Sharing Insights: Shaping government policy on mental health and wellbeing in education

Dr Julie Hulme, Reader in Psychology at Keele University and Co-chair of the Keele Institute for Innovation and Teaching Excellence (KIITE) THiNK Network, has recently attended an All Party Parliamentary Group for Psychology at Westminster, to influence government policy on promoting mental health and wellbeing in schools.

Dr Hulme is part of an expert group, organised by the British Psychological Society (BPS), which has produced a briefing paper aimed at encouraging the Department for Education, and Ofsted (who conduct inspections of schools and colleges), to adopt a psychologically-informed approach to improving the support available for children and teachers. According to the briefing, one in eight children and young people have a diagnosable mental ill health condition, and many more may be experiencing stress.

Dr Hulme comments:

“It was fantastic to see parliamentarians and policymakers expressing genuine concern about children and young people’s mental health. Mental ill health is a barrier to learning and impacts upon children’s education. I hope that our work will help to deliver improved support in schools and colleges, for teachers, as well as for the children in their classes. In particular, I am hopeful that teachers will be given more training on mental health as part of their initial teacher training.” 

The BPS briefing paper which Dr Hulme contributed to calls for recognition that issues surrounding children’s mental health and wellbeing are complex, including socio-economic and environmental factors, and asks for a renewed focus on the creation of a positive and supportive school environment, taking a whole school approach, in which children and families feel involved. Importantly, the BPS report highlights a need to move away from seeing children and young people as responsible for their own wellbeing, and emphasises a need to identify and support those at risk, regardless of whether or not they ask for help. Finally, it is suggested that the different agencies and services involved in providing mental health support should collaborate more closely, and particularly that there needs to be communication between those working with children with special educational needs and disabilities, and those working to provide mental health support. Appropriate professional support, it is argued, should be available to all children at risk, with parity to the way that support is provided for physical disability or ill health.

The BPS Expert Group of which Dr Hulme is a member is also working to influence policy around mental health in Higher Education, considering ways in which universities can improve access to mental health support for students, and can support academic staff in developing supportive educational environments.

Dr Hulme adds:

“Young people with mental ill health often find the transition to university challenging, and do not know how to access support in a new educational environment. Improving support will help students to thrive and to succeed at university, and beyond into graduate employment.”