Harrietsham Primary School is a distinctive building, a mix of rustic wood and modern glass. It was bright with wintery sunlight when visited last Friday. Two children in year six gave me a splendid VIP tour - past walls covered in bright artwork and exemplary handwriting - and each class in turn peppered me with questions about being an MP. After the tour, I was introduced to the ‘School Action Squad’ or SAS. Its members are all elected by their peers. It’s a great early taste of democracy and all credit to them for putting themselves forward.
But I was visiting because I’d heard the school is taking an innovative approach to mental health. Harrietsham is one of the first primary schools in the country to get lottery funding to support children’s mental health and build up their resilience. All the teachers at the school are getting mental health first aid training, which will help them spot the signs that a child may be struggling and intervene early. Small groups of children are doing courses with Mind in Maidstone to help them build up their self-confidence, and parents are involved too. The feedback from children is that they are already finding it helpful.
As many as one in ten children have a diagnosable mental health problem, and across the country referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services [CAMHS] have been going up. The Government is spending a record £11.7 billion a year on care for people with mental health problems – and is increasing spending on CAMHS by £1.4 billion over the next five years. It’s also consulting on proposals to improve mental health support for children in schools, including thousands of new mental health support staff. As chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Mental Health I’m working with the Government to make sure these plans are right, and pressing Ministers to look harder at what’s causing mental health problems in young people so we can prevent them becoming ill. If we’re going to address rising mental ill health in our children we’ll need more schools to work with parents and carers and take positive action like Harrietsham Primary.