Tags: SEN – Special Educational Needs | SENCO | Well-being

SENCOs working with pupils with emotional, behavioural and social difficulties will be interested in the findings of three recent surveys, which indicate the extent of mental health problems among children and young people, and attempt to improve professional support for them.

Many schools are unaware of guidance on promoting mental health.

In addition to institutional inspections, Ofsted undertakes surveys, which attempt to get beneath the surface of issues in more detail than can be achieved through institutional inspection. A survey in this year’s Ofsted annual report,(1) evaluates provision for pupils with mental health difficulties. Overall, the level of awareness of the importance of the issue was low and this meant that provision was often not matched well enough to what pupils needed.

Many schools did not know about the guidance on promoting the mental health of children and young people provided by the DfES, and a large number of the settings visited were not working towards meeting the National Healthy Schools Standards (NHSS).(2) Only just over a half were aware of these standards and, of these, only a very small minority were working towards or had met the criteria for emotional health and wellbeing, one of the eight key areas of activity within the NHSS. Training for staff on mental health difficulties was unsatisfactory in just over a third of the schools visited and good in under a quarter. Most training tended to focus on strategies for managing pupils’ behaviour, rather than on promoting positive approaches to relationships and resolving conflicts. Good joint working between health services, social services and schools was at the heart of effective planning and provision for individual pupils with mental health difficulties. Although multi-agency working was becoming established within local authorities, it was unsatisfactory in a quarter of the settings visited.

Despite the lack of awareness in schools of pupils’ mental health issues, good practice in one third of the schools visited included:

  • an ethos in which individuals are valued and respected
  • a serious approach to, and swift resolution of, bullying and to dealing with pupils’ difficulties with relationships
  • particular attention to listening and responding to pupils’ views
  • the involvement of parents in identifying their children’s problems and in making appropriate provision for them.

Mental health problems and targets for support The latest national survey of children’s mental health 3 confirms findings from the 1999 survey that recorded the same proportion of children and young people with a mental disorder. Its main aims were: to examine whether there were any changes between 1999 and 2004 in the frequency of the three main categories of mental disorder – conduct disorders, emotional disorders, hyperkinetic disorders; to describe the characteristics and behaviour patterns of children and young people in each main disorder category and subgroups within those categories; and to look in more detail at children with autistic spectrum disorder.

The main findings are:

  • about 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5-16 had a clinically recognisable mental disorder: 4% of children had an emotional disorder (anxiety or depression); 6% had a conduct disorder; 2% had a hyperkinetic disorder; 1% had a less common disorder such as autism, tics, eating disorders and selective mutism; some children (2%) had more than one type of disorder
  • boys were more likely to have a mental disorder than girls. Among 5-10 year olds, 10% of boys and 5% of girls had a mental disorder. In the older age group of 11-16 year olds, the proportions were 13% for boys and 10% for girls
  • the prevalence of mental disorders was greater among children and young people living in low income, high unemployment areas classed as ‘hard pressed’ (15%), compared with affluent areas classed as ‘wealthy achievers’ or ‘urban prosperity’ (6% and 7%)
  • all socio-demographic variations show a similar pattern to those observed in the previous survey in 1999.

Children and adolescent mental health services In its annual Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) mapping exercise on provision throughout England, the Department of Health reported on progress towards the target that by December 2006 CAMHS should be available to all children and adolescents who need them. 4

The data collection period was October 2004-February 2005 and focused on tier two to four services. The main findings reported an increase from the previous year on:

  • spending, up by 26.8 %
  • the number of services with on-call arrangements, up to 78 out of 139 (56%)
  • the number providing specialist services for children with learning disabilities, 62 out of 139 (45%)
  • workforce, by 14.6%.

A new Performance Indicator on CAMHS is being included in the 2005-06 mapping exercise set. The indicator will ask local authorities to evaluate the availability of:

  • mental health services for children and young people with learning disabilities
  • age appropriate services for 16 and 17 year olds
  • whether arrangements are in place to ensure 24 hour emergency cover
  • what protocols are in place for partnership working between agencies for children and young people with complex, persistent and severe behavioural disorders. 5


1. The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools is available online at www.ofsted.gov.uk

2. Promoting Emotional Health and Wellbeing through the National Healthy School Standard (NHSS), NHS Health Development Agency, 2004

3. The Mental Health of Children and Young People in Great Britain 2004, Office for National Statistics (ONS) report is available at: www.statistics.gov.uk/statbase/product.asp?vlnk=14116

4. The full version of the report is available at: www.camhsmapping.org.uk

5. Further information is available at: www.csci.org.uk

This article first appeared in SENCO Update – Feb 2006

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