by the profession.

However, it is important that teachers are not expected to take the place of qualified healthcare professionals, she added. “Whilst support for teachers to recognise the signs of mental and emotional distress in their pupils may be helpful, this must not lead to teachers, already struggling to cope with excessive and unsustainable workloads, being expected to diagnose, treat and manage pupils’ mental health.”