Sunderland's Grange Park Primary School takes action to tackle growing number of children with mental health difficulties

A Sunderland school is investing in specialist training for its staff to help deal with the growing number of children with mental health issues.

Monday, 13th December 2021, 4:55 am

Grange Park Primary School in Monkwearmouth has taken the decision to help enable staff to identify and provide early intervention for pupils with mental health concerns and anxieties in the wake of the Covid pandemic and the impact of lockdowns.

A recent NHS survey revealed one in six children in England has a “probable mental disorder” with nearly 40%of children aged six to 16 feeling their mental health has deteriorated since the onset of the pandemic.

A report by the BBC also highlighted 20 per cent of children have waited more than 12 weeks to see a child mental health care specialist after being identified as being in need of support.

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Even before the pandemic, concerns over children’s mental health was escalating with a poll by the National Association of Headteachers showing the number of schools seeking professional mental health support for pupils had nearly doubled from 36% to 66% over a three-year period.

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It’s a situation which prompted headteacher Francesca Cowan to take action and invest in a staff training programme with Blue Mental Health Education and Training (BMHET).

Mrs Cowan said: “One of the biggest challenges for schools is the number of children that need a high level of support in terms of their mental health and anxieties and when we refer them into services there unfortunately isn’t the capacity.

Dealing with the complex issue of children's mental health is becoming an increasing concern for schools.

“Often the children are either put on a long waiting list for services that are over-subscribed or they're not put on a waiting list at all because of certain criteria, but they’re still in school presenting with anxieties and behaviours that need support.

"Teachers and school leaders are trying everything they can with the skills they have.

“We’re investing both the time and the money into this training with BMHET to get a number of support staff, including myself, trained up to a level where we know we can help the children in school.”

The training is led by specialists in children’s mental health, to enable staff to become more proficient in identifying specific concerns and implementing support intervention strategies.

Grange Park Primary School headteacher Francesca Cowan has taken the decision to provide specialist training for her own staff to help identify and support the needs of children with mental health difficulties.

In secondary schools, the training will also be delivered to specially selected Sixth Form students as part of a peer-led programme to enable the students to also become a point of contact and support.

Mrs Cowan added: “We already know those children in need of help. We have support from the parents and family members and it will allow us to do effective interventions at the point of need, without having to wait.

"This supports the children emotionally, helps the family, creates a support culture throughout the school and of course helps not just with their education, but with their growth mindset, their ability to be able to overcome difficulties and build their resilience for life.”

BMHET Co-Director Craig Thompson added: “Schools are facing significant challenges around meeting the mental health needs of children and young people. We’ve been talking to lots of schools around the region and there’s a common narrative.

"Schools are struggling to support children and young people with mental health difficulties, and they need more specialist training and practical support in this area.”

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