‘Teachers have big role to play in improving child’s mental health’

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TEACHERS should play a bigger role supporting vulnerable schoolchildren in Portsmouth as part of efforts to tackle growing mental health problems.

So says the woman leading efforts to help schools better support children so they don’t go on to develop complex mental health issues.

Schools have a massive contribution to play. But they are not mental health specialists. This is about improving self-esteem, confidence and picking up early indications.

Sarah Christopher

Sarah Christopher, head of faculties for special educational needs and disabilities at Priory School, has prepared a strategy into how schools can play a greater role in improving wellbeing.

It comes as the government vows to make mental health a priority and deliver mental health first aid training to teachers, as well as pour extra cash into community-based projects for the vulnerable.

Though campaigners say attitudes towards mental health won’t change unless Whitehall pumps billions into the NHS, Ms Christopher said: ‘Schools have a massive contribution to play.

‘But they are not mental health specialists. This is about improving self-esteem, confidence and picking up early indications.

‘We want to find a way of delivering broader awareness training to staff in school, and for staff who have more of a pastoral role.

‘Lots already get good training, but it’s about ensuring there’s ongoing access.’

She added: ‘This strategy will be daunting for some teachers, which is why we want to deliver training so they know what is, and what isn’t expected.

‘It can often be really small steps that can build a child.’

Schools are to have more input into the details of the strategy before it is finalised over the next two years.

Portsmouth’s efforts have been made possible after it secured funding from a Future in Mind contract to transform mental health provision for children.

The strategy, which education leaders had been working on prior to the government announcements, could also see low mood, anxiety and stress discussed in classrooms as part of existing PSHE learning, a planned programme helping young people develop fully as individuals. The aim is also to tackle Facebook bullies.

A ‘tough love’ approach could see children who have fallen out talk out their problems with each other to help mend broken relationships.

While schools could be told to better promote online ‘self help’ resources and a ‘peer-mentor scheme’ would see students support each other.

More MPs have backed the government’s pledges.

East Hampshire MP Damian Hinds said: ‘There is greater awareness nowadays of the prevalence of mental health issues, and it is right to seek to transform attitudes and to consider schools and the workplace alongside the health service.’