Children and young people’s mental health — the role of education Contents

2Well-being in schools and colleges

7.With the incidence of stress and anxiety amongst pupils rising,10 promoting well-being has the potential to enable them to stay well and to develop the skills needed to deal with stress and anxiety and to “bounce back” from set-backs. It can also help identify problems that may become more serious if not addressed.11 Lord Layard, Director of the Well-being Programme at the London School of Economics, noted research that highlighted the impact of schools on the well-being on their pupils. He told us that schools “contribute enormously” to the well-being of their children with the effects lasting many years.12

8.It was widely acknowledged in the written evidence the need for schools to have some responsibility for maintaining and promoting the well-being of their pupils. We heard a number of calls for PSHE to be made compulsory in schools and colleges.13 Following long-running campaigns, the Government has now committed to doing so.14

9.We welcome the Government’s commitment to making PSHE a compulsory part of the curriculum and recommend that the next Government upholds that commitment. We recommend that our successor Committees explore in more detail how this is best implemented.

Whole school approaches

10.The evidence we received from the education sector suggests that the principle that schools and colleges should have a responsibility for promoting the well-being of their pupils is widely accepted. For example, the Association of School and College Leaders said “Schools and colleges accept that they have a crucial role in promoting emotional wellbeing and building resilience in the children and young people in their care”15 Yet, in spite of this, we heard that provision can be patchy and is not always accorded sufficient priority.16 Concerns were raised about it being treated as a box-ticking exercise.17

11.To avoid tokenism, the need for a whole school approach to well-being was advocated.18 This might involve training for staff, engagement with parents and addressing well-being throughout the curriculum, for example.19 But the need for it to be underpinned by appropriate values and culture was emphasised. For example, Siobhan Collingwood, Headteacher of Morecambe Bay Community Primary School, told us:

For us, it is integral to everything we do. We have a values-based system within school, which helps children to develop positive skills and strengths like resilience, effort and happiness. We focus on those as a whole school for weeks at a time. We speak to families about that and it comes into every lesson. We reward it in assemblies. The children can speak and understand that language—what it means to be resilient as a learner, to be able to be independent and to be helpful, and what we expect from them from nursery age all the way through to year 6.20

12.It was also emphasised to us that well-being should not be dependent on PSHE provision. The availability of subjects such as music and art as part of the curriculum also contributes to pupils’ well-being.21

13.The promotion of well-being cannot be confined to the provision of PSHE classes. To achieve the whole school approach, senior leadership must embed well-being throughout their provision and culture. Doing so will have implications for staffing and training and the balance of provision and delivery of subjects across the curriculum to allow more time to focus on well-being and building resilience. We believe that this would be in the best interests of children and young people.

Monitoring and inspection

14.We were told that Ofsted’s inspection regime has a significant effect on the promotion of well-being in schools and colleges. There are other ways in which schools and colleges can have their efforts to promote well-being assessed and acknowledged.22 However, we were told that Ofsted’s inspection regime has the potential to change the approach across the sector to the greatest extent and that efforts to promote well-being more widely will need to be recognised by Ofsted if they are to be successful. The IPPR said that the “Ofsted framework has a very strong ability to influence school behaviour” and the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health described it as the “largest driving force in school practice”.23 Emily Frith, of the Education Policy Institute, told us that the “benefit of having Ofsted look at wellbeing is that it is a signal to schools that it is part of their job, and it is not just about accountability measures and the academic side”.24

15.Many submissions said that mental health and well-being are not accorded sufficient priority in inspections and that the focus remains on academic achievement. For example, Lord Layard said that well-being had not been given “sufficient weight” by Ofsted.25 Ofsted’s inspection framework was revised in 2015 to include a target on “personal development, behaviour and well-being”.26 But Dr Peter Hindley of St Thomas’ Hospital, London, felt that too often this aspect of the framework had not been properly implemented.27 This view is supported by an analysis of Ofsted reports by the IPPR which found that only a third made explicit reference to pupils’ mental health and well-being.28 There was a clear sense from the evidence we received that too often only lip service being is paid to well-being within the inspection process:

Until accountability systems are broad and robust enough and are not primarily based on attainment data and a thin range of measures, schools will not be able to invest the time they need to research and evidence the work they are doing.29

16.We welcome the inclusion of the personal development and well-being criteria in the Ofsted inspection framework. However, it seems that insufficient prominence is being given to it by inspectors. More must be done to ensure that mental health and well-being are given appropriate prominence in inspections and in contributing to the overall grade given to the school or college. The recently appointed Chief Inspector should, as a matter of priority, consider ways in which the inspection regime gives sufficient prominence to well-being. Should our successor Committees return to this subject, we recommend that they hear from her about the steps she is taking in this regard.

Balancing academic and emotional well-being

17.The apparent trade-off between a focus on achievement and on well-being was criticised as a false dichotomy. Rather than balancing academic achievement, many witnesses felt that well-being increased pupils’ capacity to learn by lessening anxiety, improving confidence and equipping them to better deal with stress: the Association of Directors of Public Health told us that “Children with higher levels of emotional, behavioural, social and school wellbeing have higher levels of academic achievement on average”.30

18.PSHE and other activities to promote well-being can evidently equip pupils with the coping mechanisms to better enable them to handle stress and anxiety. We heard concerns that schools and colleges were pursuing academic attainment, or more specifically, exam results, to an extent that was affecting children and young people’s mental health. We heard a number of calls for a better balance between academic attainment and well-being. Evidence to our inquiry also suggested that a rigid focus on academic attainment is squeezing out subjects such as music and time for physical activity which help develop life-long skills to improve well-being.31 Both parents and young people are concerned about the stress that the education system is currently creating.32 One of the numerous personal submissions we received said “All this stress is not helping and instead it kills the incentive to want to study”.33

19.Achieving a balance between promoting academic attainment and well-being should not be regarded as a zero-sum activity. Greater well-being can equip pupils to achieve academically. If the pressure to promote academic excellence is detrimentally affecting pupils, it becomes self-defeating. Government and schools must be conscious of the stress and anxiety that they are placing on pupils and ensure that sufficient time is allowed for activities which develop life-long skills for well-being.


10 IPPR (CMH 192)

11 Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CMH 197)

12 Q63

13 E.g. Q65–66

14 Education Committee “PSHE to be statutory in all schools Chairs’ letter urges” 8 January 2016; Education Committee “Statutory PSHE and SRE: Chair welcomes Secretary of State announcement”, 1 March 2017.

15 Association of School and College Leaders (CMH 73) para 12

16 E.g. Q65

17 Q43 [Dr Brownlie]

18 E.g. Family Links (CMH 43) para 2.1.1; YoungMinds (CMH 212) para 3; Q8

19 YoungMinds (CMH 212) para 3

20 Q43 [Siobhan Collingwood]

21 Q73 [Natasha Devon]

22 E.g. Q35

23 IPPR (CMH 192); Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CMH 197) para 1.7

24 Q14

25 Q64

27 Q67

28 IPPR (CMH 192)

29 Q56 [Siobhan Collingwood]

30 Association of Directors of Public Health (CMH 109)

31 Q73 [Natasha Devon]

32 Q42 [Dr Brownlie]

33 Summary of unpublished evidence (CMH 237)




28 April 2017