The schools minister's comments to the Education Select Committee that "Education is... about leaving school as educated as you can be" offers a narrow view of what schooling should be about. We as a society need to look at the life skills we are providing children both at home and at school. Increasing academic achievement is vital for a striving nation but so is preparing a generation of children to cope with life.
Young people spend so much of their lives in schools it should surely be seen as an opportunity for building emotional resilience. This isn't necessarily about extra work for already over worked teachers it is about factoring pupil's wellbeing into the curriculum. The young people we work with through our VIK project tell us that their PSHE lessons rarely if ever focus on positive mental health and wellbeing. They tell us that issues such as healthy eating and obesity are taught but there are never any lessons about anorexia or other eating disorders.
A positive wellbeing agenda within schools is not only good for pupil's health it is good for having content and happy pupils engaged in the curriculum. Sadly OFSTED no longer inspect for a pupil's wellbeing, instead focusing almost solely on academic performance. Are we to consider a school a success if pupil's grades are high but the wellbeing of the pupils is low and mental illness is prominent?
The government's obsession with preparing children for the workplace conjures an image of schools as 'exam factories' and young people as parts on an ever moving assembly line. If schools are to become mere 'exam factories' churning out students with academic excellence behind them but little emotional resilience then the nation's mental health will suffer.
Last year YoungMinds Parents' Helpline received a record number of calls from people worried about a young person coping with the pressure of exams. When young people start struggling to cope at school it can often be just the start of a path leading to more severe mental illness. We should tell young people that exams and succeeding academically is important but we should not be afraid to tell them that living physical and mentally healthy lives is vital too.
The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2030 more people will suffer with depression than any other health problem. Working with young people on building emotional resilience and developing positive mental health in school can be part of the solution to tackling the growing problem of mental illness.
The YoungMinds in Schools programme, funded by the Department for Education, aims to improve outcomes for children and young people with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties by providing a comprehensive suite of online learning resources for educational professionals along with a range of training courses related to mental health and wellbeing in schools.
The project seeks to maximise the potential to positively influence the emotional wellbeing and mental health of the whole school community, adults and children, as well as addressing the specific needs of pupils identified as having behavioural, emotional and social difficulties (BESDs).