Improving mental health in schools

Vince Cable and Liberal Democrats on Europe March 2017

A toxic combination of exams, which needlessly heap pressure onto pupils from a young age; unhealthy competition between schools, leaving teachers dreading the next Ofsted inspection; and funding cuts which mean numbers of school nurses have been reduced, is having devastating consequences.

The NSPCC say the number of schools seeking help from mental health services is rising, and on average 183 children a day are referred to NHS child and adolescent mental health services.

Children shouldn’t be made to feel a failure because of exams

Among teachers, studies have shown 75% of the UK’s education professionals suffered from either mental or physical health issues in the last two years due to work.

It is no wonder we have such problems of retention and recruitment in the profession, with talented teachers being driven out of the jobs they love.

We cannot hope to deliver the excellent education children deserve, or a work environment that nurtures teachers’ passion for their jobs, without radical reforms to testing, inspection and funding.

I know that tests can be helpful. I used to set them all the time! The problem is how many exams have unnecessarily high stakes attached.

Children shouldn’t be made to feel a failure because their talents and learning style are not best reflected when sitting in silence, reiterating a bunch of facts they’ve learnt by heart.

I am proud that our Party is committed to scrapping SATS – removing some of these pressures on young pupils.

Tests also unhelpfully absorb the focus of teachers and school leaders. They know the school’s position in league tables, and in some cases even their own jobs, depend on how well pupils perform. Fear of the next Ofsted inspection is part of the same problem.

Teachers should be giving their classes a broad and balanced education. This does not just mean literacy and numeracy – as important as these are! We must trust that teachers know how to do this, rather than reducing them to teaching to endless tests.

Parents have a right to information, but league tables and inspections should reflect all a school has to offer – not just test scores. They should include pastoral care and how well they look after the well being of teachers and pupils.

Our Party would radically reform both league tables and inspections – including scrapping the discredited Ofsted model altogether.

Far, far too many children and young people still wait a very long time for care

Of course, while prevention and early intervention are vital, when a young person needs mental health care, we must ensure it is provided. In the NHS, despite promises of extra funding, not enough has materialised. Far, far too many children and young people still wait a very long time for care, if they access any at all.

This is simply not good enough. The Government have warm words on this issue, but we need much more – both in resourcing for schools and the NHS, and ambitious reforms to the culture in our schools.

For our Party this issue will always be a priority and we will continue to demand better for teachers and pupils