More teachers are seeing anxious pupils, but are not getting the training to support pupils’ mental health
As schools go back, more teachers say that a lack of time and training are barriers to providing mental health support to pupils than they were during the lockdown periods of 2020 and 2021.
A new survey for the charity, the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF), has found that more teachers (82%) are seeing anxious pupils and the worsening of existing mental health problems, compared to just one year ago.
The findings echo those from the former Children's Commissioner. In Anne Longfield’s report ‘Heads Up: Rethinking mental health services for vulnerable young people’, released last month, there was a warning that ‘failing to support some young people with mental health problems could lead to more behavioural incidents at school, a rise in exclusions, and more children then becoming at risk of grooming and exploitation,’ while it also highlighted that two-thirds of schools are lacking dedicated mental health teams.
The EIF survey found secondary schools and teachers face multiple barriers to better supporting pupils’ mental health – predominantly because of a lack of qualified staff, insufficient help from other professionals and critically a lack of time.
All three barriers are issues experienced by more teachers right now compared to the last time EIF asked teachers this question, in April 2021.
The new survey, carried out by Teacher Tapp in August 2022, found 41% of secondary school teachers have received training to support pupils’ mental health in the past 12 months, representing a six-percentage point increase from June 2021, when just 35% of teachers reported the same. This was unevenly split across seniority, with 64% of headteachers and 54% of senior leaders receiving training, but the same could only be said of 36% of classroom teachers.
In “Outstanding”-rated schools, 49% of classroom teachers said they had received mental health training, compared to 28% in “Good”, “Requires Improvement” or “Inadequate” schools.
The findings come against a backdrop of resolutely high incidences of mental health issues in the classroom. The survey by Teacher Tapp found 82% of secondary school teachers have seen increasing levels of anxiety/depressive symptoms among pupils over the past year, which includes low mood and loss of interest in activities that they previously enjoyed. 70% of teachers have seen reduced motivation and engagement among pupils and 66% have seen a worsening of existing mental health problems.
Donna Molloy OBE, director of policy at the Early Intervention Foundation commented: “We know that supporting young people’s mental health is a priority for secondary schools. Now more than ever, it is essential that teachers are adequately trained to support young people in the development of essential life skills, which includes the skills needed to maintain good mental health and wellbeing.”
“The evidence is clear that teacher-led support, when delivered to a high level of quality, makes a difference to young people’s mental health outcomes. Young people’s mental health must remain a national priority, and teacher training and dedicated time in the curriculum for focusing on wellbeing are important ways of reducing young people’s mental health issues.”
In October, the Early Intervention Foundation and the Anna Freud Centre will be publishing practical evidence-informed guidance for secondary school teachers to support them in enhancing young people’s mental health and wellbeing through everyday interactions.
Jaime Smith, Director of the Anna Freud Centre’s Schools Division, says: “Education staff should not be expected to be mental health experts but they are well placed to spot early signs that young people may be struggling. That’s why it’s essential all school staff, no matter their role or stage of their career, have the appropriate training to be able to support their students, and refer on to mental health professionals at the right time. Every school should have a senior mental health lead and embed a whole school approach to mental health.”
The Early Intervention Foundation recommends that the education secretary gives schools the backing needed to provide more effective support to young people facing mental health issues.
The charity says this means that schools need to be given time and space within the school day to make wellbeing a priority, alongside academic performance, and teachers need to be given the training required to ensure that they can provide support to pupils, where appropriate, in a high-quality way.
Furthermore, teacher training – before teachers qualify and throughout their career – needs to equip teachers with the skills and knowledge they need to skilfully support young people’s social and emotional development, and to identify pupils who may need more specialist mental health support.
Previous research by the Early Intervention Foundation has pointed to the strong evidence base for social and emotional skills-based interventions to support all young people’s mental health and wellbeing, which can be provided by teachers with suitable training as part of a whole-school approach to pupils’ mental wellbeing; and for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) based interventions to help pupils with sub-clinical symptoms, which should be provided by mental health professionals.
About the Teacher Tapp survey:
Teacher Tapp is a daily survey app that asks over 7,000 teachers questions each day and reweights the results to make them representative. Questions asked on the 10th and 11th August 2022.
The Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) is an independent charity that champions and supports the use of effective early intervention to improve the lives of children and young people at risk of experiencing negative outcomes. For more information, see: www.eif.org.uk
Andy Ross, Senior Press Officer – 07949 339 975 / email@example.com