I can assure that Deputy that both I and my Department are aware of the vital role that schools play in providing a safe, protective and nurturing environment for children and young people in inuring them to the increasing stresses of daily life.
My Department promotes a comprehensive and whole-school approach in schools to the promotion of well-being and positive mental health focusing on the entire school community, as well as groups and individual young people with identified need. This spans the curriculum in schools and in particular the Aistear and primary school Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curricula, whole-school ethos, quality of teaching, learning and assessment, student support and the provision of professional development for teachers. It also involves accessing other supports such as educational psychology services. Additionally, schools engage in a wide range of sport and cultural activities which provide an important opportunity for students to experience success and personal growth. The whole staff shares responsibility for general student well-being. The Well-being in Primary Schools Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion (2015) provide a Framework for schools to present in an integrated way the existing elements of good practice to promote social and emotional learning, and mental health and direct then to new practices as appropriate. They provide clear information for schools and for agencies supporting schools on how to address issues of social emotional learning. The European wide HSE supported, Health Promoting School Process (HSP) is also outlined, and the Well-being Guidelines show how the HSP can be introduced to schools to complement existing good practice. The Guidelines outline how schools support young people through early intervention and prevention, modelled on the NEPS Continuum of Support tiered approach. The Guidelines build on the significant work already taking place in schools, including through the systematic implementation of the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curriculum.
The Guidelines highlight the vital role schools play in providing a protective environment for young people which can counter risk factors. Additionally having a whole school approach which fosters important links with the wider school community, and agencies which support schools, is key to successful implementation of the Guidelines.
They provide information for schools on the supports services that are currently available. Schools are advised to seek this support when in developing the whole school approach. It is important that this support is well coordinated and that schools are clear about the responsibilities of the support agencies.
The Guidelines advise that in the event of pupils presenting with mental health difficulties which are above and beyond the school's capacity and ability to support, school authorities should identify and access the referral pathways for the various primary and secondary healthcare services in their particular area. My Department's National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) is available to advise schools on the matter. Referrals should, of course, be undertaken with Parental or Guardian consent and collaboration, except in an exceptional situation where there may be child protection issues. In normal circumstances referral to Clinical Psychology Services and to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) is made through the student's G.P.
My Department’s Action Plan for Education 2017 promotes well-being as one of its key goals. The actions relating to well-being and mental health in the primary school sector include:
Delivery of a national programme to support all schools to implement the national Wellbeing in Primary Schools Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion (2015).
Increasing the capacity of NEPS: an enhanced educational psychological service to schools, through the appointment of an additional 10 educational psychologists. The focus of this additional support will be on extending the roll-out of teacher programmes to DEIS schools that build capacity to promote social and emotional competence, resilience and school connectedness in all learners.
As stated above the Guidelines themselves form a framework within which a broad range of existing processes and practices can be rationalised within schools and brought to bear within the context of a cogent well-being and mental health support for pupils in schools. Support to the school community in this regard is being provided from a number of sources within my Department including the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST).
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.