Thank you for that kind introduction.
It’s a genuine pleasure to be here at the opening of this year’s conference, and just such a remarkable privilege to speak to so many people working on behalf of children and their families around the country.
Huge thanks must of course go to Graham [Allen MP] for his unwavering support and commitment. I know I speak on behalf of the government in expressing deep gratitude for his research over the years.
I also welcome the EIF’s new report, ‘Spending on late intervention: how we can do better for less’, published today. I’m very much looking forward to reading it.
You have a fascinating day of discussion and debate ahead of you.
Fascinating, but also vital - because it is undoubtedly vital that we help and support people when they’re at their most vulnerable, whether that’s children, teenagers, or their parents.
The thought that any young person might, through no fault of their own, be denied the right chances and opportunities to fulfil their potential should be enough to make anyone with an interest in education and children sit up and think:
- how can I help?
- how can I change things for the better?
Early intervention as a priority and focus for the government
That’s why early intervention has been a real priority for the government over recent years - and why it’s a personal priority and a passion for me, too.
Within the Department for Education, our reforms around childcare and the early years will mean that thousands more families will have access to high-quality and affordable early education, and thousands more children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds get the chance they need to start school on an equal footing with their better-off peers.
Because we know that a child that falls behind early on is less likely to catch up. That’s we are determined to ensure all children get those critical basics.
I know that early intervention is often particularly important for the most disadvantaged members of our society. Our ground-breaking reforms to the social work system continue. Because early intervention isn’t just about supporting children at the very beginning of their life, but about acting quickly when a problem gets worse.
In fact, I’m pleased to announce today that we will, with the Department for Health, be supporting a small number of early adopter teaching partnerships to test and refine new and innovative approaches to delivering high-quality training for social work students and qualified practitioners. All to increase expertise in the sector, and ensure that children get the help they need, when they need it.
More widely, the government’s Troubled Families programme aims to turn around the lives of 120,000 families with a broad range of issues, breaking the cycle of disadvantage and avoiding the tragic waste of human potential caused by long-term financial, social, and health problems.
And as a mark of the government’s commitment raising the profile of early intervention, the Chancellor committed £3 million as part of the Autumn Statement to support early intervention pilots over the coming year.
We’ve also created a mental health taskforce. Joining together ministers from across government, including myself and Sam Gyimah on behalf of the Department for Education, the taskforce recognises the complexities of early intervention, and the need for a coherent and comprehensive approach to tackling problems.
Prevention is always better than cure, and that’s why we have a moral mission to provide compassion and support as soon as problems emerge, and do all that we can to ensure that every single child in the country has an equal chance to succeed in life, no matter their background or family circumstances.
Proaction, not reaction: mental health
Intervening early, rather than just reacting when problems are already getting worse is, put simply, the best way to prevent the serious personal, societal, and financial costs that poor mental health can cause.
Investing money into this area really is spending to save in the long run. Because at least 1 in 4 of the population experiences mental health problems at some point in their life.
Over half of adults who suffer with mental health problems found that their problems started by age 14, and three-quarters by their mid-twenties.
In other words, that’s millions of lives affected by problems that, if caught and addressed in childhood, could have been tackled.
And those millions of lives are affected in so many different ways.
Imagine trying to find happiness and fulfilment in life when it’s hard even to cope with the very basics.
We know that mental health issues can affect someone’s physical health, their social life, their ability to hold down a job, and there are even links with offending and anti-social behaviour.
These heart-breaking personal costs also come with a financial cost - and a cost to the whole of society, too. Children and young people’s mental health disorders alone come with an annual cost of £1.6 billion. Not to mention the suffering and anguish for families affected.
As Education Secretary, I visit schools every week, and talk to headteachers, teachers, school support staff, and pupils about the issues affecting them, their friends, and their schools.
I’m sad to say that mental health comes up heartbreakingly frequently.
Just this week I met an inspirational young man, John, who has now turned his life around after suffering appalling bullying in school. He stopped caring about education, and he stopped caring about himself.
No one gave him the support he needed. No one intervened early enough.
Hearing John’s story made me angry, and it made me even more committed to ensuring that we do all we can to ensure young people get the support they need.
That’s why it’s so important that we give the right amount of money and time to early intervention, so that we can:
- help the thousands of young people around the country suffering at any given time
- give them and their families the support they need as soon as they start to struggle with life
- and really importantly, make sure it’s the support that works best for them
The need for mental health knowledge and skills in schools
But of course, our longer-term aspirations for changes to children’s mental health services will only be fully effective if they’re made to a system in which all those who work with children and young people have the right knowledge of mental health, and make the right links to specialists, when needed.
So, at the heart of early intervention is good knowledge.
