Government ignoring apprentices in mental health plans

Apprentices have been ignored in the government’s plans to improve support for learners with mental ill-health, according to a critical report from two influential committees of MPs.

The education and social care select committees were full of criticism for proposals laid out in December in a green paper on beefing up mental health provision for young people, which does not mention apprenticeships once.

“The government should take action to ensure that apprentices also have access to mental health provision under the green paper’s proposals,” said the committees’ report, which has been published today.

The criticism didn’t stop there. The chair of the education committee Robert Halfon wants to know how plans for a “designated senior lead for mental health” will work in practice.

Resources are already stretched, he pointed out with backing from the Association of Colleges, which wants a review of 16-to-19 funding “which recognises the additional costs of supporting large numbers of those with mental health needs”.

“The green paper wants schools and colleges to deliver the ‘designated senior lead’ role from within their own ranks,” Mr Halfon said. “This will only make worse the pressures of the existing high-accountability system, combined with a stretched teaching workforce.

Robert Halfon

“Staff need support within their school or college to ensure that their role is balanced with their normal duties.”

FE Week reported more than a year ago that a pledge made by the prime minister to roll mental health training out for staff working with young people would not cover the FE sector, at least in the short-term.

In an update, a spokesperson stressed that “£300 million of additional funding that will also provide significant additional resources for all schools”, but they did not mention extra cash for FE.

The select committees also warned in their report that the government had failed to recognise how “schools and colleges offer different environments and different challenges for implementing the green paper’s proposals”.

The government “often referred to schools and colleges interchangeably”, and did not “adequately recognise” the substantial differences between the two.

“We recommend the government utilise the potential of a further education sectoral approach in implementation alongside other approaches,” the MPs wrote.

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, welcomed the “opportunity to get involved” in the planning process, and asked for a review of 16-to-19 funding “which recognises the additional costs of supporting large numbers of those with mental health needs”.

David Hughes

“As the report outlines, it is very difficult for colleges currently to find adequate resources to support young people and help build their resilience,” he added.

“Post-16 education is funded significantly less per student than 11-to-16 schools or universities, and colleges have a higher proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds who, as the report indicates, are more likely to develop mental health challenges.” 

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, claimed the “confirms ASCL’s concerns”.

“The government’s green paper fails to address the critical problem facing schools and colleges, which is the fact that real-terms funding cuts are forcing them to cut back on existing counselling and support services at exactly the time that mental health issues are rising,” he continued. “The proposal for a designated senior lead for mental health in every school doesn’t address this problem, and may actually add to workload.”

The government spokesperson did not address FE funding concerns, but mentioned trials for apprenticeships.

“We will trial a number of approaches to improve mental health intervention, including how apprentices and other young people aged 16-to-18 in work-based learning can access the new mental health support teams,” they said.

In the green paper, the government said it would “incentivise every school and college to identify a designated senior lead for mental health to oversee the approach to mental health and wellbeing”.

“All children and young people’s mental health services should identify a link for schools and colleges,” it added. “This link will provide rapid advice, consultation and signposting.”

It also pledged to fund new mental health support teams, supervised by NHS children and young people’s mental health staff, to provide specific extra capacity for early intervention and ongoing help.

“Their work will be managed jointly by schools, colleges and the NHS,” it said.