Schools warn pupils are being let down by delays to accessing mental health services

School leaders from some of the most high-profile state and independent schools in the country have warned that vulnerable children are being let down because of delays in being able to access mental health services. 

The Coalition for Youth Mental Health in Schools has published a new report on how the education sector can respond to growing challenges around supporting pupils’ mental health. 

The group, which published its first report in 2021 highlighting the difficulties facing young people in the wake of the pandemic, has said its calls then for urgent action have gone unanswered. 

The Coalition is made up of Alleyn’s School, Danes Educational Trust, Eton College, Lady Eleanor Holles School, Oasis Community Learning, Reach Academy Feltham, Star Academies, St Paul’s School and Wellington College. 

In a joint statement, the school leaders said: “Two years on, vulnerable students are still being let down by delays in the system and insufficient availability of care. And while there is a colossal effort underway in schools to tackle these challenges, there are still too many hurdles for too many pupils when it comes to accessing mental health support. 

“Our new report Solutions for a Crisis gets to the heart of how schools – making the very best of what is available to them – are tackling the crisis. But while our research demonstrates how schools-based interventions can have a positive impact, we must stress that these measures should not preclude access to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) in the community. 

“The state of mental health provision in our country has reached a tipping point. We are keen that no teacher or school finds themselves unsupported when it comes to protecting their children’s mental health. We encourage the Government to address the mental health epidemic across the country, so that we can take action together so all our young people, wherever they are, can flourish.” 

The latest report, called ‘Solutions for a Crisis’, highlights the good work going on in schools to support pupils, but the report’s authors warn delays in accessing child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) in the community is putting a strain on education providers. 

The Coalition makes several recommendations to the Government, including introducing mandatory waiting time targets so children and young people can access mental health support more quickly. 

In certain instances, researchers found that pupils using in-school counselling services were pushed down CAMHS waiting lists. This puts schools in a challenging position, forcing them to decide between offering interim support or postponing it in the anticipation that the pupil might be able to access specialised assistance sooner. 

Waiting times have increased by two-thirds in two years to an average of 21-weeks, as revealed by The House magazine in April following a series of freedom of information requests. 

Research agency Public First organised a series of school observations sessions, expert interviews and a review of the available evidence to support the Coalition members in making its recommendations, which include calls for teacher training to incorporate mental health education, proposals to establish a national network of wellbeing supervisors and setting up a National Survey of Youth Mental Health. 

Jane Lunnon, Head at Alleyn’s School and chair of the Coalition for Youth Mental Health in Schools said: “This is important work, and it has been a pleasure and a privilege to be engaged in this work with colleagues from across the education sector committed to helping young people flourish and succeed.” 

Jon Needham, Director of Safeguarding at Oasis Community Learning and vice-chair of the Coalition said: “Schools are often on the front line when it comes to young people’s mental health issues. We are seeing a significant increase in the number of children who need support, and a worrying decrease in the resources available to them, all within a fractured system that is too difficult for most to navigate. It cannot be for schools alone to fix this problem, it calls for all parts of society, families, local authorities, government, health services and charities to work together to give every young person the support they need, when they need it.” 

Chris Marks, Director of Education and Safeguarding Lead for Danes Educational Trust said: “What has been particularly rewarding about the work being done by the Coalition for Youth Mental Health in Schools is the focus it placed on all aspects of improving mental health within education. One area of focus was on ‘Teaching in a Mentally Healthy School’ as it was recognised as being of vital importance to have mentally healthy teachers if the profession is to support and improve the mental health of young people.” 

Alice Vicary-Stott, Director of Safeguarding at Eton College, said: “Coming from a social work background, I am all too familiar with the constraints on public services and the increasing need for well-funded and effective provision for children who are struggling. I hope this report will encourage the Government to ensure every child in every school can access the correct support for their individual mental health needs. Staff need to feel empowered to support children and be able to point them to available and appropriate services. 

“It has been a privilege to work alongside so many exceptional schools and trusts, and to contribute to such a worthwhile report. It was a pleasure welcoming the Coalition to Eton College, where they met our therapeutic support staff who work closely with our pupils to support their emotional and mental health.” 

Rachel Hart, Head of Life Advice at Lady Eleanor Holles (LEH) School said: “As proud co-founders of the Coalition for Youth Mental Health in Schools, LEH is committed to being part of this collaboration to bring state and independent schools together to shine a spotlight on the issues facing our young people today. Following the publication of our first report, we spent two years exploring best practice for tackling mental health within schools. Solutions for a Crisis showcases a range of tried and tested approaches, but we know the commitment and dedication of schools alone is not enough to fix a failing system. We urge the Government to act now to better equip schools to effectively mitigate the visible and significant impact of lockdowns on our children and young people. 

“At LEH we have long adopted the eight principles of a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing: pupil voice influences decisions, our Life Advice programme sits firmly within the curriculum and focuses on social and emotional learning, our pastoral team works tirelessly to offer targeted support and appropriate referral, and we embrace an ethos of belonging that respects and values diversity. Importantly, we continue to listen to and work with pupils, parents, our partner schools and the wider community to ensure that our pastoral provision is the best that it can be.” 

Georgia Strong, Assistant Head at Reach Academy Feltham at Reach Academy Feltham, said: “As a member of the YMHC, Reach Academy Feltham is hopeful that this report will provide ideas and new ways in which all services can work together to directly address the mental health challenges young people are currently facing. We need a collaborative approach to ensure we are all focusing on the needs of individual children, so we can make the positive impact that is so desperately needed.” 

Sir Hamid Patel CBE, chief executive of Star Academies said: “Schools are doing exceptional work to support pupils who are struggling with their mental health, but there is only so much education providers can do alone. In the wake of the pandemic, waiting times are growing at the exact time when the need is greatest. There needs to be a much greater focus from Government on youth mental health services to ensure every young person has the opportunity to thrive.” 

Dr. Jenny Griggs, Head of Student Emotional Health and Wellbeing at Wellington College said: “As proud members of the YMHC, we are thrilled to present this comprehensive report detailing some forward-thinking strategies for promoting youth well-being. Through collaborative efforts, we’ve discovered innovative measures that prioritise proactive approaches and address challenges head-on. Our shared commitment is focused on nurturing the well-being of all young people, paving the way for a brighter future.” 

A copy of the report can be found HERE