23/11/2015 10:32 GMT | Updated 20/11/2016 05:12 GMT

Schools Are a Great Place to Support Children's Mental Wellbeing... But They Can't Do It Alone

An extended version of this post was originally delivered as a speech at Place2Be's Headteachers' Conference, 18 November 2015, kindly hosted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Over the past couple of years, we have seen progress and more recognition for children's mental health, along with the vital role that schools play in early intervention.

Education is about the whole child - not just academic achievement or the ability to succeed at exams. Children cannot learn if they are distracted and their heads are too full.

Our children are the future generation - of adults, employers, employees and parents. We must develop and nurture in them the skills to succeed: creativity, flexibility, enterprise, innovation, resilience, empathy, courage. And the ability to overcome the knocks, pressure and challenges that we will all encounter in our lives - such as bereavement, grief, loss and change.

We know that three children in the average classroom have a diagnosable mental health problem that requires professional support, and that's just an average. 50% of adults with a mental health problem first experienced symptoms by the age of 14. And yet, only 6% of the annual mental health spend is on children.

Intervening early is vital to stop the waste of human potential and to build a more hopeful, understanding, caring and resilient society - for our children and future generations.

At last we have some real change, building on the Government review and commitment around Future in Mind, we are seeing some positive moves from the Department of Health, Department for Education, NHS through the Transformation Plans, and Public Health England.

But change doesn't happen overnight and it requires us all to continue to maintain a relentless focus until we reach our goal of good - even outstanding - mental health support in all schools.

Schools have a vital role to play in delivering change. Some of our children come to school with so much on their minds - their heads are just too full to even begin with learning.

We all know that schools are a great place to support and enable children's mental wellbeing along with their academic potential. They provide consistency and accessibility. They remove stigma and can build into children the confidence to ask for help when they need it.

And of course teachers need support too. A recent study showed that over half of teachers considered leaving the profession. They enter wanting to make a difference but find a system too focused on testing with enormous amounts of pressure.

Schools need help to do this and cannot - or should not be - expected to do it alone. Schools are not mental health professionals - and need funding, training, access to specialist services, including links with specialist CAMHS. That way together we can provide joined-up and effective provision for children and families, from early identification and intervention, through to specialist care and support.