Mental Health and Pastoral Support in Education

“Good mental health is fundamental to thriving in life. It is the essence of who we are and how we experience the world” (The Mental Health Foundation, 2016, 2). Students within today's society are facing more challenging issues in their day to day lives. More recently, secondary school pupils are more commonly being diagnosed with mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety, with recent findings showing that of the 700 students who responded to the Mental Health Foundation’s survey, 38% had moved below the clinical threshold for emotional difficulties and 40% had moved below the threshold for behavioural difficulties (The Mental Health Foundation, 2017). Diagnoses like this can put extra strain on the pastoral systems in place at school, requiring schools to provide extra provisions for pupils. Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools states that “pastoral care is concerned with promoting pupils' personal and social development and fostering positive attitudes: through the quality of teaching and learning; through the nature of relationships amongst pupils, teachers and adults other than teachers” (DES, 1989, 3).

Recently, there is a new mental health illness that is now officially identified by the World Health Organisation within its International Classification of Diseases Version 11 Draft, “Gaming disorder is characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour (‘digital gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’), which may be online (i.e., over the internet) or offline” (World Health Organisation, 2018). This is an incredibly important finding for schools as gaming disorder may be more common and affect pupils within their school, as exposure to video games and games consoles in popular culture is higher with lower age groups. In the US, 91% of children ages 2–17 play digital games, including 99% of teenage boys and 94% of teenage girls (Engels et al., 2014, 66). In addition to gaming disorder, pupils are more likely to experience or suffer from other ‘more common’ mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety. This judgement is reinforced by Cuijpers’ paper on depression intervention during adolescence. “With an estimated prevalence of up to 2.5% in children and up to 8.3% in adolescents, depression is a frequent condition in underage groups” (Cuijpers et al., 2006, 300). This demonstrates the need to ensure that mental health programs for those under 18 needs to be improved with a more effective delivery.

Schools are now training their staff in mental health illness and most if not, all trainee teachers are receiving mental health illness in school training as part of their teacher training courses. This has been evident at my time at Birmingham City University, where Chapman taught trainee teachers how to assist in mental wellbeing within schools, this also covered the role of pastoral teams. “How do we move people from illness down towards health? Make a list of things that help you feel good?” (Chapman, 2018). Personally, I feel that this session enabled trainees to be aware of mental health issues within schools but not how to combat them such as signposting, contacting the relevant people and ensuring that the designated safeguarding lead is aware of these issues.

Schools now provide additional pastoral support for pupils such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This type of additional support is usually given by external agencies such as the local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). The pastoral team in each school usually view the list of local agencies that can assist their pupils, this would also involve contacting them, however many schools struggle to access the correct service for each pupil as Cowie states. “Schools do not have to deal with young people’s mental health problems in a vacuum. There is a plethora of agencies whose brief it is to do this. The difficulty is often in knowing who is around and what they do … Services and agencies vary across the country” (Cowie, 2004, 184). Cowie demonstrates that the fact there is no standardized system for mental health services across the United Kingdom creates confusion with newer pastoral teams. This could exacerbate issues, as pupils may need urgent care and support yet because of the issues between the pastoral team and care agencies, support may be delayed and arrive too late for the pupil.

There is also a larger emphasis of educating pupils on supporting their own personal wellbeing including many schools using this reasoning to encourage the transition to vertical tutoring. Ellis states that “A system known as vertical tutoring is becoming increasingly popular… composed of a small number of pupils from each year group… Advocates of such a system cite a number of advantages, including the increased opportunity for peer mentoring” (Ellis, 2013, 126). Transitioning to vertical tutoring, in my opinion can cause a lot of pastoral issues within a school. For instance, staff may be under pressure to already deliver a pastoral program to pupils without the training or ability to deliver the same package for a large age range. Some schools require tutors to be able to do PSHE lessons on Sex and Relationship Education which may cause issues for some teachers who have a vertical form group. “Some staff complain that older students are not positive role-models for younger ones” (Best, 2014). Although this source has no real credibility as it is anecdotal evidence from a teacher’s personal website, I do agree with the statement and I have had first-hand experience of a vertical tutoring system as both a teacher and student. I personally found that older students, including those who were still in compulsory education, did not turn up for the form time and that bullying within year groups was still occurring, due to other years now taking part in incidents against younger pupils. As a result, “Stress in young people is increasing at an alarming rate. All those in contact with teenagers have witnessed the increasing pressures on this age group, often without an increase in the support available to them” (McNamara, 2001, ix).

Personally, I feel that the traditional structure of a pastoral team (year based) should be married with a newer central system to allow the pastoral team direct relevant support from agencies to the correct pupil in a timely manner. The use of experimental systems such as vertical tutoring and the segmentation of the mental health support network has impacted schools but not made any major improvements as pastoral teams are still having to overcome barriers, such as finding the right agency for support as well as behavioural and possibly some safeguarding concerns.


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