School funding changes undermine Prime Minister’s drive to tackle mental health inequality

10 February 2017

Cllr Elin Weston, Cabinet Member for Children and Families, Haringey Council

In January the Prime Minister highlighted the injustices experienced by children suffering from mental health and behavioural issues. She talked about transforming the way we deliver mental health support, away from emergency hospital admissions and instead providing support earlier within school classrooms and our communities.

The Prime Minister is right to identify children’s mental health as a priority issue. In Haringey alone, we estimate that there is an unmet demand of over 4,000 children who should be accessing specialist mental health support in community settings.

She is also right that schools have an absolutely critical role to play in ensuring that children have access to emotional and behavioural support. As Public Health England have evidenced, promoting mental health and wellbeing in schools creates a virtuous circle, reinforcing the child’s educational attainment and achievement[1].

Driving and embedding mental health support in school classrooms requires commitment and strong leadership from the local authority, schools and health services.

In Haringey, we are leading efforts to promote mental health and wellbeing in the school classroom.

Our Schools Link project is joining up work between local schools and child and adolescent mental health services. Following the success of the pilot, the role of Emotional Wellbeing Coordinator was established in all Haringey Schools. Coordinators attend a termly forum to share information and practice, develop expertise in the field and strengthen links with partners in the local authority, clinical commissioning group and third sector organisations. This is helping to equip schools to recognise when children and young people may require specialised mental health support, bringing this to the attention of health services earlier on.

We are also coordinating the innovative Anchor Project. This works directly with schools across the borough to help staff understand how to strengthen adult-child relationships and support children with emotional needs and high risk behaviours and how to set up conditions for thinking and learning. Schools that participate in the project are offered training, tools and support for their staff to increase emotional wellbeing, increase levels of concentration in classrooms and consider ways to support pupils to manage their own behaviour.  The project also supports school senior leadership teams and governors to look at school policies, systems and practice within the context of promoting a school environment that actively supports children’s wellbeing. The Anchor Project is informed by research into emotional wellbeing, neurology, and attachment theory, promoting relational approaches to building resilience.

But driving and embedding mental health support in school classrooms also requires investment. And, unfortunately, continued pressure on public and school finances is where the Prime Minister’s mental health agenda is significantly undermined.

The Department for Education is consulting on the introduction of a new national schools funding formula, to be implemented in 2018/19. Haringey’s school funding block is projected to decrease by £5.2 million, with all schools in the borough set to see their budget reduce by around 3% in cash terms.  So whilst the Prime Minister has announced welcome funding for youth mental health first aid training (worth £150 per person trained), at the same time under Government proposals each of Haringey’s secondary schools will see their budgets cut by around £200,000.

Furthermore, between 2010 and 2018 the Government will have cut Haringey Council’s funding in real terms by 40%(£190 million). The Education Support Grant is being phased out, and the Public Health Grant is also decreasing. This is money that local authorities such as Haringey are using to invest in promoting mental health in schools and to deliver initiatives such as Anchor and the School Link.

The financial pressures facing Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are no less challenging. In the North Central London region, health commissioners and providers were already £121m in deficit in 2015/16 and – if nothing changes – this will grow to a deficit of £876m by 2020/21. Put simply, funding increases over the next 5 years will not meet the likely increases in numbers of local people and growth in demand for health services and the cost of delivering health care.

If the Prime Minister is really serious about tackling mental health inequality, she needs to ensure that schools, local authorities and health services receive get fair and sustainable funding.

[1] Public Health England: The link between pupil health and wellbeing and attainment 2014

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