An education consultant has said that school league table should also include tables to show pupil wellbeing. Speaking on World Mental Health Day on Monday 16th October, Sir Anthony Seldon a former headteacher claimed that experience has persuaded him that parents would pay more attention to wellbeing rankings that exam results.
Mental health is now a huge concern in our schools. The NSPCC reports that calls to Childline reporting suicidal thoughts, more than doubled from 2011 to 2014. Anecdotally teachers feel more concerned about mental health in young people than ever before. Academic pressure is certainly likely to be a factor declining wellbeing. This assumption seems all the more likely when we look east to countries like Japan which have far higher child suicide rates, peaking with the return to school in early September. As a former high school teacher in Japan, I personally have felt very concerned when British politicians have urged a more north-east Asian style learning and assessment regime.
Sir Anthony refers to the increasing struggle that universities face when dealing with mental health issues and he argues for intervention before that. Young people actually achieve higher academically he claims, when schools support them in their wellbeing, and the logic certainly seems well founded.
To his comments I would go further and say it seems absurd to push for better mental health support for our young people yet neglect those teachers who must help deliver it. An ATL survey in 2014 found that teachers were faced increasingly with mental health problems. Regardless of this upward trend, solid examples of local authorities or schools dealing proactively with teacher mental health are scarce.
The Office of National Statistics reports that mental ill health is the third largest cause of absence from work in the population overall so taking steps to tackle it makes economic as well as moral sense. More than half of teachers have considered leaving the profession due to workload and low morale and when this isn’t dealt with, mental ill health is the result.
A society which doesn’t value its young people is saving up problems as well as unhappiness for its future. A society which further doesn’t value those who take on the difficult job of teaching and shaping those young people must accept the fact that one day there may be nobody left to teach them.