In advance of the National Education Union’s annual conference, held in Liverpool this week, more than 8,000 teachers, school leaders and support staff from across the UK have made clear their views on the State of Education and the conditions they are having to work under. Results will be released over the course of conference.

Today we focus on the survey findings connected to the mental health of children and young people.

Members have conveyed tragedies that could be prevented by proper Government funding. They are also concerned about the effects of the ‘exam factory’ culture of over-testing, which is so damaging to young people. The number of young people with mental ill health has increased significantly since 2017, but this survey makes very clear that resources simply cannot keep pace with demand. The chronic underfunding of schools and external mental health services is only making matters worse.

Increase since 2017

There was an overwhelming response from members when we asked if they had noticed a change in the number of pupil/student mental health problems in the past two years.

  • 83% confirmed that they had seen an increase.
  • Just 7% said they had not noticed a change. 11% could not be sure.

When broken down, the results are alarmingly high across all sectors.

Yes

No

Dont know

Primary

81%

9%

11%

Secondary

86%

4%

10%

College

90%

6%

4%

“We are at a crisis point with mental health.”

“Seems to be affecting younger and younger children.”

“I’d say mental health issues have gone up from 1 in 10 to 5 in 10.”

“Our mental health ambassadors (pupils) are reporting increased volume of contacts from pupils.”

“More pupils seem to have anxiety about doing well at school and worry a lot.”

“SATS pressure and general expectations are taking their toll on more vulnerable pupils.  We have 9-year-olds talking about suicide.”

“Much more anxiety, self-harming. Three suicides in three years in my school alone.”

Provision

We asked members if they had the right provisions in their workplace for supporting pupils with mental health issues. Whilst a majority of teachers (59%) reported they had learning support assistants, less than 50% reported a school counsellor. Only 30% identified external specialist support. Less than 30% had a school nurse. The Government instead suggest mental health first aiders, rather than mental health professionals – but only 12% of schools even had these.

Answer Choices

Responses

Learning support assistants

59%

School/college counsellor

49%

External specialist support

30%

School/college nurse

29%

Senior mental health lead

12%

Trained mental health first aider

12%

None of the above

12%

“I spend most lunchtimes and 40% of my time nurturing children experiencing a range of mental health issues… I am currently working with 15 children who have been bereaved, have anxiety, have PTSD or a parent with a terminal/life threatening illness.”

“There is a huge waiting list for referrals in the area we work in, so we are told that pupils will have to wait over a year to see a counsellor.”

“Lost our school counsellor due to lack of funds.”

“Mental health first aid is a lip service. Seven members of staff trained – nothing we didn’t already know and it does not make us mental health practitioners! Massive myth!

Stumbling Blocks

We asked members to identify what prevents them from fully supporting young people who are experiencing mental health issues. There was significant blame apportioned to real-terms funding cuts (57%) in this multi-choice answer, along with a reduction in teaching assistants (51%) and learning support assistants (40%), the narrowing of the curriculum (32%), an ‘exam factory’ assessment system (53%), and personal workload (64%). As earlier questions revealed, the increasingly strained access to external support services (eg. CAMHS, specialist SEND assessment, and education psychologists) was significantly to blame, with 64% of respondents confirming so.

Answer Choices

Responses

Your workload

64%

More difficult access to external support services (e.g. CAMHS, Specialist SEND assessment, Educational Psychologists)

64%

School/college funding cuts

57%

Assessment system (i.e. exam factory culture)

53%

Reduction in teaching assistants

51%

Reduction in learning support assistants

40%

Narrowing of the curriculum

32%

None

3%

Not sure

6%

“Like a slow-motion car crash for our young people that I am powerless to stop and can’t bear to watch or be part of anymore.”

“Exam factory culture is definitely a huge contributor to the increase in pupil mental health problems.”

“Admin staff not being replaced and teachers absorbing work.”

“The amount of children needing mental health support has increased but the budget can’t sustain the employment of any more practitioners.  We already heavily invest in 3-4 for average sized infant school.  The children with significant mental health issues has increased dramatically over the past four years.”

“CAMHS is pointless – you literally have to be suicidal to get through triage.”

“There are more and more kids who need this support and more and more staff drowning in workload and poor mental health.”

Training

More than a third of respondents (37%) have had training in the past year to help with supporting young people with mental ill health. This does not vary significantly by phase but was higher in colleges (40%). However, individual responses suggest overall that the training was frequently inadequate and ineffective or had to be sought outside of school and at personal cost.

Commenting on the survey results, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“These are alarming reports of a growing crisis in our schools and society. It is very clear that this Government’s policies on education and school funding are contributing to a terrible and destructive situation for young people and the education workforce. Schools can't solve this alone and Government's underfunding of public services is damaging the next generation from an early age.

“Teachers are also witnessing an increase in child poverty and its terrible effects, which can all too often impact negatively on mental health.

“Above all this is about pupils, and it is incumbent upon the education system to do all it can to support anyone with mental health problems.”

ENDS

2019-045-NEU

Note to editors:

Our survey of 8,674 members in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland was conducted between 28 March and 3 April 2019. Over half of the respondents (53%) are classroom teachers and around a quarter (26%) are in head of department or leadership roles, including head teachers. The sample works in a range of school/college settings, including primary (37%) and secondary (42%).

We are currently in Liverpool for our Annual Conference (15-18 April), during which time you will receive a higher number of press releases than usual.

The Conference Press Office can be reached on 0151 707 4642 (9am-6pm) and 07879 480 061 (24hrs). The press officer can be reached at caroline.cowie@neu.org.uk

Our conference agenda is available here: https://neu.org.uk/media/3861/view

The hashtag for Annual Conference is #NEU19 .

  • The National Education Union stands up for the future of education. It brings together the voices of more than 450,000 teachers, lecturers, support staff and leaders working in maintained and independent schools and colleges across the UK, to form the largest education union in Europe.
  • It is an independent, registered trade union and professional association, representing its members in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
  • The National Education Union is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and Education International (EI). It is not affiliated to any political party and seeks to work constructively with all the main political parties.