Young people today face immense and increasing pressures in their daily lives which are having an adverse impact on their mental well-being. A perfect storm of cuts to local authority support services, cuts to school funding, increased exam pressures and a narrowing curriculum offer has created a crisis situation.

This summer in a poll following exams to which 650 secondary school teachers responded, nearly nine-in-ten (89%) believed that changes in the way new GCSEs were assessed have made more students extremely anxious and stressed, while two-thirds (66%) said the same about the new A-levels.  One teacher said that two of his students had tried to commit suicide during the exam season.

The NEU surveyed 730 education staff working in early years, primary, secondary, sixth-form colleges and FE colleges and found, overall, that more than half (56%) of pupils’ mental health issues are leading to self-harm, 45% reported pupils having eating disorders, and 48% said pupils were having panic attacks.

One respondent from West Sussex said: “I have several students who were high achievers at GCSE and who are virtually unable to sit in a lesson and concentrate due to severe stress. I have at least one student who has attempted suicide and others with a variety of mental health issues.”

Our young people are no longer just expected to ‘perform’ for the GCSE or A level exams themselves but week in week out, term after term in an unrelenting treadmill of academic pressure.

It is no wonder so many of them are experiencing the breakdown of their mental health.

What do the Government propose to do about it?

  1. Increase the pressure on exams by making them almost wholly memory based and extremely high stakes;
  1. Fail to fund local authority support services , including CAMHS properly; and
  1. To leave schools with such tightly stretched budgets that they can no longer afford to employ the very additional staff who alongside teachers often supported students’ mental well-being in order to prevent them reaching a crisis point.

Last year the government funded DfE research, carried out by NATCEN and NCB which found that  “institutions were faced with difficult decisions about managing their budget, including whether to prioritise spending on supporting academic, special educational or mental health needs. 

Some mainstream schools and colleges prioritised spending their budgets on mental health support as they felt they had no other option due to a lack of external support, at the same time as a perceived increase in the need for mental health support”.   (August 2017)

Parliament’s own Education and Health and Social Care committees in July this year said of the Green Paper on Mental Health:

  • It lacks ambition;
  • puts additional pressure on the teaching profession with no additional funding;
  • the timetable does nothing for too many years; and
  • the funding is not guaranteed.

Essentially the proposals in the Mental Health Green Paper do no more than offer a sticking plaster solution when so much more is needed.

What schools really need is:

  • Schools need Proper funding;
  • a change to the exam factory system and a broad and balanced curriculum that enables all pupils to achieve their full potential;
  • Baseline testing/ the phonics check, KS1 and KS2 SATs ( and any thoughts of a times table test in primary) abolished;
  • The real opportunity to focus on pupil well-being and not just academic achievement;  fostering a love of learning rather than the formulaic approach teachers are forced to use to get pupils through tests in the current toxic exam factories environment;
  • a strong local authority support service, reinstated and well- funded; and
  • timely access to EPs,  CAMHS and speech and language services –before pupils reach a crisis point or become suicidal

Finally schools need the government to listen to education staff and parents who know that if we don’t address the mental health of our young people now the mental health crisis in schools, and the futures of so many young people, will be beyond repair.

What can you do?

Join the School Cuts campaign now and find out more about the impact school funding cuts are having on pupils with SEND and poor mental health. 

Written Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the NEU