We know it’s often teachers that first spot when something is wrong, and that’s why we have published guidance for schools on behaviour and mental health, including further information on mental health difficulties and useful identification tools.
We’ve also funded the PSHE Association to produce guidance on teaching mental health - due to be published next month - with example lesson plans to follow.
And we will be publishing a strategy looking at counselling services based in schools. It aims to provide schools with practical evidence-based advice informed by experts on how to ensure counselling they offer is high quality and achieves good outcomes.
Recognising the role of the voluntary and community sector
At the same time, I want to recognise and applaud the voluntary and community sector organisations that already play a huge role in supporting schools and providing good counselling.
They quite rightly take their cues from children and young people themselves, and they’re especially skilled at building trust and providing help in an inclusive and non-stigmatising way.
Their support extends into the local community, too. That’s absolutely vital.
When I ask my constituents in Loughborough about the mental health support services they need, they mention the importance of community services as well as services in a more formal setting.
So to reward this valuable work and encourage it to grow and thrive, I’ve ensured that a major new theme of our national prospectus grants is, for the first time, mental health.
We’re looking for VCS [voluntary and community sector] organisations that can make a real difference by helping professionals, and crucially, children, young people and their families themselves, to recognise mental health issues, do something about them quickly, and get access to the right treatment.
I’m delighted that we’ve seen a great range of really innovative bids from real experts in the field. We’ll be announcing the results of the process in mid-March, with projects getting underway from April onwards.
Speaking of innovation, our innovation programme continues to award money to projects around the country that are providing a fresh look at the support we give children, teenagers, and their families.
This is a government investment of £100 million to help local groups deliver change.
I am pleased to announce today that we have agreed funding for a further 6 successful projects, including some that get right to the heart of tackling some of the most challenging mental health problems experienced by young people in, or on the edge of care.
And I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the fantastic work that 3 of these projects will soon be undertaking.
Including exciting new work by the Priory Education Services, who are working with Suffolk council to pilot a new type of residential home, combining mental health treatment with a smaller and more personal setting, helping teenagers and their families through crisis periods, and avoiding the need for longer-term placements.
And Action for Children, who are working with Barnet, Harrow, and Hounslow councils to run a new suite of evidence-based programmes, assisting local authorities and transforming the support available to teenagers in west London.
Or even the National Implementation Service, which will build on a decade of experience to extend its support to over 70 councils across the country, helping young people to tackle problem behaviour and substance abuse, and stopping them from entering care.
Between them, these projects are benefitting from £8.5 million of funding from the Department for Education. Not only will they impact on the lives of hundreds of teenagers directly, but the programme will help to rethink the way that services offer support across the country.
Character and resilience
It’s clear to me that mental health and character education are on opposite sides of the same coin. When I became Education Secretary, one of the first things I did was to add a fifth priority for the department - to prepare well-rounded young people, ready for adult life in modern Britain.
That’s how much I value it.
Children with the right confidence, skills, and resilience will find challenging situations and periods of emotional upheaval much easier to deal with. They’ll have the resilience to remain strong, and if and when problems become more serious, the confidence to ask for help when they need it.
To reflect the importance of a well-rounded education, we’re giving schools and organisations that offer activities promoting character the chance to expand these programmes through a new £3.5 million fund. We are also giving £1 million to the Education Endowment Foundation to help build the evidence base in character education.
Through our newly announced character awards, we will recognise excellence and diversity in character education, acknowledging that character is already being encouraged and developed alongside academic rigour through a variety of programmes within and outside schools across the country.
The importance of collaboration
I’ve spoken to you about what the government is doing, the money we’re providing, and the real importance of VCS organisations in helping the community. And as I have said, it should be clear that early intervention is not just a priority for the government - it’s a personal priority of my own.
Just last week I met the leaders of 3 of the 5 children’s charities behind the ‘Stitch in time’ report, published last summer.
Between them the NSPCC, Barnardo’s, The Children’s Society, Save the Children, and Action for Children, have produced a report that succeeds in articulating the principles of early education, and in offering a challenge to everyone working in children’s services.
But if we want to effect long-lasting culture change in how we best help young people and families in crisis, we need to join up these different strands and work together.
Not just in financial terms, but partnering up, sharing best practice: collaborating and innovating together.
Gathering and sharing evidence about what works. Because proving what works and ensuring that it pays off is the best way to make the strongest case for early intervention.
And making a reality of early intervention will also depend on a wider cultural change and about more joined-up thinking.
I am committed to seeing this drive continue:
so that teenagers like John get the support they need, as soon as they need it
so that the most vulnerable and defenceless members of our society have the voices they need to speak up on their behalf, to demand more support, better services
so that the children I see every week, all over the country, can thrive, happy and secure, because they’ve been given the right care when they need it
Thank you for everything you do in helping this become a reality.