Press Release

Call to rocket-boost children’s mental health support through schools as half of school children in England set to miss out on help

April 26, 2024
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A new report published today (Friday 26th April) by Child of the North and Anne Longfield’s Centre for Young Lives think tank sets out a new plan for Government to boost children’s mental health through the education system, as half of England’s school children will still be without access to Mental Health Support Teams after 2025 under current plans.

[.download]Download the Report[.download]

The report, “Improving mental health and wellbeing with and through educational settings”, sets out the crucial role schools can play in supporting children’s mental health and promoting and supporting wellbeing. With children spending more time in school than in any other formal institutional structure, educational settings provide the ideal opportunity to reach large numbers of children simultaneously and can also facilitate intervention with pupils displaying early mental health or behavioural symptoms.

It is the third in a series of Child of the North/Centre for Young Lives reports to be published during 2024, focusing on how both the Government and Opposition can reset their vision for children to put the life chances of young people at the heart of policy making and delivery.

The report comes amid a national epidemic of children’s mental health problems. In 2022, 18% of children aged 7-to-16-years-old and 22% of young people aged 17-to-24 had a probable mental health condition. Despite some extra investment in recent years, the children’s mental health system is blighted by chronic waiting lists and a postcode lottery of provision, and thousands of children and young people continue to struggle without support. Over 32,000 children had been waiting over two years for help at the end of 2022/3. The consequences for school attendance, educational achievement, mental health problems in adulthood, as well as over-stretched public services, economic productivity, and society’s overall wellbeing are enormous.

The report calls on the Government to expand the mental health support offered through schools and educational settings from primary school onwards, without placing extra burdens on teachers.

Its recommendations include:
To highlight the scale of mental health problems among young people, the report also includes preliminary data gathered from 5,000 children and young people in Bradford that reveals the shocking rise of eating disorders in the area, including:

The study also highlights two priority issues raised by children and young people in Bradford as detrimental to their mental health - problems with lack of sleep and with loneliness. These findings are seen elsewhere. A recent #BeeWell survey examined the relationship between sleep quality in approximately 35,000 young people in more than 150 schools across Greater Manchester. #BeeWell found that more than four in ten young people reported not getting enough sleep.

Anne Longfield, Executive Chair of the Centre for Young Lives, said:

“The rise in the number of children experiencing mental health problems is an ongoing crisis not only for those children and families experiencing it now, but for our country’s future.

“I have heard so many heartbreaking stories of the lengths children and parents have gone to get support – including, sadly, suicide attempts – but we still seem a long way away from providing the prevention, early help, and treatment that every young person with mental health problems needs.

“As an anchor in children’s lives, schools have a crucial role to play in supporting children’s mental health and wellbeing. Yet half of the school age children in England – four million children – will not have access to Mental Health Support Teams under current plans. We need to rocket-boost support in schools if we hope to bring down the numbers of children who are struggling with mental health problems.  

“The current school attendance crisis is likely to be driven in part by children with mental health problems who are unwilling or unable to attend school. We know already that children and young people with mental health conditions are more likely to be absent from school, and that poor mental health significantly impacts on school attendance and outcomes.

“At the next election, the parties will put forward their proposals for improving children’s mental health. Labour has already pledged to recruit more staff, introduce specialist mental health support for children in every school, and deliver an open access children and young people’s mental health hub for every community. But there should be a cross-party ambition to reduce the prevalence of children’s mental health conditions by half over the next 10 years, and all politicians should agree that the current system is failing too many children and needs urgent attention.”

Dr Camilla Kingdon, former President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said:

“There is a huge evidence base for the importance of good mental health in childhood. However, sadly nearly 50% of lifetime mental health conditions are established by 14 years. We have a crucial window of opportunity to intervene to support children with mental health problems. We cannot let these children slip through the system without help.  

“The UK needs to prioritise mental health and wellbeing of children for the sake of our children - and all our futures. There are solutions at our fingertips - we just need the political will to make it happen.”  

Professor Mark Mon Williams, Child of The North report series editor, said:

“There is no better measure of the health of a nation than the mental wellbeing of its children and young people. The statistics on mental health in children are heartbreaking and demand immediate action. The UK must prioritise the mental health and wellbeing of its children and young people if it wants to enjoy long term prosperity. This report shows how the next Government could and should invest in the UK’s future wellbeing.”

Dr Ruth Wadman, Research Fellow for the Age of Wonder Adolescent Mental Health Collaboratory, said:

Our children and young people need good mental health and wellbeing to develop and flourish. There is an urgent need to step-up our efforts to prevent mental health conditions and to intervene early when they emerge. The report shows that schools can play a key role in promoting good mental health and wellbeing, both by harnessing the power of data and by listening to children and young people.”


[.download]Download the Report[.download]

For further information or interview opportunities, please contact Jo Green (Centre for Young Lives): or WhatsApp/mobile 07715105415.

Notes to editors:
  1. The report can be accessed here:
  2. Today’s report has been produced by eight research intensive universities in the North of England – the N8 Research Partnership – in collaboration with a wider academic community (the N8+) as part of the Child of the North initiative, and the new Centre for Young Lives think tank, founded in January 2024 by former Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield. It is the second in a series of Child of the North/Centre for Young Lives reports to be published during 2024 looking at how to encourage the Government and Opposition to reset their vision for children and show how putting the interests and life chances of young people at the heart of policy making and delivery is crucial to Britain’s future success. They shine a light on some of the biggest challenges facing the Government while also providing rigorous research and pragmatic, evidence-based recommendations which acknowledge the ongoing financial limitations on government spending. Seven principles will be a theme throughout the twelve reports: the Government must “put children first”; inequality must be addressed; place-based approaches must be adopted; public services must work together more effectively; education must be at the heart of public service delivery; universities must become the ‘research and development’ departments for local public services; and information must be shared across public service providers and used effectively.
  3. Child of the North is a partnership between the N8 Research Partnership and the Northern Health Science Alliance / Health Equity North and includes partners from across the North of England. Its vision is to develop a platform for collaboration, high-quality research, and policy engagement to support fairer futures for children living in the North of England. The N8 Research Partnership is a strategic collaboration between the universities of Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, and York, and aims to maximise the impact of this research base to enable business innovation and societal transformation. The N8 universities receive around 80% of competitively awarded research funding in the North of England, and employ more than 18,000 academic staff, forming the largest research-pooling partnership in the UK. N8 creates programmes involving a critical mass of world class academics which form networks of innovation excellence with partners in other sectors, to drive investment and economic growth.
  4. Health Equity North is a virtual institute focused on place-based solutions to public health problems and health inequalities across the North of England. Health Equity North brings together world-leading academic expertise from the Northern Health Science Alliance membership of leading universities, hospitals, and academic health science networks, with the aim of fighting health inequalities through research excellence and collaboration.

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