Teacher education in Belfast to include mental health
A CHILDREN'S mental health charity has partnered with St Mary's University College to equip student teachers with the skills to support pupils' wellbeing.
Final year student teachers have taken part in Place2Be's Mental Health Champions - Class Teacher programme, potentially benefiting thousands of young people.
The independently evaluated programme increases new teachers' ability and confidence in identifying and supporting pupils with mental health needs.
A survey this year found 44 per cent of 16 to 25 year olds in Northern Ireland had experienced a mental health problem.
St Mary's has recognised the ever increasing stress involved for both pupils and teachers in the education system and implications for mental health.
It already provides a short course for student teachers on the issue.
Place2Be was an opportunity to enhance provision, Principal Peter Finn said.
Prof Finn said he was introduced to the charity by international classical soprano Margaret Keys, a BEd with Music graduate from St Mary's in the early 1990s, who has maintained strong links with the university college.
Training for 150 final year BEd students was provided over three two-day sessions.
"We believe that the specialist training will be of long-term benefit to the student teachers in their professional careers whether they take up posts here, in Britain, elsewhere in Europe or in the Middle East," Prof Finn added.
The partnership represents Place2Be's first venture in Northern Ireland.
The charity works with hundreds of primary and post-primary schools across England, Scotland and Wales providing school-based support and in-depth training programmes to improve the emotional wellbeing of pupils, families, teachers and school staff.
Dr Martin Hagan, Head of Education at St Mary's, said children's mental health had become an issue of growing concern. More than 20 per cent of young people reported as suffering significant problems before they reach the age of 18, he said.
"Working with the experts from Place2Be provides the student teachers at St Mary's University College with an excellent opportunity to raise their awareness and understanding of this most important aspect of professional learning and practice," he added.
"We are delighted to be in partnership with Place2Be and believe that this initiative will help ensure that our future teachers will be able to provide young people across Northern Ireland with the understanding, support and care they deserve at the most vulnerable points in their lives."
Place2Be Chief Executive Catherine Roche said teachers desperately wanted to support their pupils, but often lacked the confidence or knowledge about where to start.
"We don't believe that teachers should have to become mental health experts, but by empowering them with the right tools and skills, we can ensure that more children and young people across Northern Ireland and beyond get the support they urgently need," she said.