Speech

Children and young people’s mental health in schools

Minister for Childcare and Education, Sam Gyimah, outlines existing and planned work on mental health in schools.

Sam Gyimah MP

Thank you so much for having me here today (3 December 2015), and for putting on such an important event. The fact that this conference is focused solely on children’s mental health, reflects the priority it should be given. And right across government we are committed to getting it right.

We are at a turning point in how we tackle children’s mental health issues, and events like this one are pivotal in helping us work together to change both how we think about good mental health and what we can do to support it.

It is a just over a year since I was at the Children and Young People Now awards evening, talking about the importance of mental health support. And I am back to the same again today – because young people’s mental health remains a priority for this government.

I am delighted that this year’s winner of the Children and Young People’s Charity Award was won by 42nd Street, the youth mental health charity.

They have rightly been recognised for their outstanding work in delivering a range of therapy and advocacy services for young people in Greater Manchester. These services are reaching some of our most vulnerable young people, increasing their access to early intervention and prevention services.

A lot has happened in the last year, both across government and within the Department for Education.

‘Future in Mind’ was published in March, providing us with a really clear framework for our focus on these issues. Government has committed £1.4 billion over the next 5 years to transform children’s mental health services and each local area is developing a plan to make that transformation a reality.

But there is more happening nationally as well.

Earlier this week I was at the launch of 2 incredible anti-stigma campaigns run by Time to Change. They are 2 digital campaigns. One is the largest ever for teenagers and the other, the first campaign to be targeted specifically at parents.

Both aim to reduce stigma and discrimination and were developed in consultation with the children, young people and their parents. These campaigns will run over the next 3 weeks. And we are really excited about the part they will play in transforming attitudes about mental illness.

At that event, I heard some boldly honest stories from very impressive young people, about the struggles they have faced. It is this honesty and willingness to share with others that will help us to truly tackle the stigma around mental health.

In a moment, I’ll talk to you about the work we have been doing within the Department for Education to look at the ways that we can support schools and colleges to understand and address the mental health needs of their pupils.

But first, a key message I’d like you to take away: the success of these activities depends on putting children and young people at the heart of the policy-making process – nationally and locally. This isn’t new – and it is a theme that I’ll continue to refer to - but it is one that can often get overlooked when with the best will in the world, we’re back at our desks thinking about what we can ‘do’ for children and young people.

I have seen for myself the importance of listening to, and working with young people themselves. Back in July, Alistair Burt and I were expertly grilled by the Youth Select Committee. We were impressed with their knowledge of the issues, their passion for taking action and their insights into what can be done.

No young person wants an adult to tell them how they should feel, or how they should deal with a problem. We held a young person’s round table where we tested our policy ideas with a panel of very young people, with lived experience.

We have distilled this down into 4 areas in which the ‘education system’, can have a particular impact:

  • preventing children and young people from developing poor mental health
  • identifying those who are at risk and who are developing problems
  • providing initial and complementary support within schools, colleges or children’s service settings
  • helping children and young people access specialist services where they need them

Knowledge about mental health is a key underpinning in all 4 areas – to both promote good mental health and recognise and support when things go wrong. Since last year we have put a lot of new things in place.

You may have seen an announcement in the press this morning, from the Secretary of State, that to facilitate better access to specialist services, we are working jointly with NHS England to run pilots looking at how schools and CAMHS can work better together. We have invested £1.5 million and are working with 255 schools to test how training and subsequent joint working can improve local knowledge and identification of mental health issues, and improve referrals to specialist services. This is the most recent thing we have done.

We have also funded the PSHE Association to publish guidance and lesson plans to support age-appropriate teaching about mental health and funded the development of the fantastic MindEd resources to specifically include materials for parents. I would urge you to take a look.

We have updated advice on mental health and behaviour to help schools look beneath behaviour to better support young people with mental health needs, and to help them develop their early support offer we published a blueprint for schools on how to deliver high quality school-based counselling.

In addition, we have invested £5 million in Voluntary and Community Sector grants which include a number of projects developing innovate ways to support children and young people in schools and children’s services. 42nd Street was one of those recipients through its work as part of Youth Access.

And to help us raise awareness and reduce the stigma around young people’s mental health we are working with our first mental health champion, Natasha Devon.

Natasha has real experience of supporting schools to address mental health issues with their pupils and can make a real difference in encouraging more young people to talk openly about mental health and I am thrilled that she is here today.

I am sure you will enjoy her session on developing positive approaches to discussing mental health issues.

But we know there is still a very long way to go and that we are just at the foothills of tackling this incredibly important issue.

At any one time one in 10 children are suffering from a mental illness – that is 3 in any average sized class. Even more alarmingly, a recent study suggests one in 5 children will suffer some form of mental illness during their childhood. We need to do 2 things urgently – we need to do more to prevent occurrences and escalation of illness, and we need to ensure that the support is in place so that those that have a mental illness are not suffering in silence.

The recent Youth Select Committee report on mental health highlighted peer support as a key tool in tackling exam stress.

They also quoted me as saying that I want to use peer support in a large scale way as part of our broader response to young people’s mental health issues. This is something that I am committed to taking forward.

We know that young people understand better than anyone the pressures their peers face. Pressures that are completely different to those we faced when I was growing up. With their online lives following them wherever they go there are no longer the ‘safe spaces’ that I enjoyed, away from the pressures of school-life, friendships and preparing for adult life.

But young people have stressed to us that the online world shouldn’t just be seen as a threat. It’s increasingly where young people look for support too. In recognition of this, we funded the development of the award winning Silent Secret app that allows young people to safely share secrets whilst providing direct support from key organisations when a young person seems to need mental health support.

Silent Secret is just one of the increasing number of apps that provide young people with support from their peers - and this is an area that I am particularly interested in looking at more closely.

Of course there are times that you can’t replace face to face support. At the young person’s round table we held in the last parliament, a particular story stood out for me. A pair of good friends, Amber and Sophia, told of how when Sophia was dealing with anorexia, Amber provided help and support. In Amber’s eyes, this was no more than being a good friend to Sophia, but I’m sure you’ll all agree it is an example of how valuable it can be when young people step up for each other.

With this in mind we will be working over the coming months to find out about what works in peer support. I am setting up an advisory group to identify what good peer support looks like and consider how we can embed it in schools.

We want to hear from children and young people and will be seeking their views through the social media channels that they use to communicate.

I want to consider whether young people would benefit from training to be able to support others better and to provide them with the opportunities, and recognition for, volunteering to support their peers with appropriate advice and information. And by simply being there to listen.

Although we know many schools do this already, my vision is that parents will expect all schools to offer some form of peer support programme as part of their whole school approach to mental health and emotional wellbeing.

We will work with schools and those with expertise – including in the voluntary sector to get them to a place where rather than parents being pleasantly surprised by schools that do offer a range of prevention, identification and early support activities, parents are asking “why not” from those that don’t.

I am really excited by this work and look forward to hearing from you with your views.

Thank you very much for your time.

Published 3 December 2015