THE BLOG

An (Ofsted) Inspector Calls...

30/08/2015 21:00 BST | Updated 30/08/2016 10:59 BST

Who was it that said your school days are the best days of your life?

I'm sure that for every person for whom that phrase rings true, there is at least one other who shudders at the mere thought of that period of their lives...

I count myself lucky. When I think back to my own school days, I mostly remember some amazing teachers, a creative classroom, a love of learning, parents who truly believed in the value of education, and yes, being utterly hopeless at sports (but hey I've 'grown' and learned to live with that!)

But there are children and young people sitting in classrooms across the UK this week, dreading going out into the playground... dreading what the next message on their phone will bring... or even dreading going home this afternoon.

I'm frankly amazed that some young people, for example those who regularly witness domestic violence or deal with addiction at home, or those who endure a daily torment from their peers, ever manage to even show up - let alone learn anything at all.

Official figures estimate that one in 10 school-aged children and young people have a diagnosable mental health issue such as anxiety or depression, but other more recent surveys place that figure much higher. This is above and beyond the sorts of knocks and challenges that we all encounter in life - this is a diagnosable mental health problem and requires professional support.

These issues can reveal themselves in withdrawn, unpredictable or aggressive behaviour in class, all of which place an extra burden on the teacher and impact on learning for everyone in the classroom. At the same time, teachers are under extreme pressure to deliver the curriculum and academic results. They are often unable to consider what might lie behind unusual behaviour or struggle to understand or cope with the emotional needs of their pupils.

From this week (1 Sept 2015), schools in England are governed by a 'new common inspection framework' from Ofsted. For the first time, the framework refers specifically to pupils' emotional health and ability to manage their own feelings.

This update hasn't gained much attention - perhaps understandably as it comes with a raft of other changes. But for me it's a hugely significant one. It clearly demonstrates the growing recognition of the importance of children's emotional health in relation to learning. Many schools are already doing fantastic work to support their pupils' wellbeing, and I hope others will now follow suit.

Of course parents will always have a hugely important role to play in this. But schools are often perfectly placed to spot problems as they arise and to intervene early to support children and young people before those problems deteriorate or get out of hand. And overwhelming evidence shows that by doing this, we can prevent more serious adult mental health problems (and associated costs) in the long run.

Recognition of the vital role that schools and school leaders play in supporting children's mental health and wellbeing is a great first step. But this needs to be underpinned by appropriate teacher training, investment in early intervention and mental health services to prevent problems arising or escalating, and resources for schools whose budgets are already over-stretched, particularly in light of cuts over the last number of years to local services. Otherwise we risk perpetuating the status quo and missing a golden opportunity to have a genuinely positive impact on the future of our next generation.