The Independent has published an interesting article about ‘resilience’: you can read it here. The government has finally noticed the mental health crisis amongst school students, but its solution seems to be to teach children to be more ‘resilient’, rather than to stop the education policies that are causing the mental health policies. We would rather see prevention than cure!

Taking the Stress Out of SATs

Kids as young as ten are being stressed out by the pressure of SATs, the Standard Assessment Tests that feed the government obsession with scores and ranking, but do nothing to help our education. Year 6 – the final year of primary education – could be a time of positive learning and preparation for next steps, but instead has been made into a boot camp in test-passing.

With SATs making kids scared of failing, we are glad to see some schools making the effort to reassure their pupils that SATs do not determine who they are as a person.

We would like to see SATs scrapped altogether, but until they are, we are glad to see letters like this one, from West Park Academy in Darlington to its pupils.


Here is the text of the speech made by Gary McVeigh-Haye at the NEU/NUT Conference on 30 March, speaking on a motion about the crisis in young peoples’ mental health:

MOTION 20 – AMENDMENT 1 – Crisis in Young People’s Mental Health

Conference, President. I have been flown in a plane, but I’m not qualified to fly a plane. I’ve been treated by a dentist, but I’m not qualified to perform dentistry. I have received counselling for mental health problems, but I’m no more qualified to offer focussed and wholly appropriate counselling than I am to perform the former two tasks. So why would the Government so undervalue the cost of providing properly trained individuals to fulfil their ambition of having a mental health first aider in every school by 2020?

In the first year of the programme the Youth MHFA organisation has provided 100 one day training courses to around 1200 individuals. The cost of funding an individual is around £200. Conference I would suggest that to train staff to an adequate level in order to enable them to support children with mental health issues would actually cost way in excess of this amount. Furthermore, the idea of bundling around 120 staff at a time onto a one day course is never going to offer sufficient detail of training to enable those staff to fully deal with this ever escalating crisis of mental health issues in children from primary age up to university students.

Put simply, in their usual haphazard way, this Government is applying a sticking plaster to fix a gapping wound.

Conference, in order to even begin to deal with this crisis in young people’s mental health it’s not enough to look at the cure, we need to look at the roots of the problem and in doing so seek prevention.

Recently, I actually attended a very rare event for teachers. I attended CPD course that genuinely made me think. The session was based on the concept of load theory. Many of you will know that this theory is based on the capacity of the working memory and the limited information that our working memory can process. Even though there have been many creditable studies into the concept of load theory and the dangers of overloading young peoples working memories This Easter holidays children across the country are being bombarded with revision timetables, this ceaseless attack coming from all directions. Even yesterday Barnaby Lenon, Chairman of the Independent Schools Council, published advice arguing that GCSE students should be revising for seven hours a day over the Easter holidays. No wonder these still developing young minds are going into meltdown at the prospect of page after page of information pushing their working memory beyond capacity.

Conference, in 1986 the barbaric practice of corporal punishment was quite rightly banned from our schools. Why now, in the twenty first century, are we allowing a form of cognitive corporal punishment to pervade into our classrooms?

The Guardian recently published figures that show that whilst 16 million people in the UK show some form of mental illness, ¾ of these illnesses originate in childhood. Additionally, 73% of children with mental health problems are not receiving proper treatment for their conditions. Furthermore, it takes an average of 10 years for children to receive adequate treatment, and because of this we are send increasing numbers of children into adult life bereft of the personal capacity to cope with this increasingly complex world.

Conference, as teachers we implement wave one intervention in learning every day. At the frontline we also deliver wave one intervention for our children’s mental wellbeing. But now the Government must put its money where it’s mouth is and properly fund properly trained professionals to look after our children’s mental health. To paraphrase something Kevin Courtney said a couple of years ago, we know the cost of fully funding children’s mental health services, we do not know the price we will pay if we don’t properly fund this provision.

Young people and mental health – a political issue

This article, by Joe Booth, was originally published in Solidarity newspaper in March 2017.

