Mental Health: Schools need more support from parents and the Government for pupils’ wellbeing

Dr Bernard Trafford, Headmaster of the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle, opened his ReTHINK Conference speech yesterday by calling for more support for schools to tackle pupils’ mental health issues, which he argues are now heightened by modern age.

“Improving our pupils’ mental health is beyond what we do in schools, but we can tackle the issue. Thanks to digital technology it now follows them home too, so parents need to step in and help.”

He added that the increasing media awareness of mental health issues must make the Government “get real” and deal with the growing problem.

Pastoral Conference 009
Dr Bernard Trafford, Headmaster of the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle

The 2015 RGS Pastoral Conference saw delegates from across the country debating a better approach towards dealing with mental health issues in schools. Keynote speaker Caroline Hounsell from Mental Health First Aid called for an effective resilience and mental health education embedded in the curriculum from a very young age: “We also need to make sure that all staff working with young people are trained in dealing with mental health and that schools have up-to-date effective policies and procedures in place to deal with these issues too.”

Caroline Hounsell, Mental Health First Aid
Caroline Hounsell, Mental Health First Aid

The discussion panel formed by mental health experts from schools and beyond suggested the use of the term ‘developing’ rather than ‘improving’ when it comes to pupils dealing with such problems: “we should not imply that the way the child was before was not good enough, as they might feel under pressure to work more in order to be even better.”

The consensus was that there is no ‘magic wand’ and Dr Trafford added that: “Some people will live with mental health issues all their lives, but the point is that they learn to live with it, that they have the capacity and support to deal with it.”

A recent report revealed that in 2014/15 there were 35,244 counselling sessions about low self-esteem/unhappiness with young people who rang the NSPCC ChildLine. The five most commons specific concerns were anxiety (25%), self-esteem issues (12%), lack of self-confidence (11%), social withdrawal (7%), body image (6%). Mental health is a a general national concern, with most recent data from the ONS placing it third in the top causes of absenteeism in the workplace.

SCHOOLS NorthEast’s Annual Summit will have mental health as one of its key areas of debate, with the DfE’s Mental Health Champion Natasha Devon MBE leading the discussion. The event, which attracts 500 school leaders from across the North East, will take place on 15 October at St James’ Park. For more information and to book, please click here

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