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Last Updated: Friday, 7 March 2008, 12:00 GMT
Schools' mental health headache
By Melissa Jackson
Education reporter, BBC News

handwriting
Delays in treating mental health issues affect children's school work
Many schools feel they do not get enough local support in dealing with pupils who have mental health problems, a survey shows.

Of the 6,000 schools in England responding to the Audit Commission review, 40% said local mental health services were below satisfactory.

Head teachers fear vulnerable children are slipping through the net because no-one is taking responsibility.

A school mental health initiative will help resolve this, says the government.

Fiona Hammans, head teacher at Banbury School, a mixed comprehensive in Oxfordshire with around 1,700 pupils aged 11 to 18, fears some pupils are in real danger because local services are failing to provide adequate care.

She cited the example of a pupil who had mental health issues that were identified by the school as serious enough to refer him to primary child and mental health services (PCAMHS).

This boy is not trying to commit suicide but the chances are that he will without the right sort of intervention
Fiona Hammans, head teacher

They said the boy's needs were too serious for them and he was referred to general (adult) care and mental health services (CAMHS), who also declined to treat him.

Ms Hammans said: "Because he hadn't attempted suicide they couldn't deal with him.

"This boy is not trying to commit suicide but the chances are that he will without the right sort of intervention.

"He doesn't fit the criteria of PCAMHS or CAMHS - he falls between the two.

"It is exceptionally difficult to teach him."

In-house solution

If a child is referred to local mental health experts they are usually kept waiting six to 12 months for an appointment, said Ms Hammans.

The school has resorted to taking matters into its own hands and has set up a team of five counsellors to help children who have issues such as "behavioural problems" and "social skills deficits".

"It's not therapy in the clinical sense but working on pre-mental health issues that could develop," said Ms Hammans.

"The majority of us want to help children but teachers are here to teach."

Anne Welsh, who is head teacher at George Stephenson High School near Newcastle, thinks local services, when they are provided, are very good, but there are not enough of them.

She said: "Children who need intervention from mental health services are having to wait too long.

"The capacity just isn't there and when they need help they need it now, not in several months' time because if there are mental health issues it will impact on everything they do in school."

Government intervention

The government recognises weaknesses in the system and has just launched a Targeted Mental Health in Schools project.

It will see 25 local authorities across England link up with primary care trusts to work with up to six secondary schools in their area.

Good mental health and wellbeing are crucial to ensuring that all our children and young people can learn, achieve and fulfil their potential
Kevin Brennan
Minister for Young People

The aim of the pilot projects is to deliver "better support for those children who are at risk or already experiencing mental health problems".

Launching the scheme this week, Minister for Young People Kevin Brennan said: "Good mental health and wellbeing are crucial to ensuring that all our children and young people can learn, achieve and fulfil their potential.

"Early detection and intervention through schools and nurseries is vital in doing this.

"Each pilot will be implementing innovative ways to ensure a better service to some of their most vulnerable children and families and their success will inform the national roll-out of this project."

Ms Welsh said: "Any kind of support that helps young people who are suffering in any kind of way would be, in my view, good."



SEE ALSO
Mental health battle for schools
06 Oct 06 |  Education
Call to aid school mental health
21 Feb 06 |  Scotland

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