At a time when schools’ resources are increasingly stretched, with local headteachers reporting difficult decisions being made over cuts to staff, subjects or school days; it is key that we ensure no children are left behind.
I take heart when I see local schools where, despite the pressures, support for student wellbeing is being prioritised, and it was great to see the work being done at Shelley College when I visited recently.
As well as chatting with student leaders and taking their excellent questions, we had a visit from Tilly the therapy dog, heard about the school’s support for Hello Yellow – a campaign that promotes young people’s mental health, and met their fantastic Wellbeing and Anti-Bullying ambassadors.
Unfortunately, it is too often that I hear from families who are still struggling to secure the right school provision and educational support for their child. And too often, it seems that children have to fail at school before the right support is provided.
Not only does this have a negative impact on a child’s educational outcomes, it also damages their self-esteem and their long-term prospects.
The responsibility to tackle this should not fall solely on schools and school budgets. In 2014, the government introduced a new special educational needs system in England, yet five years on, the latest report from the House of Commons Education Committee has told of “families being made to wade through treacle” to get educational support for children with special needs.
The report, from the cross-party group of MPs, exposes a system that is in crisis and is strongly critical of the government for “presiding serenely over chaos”.
We also see this more widely in children’s, and their families’, experiences of mental health services. The Children’s Commissioner has already warned that 800,000 children are living with mental health disorders – that’s at least three young people in every classroom.
Years of cuts and staffing shortages have left health services struggling to offer basic levels of care. Shockingly, 100,000 children are denied mental health treatment each year because their problems aren’t deemed ‘serious’ enough. For those whose problems are deemed serious, 500 children wait more than a year for specialist mental health treatment.
The Conservative government may talk of parity of esteem, yet, when making their pre-election shopping lists of supposed hospital rebuilds, they have failed to even acknowledge the need for investment to upgrade mental health facilities and ensure we have more capacity across the service.
We know that early intervention is key in mental health, that is why Labour has promised to extend school counselling services. Ensuring there’s a trained professional available will mean mental health is more integrated into education, and will give young people somewhere to turn.
On top of this, I’m proud that the next Labour government will introduce a Future Generations Wellbeing Act. It will ensure a ‘health in all policies’ approach and firmly place long term planning for children’s health and wellbeing at the forefront of legislation.
This issue is so important. We must ensure all children receive the healthcare and education they deserve, so that no child is held back.
And as always, if there’s anything I can do to help readers or their families in any way on any of these issues, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with my office on 01924 565450, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to me; Paula Sherriff MP, The Old Dewsbury Reporter Building, 17 Wellington Road, Dewsbury, WF13 1HQ.