On average, three children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health condition – and many more go through periods when they struggle to cope. There is mounting evidence that this mental health crisis is growing. More young people than ever before are seeking support from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, and recent research by The Children’s Society indicates that a fifth of 14 year-old girls have self-harmed.
While schools should never be expected to do the job of mental health services, they have a crucial role to play in promoting good mental health in everything they do and in signposting pupils to support when problems first emerge. But the current education system is unbalanced, with a far greater focus on academic performance than on the wellbeing of students.
And it’s important to remember that the wellbeing of students goes hand in hand with the wellbeing of teachers. When staff are constantly stressed and overworked, it can affect their interaction with students. Taking a whole-school approach to wellbeing has benefits for young people’s wider education, and for everyone who works in school.
That’s why, over the last year, we’ve been campaigning for a rebalancing of the education system, so that schools can focus on wellbeing at least as much as exam results.
During that time, we’ve seen some very welcome progress. The government’s plans to introduce mental health to the curriculum, mental health support teams, designated mental health leads and optional new measurements of wellbeing could all make a huge difference.
But we need to see a more fundamental change to the system.
At the moment, schools that are doing excellent work on wellbeing and mental health do not receive the resources or recognition that they deserve. That means that, when school leadership teams have to make difficult decisions about how to spend their limited budgets, it can be hard for them to make wellbeing a priority. This needs to change.
Ensuring Ofsted focuses on wellbeing
Ofsted inspect schools and colleges across England, and give them ratings from ‘inadequate’ to ‘outstanding’ based on a variety of criteria. The framework is currently being reviewed, with new criteria to be introduced next year.
At the moment, wellbeing is simply not well enough recognised in inspections. Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, has already announced that the new framework will no longer focus on exam results and grades. This is good news, and will hopefully help to reduce the burden of teachers.
But we want an explicit commitment that the wellbeing of children will be Ofsted’s priority.
Our campaign has the backing of young people, parents and teachers. 90% of young people we surveyed said that they would like mental health to be more important in their school or college. Three-quarters of parents say that they’d rather send their child to a school where children are happy over one with better exam results.
And, when we polled nearly 7,000 teachers earlier this year, 86% of teachers agreed that they Ofsted framework should be revised, so that there is a greater focus on wellbeing and mental health, with other elements scaled back.
This Thursday, our young activists will be delivering an open letter to Ofsted, asking them to ensure that wellbeing is at the heart of the new inspection framework. So far the open letter has been signed by more than 20,000 people.
While Ofsted inspections can only give a snapshot of what a school does, they inevitably shape a school’s agenda until the next inspection. That’s why the framework should reflect what matters most to young people, parents and teachers. For a school to be outstanding, it should have the wellbeing of children – and of the staff who work with them – at its heart.
Sign our open letter: https://act.youngminds.org.uk/wise-tell-ofsted-prioritise-wellbeing-schools