A coalition of health and education experts have committed to making mental health and wellbeing a central part of education recovery plans in education settings across England, as the Government’s Mental Health in Education Action Group convened for the final time today (Wednesday 14 July).

Co-chaired by Universities Minister Michelle Donelan and Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford, the action group also included Mental Health Minister Nadine Dorries, Youth Mental Health Ambassador Dr Alex George, and representatives from leading mental health and education organisations.

Since its launch earlier this year, members of the group have taken feedback on areas to improve support for pupils and students as well as staff working in all areas of education, reflecting on the main challenges facing them including the increase in eating disorders and self-harm among young people and how to help staff manage their own mental wellbeing.

Members of the Government’s Action Group have so far:

  • Committed £7 million for the Department for Education’s Wellbeing for Education Recovery programme, to facilitate training and resources for staff in schools and colleges;
  • Collated and coordinated all mental health delivery programmes into a single portal on Gov.uk to simplify access to resources and training for schools and colleges, teachers, staff and councils alike;
  • Organised a webinar to be held tomorrow, Thursday 15 July, for senior leaders across the sector, including the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), on pathways to accessing specialist mental health support and on how to improve collaboration between services;
  • Ensured that summer schools and Holiday, Activity and Food clubs around the country will be able to access a series of free wellbeing support videos, co-created by Dr Alex George, First News, Sky Kids, the Department for Education and Public Health England, to offer tips and tricks to improve children’s mood in a positive, energetic way. Each episode highlights the importance of being physically and mentally healthy and will air on Sky Kids and Now TV throughout the summer of 2021.
  • Created resources for students in higher education, collating the guidance, tools and services available to support their mental health, raising awareness of the support available and empowering individuals to seek help; and
  • Asked the Office for Students to allocate an additional £15 million towards university students’ mental health, through proposed reforms to grant funding to help address the challenges to student mental health posed by the transition to university, in addition to the £3 million Student Space, a dedicated student mental health and wellbeing platform.

Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford said:

The mental health and wellbeing of our children and young people must remain a priority as we move forward into a new academic year, so that children can get on with their lives and their education in the best possible way.

I’m proud of the progress our Mental Health in Education Action Group has made these past months in making sure education settings can access the significant support and investment we have provided for wellbeing. I want to encourage all school leaders to explore what’s available to them and their pupils over the summer and into next term, so we can work together to support children to build back better from the pandemic.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:

We know how challenging the last year has been for our students and university staff and so supporting them as we recover from the pandemic remains a priority for this government.

Through the Mental Health in Education Action Group we have already taken visible and positive steps forward to make sure students can seek help if they need it. I urge all higher education providers to look at how they care for their students who may be experiencing mental health issues and use the resources available to improve the support they receive.

Dr Alex George, Youth Mental Health Ambassador, said:

I’m so proud to be working with government as part of the Mental Health in Education Action group. It’s amazing to know that our free videos will be used in summer schools and holiday clubs, building on what’s already in the curriculum – and to know that from September, schools and colleges will have access to even more resources and training. Being in a safe and understanding environment is important now, more than ever, and all children need to know that their mental health matters.

Meeting for the final time today, the action group has also committed to longer-term support for the sector by continuing to signpost training opportunities, resources and investment in mental health and wellbeing for staff and settings across the education sector from early years through to higher education.

This includes senior mental health lead training, boosted by an extra £9.5 million for schools and colleges to use from September; more Mental Health Support Teams to support nearly three million children by 2023; and the Suicide Prevention roundtable held with Universities UK, which will further support higher education providers to care for their students experiencing mental health issues.

The webinar on Thursday 15 July, hosted by the Department for Education and NHS England and with representatives from unions and sector leaders, will discuss the main challenges faced by the education, health and children’s services sectors, and how to work together to resolve them.

Dr Alex George’s wellbeing videos with First News and Sky Kids will be broadcast on Saturday mornings over five weeks, beginning 10 July, on Sky Kids news show FYI and Now TV. Each film highlights the importance of being physically and mentally healthy, and can be accessed for free here.

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