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Children and young people’s mental health —the role of education

First Joint Report of the Education and Health Committees of Session 2016–17

Schools and colleges have a front line role in promoting and protecting children and young people’s mental health and well-being. Education and mental health services need to work closely together to plan the most effective way of improving children and young people’s mental health and well-being.
We welcome the Government’s commitment to make personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) mandatory in schools and colleges.
We support a whole school approach that embeds the promotion of well-being throughout the culture of the school and curriculum as well as in staff training and continuing professional development. We recommend that the approach to mental health and well-being should be properly taken into account and reflected in Ofsted’s inspection regime and reporting.

The Government should strengthen mental health training and continuing professional development for teachers to ensure they are properly equipped to recognise the early signs of mental illness in their pupils and have the confidence to be able to signpost or refer to the right support.

Strong partnerships between the education sector and mental health services improve the provision for children’s mental health and well-being. There is significant variation in the quality of the links between schools and colleges and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and in the level of financial support. The Government should commit sufficient resource and build on the CAMHS link pilot to ensure that effective services can be established in all parts of the country. We heard evidence of the adverse impact of funding pressures on mental health provision in schools and colleges, including the ability to bring in external support.
With half of all mental illness starting before the age of fifteen, it is a false economy to cut services for children and young people that could help to improve well-being, build resilience and provide early intervention.

Whilst we recognise the benefits of social media, harmful aspects of its use have a detrimental impact on children and young people’s mental health. Schools and colleges should help children and young people develop the skills and ability to make wiser and more informed choices about their use of social media. There are limits to schools’ capacity to deal with the issue of children and young people’s use of technology. But they should share information and specialist knowledge with parents to increase awareness of what their children will be taught at school about social media. We heard evidence of links between excessive social media use, sleep deprivation and depression in children and young people. Parents have a key role to play in limiting screen time, reducing sleep deprivation and preventing exposure to harmful online activity. Meanwhile, social media providers must not be allowed to duck their responsibilities for harmful content which affects children and young people’s online safety and well-being.

The decision to hold an early election has meant that we have been unable to go into the depth that we would have liked in this report. We hope that our successor Committees will return to this issue in the new Parliament.