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Mental Wellbeing of Pupils

Volume 715: debated on Monday 23 May 2022

12. What steps he is taking to help primary and secondary schools support pupils’ mental wellbeing. (900171)

This month, we announced £10 million to extend senior mental health lead training to more schools. Such training will be available to two thirds of schools and colleges by 2023 and to all by 2025. It will support our schools White Paper actions on the promotion of a school week and targeting of support to improve mental wellbeing.

Since being elected, I have been lucky to visit many schools throughout my constituency. I have been told consistently, both by teachers and by pupils, that students of all ages are struggling to cope with poor mental health and that the situation has worsened considerably since the pandemic. That comes against the backdrop of a survey, reported on recently in The Guardian, that found that 43% of GPs have told parents to seek private care for children with poor mental health. Will the Minister adopt the recommendations of my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) and commit not only to support young people’s mental health but to report on it annually to Parliament?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this issue, which is one of the big challenges of our time. We know that pressures on young people in relation to mental wellbeing are growing, which is why on 12 May I announced an additional £7 million to extend senior mental health lead training to even more schools and colleges. That will help our ambition to reach two thirds of eligible settings by 2023 and brings the total amount of funding for 2022-23 to £10 million. In addition, we will roll out mental health support teams to 35% of all schools by next year. In truth, though, we do need to go further. I regularly speak to my counterpart at the Department of Health and Social Care to see what more we can do in this policy area.

One of the best ways to demonstrate, both to teachers and to young people, that we value and support them is to make sure that they have a decent school to go to in the first place. I hope the Minister will therefore join me in congratulating Gillian Middlemas and the staff and pupils of Whitworth Community High School, which has just been topped out as part of the Government’s school building programme. I hope he will also take the time to visit my constituency to see the work—

I would be happy to visit my right hon. Friend’s constituency. The schools that are doing best on mental health and mental wellbeing are the ones that take a whole-school approach, as that school no doubt is.

A set of schools that are usually forgotten are the pupil referral units that take on pupils with extensive special educational needs and disabilities. Tackling such a challenging set of needs requires a multidisciplinary approach, but PRUs throughout the country do not have set criteria for how they should teach students or support children back into mainstream schools, and nor do they have sustained funding. Will the Minister look at the fantastic model for multidisciplinary and multi-agency education that is delivered at Orchardside School—the Department is aware of its work—in my constituency? Perhaps he can come to see the work being done there and how sustained investment can make a difference.

I would be very happy to do so. We need a step change in the way that we approach alternative provision. That is why alternative provision is a key part of the special educational needs and disability and alternative provision review. We do need a step change. I would be very happy to come to see the hon. Lady’s constituency. We are investing an initial £2.6 billion in capital for SEND and alternative provision places, which I know will be game changing.

On Friday past, I presented Arthur Redmond at High Lawn Primary School with the Bolton North East community champion award for litter picking. Does the Minister agree that a national campaign for primary and secondary schools across the country to get involved in litter picking would help boost kids’ mental wellbeing?

That was an interesting link from my hon. Friend. None the less, he does have a point that a whole-school approach to mental wellbeing is about doing all sorts of extra-curricular activities. One of the best ways, of course, is getting children and young people outside. Would I encourage a campaign to tackle littering? Of course, I would.

I am both eager and angry this morning, which is why I wanted to get in my question to the ministerial team as early as possible. Are Ministers aware of the great scandal that children’s needs are not being identified early enough to change their life trajectory? Up and down the country, parents are waiting months, even years, to get any sort of assessment or statement. Why do the Government not wake up to that and do something about it?

As I have said, I regularly meet my counterpart at the Department of Health and Social Care. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that at the heart of the SEND and alternative provision review is not just inclusivity, but early identification.