That Dáil Éireann shall consider the Report of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills entitled 'Report on Positive Mental Health in Schools', copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 12th September, 2017."
I am substituting for Deputy O'Loughlin on whose behalf I apologise to the House. She is at the international conference of ALDE, the group to which Fianna Fáil belongs in the European Parliament. I understand the Taoiseach is at his party's group conference in Europe this week also. I see that Mr. Alan Guidon, the clerk of the committee, is in attendance and I thank him for his constant help and assistance to the members. He is a tremendous asset to us. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, who is sitting in for her colleagues, and the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, who is also attending. My party's spokesperson on mental health, Deputy Browne, is also in the Chamber. I thank the members of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills who contributed to the production of the report. The report was agreed by the joint committee at its meeting on 11 July 2017 and launched on 12 September 2017 and I have been nominated to move it in the House by the Chairman, Deputy O'Loughlin. It is a comprehensive and important report and I am delighted to have the opportunity to move its consideration in the House.
The Joint Committee on Education and Skills recognises that mental health issues are complex and that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to them. We are aware, however, that schools and the interactions of teachers and students play a hugely important role in the promotion of positive mental health among young people. Early intervention is critical for mental health and the education system must equip and support children so that they can be confident and able to achieve their full potential in whatever roles they take on in their lives. Children's mental health should be placed at the heart of the education system, but more needs to be done to support students and teachers in and out of the classroom through greater integration and co-operation of schools and the wider community to promote positive mental health effectively in schools.
The evidence provided to the joint committee makes it clear that there is a particular need to ensure that additional training and support are provided to teachers in order to enable them to recognise when students need assistance and to give them the time and space to provide the help required. It also became apparent to the joint committee over the course of its proceedings that a change is required in the mindsets of all in school communities throughout the State to ensure the well-being of students and teachers is central to the education system. Indeed, we see that starting to be the case more and more in schools nationally. There has been a change in the whole mindset that schools are about teaching and imparting information in the recognition that they are also about ensuring the well-being of students and school communities generally is at the heart of everything a school does. From that, better results can be achieved.
A change is also necessary in society generally in the context of attitudes to mental health difficulties in order that everybody can seek help when necessary and without the fear of being stigmatised. It is much better to concentrate on protecting the mental well-being of teachers and students rather than to focus solely on mental illness. While mental illness is obviously very important, we are talking today about the education system and the role it plays. Each school needs a strategy to achieve a whole-school approach to mental health.
The committee is of the view that the Minister for Education and Skills must work together with the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health and older people to promote resilience. Recommendations in the committee's report include recognising and supporting the critical role of teachers in creating a culture of whole-school approaches to mental health. The committee also recommends that teachers should be allocated sufficient time, training and resources to enable them to promote positive mental health among students and that teachers and students need time and opportunities to listen to each other and to develop caring relationships.
Teachers and schools should be provided with the resources necessary to enable each student to participate fully in schools through encouraging and developing his or her particular talents and strengths. Positive measures to counteract bullying, such as the anti-bullying ambassadors project now running in a number of schools and which supports a friendly, positive and respectful culture in schools with a strong emphasis on eliminating bullying where it occurs, should be implemented.
Students need to feel connected to their community. Schools are a central way of doing that. Children and young people should be provided with the opportunity to participate and engage with both the local and school communities.
There needs to be enhanced collaboration between schools and State agencies to support students and teachers alike. The committee recommends that sufficient time and resources are allocated to ensure the promotion and support of positive mental health throughout the school community. It is recommended that the teacher training programme be revised to incorporate a module of resilience and promote positive mental health in schools.
The committee recommends a review of the current entry system, which places an emphasis on academic achievement, often resulting in additional stress on children and young people.
The committee recommends the establishment of an expert group to investigate the appropriateness, feasibility and best practice approach regarding the introduction of mindfulness in primary schools, particularly with a view to creating a standardised system if possible for all teachers.
It is important that we investigate the introduction of school-based counselling and the provision of nurses in schools, which has been recommended by the National Council for Special Education. We need to explore further training to guidance counsellors in secondary schools, which may be a cost-effective way to provide further access to counselling in schools.
It is a positive development that the well-being policy statement and framework for practice published by the Department of Education and Skills has incorporated a number of recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Education and Skills in its report. Key recommendations made in the report on a whole-school approach, the importance of listening and feeling a sense of belonging and connectedness were incorporated into the policy statement as areas to target in school well-being promotion.
I welcome the fact that the committee's report formed part of the policy statement. However, on behalf of the committee, I note the committee was disappointed it was not mentioned in the policy statement, considering the significant time and effort members put into producing what the committee and I consider an important report. The committee would appreciate, generally speaking, continued interaction along the lines it has had with the Minister and Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, in their relatively short periods in their jobs, particularly in areas where the committee has worked. That would be appreciated.
Approximately one child or young person in ten has mental health problems. Research has found that, while people can experience mental ill-health at any time throughout their lives, mental disorders tend to peak during adolescence and adulthood. These issues can manifest as depression, anxiety and conduct disorder. This is often a direct response to what is happening in young people's lives. The emotional well-being of children is just as important as their physical well-being and my colleague, Deputy Browne, has done tremendous work on a statutory basis in equalising the State's responses to mental and physical health. I thank him for that. Good mental health allows children and young people to develop the resilience to cope with difficult situations and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults.
The committee recognises the importance of the promotion of positive mental health in schools. It is committed to its work in continuing to progress, promote and monitor the integration of the well-being policy statement in our schools. The committee looks forward to working more closely with the Minister and his Department on this topic in the future, and on many more issues relating to the education and well-being of our children and young people. The education system does not have the answer to everything. It plays an important role but is only one part of it and it is important that when issues arise in society that are of general importance, it is not simply sufficient for the State to say the schools or the teachers will look after it. Teachers have a role, as children spend a lot of their time in schools, but their main role is to teach and for children to learn. Teachers need to play their part, alongside State agencies, the families of the children and communities.
On behalf of the committee, I thank the witnesses who appeared before the committee to assist in its consideration of this matter. They generously gave the committee the benefit of their valuable time and expertise and made a significant contribution to the report and the committee is grateful to them. The report is on the committee's website and laid before the Houses. Those who appeared before the committee and their submissions are in that report.
I commend this report to the House.