Children and young people with social, emotional or mental health (SEMH) needs are disproportionately excluded, making up two thirds of the pupil population in alternative provision schools.
The government’s trailblazer programme for mental health provision in schools is a welcome first step in supporting pupils in mainstream schools, but it does not go far enough.
64% of children in alternative provision schools have an identified SEMH need.
13% of children in special schools have an identified SEMH need.
2% of children in mainstream schools have an identified SEMH need.
The Department for Education and the NHS are jointly funding 82 trailblazer sites across England to expand access to mental health care for children and young people via schools and colleges.
Mental Health Support Teams in these areas provide early intervention on some mental health and emotional wellbeing issues, as well as helping staff within a school or college setting to provide a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing.
Nevertheless, early intervention is just one piece of the puzzle. By the time a child is excluded and being educated in alternative provision, the level of presenting need tends to be much greater. We are concerned that the current programme design, with its focus on early intervention and low-intensity delivery, may not be suitable for pupils outside of mainstream school.
“Prompt access to support the learning and mental of health of children who struggle with school could prevent future mental disorders as well as exclusion from school.”
Research suggests exclusion may aggravate, or even precipitate, poor mental health. A study by the University of Exeter found that exclusion led to new-onset mental health conditions, despite adjusting for background factors.
We believe this underlines the need for the government to continue to invest in a multi-agency approach to mental health support in schools throughout the country, as is currently being trialled in the trailblazer areas.
The mental health trailblazer programme does not consider the higher support needs of alternative provision schools.
The trailblazers use education mental health practitioners (EMHPs) who receive just one year of training as the school-based mental health expert.
Experts from the Anna Freud Centre for Children and Families consider that EMHPs are insufficiently qualified to deal with the level of need and complexity of the pupil population in alternative provision without significant additional support.
A long-term commitment to multi-agency mental health support in schools, in every part of the country, based on what works in the trailblazer areas.
An analysis of need to be conducted for alternative provision settings of all kinds, to determine the level and quantity of mental health practitioners required.
The mental health trailblazers to be adequately resourced to provide the appropriate level of specialist practitioners to children in all alternative provision settings.