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Education: Coronavirus

Question for Department for Education

UIN 137289, tabled on 13 January 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the proposed taskforce on the mental health challenges facing pupils, students and staff throughout the education sector, announced at the Education Committee hearing of 13 January 2021 on the impact of covid-19 on education and children’s services, what the planned timescale is for the establishment of that taskforce; what the remit will be of that taskforce; whether representatives of staff unions will be invited on to that taskforce; how pupils and students will be represented on that taskforce; and when that taskforce will make recommendations.

Answered on

18 January 2021

The government has made children’s wellbeing and mental health a central part of our response to the COVID-19 outbreak. We have been working with the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England to monitor the impact on children and young people and will confirm shortly the next steps for setting up the task force to build on that work and make sure that we continue to hear from those affected, including education staff.

The support we have already put in place for children and young people will be critical during this time. We continue to prioritise keeping early years settings open in full because of the clear benefits to children’s education and wellbeing. We know how important it is for children’s wellbeing to have social interactions with their peers and staff. In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, we are providing £1.15 million funding to existing charity grant partners to support disadvantaged and vulnerable parent and child mental health and wellbeing, and to help children catch up and transition back into early education.

The department has issued guidance for schools which includes information and sources of further advice on supporting mental health and wellbeing:

Schools have the flexibility to offer a place in school as a vulnerable child to pupils for whom being in school will help them manage their mental health, or to access support more easily. Schools are also continuing to offer pastoral support to pupils working remotely at home, informed, and supported by training and expert advice that we have made available including through the £8 million Wellbeing for Education Return scheme and through local links with mental health providers. This information and support is relevant to remote provision as well as to those attending school. Schools should make sure that parents and pupils know who to contact if they have new concerns about mental health and wellbeing.

We are also committed to providing and signposting wellbeing guidance and support; and ensuring that specialist mental health support is available for those students and staff in further education (FE) who need it. Our guidance to the FE sector for the period of national lockdown includes a specific section on mental health, signposting providers to additional resources, such as webinars and online platforms, for supporting students and staff with their mental health and wellbeing.

The Department for Education College Collaboration Fund provides £5.4 million national programme of competitive grant funding for all statutory FE colleges to be delivered in this financial year 2020/21. We particularly welcomed applications that address one of five specific quality improvement needs, and five of the projects funded support student and/or staff mental health and wellbeing through online programmes and remote support.

With regards to students in higher education, it is for higher education providers as autonomous bodies to identify and address the needs of their student body and to decide what mental health and wellbeing support to put in place. At the start of, and throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, the government has asked universities to prioritise mental health support, and continue to support their students, which has included making services accessible from a distance. We encourage students to stay in touch with their provider’s student support and welfare teams, as these services are likely to continue to be an important source of assistance. Many providers have bolstered their existing mental health services, and adapted delivery mechanisms including reaching out to students who may be more vulnerable.

In October, my hon. Friend, the Minister of State for Universities, wrote to Vice Chancellors outlining that student welfare should remain a priority. The department have convened a working group of representatives from the higher education and health sectors, specifically to address the current and pressing issues that students are facing during the COVID-19 outbreak.

We have also worked with the Office for Students (OfS) to provide Student Space, which has been funded by up to £3 million by the OfS. Student Space is a mental health and wellbeing platform designed to bridge any gaps in support for students arising from this unprecedented situation and works alongside existing services. Ensuring students have access to quality mental health support is my top priority, which is why we asked the OfS to look at extending the platform. We are delighted they have been able to extend the platform to support students for the whole 2020/21 academic year.

Students struggling with their mental health can also access support via online resources from the NHS, Public Health England via the Better Health - Every Mind Matters website, and the mental health charity Mind.

We have also put in place support for staff. We have worked in partnership with the sector and mental health experts to announce a range of public commitments on mental health and wellbeing, including improving access to resources, building wellbeing into teacher training and policy making, and the creation of the first ever Education Staff Wellbeing Charter.

We have taken action to respond to the mental health needs of school leaders by launching a £95,000 pilot led by Education Support to provide online peer-support and telephone supervision from experts to around 250 school leaders. This service will run until March 2021. The outcome of the pilot will inform future wellbeing support.

Alongside this action in education for those who need specialist support or help, all NHS Mental Health Trusts are providing 24/7 open access telephone lines to support people of all ages and continue to deliver mental health support to children and young people. The government is continuing to invest in and prioritise mental health. The NHS will receive around an additional £500 million this year, to address waiting times for mental health services, give more people the mental health support they need, and invest in the NHS workforce.

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