Nearly four in five teachers have seen mental health issues among pupils increase over the past year, a survey suggests.
More than three in five (62%) believe the Government has placed low priority on the good mental health of young people in educational settings, according to a poll from the National Education Union (NEU).
The UK’s largest teaching union is calling on ministers to recognise that the wellbeing of young people is “just as vital” as their academic learning.
The survey, of mainly teachers, school leaders and some support staff, suggests that two in three believe pressure to prioritise “catch up” of learning has presented a barrier to supporting pupils’ mental health.
More than half said a lack of access to external support services (56%) and sufficient staff providing pastoral care (54%) are also barriers.
The findings were released on the final day of the NEU’s annual conference.
The survey, of nearly 10,700 NEU members, suggests that 78% have seen the number of students with mental health issues rise over the last year, with 34% saying the number had “increased greatly”.
It found that only 7% believe the Government has placed high priority on ensuring that pupil mental health is good in schools and colleges.
Respondents to the survey shared examples of the practices that have been adopted over the past year to support students with their wellbeing.
One NEU member said they had introduced “random 1-2-1 check in calls” which were not work-focused.
Another said they had held “daily meetings” with children – and they had rung “at-risk or struggling children most days to check in on their mental wellbeing”.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “The infrastructure to support young people with poor mental health was under considerable strain before Covid, and our survey shows that the situation has worsened over the past 12 months.
“More research will be necessary, but the increase is all too apparent.”
She added: “The disruption to life, to play, to sport, to everyday social interaction has been stark. The message from education staff is clear – Government has got to recognise that the wellbeing of young people is just as vital as their learning, and that wellbeing impacts significantly on learning.
“Schools and colleges want to play their part, and take very seriously the wellbeing of their students, but real-terms cuts to school funding have dramatically reduced the specialist support available to them in this important work. All too often the students most in need of support cannot access it.
“Government must listen to today’s message from the front line, which is clear and unambiguous. We must all play our part in ensuring that the legacy of Covid does not become a generation of young people with poor mental health. We need solutions for the long term.”
A Government spokesperson said: “We know young people have faced unprecedented challenges over the past year – including with wellbeing – which is why support for pupil mental health is a vital part of the recovery.
“We have announced £1.7 billion in ambitious plans to boost learning, including £950 million additional funding for schools, which they can use to support pupils’ mental health and wellbeing.
“NHS services have remained open for those who need specialist support and we are investing an additional £79 million to further increase this provision, including more mental health support teams working with schools and colleges.”
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