You probably didn’t even know that there was a Mental Health Champion for UK schools but this week the role was axed as part of a government shake-up. The role was created last August and aimed to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. Considering the high level of British pupils who suffer from mental health conditions, the role was important and it was arguably much more important than the government would suggest.
Natasha Devon, who has worked in schools delivering health and wellbeing classes for the last 10 years, was named the first Mental Health Champion. At the point her role was axed she still hadn’t completed her report into the state of mental health in schools but had been an active critic of some of the Department for Education policies.
Most recently she spoke out against the testing of primary school pupils. She claimed that this kind of testing is helping to create an anxiety crisis in the under 21s. In a column for The Times Educational Supplement she accused the government of creating “a social climate where it’s really difficult for any young person to enjoy optimal mental health.”
The Department for Education claimed that axing the role was not a reaction to the criticism Devon has levied at the government. Instead, they say that the role was cut because of an independent NHS report that claimed there needed to be a cross—government mental health champion and that this had led to a reconsideration of Devon’s role.
Devon was an independent expert with years of experience in children’s mental health and was unpaid for the role to maintain independence. Having an independent advisor who is an expert in the field was meant to help ensure that government policy worked for our children.
The government is re-advertising the position but it will in future be a salaried role. This will limit the effectiveness of any future Champion because they will not be truly independent from government and they will be less likely to criticise if their pay is on the line.
Mental health is an extremely serious issue in schools with more challenges than ever before and an ever increasing number of sufferers. Having this independent advisor ensured that there were attempts to reduce the levels of mental health disorders. It is most unfortunate that the government choose to get rid of this vital role.
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