Cold Hard Facts : Childrens Mental Health

February 13, 2016

Today marks the end of Children's Mental Health Week. What I find deeply troubling is that we should even need a Children's Mental Health Week. Of course, some children may suffer with mental health issues, and you would hope these children would be in the minority and that there would be services available to help nurse them back to health. These services do exist. Child and Adolescence Mental Health Services (CAMHS) was a service I referred to many times during my teaching career and although they did their best they were pretty stretched to the limit 8 years ago when I used them. I have heard, through colleagues that still work for CAMHS, that they are at breaking point with the sheer weight of referrals, couple this with government cuts means that schools are resorting to dialling 999 to try and get help for their most vulnerable young people. How traumatic for everyone involved. 


Reports are coming out thick and fast, almost daily at the moment, that make for terrifying reading. The 2015 Good Childhood Report found that children in England were among the most unhappy with their school life in the world.66% of 10 and 11 year olds said they didn't like school. By the of 12 and 13, 82% didn't like school. English girls were bottom of the ranking in terms of happiness with body confidence, appearance and self esteem. An experienced secondary teacher echoed this view when she told me that self harm was rife in KS4 and that she had never know stress related conditions be so prevalent in schools. The average age of the onset of mental health problems is now just 11 years old.


So what is our government doing to tackle this problem? So far they have issued academic tests for 4 year olds. My 4 year old couldn't reliably decide what he wanted for breakfast, let alone sit a test! At 7 the government test them again. But there is hope this time. If you fail your test at age 7 you have to sit it again. Brilliant idea! Then there are more tests at 11, 14.....and so it goes on. No wonder these children aren't happy at school. I asked my 5 year old nephew the other day what he had learnt at school. His reply, "imperative verbs." I kid you not. He, of course, couldn't tell me what it was. I didn't know what they were until I went to university! Erika Christakis in her book "The Importance of Being Little" argues "most of today's school children are spending their critical early learning years in environments that ignore or misunderstand their needs." The Department for Education recently defended their test for 4 year olds by stating that "their mission is to deliver educational excellence. We want to see all children pushed to reach their potential." Pushed to their limit more like. 4 year olds should be making mud pies, eating bogies and climbing trees, not sitting tests.   Nicky Morgan (Education Secretary) only this week advised that choosing art subjects limited career choices and would hold young people back. Mind you, with so much testing to get done, there will be no time for "soft subjects" such as music, art and drama. The very subjects I remember with such fondness as a child. That is without counting the many studies that show that subjects such as music can have a profound influence on the development of the child and teaches valuable life skills such as the capacity for empathy and self-expression. Making music warms the heart, fires the imagination and requires discipline. Do we not value these attributes anymore Ms Morgan? 


With the utmost urgency we need to  learn from the countries that have got it right. These damaged children are our future.  Findings of a 2 year study by National England showed children in England are losing touch with nature. The Finnish approach delays reading and writing until around the age of 6 or 7. Until then, the children learn through play, in nature, at their own pace. Their exam results are just as good, if not better than ours, at age 16.  They build giant room sized clothes driers for snowsuits so children can go outside many times a day. We put them at a desk and teach them about imperative verbs. Enough said.


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