Increased pressure on schools as heads face far-reaching pupil health and safeguarding issues

Mental health, domestic violence, bullying and obesity top the list of pupil health and safeguarding concerns for schools across England.

A report on pupil wellbeing released today (20 July 2015) by The Key – the organisation providing leadership and management support to schools – has revealed that the most concerning pupil health and safeguarding issues for headteachers and other school leaders in England are:

  1. Mental health (67%)
  2. Domestic violence (58%)
  3. Cyber bullying (55%)
  4. Bullying (38%)
  5. Obesity (36%)
  6. Drugs (23%)
  7. Sexting (21%)
  8. Child sexual exploitation (20%)
  9. Gangs and youth violence (13%)
  10. Female genital mutilation (FGM) (11%)

The report, which represents the views of 1,180 school leaders who completed The Key’s annual State of Education survey, identifies the scale of the challenge facing the new Child Protection Taskforce as schools increasingly seek to employ their own counsellors or draw on voluntary services[1] to tackle wide-ranging pupil wellbeing issues. The results reveal that:

  • More than two-thirds (67%) of those surveyed are worried about their pupils’ mental health and almost three in five (58%) are concerned about domestic violence, followed by cyber bullying (55%), bullying (38%) and obesity (36%)
  • Pupil mental health is consistently the largest wellbeing-related concern for leaders across school types, phases and English regions
  • Domestic violence is much more of a concern for primary school leaders (70%) than those in secondary schools (47%)
  • Cyber bullying is of concern to more secondary school leaders, with almost three-quarters (74%) of those surveyed saying this is a worry, compared to 59% of primary school leaders. Academy leaders also identified this as an area of concern (69% - second only to mental health)
  • Far fewer respondents reported being concerned by trafficking (3%) and forced marriage (6%)
  • School leaders in London are more concerned about gangs and youth violence (32%), FGM (27%) and radicalisation (26%) than those in any other region, with these issues ranking 6th, 8th and 9th respectively. In contrast the wider south east region ranked gangs and youth violence and radicalisation as 13th and 14th respectively, with 6% of school leaders indicating these as areas of concern
  • Drugs are of concern to school leaders across the country, ranking as the 6th most worrying issue for respondents in most regions. A notable exception is London – the only region where drugs ranked outside of the top 10 (11th)
  • While sexting and drugs rank higher as concerns for secondary school leaders (61% and 55% respectively), obesity ranks higher among primary school leaders (42%)

Speaking about the findings, Fergal Roche, Chief Executive of The Key, said: “Such widespread concern among school leaders about pupils’ wellbeing should be a wake-up call to society as a whole. Mental health issues, domestic violence, bullying and drugs have implications that reach far beyond the school gates, and can have a serious impact on the future prospects of those children affected. The level of concern about pupils’ mental health is particularly worrying given the recent history of cuts to mental health services.[2]

The release of The Key’s pupil wellbeing report closely follows the Government’s announcement of a new Child Protection Taskforce, which is intended to drive reforms to protect the most vulnerable children in society and give them the opportunity to succeed.[3]

Acknowledging this move to improve inter-agency working, Roche commented: “In a previous survey[4] by The Key, almost three-quarters of school leaders who responded said they had made a referral to children’s social care during their career, and more than half thought that the statutory safeguarding guidance introduced last April hasn’t helped to reduce bureaucracy. With more schools telling us that they are employing their own counsellors and the high levels of concern revealed in our pupil wellbeing report, it’s clear we need to ensure that school leaders can access the right skills and resources to effectively support the children and young people in their care.”


[1] The Department for Education’s ‘Counselling in schools: a blueprint for the future’ report says that the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy estimates that between 64 and 80% of secondary schools in England offer some kind of counselling, and the numbers have increased over the last ten years. The report also notes that counselling in primary schools is growing. The DfE report can be viewed here.

[2] Research by BBC News and Community Care revealed that mental health trusts in England saw their budgets fall by more than 8% in real terms. Budgets of mental health trusts in England in 2010-11 were compared with the budgets of 2014-15 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-31970871

[3] The government announced a new Child Protection Taskforce to help protect society’s most vulnerable children on 24 June 2015. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pm-announces-new-taskforce-to-transform-child-protection

[4] The Key surveyed its members in October 2014 to learn about their views on safeguarding.  You can view the full report here.

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