As a parent, many things can keep you awake at night:
- Your child not attaining an A-C pass at Maths GCSE
- Your child self-harming because of the pressure to succeed academically
As a parent, what would be your biggest concern?
- That you child doesn’t get to a Russell Group university
- That your child suffers from long-term depression because of long-term stress endured through their years in educational institutions?
As a parent, would you rather
- Have a child prepared for life – able to make and manage friendships and relationships
- Have a child prepared to pass exams?
Let’s be clear – literacy and numeracy are essential and anyone lacking in one or both is likely to suffer a massive impact on wellbeing and living life well.
However, it’s clear that the imbalance between education for high stakes tests and exams and education for life has to be addressed now before the epidemic of mental health problems becomes even more unmanageable than it already is.
Posting two years ago, we pleaded for action – from government, from policy makers, from educators, from health providers, from social care services, from anyone who works with children and young people. We recognised the potential for an epidemic in children’s mental health problems.
Two years on, and still we’re listening to voices on the radio talking about the appalling statistics regarding self-harming (20% of 15-year-old young women have self-harmed). We’re still listening to the harrowing reality of poor mental health amongst our youngsters. We’re still ignoring the fact that suicide, along with physical illnesses linked to poor mental health, is killing more of our youngsters than any life-threatening illness such as cancer.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, on BBC Radio Four’s World at One yesterday, described how one school he visited had a dedicated full-time worker to help young people with their mental wellness as part of an early intervention strategy. He spoke as though this is innovative and unusual.
There are schools that have been employing staff to support the wellbeing of pupils for decades – even though their commitment to the development of the whole child (and the protection of ALL children) isn’t assessed by Ofsted (despite the changes to the inspection framework), isn’t recorded on league tables, doesn’t show up in any PISA subject tests.
Some schools fund this as part of an attainment strategy, on the basis that healthy children = healthy academic results.
But support is not sustainable without proper funding and a clear programme that addresses causes, prevention, early intervention, diagnosis and ongoing support.
This problem is not going to be fixed with yet another inquiry into education and mental health, as suggested by Sarah Wollaston MP this week. (The facts are already there Sarah. There’s a multitude of reports that your Select Committee can review). This problem is not going to be fixed with a quick injection of reactive funding. It needs to be planned properly – combining children’s services with housing departments as well as health and social care.
Sadly, any “new” initiative wouldn’t be new.
The Every Child Matters initiative was supposed to address all of the needs of the child. The Mental Health in Schools programme was supposed to target prevention and early intervention. (In reality, it merely plugged the funding gaps in CAMHS for high-level need). The Healthy Schools programme provided preventative and positive work on relationships and wellbeing. It provided a service to all schools – developing needs-assessed, individualised programmes of work for PSHE lessons as well as a wholesale review of curriculum, environment, ethos – ensuring consistency that impacts on the wellbeing of pupils (and staff).
All of these “initiatives” – along with other education and health interventions were scrapped when Michael Gove became Secretary of State for Education.
Mr Gove was on the Marr Show last Sunday and was asked what he thought he’d got wrong whilst in post. He said his biggest error was reneging on the commitment to “Building Schools for the Future”.
This was indeed a huge mistake, but it wasn’t his biggest mistake.
The ceaseless pressure on schools, and consequently on young people, to achieve a specified number of A-C passes at GCSE and to get a high percentage of young people to the “best” university possible has taken its toll on everyone’s wellbeing – young people, teachers and parents.
The effect of this may take generations to rectify. The disregard for the wellbeing of all is unforgivable and is contrary to report after report (and evidence-based research after evidence-based research) that demonstrates time and time again how the needs of our youngsters are being ignored.
And we’re tired to the point of utter depression at having to write about the idiocy of an education system that has little regard for anything 0ther than passing exams.
Our children, our grandchildren – our great-grandchildren deserve better. And we need to act now.
NOW – not tomorrow, not after another inquiry, not with a new government in 2020 but NOW.
On recommendations for statutory PSHE,