Mental health training scheme to be extended to 22,000 schools and colleges

By Nina Jacobs

| 11 July 2019

A £9.3m national rollout of a mental health training scheme is aiming to better support students through their schools and colleges.

Staff at schools and colleges will be trained to support the mental health of students. Image: Becky Nixon

The government-backed Link Programme joins up local health and education provision in an drive to tackle mental health problems early.

The initiative, which was trialled at 1,500 settings from 2015, now aims to reach around 22,000 schools, colleges and alternative provision centres across England.

Under the four-year initiative, led by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, a key member of education staff will be trained as the senior mental health lead at their setting.

Training, which will initially focus on mild to moderate problems, will be prioritised in areas where schools and colleges are already attached to mental health support teams.

The programme will deliver just under 1,000 training sessions across England involving two whole-day workshops for up to 20 schools at a time.

This follows the government's announcement in December 2018 that these teams would be created in 25 "trailblazer" areas.  

Under the rollout, 124 new Mental Health Support Teams are planned for 48 areas across the country.

Each team will support around 20 schools and colleges in their area, aiming to speed up access to specialist services.

They will build on support already in place from school counsellors, nurses, educational psychologists and the voluntary sector, so that students get more timely and appropriate help before problems become more acute.

One in nine young people aged five to 15 had a diagnosable mental health condition in 2017, and teenage sufferers are more than twice as likely to have problems in adulthood.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "We want to give our children and young people the best possible start in life, and providing them with mental health and wellbeing support is a vital component.

"This programme will bring our health and education systems even closer together, building on the progress of our existing trailblazer sites and using the expertise of our NHS to ensure children have quicker access to mental health support when they need it."

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said there were limits to what could be asked or expected of teachers and that their role was not that of mental health professionals.

He added: "That's why this new training is important, by bringing school and college staff into the same room as NHS professionals and encouraging them to work together, sharing their expertise and making sure they have the information they need so that more pupils get the right help at the right time."

Professor Peter Fonagy, chief executive officer of the Anna Freud Centre, said the programme offered an alternative method of delivering support for children and young people.

"It brings together mental health and educational professionals to promote mental health and alleviate children and young people's distress," said Fonagy, adding: "This way we can identify their needs early and signpost them to the best support."

Claire Murdoch, NHS England's national mental health director, said: "The NHS is treating more children and young people for mental health conditions than ever before, and by offering expert mental health training in schools and identifying illness earlier we can help thousands more families to get the help they need to take care of their children."

The Department for Education also announced it will establish a separate training programme for senior mental health leads in schools.

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