Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Questions (294)

Derek Keating


294. Deputy Derek Keating asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he is willing to devise an anti-suicide, prevention and awareness strategy or policy for post-primary school students to undertake in view of the fact that they are too young to avail of the existing programmes on offer like assist and safe talk. [31463/13]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I am also aware of the serious problem of youth suicide and of the role that schools can play in the area of prevention and ensuring the education system is more responsive to those with emotional or mental health difficulties. I can inform the Deputy that last January I launched the Well-Being in Post-Primary Schools: Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention, which were developed by my Department in conjunction with the Department of Health. They are informed by consultation with key education partners and by the findings of recent research. The guidelines provide practical guidance to post-primary schools on how they can promote mental health and well-being in an integrated way and they also provide evidence-based advice on how to support young people who may be at risk of suicidal behaviour. The Guidelines have been developed to bring coherence to and build upon the multitude of practices that are already in place in schools to promote well-being. They emphasise the need to integrate all elements by using a coordinated whole-school approach in the promotion of positive mental health. This involves building and integrating school self-evaluation processes, implementing the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curriculum, developing the whole-school guidance plan, adopting the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) continuum of support, and building effective inter-agency relationships. Support for schools will be integrated into existing CPD work plans for the SPHE support service and will be coordinated nationally in collaboration with NEPS and HSE to ensure a streamlined approach. Copies of the Guidelines have been circulated to schools authorities.

In addition in the same period I had published, along with my colleague, Minister Fitzgerald, an Action Plan on Bullying which sets out twelve actions to help prevent and tackle bullying in primary and second level schools. I have ring-fenced €500,000 to support implementation of these actions this year. Officials from my Department have already commenced work on the implementation of the actions. In particular, an awareness raising initiative on cyber bullying targeted at young people is already underway and my Department is supporting the Stand Up! Awareness Week Against Homophobic & Transphobic Bullying in second level schools which took place in March. Work has also commenced on developing new anti-bullying procedures for schools in consultation with the school management bodies, teacher unions and national parents councils. These new procedures are due to issue to schools for the start of the next school year. Preliminary work has commenced on other aspects of the Action Plan on Bullying. Implementation will continue in the coming months. Also the Framework for Junior Cycle, published in October 2012, is underpinned by 8 principles one of which is "Wellbeing", Through Wellbeing "the student experience will contribute directly to their physical, mental, emotional and social wellbeing and resilience. Learning takes place in a climate focused on collective wellbeing of school, community and society". The Framework contains 24 Statements of Learning which students should experience. One of these statements aims to ensure that the student "takes action to safeguard and promote his/her wellbeing and that of others". In addition, there are six key skills required for successful learning by students across the curriculum and for learning beyond school. One of the six key skills of Junior Cycle is "Staying Well".

As part of the revised Junior Cycle, short courses are being prepared by the NCCA not only in PE but also in SPHE and will be available for schools from September 2014. These courses may be assessed as a part of the School Certificate in the new Junior Cycle. The overall focus of my Department's Well-being and Suicide prevention policy is to provide a safe and supportive growing environment for students imparting skills and knowledge in relation to their emotional well-being and development and assisting them to seek help when they or their peers are in crisis or approaching crisis. Programmes such as Asist and SafeTALK are designed to impart skills and knowledge in recognising developing emotional crisis situations among young people and identifying the appropriate support and referral paths to tend to their needs. Both programmes, in the formal education setting, are by their nature aimed at adults tending to young people rather then for use by young people themselves.