Statistics show that help for young people with mental health issues is dramatically decreasing. A 2016 investigation by the Guardian and 38 Degrees showed that trusts around England were “drawing up plans for hospital closures and cutbacks” in an attempt to avoid a £20 billion shortfall by 2020. This means that young people aren’t getting the help they need or deserve.

Some 75% of mental health issues begin before the age of 18. The charity, MQ, estimates that on average, there are three children in every classroom with a diagnosable mental illness or unrecognised mental health problems. In January, a 16-year-old friend of my family committed suicide: she was severely depressed, and the problems in the world were hard for her to cope with.

She was not alone. 26% of young people in the United Kingdom experience suicidal thoughts. Likewise, the 44% of 16-24-year-old LGBT+ people who are frequently bullied are at a higher risk of suicide, self-mutilation and/or depression. Looked-after children and care leavers are between four and five times more likely to attempt suicide in adulthood. 18.9% of looked-after children below the age of five (19.3% of boys and 17.4% of girls) showed signs of behavioural or emotional problems.

These statistics emphasise that there are too many young people — and adults — who kill themselves, harm themselves or suffer from depression because of living under an oppressive and alienating society. Depression and self-hatred may come from loneliness or pessimism, or from alienation and oppression. We need improvements in facilities to help young people. YoungMinds is the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.

According to them, more than 850,000 children and young people in the UK have been diagnosed with a mental health condition. YoungMinds do the best they can as the leading organisation committed to philanthropically helping people, but they are limited by being a charity. Young people may receive help from this charity, or from CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), but we also need to discuss and address why young people are suffering, and the ultimate solution to it.

I want to respond to the death of my family friend by learning from her and campaigning for the politics that will prevent it happening again.

We need not just philanthropy but political demands and a significant change. I think we need help groups or services to become politically radical and open to the prevention of young people harming themselves or become depressed. We need a fund or organisation that is socialistic, with an overall objective to understand why young people with mental health issues, and neurodivergent young people, commit suicide, harm themselves and/or suffer from depression, and to consider the solution to it. We need solidarity against the causes of mental ill-health and low self-esteem; we need activism and revolutionary socialist politics.

Founding statement

This is the founding statement of Take the Stress Out of Studying:
There is increasing awareness about young people’s and students’ mental health. But we need more than awareness. We need action.
Mental health problems affect one in ten children and young people. 27% of university students report experiencing mental health problems, with higher rates among women and LGBT+ students. Young people’s mental health is worsening: depression and anxiety among teenagers have increased by 70% in the past 25 years ; in 2015, 231 young people aged 10-19 took their own lives, the highest number for 14 years.
Staff in schools, colleges and universities also face increasing stress, with ever-rising workload, stretched resources, inspections and job insecurity. Many are leaving their jobs. Working in education is the second most stressed profession, with 2,310 cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety.
We refuse to allow this appalling situation to continue unchallenged.
We need support services for these students, young people and education workers. We also need to address the reasons that they are becoming mentally unwell, including: exam pressure; bullying; large class sizes; authoritarian school regimes; rigidity of the curriculum; financial hardship; and cuts in Special Educational Needs support. Government policies, driven by austerity and hostility to public services, have made these worse.
We want an education system where students get the individual attention they need; where they can learn about their subjects rather than about how to pass the next exam; where they do not have to work in low-paid, insecure jobs while trying to study for a degree; and where staff have secure jobs with decent pay and conditions. These and other policies will also make education more accessible to those who currently do not take part in it.
We want to campaign to Take The Stress Out Of Studying, uniting students, workers, parents, trade unions and the labour movement to draw up and mobilise for demands that will reverse austerity attacks, reduce distress and improve mental health. We invite you to help us build such a campaign.
Signatories: Joe Booth, school student; Mandy Hudson, Equality seat, National Educational Union (ex-NUT section); Zack Muddle, NCAFC (National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts) National Committee, Bristol Labour LGBT+ Officer; Lorna Tooley, Young Members’ Committee President, National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers; Stuart Jordan, Secretary, Truro and Falmouth Constituency Labour Party; Janine Booth, co-Chair, TUC Disabled Workers’ Committee
If you would like to add your name, please comment below or email Joe Booth