Liz Maudslay is Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges

Research has shown that 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24. Further education colleges, which cater for more than 685,000 young people and educate two thirds of 16-18-year-olds, are therefore likely to have a proportion of students who either have a mental health difficulty or will develop one when at college.

In response to concerns from colleges about the rising incidence of students with mental health difficulties, the Association of Colleges carried out two surveys in 2014 and 2016.

Responses from over 40% of colleges showed that:

  • 66% said numbers of students experiencing mental health difficulties had ‘significantly increased’ in the past three years
  • 75% felt there were significant numbers of students who had undeclared mental health difficulties
  • 43% had no full-time counsellor and 55% reported cut backs in this area
  • 61% said relationships with local mental health services were only ‘fair’ or ‘not very good/non existent’

While all educational organisations face the challenge of supporting increasing numbers of young people experiencing mental health difficulties, those working in further education face additional challenges.

These include:

  • Further education recruits disproportionately from disadvantaged areas and it is recognised that there is a link between mental ill health and disadvantage
  • Most colleges recruit from several different Local Authorities hence staff are dealing with a range of different health authority services.
  • All young students who have not gained the relevant grade in English or maths GCSE are obliged to retake these exams which causes additional stress to students vulnerable to mental health difficulties.

In December 2017 the Government put out a Green Paper on Children and Young People’s Mental Health.

Recommendations include:

  • To reduce CAMHS waiting times
  • To identify and train a senior lead for mental health in all schools and colleges
  • To create new mental health teams to work with cluster of schools and colleges
  • To create a new national strategic partnership focusing on the mental health needs of those aged 16-25.

AoC welcomed these recommendations and is pleased to be part of the new 16-25 group. However, we have concerns about the very long implementation timescale, the fact that the proposed clusters may not fit with college geographies and the danger of starting from scratch rather than building on the considerable work which is already being carried out in colleges.

For the past four years, AoC has run a mental health policy group.

Membership includes college staff and also representatives from NHS, Public Health England, DfE and NUS. Our aim is to focus on policy changes making sure these are inclusive of further education and are practical and deliverable.

AoC has also developed a package of resources including a college self assessment tool which supports the development of a whole college strategy on mental health.

Despite the many challenges, colleges have created innovative approaches to supporting the mental wellbeing of their students.

For example:

East Coast College has created a wellbeing programme focused on developing resilience which is incorporated into all aspects of college life. The college has also paid considerable attention to staff wellbeing with every member of staff having a personal wellbeing goal which is monitored in appraisal.

Truro and Penwith College has introduced a wellbeing and sport service to reduce social anxiety and depression which offers 60 free weekly activities incorporating specific one-to-one sessions for safeguarding and mental health referrals.

Colleges have accessed free health authority training for their specialist staff or have used the free online MindEd resource. In addition to this, Charlie Waller Memorial Trust (a mental health voluntary organisation) is currently, with AoC, developing an online staff development resource specifically focused on further education.

Certain colleges support the recovery of young people and adults with more severe mental health difficulties:

New City College - Hackney has a member of staff who works with young adults currently in mental health wards supporting them gradually on to a college course.

Hugh Baird College, working with Mersey Care local mental health trust, has received funding from the Local Enterprise Partnership to create a site attached to the college which will include a Recovery College and also specialist mental health training facilities.

These examples, along with many others across the sector, show the potential colleges have to enhance the wellbeing of their students. In many ways colleges provide an ideal place to support young people and adults in the difficulties they might be facing.

What is required is a Government response which allows this work to develop by strengthening links between education and health and by providing colleges with the resources that are needed to respond to the holistic needs of their students.

Liz Maudslay is Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges

Copyright © 2018 FE News

The AoC Minds Matter – Wellbeing and Mental Health Conference takes place on Tuesday 26 June

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