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Education, education, mental health: supporing secondary schools to play a central role in early intervention mental health services

There is a crisis affecting children and young people’s mental health in England, with three children in every classroom experiencing a clinically diagnosable condition. Despite the growing number who require help, cuts to the funding of both NHS and local authority ‘early intervention’ services, which can prevent emerging mental health problems from escalating further, mean that increasing numbers of children are unable to access appropriate and timely support.

Early intervention mental health services for children and young people must be rejuvenated – and secondary schools should play a central role in this, complementing wider community and NHS provision.

There is currently a great deal of variation in both the availability and quality of school-based early intervention provision. This is due to four major barriers:

• schools’ inability to access sufficient funding and resources
• a lack of established mechanisms by which schools can influence commissioning decisions taken by clinical commissioning groups (CCGs)
• the inconsistent quality of mental health support available to schools to buy in directly
• a lack of external checks on the appropriateness and quality of the approaches taken by individual schools.

The government must find ways to overcome each of these four barriers if schools are to fulfil their substantial potential for meeting pupils’ emerging mental health needs, and play a central role in the transformation of children and young people’s mental health services. This should involve guaranteeing every secondary school access to a mental health professional who delivers targeted interventions on-site, and making school counselling a regulated profession.