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A Perfect Storm – Children’s Mental Health

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Posted: 19 July 2017
Developing the emotional intelligence of our children should be a key component in our education system. Unfortunately, with the myriad of changes imposed on education, the opposite is happening. If something is not done soon, we are on course to academically deskill our children, whilst further damaging their mental health. A perfect storm. In the March 2017 report into children's mental health Rt Hon. David Laws Executive Chairman, Education Policy Institute acknowledges that: 'There is much more to do, both to improve the quality of data and to deliver the children's mental health services to which the country aspires.'

Unfortunately, this increase in mental health coincides with a time where schools are under intense pressure with regard:

  • New examinations to implement across all of the Key Stages;

  • A restrictive curriculum with a focus on academic subjects at the expense of the Arts;

  • Teacher recruitment crisis;

  • Three in four suicides among teaching professionals are primary and nursery school teachers, amid warnings it is 'one of the most highly stressed occupations in the country';

  • Slashed funding;

  • Performance related pay;

  • The report for 'The Performance of the NHS in England in transforming children's mental health services' – March 2017, clearly demonstrates that there are major gaps in the provision of services for children in the mental health sector. The terrible irony of the government commissioning such a report is that in acknowledging there is a major issue with one breath – regarding Health, with the next breath, regarding education, they are slashing the education budget. They are taking away the funds from the children who are most need of support.

    Impact of Funding Cuts

    A highly successful school in the North East, who deal with students from very difficult backgrounds, are facing a £700 PER STUDENT DECREASE in funding. If schools are to provide extra support with regard to mental health, how can they do this when there is inevitably going to be:

  • Less teachers

  • Less support staff

  • Less resources

  • A restricted timetable to accommodate cuts

  • Even the very best school leaders cannot magic success in such circumstances. The loss of funding impacting in the North also coincides with the terrible performance in children's mental health provision. The Clinical Commissioning Groups from March 2017 report that 'Only 19.7 per cent for the North of England, the worst performing region on crisis care.' At a time when our children desperately need support in mental health, the schools are having to deal with horrendous cuts. It is incredulous that there is such a disconnect between the two sectors. Surely, health and education should be working together on this?

    Devaluing the Arts

    As well as costs, another major reasons schools are no longer able to provide Arts subjects because they are devalued in the performance point scores. As a consequence, schools feel the need to need to reduce the offerings to the students because the need to balance the books is important. With the decrease in funding comes a decrease in the Arts, with a decrease in the Arts comes a decrease in emotional intelligence in students, with a decrease in emotional intelligence comes an INCREASE in mental health issues in children. The perfect storm.

    The Technical Industrial Revolution

    The research into Artificial Intelligence tells us that it is emotional intelligence is the main area that will give young people a workplace advantage in our ever changing world. The technological industrial revolution of our time tells us that we are fast approaching a time where robots will be able to function at a level where they can perform routine tasks for humans. 'PricewaterhouseCoopers predicted that 30% of British jobs would be lost to automation by the 2030s.' Consequently, certain human skills are no longer required. The almost obsolete skills are exactly what the NEW curriculum prepares the students for:

  • Rote learning

  • Testing memory

  • Time restricted limits on measuring and recording success

  • Reducing humans to sets of data

  • Thriving in a Global Economy?

  • We were also told by the Brexit supporting Gove that the reason for leaving the EU was to become part of the global economy, and yet the same man is on track to set the whole country back decades with the draconian examination system that he imposed. The TERRIBLE IRONY is that to get decent jobs, the ideal is to promote emotional intelligence in children. This is the very thing we are LOSING because of all of the changes in education. Was there NO joined up thinking?

    The Impact on Mental Health

    Never underestimate some of the terrible things that some children have to deal with. For many students, school should be a haven from a terrible home life. I have hundreds of personal examples where school was the only support for such students. With the focus shifting almost totally onto academic performance we have the issue that in many schools they have imposed the following:

  • Shorter breaks – not enough time for them to talk to friends/teachers/support staff when they have a problem;

  • Shorter lunch times – and they often have intervention/detention;

  • Target setting – where students feel they are perpetually underachieving, with no hope of reaching 'aspirational targets';

  • Less trips – because they can impact on the curriculum time, and there is less money;

  • Eradication of tutor time – where students could talk to friends/teachers;

  • Decline in PSHE provision due to lack of funds;

  • Less fun – sports days, fund raising days are limited;

  • Drama and performances in decline because of timetable restrictions and drama being cut from the curriculum;

  • Music in decline;

  • Art and design in decline;

  • No coursework – a lost opportunity for in depth writing and exploring emotional responses to texts;

  • GCSE English Literature – more a test of memory than interpretation and an emotional response.

  • In the pursuit of academic success, many schools have removed opportunities for students to develop self-expression and emotional intelligence. The ultimate conclusion is an increase in mental health issues, and a whole generation of students who will have a lower set of qualifications, because they have been forced to study subjects they are not particularly interested in, based on a curriculum that has sucked the life out of the subjects that are to be studied. A perfect storm of issues.

    Bah Humbug

    One of my most depressing times in teaching, was when were told we could not celebrate Christmas. The exact words from the VP were 'The students get two weeks to celebrate Christmas, there is no need to celebrate in school'. Bah humbug. This shows how detached some leaders truly are. Some students endure miserable Christmases year after year. For such students, school is the ONLY time they get to celebrate with friends, or even understand the concept of goodwill and what a celebration actually is. It can be a massive boost to them to have someone show that they care about them at Christmas time. We need to inject some humanity back into schools. Schools are being run more like businesses, but even in business you have rewards and incentives and an office party!

    Fondest Memories

    When I first started teaching, these are the things I remember most fondly. The theatre trips, the sports day with my form, the days in the summer term when we watched Wimbledon and England in the World Cup. Reading out on the field because it was sunny, impromptu drama sessions because I felt like we needed to do something more fun. The plays, the performances, the FUN. The students did work hard, but there was time for some enjoyment too. We need to ensure that all students still get an opportunity to access elements of fun in their experience of school.

    An Easy Win

    In my opinion there are some FREE ways schools can inject some fun into schools. Rather than following the ideology that it is more academic work that motivates students, really it is injecting some fun that will have a greater impact. Most children got to school to see their mates, enjoy some time with them, have a laugh, play some sport, have a chat. Why are we making them feel under pressure for seven hours a day, Monday to Friday, with no release of emotion or feeling of achievement?

    Academic learning is important, but this cannot be at the expense of their emotional independence. In ignoring emotions to focus solely on academic achievement, we are further damaging the students who are academically weak. In addition, we are putting more pressure on the academically strong students, who need a BREAK from academia to develop emotionally. If their emotions as well as their academic achievements are in place, we will decrease issues with mental health.

    Perfect Solutions:

  • Give them some time to discuss and develop emotionally;

  • Identify students with low self-esteem;

  • Establish WHY they have low self-esteem;

  • Aim for EARLY intervention and support with mental health;

  • Celebrates success in all areas – not just academic achievement;

  • Remember, school CAN BE FUN!! It is allowed!

  • By Christine Thomas

    Director - Everything English Education Consultancy

    Director The Social Return CIC

    If anyone would like some more specific advice regarding improving self-esteem and mental health in a school setting, please get in touch.


    The Performance of the NHS in England in transforming children's mental health services – Emily Frith March 2017
    Written by: Blue Therapy Clinic
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