In The Big Ask, children told us about how much they care about feeling happy and well. They were articulate about their awareness of the artificial dichotomy between mental and physical health. In my visits across England, mental health, wellbeing and how we can support children better with their mental health is a subject that comes up all the time. The good news is, the majority of children and young people are happy and huge numbers have told us that wellbeing would be a priority in their future lives. They are a generation newly conscious of the importance of taking care of your mental health and are continuously asking for better support and resources to help them do this.
Sadly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, 1 in 5 were worried about their mental health and it was children’s biggest worry overall. And, we know, that poor mental health and lack of support for this can be a barrier for many children attending school. My office spoke to around 300 children who were struggling to attend school, many because of mental health problems.
In The Big Ask, children said they would like schools to be places that promote good wellbeing. It is a place where they trust the adults. Where they need additional support, they are keen for it to be in school, this includes with their mental health, safeguarding or additional learning needs. This has also come out of the Children’s Commissioner’s work on attendance, including that where additional support is needed, it be provided quickly to help get them back into school. Where children need additional support, and receive it in school, they are happier than the overall cohort. Children also benefitted from being in school because of the routine and structure it provides. It is also where they can see their friends and take part in activities and hobbies, sometimes those friends and peers can often be a source of support themselves.
That is why I want to see all children to receive support in school, through families of schools. This is one of my key ambitions for supporting children to receive early support for their mental health, as outlined in my new report A Head Start.
Lots of children are going to feel anxious about the start of term, whether they are starting a new school or just moving up a year. As adults, we need to be conscious of the worries and concerns they are having, spot them early and work hard to address them. We have a list of resources on our Back into School pages that are designed for children, teachers, parents, carers and professionals working with children to ensure they feel prepared for the new term.
Before the end of the end of the school year I launched my attendance campaign. I want to see 100% attendance on the first day back to school in September. We need a relentless collective focus on attendance and getting those that need additional support what they need so they feel confident to return in September. I believe that failures in the system and lack of support should not be the reason any child should be missing school.