A tweet by Andrew Old @oldandrewuk got me thinking. “The continuing reaction to the Natasha Devon saga does suggest many still think schools are therapeutic rather than academic institutions.”
Got me thinking…… a lot. I wanted to disagree with him, wanted to argue that you can’t separate the two, that a happy and healthy child is one who learns best. And surely all teachers want is for each child to produce the best they possibly can. But then I thought back to my training. How much was focused on academic compared to helping with social well being. Most of it was academic based. I attended classes on learning styles, schemes of work, inclusion but very little on mental health. Perhaps it was my era (I trained 20 odd years ago) but are teaching staff the best people to help with Mental health issues?
The new KCSIE is pushing schools to take more responsibility for a Childs overall well being, but are we given enough support and training in this? Is an hour inset once a term enough to deal with what can only be described as varying needs? The needs of a student suffering from Anxiety are completely different to those with Depression. And do staff have enough time ( and support) to help these students? I don’t think they do, but then neither does the NHS. The threshold for when students received support is so high that I think schools are having to be therapeutic, if we don’t, then who will help these students. From my experience, CAMH only have resources or offer help when things are extremely bad. And even then there seems to be a 6 week waiting list for an assessment to judge how bad students are. Some student have come back from these assessments telling me “ I haven’t lost enough weight for them to help me, so I must be fat”. I am sure that this was not the message that was said but this is how students have perceived it. They also tell me that the doctor asks if the school has a counsellor and if they do, great use them. This worries me a lot. The school counsellors role has evolved considerably recently and am concerned about how the role is being managed. The blue print to school counselling has lots of practical suggestions about how to run the sessions but there are so many questions left unanswered which I am struggling with at the moment. For example:
Are schools setting limits on how many times students can see a counsellor?
If so, what happens when they reach this limit?
Are counsellors threshold for safeguarding issues, the same as social services, how do DSL ( or social services / inspectors ) have evidence of this if counsellors documents are confidential?
What is the relationship between the counsellors line manager and the counsellors supervisor ( who normally has nothing to do with the school and may not have any contact at all) ?
So yes I think schools are therapeutic institutions, because it has to be. But not all teachers are skilled to help deliver this. So if we are relying on counsellors more, then the next step has to be to clarify and raise the profile of their role.