Then education secretary Gavin Williamson last May announced £17 million funding as part of a commitment to ‘build back better for every young person’ – money which he said would help train ‘thousands of senior mental health leads’ for schools and colleges.
But Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh said parliamentary questions had revealed that amounted to just £53,000 for Sheffield’s 214 primary and secondary schools this year – a figure she described as a ‘drop in the ocean’.
A Government spokesperson, however, called Ms Haigh’s claim ‘completely misleading’ and said the £17m was just part of the funding available for mental health support in schools and colleges, which combined with an additional £79m already committed would equate to around £11 to £12 per child.
Ms Haigh claimed the money was too little to tackle rocketing mental health issues among schoolchildren, with Government figures showing one in six now has a mental health condition up from one in nine before the pandemic, and more than a third unable to access the support they need.
She cited a study by Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield, who warned the pandemic had taken a ‘heavy toll’ on children’s health, with one girl questioned describing a lack of mental health support as the ‘biggest thing that has stopped me and my friends from achieving what we want’.
Ms Haigh said: “This pitiful sum is a drop in the ocean and shows just how little value has been placed on children’s recovery from the pandemic.
“Schools are essential support for children, but they are being denied the help they need to tackle this mental health crisis head on.
“This Government’s meagre plan risks failing a generation of schoolchildren, and it’s the most vulnerable in communities nationwide who will pay the price.”
The mental health funding forms part of the government’s catch-up plan, which led to the resignation of the Prime Minister’s education recover tsar Sir Kevan Collins, who warned it ‘risked failing hundreds of thousands of pupils’.
Labour have demanded a £15bn Education Recovery Plan including ‘quality mental health support for every school in the country’.
Ms Haigh said just £53,000 from the Government’s Wellbeing for Education Recovery Grant was made available to Sheffield schools in 2021/22, and £63,000 in 2020/21. With approximately 73,000 school-age children living in Sheffield, this works out at 72p per child this year and 86p in 2020/21.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “These figures are completely misleading and only take into account one of the programmes available to young people.
“We have made unprecedented investment in mental health services, both through the NHS and tailored support available in schools and colleges. This includes programmes to help young people recover from the emotional impact of the pandemic, funding to train senior mental health leads in every school and college, and our ambitious education recovery plan which can also be spent on supporting pupils’ mental health and wellbeing.
“We are also accelerating and expanding the roll-out of mental health support teams in schools, giving nearly three million children in England access to health experts through school or college by April 2023.