Education news

Teachers being made `scapegoats' due to mental health cuts

Avril Hall Callaghan, UTU General Secretary

TEACHERS fear they are being 'scapegoated' because of cuts to mental health provision in schools.

Some cash-strapped schools are cutting services such as counsellors and pastoral provision to cover funding gaps.

The Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU) said such cuts were putting extra pressure on teachers.

Reduced provision, the union said, means that all the children who need support simply cannot access it.

The NSPCC has said young people are consistently telling counsellors that exam stress contributes to depression, anxiety, panic attacks, excessive crying, low self-esteem and self-harming.

Schools deliver various lessons designed to raise awareness of mental health and well-being. Initiatives including 'Healthy Me' helps provides children with the skills, coping strategies and resilience to prevent poor mental health.

Less money in the system overall is forcing schools to make cuts, however.

UTU general secretary Avril Hall Callaghan said it was being left to staff to assess children, "which is leaving teachers open to criticism and abuse from frustrated parents".

"Funds are so stretched now that the diagnostic thresholds for help are becoming impossibly high, to the extent that a child may even be considered at low risk simply because they haven't attempted suicide when in fact it should never even get close to this crisis situation," she said.

"It's pressure like this – on top of burgeoning workloads, endless paperwork and constant assessment – which is also taking its toll on teachers' mental health and threatening to impact on all our children.

"We are contacted all too regularly by teachers who are dealing with daily incidents of pupil self-harm and panic attacks without any kind of formal training, but we also hear from members about their own mental ill health and the stigma surrounding being perceived as unable to `cope'."

She said teachers feel they cannot admit to their stress levels "because the guilt and shame that seems to surround the concept of `not coping' within caring vocations, like nursing and teaching, makes stigma all the more potent".

"That stress, however, has to go somewhere and will inevitably cascade downwards towards pupils, however hard they might try to prevent this," she said.

"If we are to retain our best teachers in the long term and give our children the expertise and the continuity required to help them achieve their full potential, then support must be available when the needs of the pupil extend beyond the realms of teachers' expertise."

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