Proposals on children’s mental health ‘lack ambition’ leaving vulnerable at risk, MPs warn

Government plans to improve access to mental health care in schools and colleges lack ambition, leaving hundreds of thousands of children without the support they need, MPs have warned.

A joint report by the Commons Education and Health and Social Care committees said the slow pace of the roll-out of the Government’s strategy meant young people in need of help now would miss out.

It said the “narrow scope” of the proposals failed to take account of the needs of vulnerable groups, while they would put “significant pressure” on teaching staff without any guarantee they will receive resources they need.

Under the Government proposals set out in a green paper last December, schools and colleges in England are expected to appoint a “designated senior lead” on mental health to co-ordinate support services, and help children access specialist therapies and other NHS treatments.

They will be backed by the creation of new mental health support teams to improve link-ups between schools and the NHS, while setting new targets for waiting times.

However, the report said the Government’s “trailblazer” approach, rolling out a series of pilot projects, meant that by 2022/23 it will still only have reached between a fifth and a quarter of the country.

It said the committees had heard evidence the strategy failed to link up adequately with other relevant policies, with accusations that ministers were just “tinkering” with the system rather than trying to transform it.

The requirement for schools and colleges to appoint designated senior leads, from within their existing ranks, would only serve to exacerbate the pressures on an already “stretched” teaching workforce, it added.

The report said the green paper also failed to address the needs of young people who had been excluded from school who were more likely to have mental health needs, and it called on the Government to do more research on the impact of “high-stake exams” on pupils’ well-being.

“The Government’s strategy lacks ambition and will provide no help to the majority of those children who desperately need it,” the report said.

“The narrow scope does not take several vulnerable groups into account, and the proposals put significant pressure on the teaching workforce without guaranteeing sufficient resources. There is also little or no attention to prevention or early intervention.

“The suggested speed of delivery will leave hundreds of thousands of children with no improvements in provision for several years and with possibly worsened provision if staff leave to join trailblazer areas elsewhere.”

Education Committee chairman Rob Halfon said: “This strategy does not go far enough, which raises the very real prospect of hundreds of thousands of children missing out on getting the help they so desperately need.

“If the Government is serious about tackling injustices in our society, it must ensure proper targeted funding of support for those most in need.”

Health and Social Committee chairman Dr Sarah Wollaston said: “We want to see more evidence that Government will join up services in a way which places children and young people at their heart and that improves services to all children rather than a minority.”

A Government spokeswoman said: “We completely reject any suggestion that our plans lack ambition – these changes will transform mental health services for children and young people, including the first ever waiting time standards for those with the most serious problems.

“This will be supported by a new workforce – larger than the entire current workforce – and backed by £300 million of additional funding that will also provide significant additional resources for all schools. This builds on what good schools are already doing, without adding to teachers’ workloads.

“We agree that every young person should be able to access mental health support – however we need to ensure we get this right, which is why we will pilot this approach to make sure services are correct.”

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