Heads: Teachers should not provide mental health support to pupils

Teachers cannot diagnose mental health problems or provide therapeutic support, warn heads

Published on 20th February 2018

Education staff should not be involved in diagnosing mental health problems in pupils or providing therapeutic intervention, school leaders have warned.

Giving evidence to the health and education committees on children and young people’s mental health, the National Association of Head-Teachers made it clear that there is no role for education staff in the diagnosis of mental health problems or the delivery of treatment or therapeutic support. 

“There can be no expectation on any school to provide health or social care services funded from the school budget, even though many schools choose to do this to get their pupils the support they need,” said Paul Whiteman NAHT’s general secretary.

NAHT was invited to give evidence after the committees read their written submission, which focussed on school leaders’ views on the scope and implementation of the government’s Mental Health Green Paper, published in November.

NAHT has long campaigned for a high level of awareness of children’s mental health and wellbeing and for children and young people with mental health issues to receive the support they need, both from the school workforce and from other agencies.

Paul Whiteman told MPs that NAHT welcomed the green paper, saying that co-working between schools and the NHS was the biggest positive, but that NAHT was concerned about the pace and scope of proposals.

Mr Whiteman accepted and welcomed the recognition of the role schools could play in CAMHS provision but said: “We understand that we have a unique position in identifying emerging mental health needs of children in the care of our members. But where we begin to worry is that the Green Paper gives a nod towards diagnosis and treatment from the leads that are to be identified, and we don’t think there’s a place for education professionals to do that.”

Paul Whiteman said that schools should be:

  • Promoting good mental health and emotional wellbeing amongst pupils of all ages.
  • Playing a key part in identifying emerging mental health needs of pupils.
  • Referring those pupils on to health professionals for appropriate specialist support and treatment.
  • Supporting and managing pupils with mental health needs in the school environment and in their learning.

In order for the proposals to work, schools need increased specialist services so that pupils can access the support and treatment from trained professionals. There should be clarity around the roles and responsibilities for health staff and education staff. “Schools can and should promote, identify, refer and support. Health professionals should diagnose and treat,” said Mr Whiteman.

PSHE should be placed on a statutory footing to ensure children learn about mental health and teachers need resources to show them what an effective whole school approach looks like in practice.

Education staff need training in mental health to enable them to teach children about mental health but also play a part in helping to identify when a pupils may need specialist support. Schools should be provided with local and national directories so they know what local and national help and support are available in order to signpost pupils and their families to access help and support.

“Capacity, workload and funding concerns already evident in the majority of schools need to be taken into account before any new responsibilities are added,” said Mr Whiteman.

Announcements in the green paper included £95 million for schools to appoint and train designated senior leads for mental health from 2019, and £215 million for new mental health support teams, working with the NHS to offer support and treatments in schools.

Mr Whiteman said: “The government is investing a significant sum in this project, for training, development and delivery, and that is to be welcomed. Every young person should be able to grow up feeling confident about themselves and their future. We now need the government to deliver on this ambition and NAHT will continue to work closely with the government to make sure that schools are able to deliver their part of the mental-health jigsaw.”


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