Portsmouth holds its first conference on children’s mental health

PORTSMOUTH schoolchildren have told the authorities their ideas about how to improve youngsters’ mental health.

Monday, 25th March 2019, 4:06 pm
Updated Monday, 25th March 2019, 4:11 pm
(back l-r) Amy Harris (16) from Portsmouth College, Sarah Christopher, Portsmouth Education Partnership and School Inclusion manager and Tegan Wheeler (14) from Admiral Lord Nelson School with (front l-r) Tom Curtis (14) from Trafalgar School, Jaimie Worley (14) from Admiral Lord Nelson School, Natasha Devon, author of her book 'A Beginners Guide to Being Mental' and Laura Spurgeon (14) from Admiral Lord Nelson School.

Picture: Sarah Standing (250319-3864)
(back l-r) Amy Harris (16) from Portsmouth College, Sarah Christopher, Portsmouth Education Partnership and School Inclusion manager and Tegan Wheeler (14) from Admiral Lord Nelson School with (front l-r) Tom Curtis (14) from Trafalgar School, Jaimie Worley (14) from Admiral Lord Nelson School, Natasha Devon, author of her book 'A Beginners Guide to Being Mental' and Laura Spurgeon (14) from Admiral Lord Nelson School. Picture: Sarah Standing (250319-3864)

It came as part of the Wellbeing in Education conference, the first of its kind to be held in Portsmouth. 

The conference followed an NHS report which showed that one in eight five to 19-year-olds have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Emotional wellbeing is of particular concern with disorders in five to 15-year-olds up from 3.9 per cent in 2004 to 5.8 per cent in 2017. 

The culmination of the day’s events saw representatives from the Council of Portsmouth Students speak about their own mental health concerns.

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The Wellbeing in Education conference took place on Monday, March 25, took place at the Marriott Hotel in Portsmouth. Portsmouth City Council cabinet member for education, Suzy Horton, speaking at the conference. Picture: Sarah Standing (250319-4104)

Trafalgar School pupil, Tom Curtis, 14, said: ‘I am aware of people who suffer from depression and even self harm. It is important that we can put forward student opinions on what schools can do to help us.’

Portsmouth College student, Amy Harris, 16, added: ‘The conference is looking at issues young people are dealing with and so the event would be pretty pointless if we didn’t have an input.’ 

Cabinet member for education, Suzy Horton, said: ‘I read a recent report suggesting schools are now the fourth emergency service. Schools now play a greater role in identifying and supporting those children with mental health issues. Today’s event is about bringing people and organisations together to learn new strategies and share good practice.’

Research carried out by Portsmouth City Council in 2014 highlighted the prevalence of the issue with 8,940 youngsters having had a mental health need out of the 50,255 children and young people aged up to 19 living in Portsmouth.

Natasha Devon, author of Beginners Guide to being Mental. Picture: Sarah Standing (250319-4163)

With 120 participants from schools, colleges, University of Portsmouth and the NHS, Portsmouth Education Partnership inclusion manager, Sarah Christopher, hopes the event will see organisations start working together more.

‘We all have a really important role in supporting mental health but today is about increasing communication. What comes out of this conference will form a significant part in shaping our strategy moving forward,’ she explained.

Natasha Devon, author of Beginners Guide to Being Mental, ran a workshop on the role of stress, social media and image perception as contributory factors in mental disorders.

Natasha said: ‘More children are diagnosed as we are more aware of conditions. I was treat for asthma as my panic disorder was not diagnosed until I was 31. It is more difficult for children today as there are greater time constraints on significant adults such as parents and teachers. There is now greater pressure on teachers to support children with mental health issues so it’s important we equip them to do so.’

The Wellbeing in Education conference took place on Monday, March 25, at the Marriott Hotel in Portsmouth. Picture: Sarah Standing (250319-4122)

As well as providing strategies to help children, there was also a session to support teachers to manage their own mental health. A recent survey by the Charity Education Support Partnership showed two in five newly qualified teachers have experienced mental health problems in the last year.

Natasha said: ‘You can’t address children’s mental health without looking after the needs of the teacher. Both go hand in hand in any school.’

 

COMMENT – BY NEWS EDUCATION REPORTER NEIL FATKIN, A FORMER TEACHER

In a target driven education system schools are under more pressure than ever before to achieve statistical targets. Coupled with suffocating levels of scrutiny, many schools adopted a policy of rigorous formal assessment and tracking of student progress.

Every month I would have to provide students with a formal exam to assess their current GCSE or A level grade. In the quest to clearly track progress across the duration of the course we were even directed to ‘give students the whole exam’ – even though they may only have covered a small section of the syllabus.

Whilst over time this may have benefited Ofsted in clearly charting student progress it led to many demoralised children, deflated by their grades early in the course. Each assessment was accompanied with a student review meeting in which half-termly targets were set and discussions analysed as to why a child may have fallen short. It is a level of scrutiny many adults would struggle with and a systematic bi-product of the all encompassing need to hit targets which has put both schools and teachers under suffocating levels of pressure. Inevitably this pressure will filter down to those on whom results ultimately depend – the children. 

With a recent study from the  Education Support Partnership charity having shown 31 per cent of teachers have experienced a mental health problem in the last year, it should come as no surprise that children may also struggle with the pressure of expectation. Whilst academic results are important it should never be at all costs.