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Teachers identify training gap in mental health

Primary school teachers in England say that they do not feel adequately trained to support children with mental health problems. The findings come in a YouGov online poll commissioned by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families (AFNCCF)

The poll is published in the light of the Government’s commitment to tackle the “burning injustice” of mental ill-health and its election promise to publish a Green Paper on children and young people’s mental health. The paper is expected to place schools at the centre of identifying children who are at risk of mental ill-health.

  • 92% of primary school teachers in England agree that primary schools have a crucial role in identifying pupils who have mental health problems;
  • But only 10% strongly agree they had the necessary training to feel confident about what action to take when a child experiences a mental health problem;
  • And less than half (42%) feel confident they know which organisations to approach to help pupils who have a mental health problem;
  • 72% agree that mental health should be a compulsory topic of education within all primary schools;
  • Only 12% feel very confident that that they know which organisations to approach to help pupils who have a mental health problem;
  • And 41% said they had never taught a class on mental health as part of planned lesson, hadn’t taught one in the last year or couldn’t recall when they had taught a class on mental health.

The poll comes as the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families launches its campaign, You’re never too young to talk mental health, which aims to provide free support, resources and training for teachers and pupils in primary schools to help them address mental health issues.

The materials include an animation made by children as well as assembly plans and lesson plans to encourage children to talk about mental health and to listen to friends who want to share their problems. The materials specifically target children in years 5&6 as they face significant changes such as schools transition and approaching adolescence. The materials are evidence-based and have been tested extensively in schools.

On Wednesday research published by UCL showed that one in four girls and one in ten boys are depressed by the age of 14.

Professor Peter Fonagy, Chief Executive of AFNCCF said:

“It’s vital that we give children the skills to talk about their feelings at an early age. Not only will this help prevent problems being bottled up, it will give children life-long skills to help them help others as well as helping themselves deal with problems that might emerge later in life. Early intervention is absolutely essential for children.

“The fact that less than half of all the teachers say they’ve received adequate training is a concern. Successive governments have been very supportive in addressing children’s mental health and we are encouraged that the Green Paper will be published soon. However, we must listen to what teachers are saying. Early intervention is crucial but for it to be effective we need to ensure that teachers are provided with the training they need to identify these issues.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT said:

“We know schools have a vital role to play in promoting pupil wellbeing and in the early identification of children with mental health needs. It is essential that schools are supported by properly funded and well linked-in health and social care services. If support and funding is inadequate and services inaccessible or unavailable many young people could continue to get a raw deal.

“In the last session of Parliament the government committed to statutory status for PSHE. That’s a great step forward in ensuring all pupils in all schools have the opportunity to talk about good mental health. Now we need to make sure that this is followed through.”