Roy Blatchford writes the Foreword to a new publication, An Educator’s Guide to Mental Health and Wellbeing in Schools edited by James Hollinsley, published by John Catt Educational Ltd.
I started teaching in Her Majesty’s Prison, Brixton in 1973. When I moved to teach in a south London primary school I vowed that all my ‘top juniors’ would leave me with strong self-esteem and the dignity of articulacy and literacy, as prerequisites for success at secondary school.
‘Mental health’ was not in my vocabulary as a young teacher. But it is rightly in the minds of students, parents and teachers today. My experience in schools over four decades tells me that children and young people cannot flourish in the school environment unless their self-esteem and readiness to learn are carefully nurtured by skilled teachers and support staff.
Two years ago I had the privilege to be a member of the Education Policy Institute’s Commission which produced the influential report ‘Children and Young People’s Mental Health: Time to Deliver’.
In that role I saw first-hand the wide variance of practice within NHS services for those children and young people with mental health issues – and came to understand the imperative that we share nationally the very best local practices. I also came across the excellent work of James Hollinsley (editor of this collection) at his Harlow primary school.
At the launch of the EPI report, Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt spoke eloquently and personally about the issue of on-line bullying, and how, as a parent of three young children, he was keenly aware of what some parents and teachers are having to manage. Hunt observed that when he was a child, if you were bullied at school at least you could escape when you went home. But pernicious texting means a young person today finds it difficult to escape.
The delivery of effective services clearly hinges upon the many NHS partners involved. Yet it is teachers that are de facto in the front-line when it comes to children’s emotional well-being. Hence the need for mental health training to be part of initial and in-service provision for teachers.
Further, we need to see a trained lead for mental health and well-being in every school and ensure that young people are involved in designing in-school support. Personal and social education programmes require a particular focus on the risks of contemporary social media and how pupils can build their resilience to confront its worst aspects.
What gives me particular optimism that we shall increasingly succeed in early identification and successful treatment of mental ill-health in the young is the willingness of adults from all backgrounds to talk about the issue. As recently as five years ago, this was not the case.
The subject is properly on the national agenda, politically and socially. This collection of essays is happy evidence of that much-needed coming together of professionals from different backgrounds, speaking powerfully about their important work with children and young people and their own personal experiences.
The book is available to pre-order today on Amazon.
Roy Blatchford is founding director of the National Education Trust. His new collection of essays ‘Success is a Journey’ is published in April.