New ‘Teach First’ to train teachers as mental health specialists

The Guardian reports that the UK charity aims to recruit and develop teachers specially to help vulnerable pupils at risk of exclusion.

Kiran Gill, a former teacher, became familiar with the stories of young people like Hope when she worked in inner-city London schools. Hope was a high-achieving teenager with a string of good GCSEs and an optimistic future. She was determined to continue studying at her school’s sixth form but, in the first year of her A-levels, her mental health deteriorated. She suffered psychotic episodes, which culminated in a period as a hospital in-patient.

When Hope returned to school, the head of the sixth form told her the school could no longer meet her needs and she should move elsewhere, with potentially damaging consequences for her A-levels.

Hope’s story has a happy ending. Her family and a legal advocacy service challenged what was in effect an illegal exclusion, and she was admitted to another school. For Gill, now a researcher for the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), students such as Hope are at the tip of an iceberg.

A new charity, The Difference, founded by Gill with support from the IPPR, is using Hope’s story to try to tackle this problem, at a time when mental health is rising up the policy agenda. One in 10 children now suffer from a diagnosable mental health condition.

Key to the programme is the role of alternative provision (AP) [pdf]. This can be short-term education, off the school site, for challenging pupils; permanently excluded pupils can be educated full-time in pupil referral units.

The Difference would place excellent teachers from mainstream schools into state-maintained alternative provision, and offer them two-year on-the-job training combined with a master’s degree to create mental health specialists. Successful graduates would work with child adolescent and mental health services (Camhs), educational psychologists, social workers and youth offending teams. After training, they could stay in alternative provision or move into mainstream schools, hopefully to spread their expertise and become the leaders of tomorrow.

Read more New ‘Teach First’ to train teachers as mental health specialists

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