Speaking to the council about stress in studying

Last week, Joe Booth (young activist in Hackney) gave a speech to Hackney Council’s Health & Wellbeing board about youth mental health and cuts to Special Needs support services.

Here’s what he said:

My name is Joe Booth. I’m a 16-year-old autistic student at Mossbourne Community Academy. And I’m so concerned about school kids’ mental health that I have launched a campaign about it. The campaign is called Take The Stress Out Of Studying. TSOS for short. It has a website (tsos.blog), it has supporters around the country and has a petition signed by over 120 people. 

I want to make 3 points: *Firstly, the extent of stress and mental health problems amongst students. *Secondly, how school conditions contribute to this. *And thirdly, how important special education needs support is in dealing with this.

Firstly, one of the main things that prompted me to start this campaign was the suicide of my 16-year-old family friend last year. But lots of school-age kids experience mental health problems, and I myself have been taking daily anti-depressants since November. I know of students who have eating disorders, insomnia, distress, anxiety and other mental health problems. 

Secondly, school contributes to these mental health problems. For example, I’ve submitted a list of 5 concerns to the Vice Principal of my school. And what they are are: *Students are given so much homework that we have to spend hours every night doing it. We’re given at least 10 pieces of homework a week. Students stay up doing homework until midnight, 1am or even 2am. *Students are frequently kept in detention, often for trivial reasons. Students are often anxious about asking teachers for help with homework because they may detain them. Detentions until 6pm result in demoralisation and overwork. As a result, we become tired and stressed, and our family and leisure time is disrupted. *The academy is too strict and unsympathetic with us. Students are anxious about admitting to teachers if they have forgotten to bring equipment, or cannot complete or do homework, because the teachers will shout at them or detain them. As a result, students suffer anxiety about being sanctioned by teachers and can struggle to sleep. *Students have told teachers that they feel unwell (mentally or physically) and teachers have told them to ‘pull themselves together and keep learning’. As a result, students do not get the help they need with their health issues and become more unwell. *Special Needs students have become distressed and angry due to detentions and examination pressure. Sometimes, learning support staff have increased the lengths of their sanctions as a form of punishment instead of trying to understand what’s making them distressed and showing sympathy. As a result, Special Needs students are not getting the learning support they need, and are becoming excessively distressed.

Thirdly, particularly for students with Special Needs the extra support we need is crucial in helping us to deal with these stresses. E.g. through my Education Health & Care Plan (EHCP), I get a Teaching Assistant (TA) who can explain things to me so I don’t get distressed and somebody who I can talk to when I get upset. And I get Speech & Language Therapy which over the years, have helped me navigate social interaction and make friends. Any cut to Special Education Needs support in Hackney will lead to worsening students’ mental health. We should be improving the school environment for all our kids, especially all with special needs, not making it worse. We should be increasing support, not reducing it. 

To summarise, there is a real crisis in young people’s mental health. Conditions in schools are contributing to this crisis and we need the council and the government to increase support to kids with Special Needs, not taking it away.


Thanks for reading

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