Saturday 9 February 2019

Children's Mental Health Week 2019 - and Education

Ironic really that it's during Children's Mental Health Week that I get called into school to discuss one of my children's attendance. This is a first for me. Up until 5 years ago I was the one with 100% attendance certificates all over my fridge and mantlepiece. I'm not unduly concerned, he's had a rough trot lately with several stomach bugs and it took about 6 weeks to clear the flu from his system. He's been ill. Hopefully that's our turn at everything done and we can have an easier time for the rest of the year.

Childrens mental health week and schooling in the UK 2019

My son has also just had a stressful time for other reasons than flu and associated headaches and vision problems. Over Christmas he saw his Dad rushed off to hospital again, this time with the flu, and he knows I have to have another hernia operation. In his world people he loves do really die, suddenly and forever. The last of his big siblings moved out in September and that's a really big change to our household. It's something that our doctor was concerned about for my partner and I, so it has to be a concern for the younger two as well.

My son has already had to live through far more trauma than most adults. Some days I look at our household and realise it's actually a miracle he ever attends school at all. I have always been quite strict with my kids about going to school, but I know I am slightly softer on the young ones than I ever was with their siblings. If in future they feel they can't cope with anything and can't even say exactly why, I wouldn't ever ignore it - but don't tell them that, they'll get ideas.

We've been called into school because we've triggered a ticksheet. Somewhere, someone who doesn't know us has made a blanket decision and we've been reduced to a number on a spreadsheet, and we don't fit the pattern.

I spent years working in education, I know how annoying it is teaching a group with absentees. I know that best results are gained by best possible attendance. Schooled children should expect to go in for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. This is not a complaint about my school or the staff in it, they all work incredibly hard and communication is brilliant. This is possibly not even my local LEA, this is a complaint about the whole way education and the entire system runs.

Attendance has been flagged by the Government as a cause for concern and pressure is coming down on everyone from the top. Children as young as 6 and 7 panic about missing a day because they're ill. Parents send kids into school soon after they've vomited or pebble-dashed the loo. I've been called to collect a child from high school because he's thrown up everywhere twice, and as we went out of the door he was reminded by the office staff that this would ruin his 100% attendance. What kind of world is this? He didn't do it on purpose and they didn't want him to stay. If that's the reaction to visible and provable illness, what hope have we with mental health?

In testing, attendance, weight and everything else, our children are graded by 'performance against average'. These are people we are talking about, they're children. None of them are average, they're all distinctly unique. Even if they manage close to average, next year the goalposts will have moved and you'll be playing with a rugby ball, and possibly an imaginary unicorn, or a brand new animal only invented in 2014 for the year 6 SATs.

We are adults for a very long time and worrying about being too ill to work really should be a young person and adult worry, not something that upsets little children. Little children are meant to catch everything, it's nature doing it's thing and building their immunity, you can't fight that. If they're absent for other reasons then it's still the parent's worry, not the child's. Add in stress about SATs and whether they've eaten too many carbs, and today's under 10's have so much more to fret about than we did.

It feels like we are doing it wrong and the children's mental health statistics show that:

Suicide is the biggest killer of UK schoolchildren.
200 UK children have been victims to suicide in the past year alone.
1 in every 10 UK schoolchildren have diagnosable mental health problems.

I'm not concerned that my son's attendance won't improve, it will. This was a blip, and he has been in school whenever he hasn't been too ill or tired to cope with it. He's done brilliantly and I'm super proud of him. 

All of our children had almost permanent 100% attendance until one of them took her own life. Now I don't think any of my family will ever get 100% attendance ever again. I don't miss those 100% attendance certificates, Elspeth's all mean nothing now. I am painfully aware that their physical and mental health will always be more important...

It's time to start treating children as individuals again. As humans.

You need never be alone. There is ALWAYS someone to talk to. You may be able to reach out to someone you know, but if not the Samaritans are on hand 24 hours a day 116 123 

If you are a young person or are worried about another young person, you may feel more comfortable talking to Papyrus 0800 068 41 41 or Childline 0800 1111

If you have lost someone to suicide then you may find help from Survivors Of Bereavement By Suicide and Winston's Wish for younger family members.

Sources: MQ / The Guardian
The NHS: Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2017
Child Bereavement UK statistics


  1. Jenny, I read your posts and always find myself nodding my head, but rarely post a reply as I don't know what to say. From now on when I feel like that will post "hear, hear" so you know someone agrees with you! You are a very wise lady, sadly that wisdom has come about through some pretty rough life situations. I sympathise with you on this issue. My eldest has recently moved from year 6 to year 7. He went from never having a day off in junior school to having had about a week off since Sep 2018. All days when he has had bugs and wasn't fit to go into school. Somedays I have sent him in only to have to collect him at lunchtime as he was too ill, and being told he shouldn't have come in if he was ill, yet there is that attendance percentage lurking in the background. I work part time in a school, so can see it from that perspective but as you say we have lost the plot somewhere.

    1. Thank you. That means an awful lot to me. I'm also guilty of reading and nodding and not commenting, yet I know how big a deal it is when someone comes along and says "hear, hear" - thank you. I'll make sure and comment more often too.
      Wisdom it turns out is just being able to remember what happened, see it coming and apply it to future events. I wish in many ways I wasn't so wise now... Thank you, comment of the week at least.

  2. This is such an important subject. My oldest is suffering a bit since he's started high school and I think your posts help me to know how important it is to keep talking and helping. xx

    1. It does almost go against everything that seems natural at that age. They pull away and rely on friends more, just as we start to need them to really explain what's going on in their heads. i'm sure your son knows you are there for him x


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