Mental health concerns within education have increased over the past few years. Concerning the recent SEND review and alternative provisions, what can be done to improve the situation and the negative stigma that surrounds certain APs?
3 main concerns that the SEND review highlighted are that children are making inadequate progress, families are dissatisfied with the situation and financially the situation isn’t sustainable.
“In a 2021 survey of 483 responses, conducted during the pandemic, 68% of parents reported that their child’s needs were ‘not met at all’ or only ‘somewhat met’ in accordance with their EHCP.”
The pandemic has devasted the sector and impacted several avenues that affect a child to the core. Karen Pilling, Deputy Headteacher and SENCo at Chapel Street Primary School said:
“Unfortunately, because there are such long waiting lists for EHCPs and CAMHS sometimes alternative provisions may be being used as a temporary solution to a permanent problem. I have to say all three concerns highlighted in the SEND review are inter-combined and each is important as the other. The system is broken.”
The government have recognised that a solution needs to be implemented and is proposing to make a:
“significant investment in the SEND system: by the 2024- 25 financial year, the core schools’ budget will have increased by more than £7 billion compared to its 2021-22 level”
Students who require extra support and are sometimes shunted into alternative provisions could be supported if there was an earlier intervention. What procedures do you have in place to help those types of students?
Current mental health challenges
There are several mental health challenges that students currently face. Bullying, stress, the influence of social media and others all contribute to the negative impact on students’ mental health. Mrs Pilling added:
“COVID and the pandemic have had a massive impact as children have missed so much school. Also, CAMHS waiting lists have increased so this has resulted in support being delayed so it is one of the main reasons as to why it’s increased.”
An overloaded waiting list for mental health services and increased pressure on young students have significantly increased anxiety and self-consciousness among students, making learning redundant to many.
An inquiry from Mind found that:
“Three in five (62 per cent) young people received no support from school for their mental health.”
A lack of support in the digital age where social media has distorted many young people’s perception of life is a heavy impact. Additionally:
“over one in three young people (34%) said that their mental health has got much worse during the pandemic.”
Students have suffered gravely due to the pandemic, but what about teachers’ mental health and wellbeing?
Teachers are struggling
Teachers have also suffered during the pandemic which has subsequently affected schools as a whole. According to research:
“44% of England’s state-school teachers plan to quit by 2027, according to the latest NEU poll. Over half (52%) of teachers say their workload is either ‘unmanageable’ or ‘unmanageable most of the time’, up from 35% in 2021.”
“Nine out of ten teachers (91%) say their workload has increased in the last year, according to the Union’s Big Question Survey 2022.”
Mrs Pilling added:
“Staff have also had to deal with the anxiety of the pandemic after going through the trauma that the pandemic has caused. Teaching staff are human beings too. Some teachers have also had to manage their home circumstances, for example, homeschooling their children.
Isolating was also difficult, particularly for those who had illness with COVID, some staff even have had to deal with long-covid which has a huge impact.”
Increased workload on teachers and Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) have struggled with support, a lack of CPD training and balancing their work lives. What could be done to help support them?
“Workload continues to be a significant factor in all retention figures; for NQTs at the start of their career, this is particularly pertinent as they are still learning and developing their craft.
If budgets and timetables allow then perhaps initially a greater reduction in timetable than 10 per cent or 5 per cent respectively would help to give back time lost for practice and CPD.”
This illustrates just how important it is that teachers get flexibility with their work. They aren’t just expendable vessels, they too have their own lives.
Mental health solutions within education?
It can be difficult to implement procedures that will fully support mental health in every circumstance, but there can be ways to improve it.
It would be useful to create areas where support and reflection can be provided that can support workloads. According to research:
“Young mental health referrals double in England after lockdowns.”
Openly conversing about mental health issues allows students and teachers to express what concerns them and can be very relieving of stress and anxieties.
It is important that all feel comfortable within their learning environment. Having regular wellbeing meetings with those who are at most risk could go a long way to help minimise issues.
1. Implement wellbeing, safeguarding and regular mental health lessons
“79% of British parents believe children should be taught more about mental health in schools.”
Despite mental health being such a prevalent issue within today’s society, there, arguably, isn’t enough being done to help promote why it is so important. Lead Psychiatric Occupational Therapist at the NHS Jennifer Okolo said:
“I think it would be useful to introduce safeguarding topics in lessons. Whether it’s a ten-minute conversation every week or facilitating workshops for the students.”
Implementing new and detailed safeguarding and mental health lessons within education could be useful.
2. Organise wellness weeks.
Research concerning school staff highlighted:
“39% of respondents agreed that open conversations about mental wellbeing are encouraged in their school.”
This statistic should be even higher and if regular wellness weeks were installed then it could elevate it.
Thousands of students with SEN suffer from their mental health and how many go under the radar due to a lack of support or guidance? If more time was given to such issues then perhaps those students would be guided better. Miss Okolo added:
“Young people are constantly faced with various pressures and should play an important role in how these procedures are shaped. Gaining new-age insight into their thoughts on topics such as cyberbullying, anti-radicalisation, abuse etc. in a safe manner will support this.”
Not only can lessons help but earlier intervention into what support students specifically need could help them concerning alternative provisions. Mrs Pilling also stated:
“I think alternative provision being more involved in supporting schools while the child is at the mainstream would help.
So rather than being a last resort, early identification with schools and alternative provisions working together earlier to identify the needs. More support in terms of outreach support from the alternative provision may mean the mainstream schools can meet the child’s needs more effectively while they wait for an assessment.”
Also, pupil premium and where to invest it could benefit mental health. Mrs Pilling stated:
“Triangulation supports for mental health could help, in terms of catch up of academic and mental health, because that’s obviously such a huge issue for children, staff and families at the moment.
So not just for CAMHS referrals for a specific child, working with the families, working with the staff, working with the children and identifying a need. That sort of holistic approach to mental health I think would really help.”
What should be done to improve the situation?
What would you do in terms of improving mental health within the education system?
Are the SEND proposals going to be effective?
There are many things to consider, but ultimately students, staff and families all need continued support and the only way to do that is to collaboratively work together to ensure the education sector moves forward in the right direction.