State of education: mental health

A quarter of respondents say they have no access to CAMHS for their students and 80% say that excessive workload is a barrier to getting the right help for their pupils.


In the latest survey of almost 18,000 National Education Union members, conducted ahead of Annual Conference in Harrogate, we asked teachers and support staff about pupil/student mental health.

  • There is patchwork and often inadequate access to specialist provision with which to support young people in schools with poor mental health. Around half of respondents to our survey report no nurse, no senior mental health lead, or trained mental health first aider.
  • Teachers with access to CAMHS support or learning support assistants say that there are too few available to meet demand (66% and 77% respectively). A quarter of teachers (26%) and a third of support staff (33%) say they have no CAMHS support whatsoever.
  • Government priorities are focused on the wrong factors. Teachers tell us workload is a hindrance to providing proper support to pupils in need, with 80% of respondents stating it is a “large barrier”. 70% tell us that having insufficient numbers of school staff is another major issue. 

The State of Education survey gauges the views of working teacher, support staff and school leader NEU members in England and Wales. We are releasing the findings over the course of Annual Conference.

Access to provision

“So many children struggling and we are not qualified to help them as much as we want to.”

A comment from a member which highlights the widespread concern, expressed throughout this survey, that specialist provision is inadequate to meet the needs of pupils and students with poor mental health. There is no area in which more than 20% of teachers believe there is sufficient access.

State of education: Mental health specialist provision (teachers)
Access to mental health provision, teachers in England and Wales answers. 


It is also commonplace for there to be no school nurse, trained mental health first aider, or senior mental health lead – according to around half of teachers polled, and similar numbers of support staff.

State of education: Mental health specialist provision (support staff)
Access to mental health provision, support staff in England and Wales answers. 

The lack of any Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) support is perhaps most alarming, with a quarter of teachers (26%) and a third of support staff (33%) reporting this to be the case at their school.

“CAMHS waiting lists are so long that you can’t get support anywhere near quick enough for the children.”

“Wait time for CAMHS is two years if they accept referral, which in many cases isn’t extreme enough [to be accepted].”

“There are children not qualifying that absolutely should be, but I assume it’s because CAMHS are overstretched.”

In their comments, members spell out how the demand for mental health support has become overwhelming.

“Poor mental health has definitely become a much bigger problem in recent years. It has a huge impact on student learning and on teaching and support staff – time spent trying to support and deal with issues that arise.”

“The mental health crisis with our children and young people is catastrophic. This generation are suffering immensely, and the support is just not available when you need it. This is largely due to services being inundated with demand.”

“The number of students self-harming due to anxiety and mental health is alarming.”

Breaking down the barriers

For teachers and support staff working in England and Wales today, the barriers to supporting young people with poor mental health are all too clear.

“Huge class sizes and unmanageable workload make it nearly impossible to support students with poor mental health in the way we used to.”  

“There is no direct mental health support at my school. More work and expectations have been put in place which has negatively impacted this. The mantra in my school is that the staff that will be promoted are those who work the most hours.”

“We don’t have enough staff! It’s simple. We are constantly understaffed.”

The chief barriers are unambiguous in the survey data. Members are far more likely to describe high workload, lack of access to support services, or insufficient school staff, as being ‘large’ barriers rather than occasional barriers. It is clear that support and capacity are critical factors, with very few feeling satisfied.

State of education: Barriers to mental health support (teachers)
Barriers to supporting mental health, teachers in England and Wales answers. 


State of education: Barriers to mental health support (support staff)
Barriers to supporting mental health, support staff in England and Wales answers. 

In conclusion, one member noted: “The impact on staff’s mental health of trying to support children and families with new and complex mental health needs with minimal training and no resources is untenable.”

Commenting on the findings of the survey, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“Our members are overwhelmed on many fronts, and amongst the most frustrating is not being able to fully support the young people in their care who are enduring poor mental health.

“It is a failure of Government that we have an infrastructure so stymied by underfunding, that young people who need support simply cannot get access to it. The waiting lists are profound, the hurdles too great, and the situations tragic.

“Schools do everything they can to support young people, but this not a sustainable situation. Government must do everything in its power to support schools properly, so they can be properly funded and better staffed, and boost the ability of external services to meet demand. This is a huge task which has been ignored for too long.”

Editor’s note

We conducted the survey between 11-27 February 2023. This report covers the findings from 17,891 responses from teachers, leaders and support staff in schools in England and Wales. We also received responses from NEU members in Northern Ireland, in the post-16 sector, in early years and supply; these are not included in this analysis but will feed into further work during the year.

We split the responses into two broad groups: school teachers and school support staff. We split these two groups into English state schools, Welsh state schools and independent schools in England and Wales. We did this so we could weight responses against the different demographic data available from their respective workforce censuses.

Where we have reported results for school teachers in England and Wales or support staff in England and Wales, we have combined the responses for English state schools, Welsh state schools and independent schools in England and Wales and weighted them in proportion to the size of the workforce. 

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