Mental Health in FE

A green paper released in December announced new mental health provision for young people, but apprenticeships were not mentioned, only schools and colleges. Yet apprentices are just as in need for understanding and support as young people in studying in other sectors.

What the green paper says

The green paper sets out its reasons for increasing the mental health provision, stating that young people with such an issue “are not able to fulfil their potential” and that they are more likely to still suffer, or suffer again, with such issues in adulthood, especially if they receive little or no support. Strong evidence suggests that those who do suffer mental health conditions as an adult are more liable to struggle with lower incomes, higher unemployment, increased risk of other health issues, and increased risk of involvement with crime/ those involved in crime, both as victims and perpetrators. This is obviously something we want to avoid.

“This green paper therefore sets out an ambition for earlier intervention and prevention, a boost in support for the role played by schools and colleges, and better, faster access to NHS funding” (pg. 5)

Truthfully, the statistics provided are worrying: 1:10 young people suffering with some sort of mental health problem, which is around 850,000 currently struggling. There has been a 68% increase in the number of young women admitting they self-harm since 2011, 45% Looked After children have a diagnosable condition, and very high suicide rates among those in gangs. And with LGBT young people, as well as those not in education, employment or training, or those with family members (particularly parents) who also suffer mental health conditions being more likely to suffer, it’s clear that something does need to be done to support these young people and get those figures down.

Their idea: fund mental health support teams which are supervised by NHS staff specialised in children and young people’s mental health and who will all work collaboratively to identify and support those with mental health concerns. They want a designated lead in all schools and colleges whose role it will be to oversee the whole system within their school or college, support staff and collaborate with the NHS and other agencies in supporting the children/ young people and the families involved.

They want mental health concerns to be part of teacher training, both the identification of and support with. They want children and young people taught about mental wellbeing and how to look after their mental health, as well as ensuring they are safe online. They want to work with parents and carers and promote positive mental health for all. They want to work to remove stigma and prejudice about mental health conditions.

Criticisms

The Education and Social Care Select Committees have lots of criticism for the proposals. A big one is a warning that the government has failed to understand how schools and colleges “offer different environments and different challenges” and that they did not “adequately recognise” the differences between the two nor how they impact the implementation of the green paper’s proposals. They don’t feel enough guidance was given regarding how the designated lead role will work in practice, and again emphasise their unease with the lack of mention regarding other FE organisations to ‘colleges’.

Geoff Barton, the General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders says the green paper “fails to address the critical problem facing schools and colleges, which is the fact that real-terms funding cuts are forcing them to cut back on existing counselling and support services at exactly the time that mental health issues are rising.”

Which also begs the question of where the funding is coming from for these ‘teams’ when, last I had heard, mental health had suffered budget cuts and we have all heard of the NHS and education budget issues/ cuts as well. If we are to adequately and effectively support children and young people with their mental health concerns, teach them mental wellbeing and reduce the stigma, funding is going to need to be found somewhere.

David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, has highlighted the difficulty colleges have “to find adequate resources to support young people and build their resilience” on top of balancing the funding equation because “Post-16 education is funded significantly less per student than 11-16 schools or universities”. So, how are colleges going to manage to up their mental health provision and employ/promote a designated lead?

Noticeably, a government spokesperson who mentioned possible trials of mental health support for apprentices did not mention or comment on funding concerns.

What about the others?

It’s been noted that very little has been mentioned about apprenticeships being offered the same level of support. It is not clear whether that it because they are unsure of how to roll out such a system or because they are purely focused on those in a more traditional school or college setting.

The report comments on how those from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to develop mental health challenges and, typically, apprenticeships favour those from such backgrounds, as well as those who are not academically-minded, as they are more accessible for those without good GCSE results. Clearly, they need this mental health provision just as much as those children and young people in schools and college settings.

My question is, however, what about the others?

What about the older students who no longer count as among the ‘young people’ or those who are returning to studying, either to improve employment prospects or to support a change in career? They have missed out on this new provision age-wise but does that mean they are in less need of it? The report stresses the disadvantages and barriers to success having a mental health condition can cause, so surely this means they need as much support, particularly considering many adults or older apprentices are either going to be unemployed (which is one of the possible factors for mental health), previously suffered a condition or be from disadvantaged backgrounds.

And what about staff? Teaching is widely known as a highly rewarding but also incredibly stressful career choice, with many suffering from mental health conditions and stress, regardless of previous mental health concerns or backgrounds. Therefore, isn’t it logical that if we are to “promote positive mental health for all” then we need to begin with the staff? How can the staff teach and support others with mental health concerns if they have them as well and they are receiving no support or understanding for theirs? Shouldn’t teachers be given access to workshops on mental health conditions and mental wellbeing strategies for themselves and not just as a training exercise to support those in their care?

Mental health is an important and serious topic and I will have my fingers crossed as educational organisations put these proposals into place.

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