Rotherham schools report a rise in mental health problems among students and staff, calling for fresh funding and support. John Healey MP urges action.

Student worries related to exams, appearance, social media, and Covid-related gaps in learning are on the rise, says a new UK study. Schools report a surge in anxiety referrals and a serious shortfall in support. Calls are growing for fresh funding for mental health services.

EXAMS, appearance, social media and gaps in learning related to Covid are among the   student worries reported by schools in a new mental health study. Health reporter JILL THEOBALD studied the findings and spotlights calls for fresh funding to boost children’s wellbeing.

EVERY school in the borough has seen an increase in the number of students with mental health problems over the last five years, according to shocking new figures.

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A report published by John Healey MP following a survey across his Wentworth & Dearne constituency also reveals a rise in the numbers of staff suffering, as well as a “serious shortfall in support”.

The results were backed up by mental health trust RDaSH, who reported a surge in anxiety referrals among students, while the Rotherham branch of the National Education Union said schools were “in a time of real crisis”.  

The new report follows Mr Healey’s original Schools Mental Health Report of 2018, and he says the latest research “confirms the mental health crisis in our schools has got worse”.

The MP has also written to schools minister Nick Gibb about the report and is calling for him to meet up in Westminster with Rotherham headteachers.

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All five of the mainstream secondary schools in Mr Healey’s patch responded to his survey, along with 11 of the 34 primary schools.

Nearly three-quarters of primary schools said mental health problems had become more severe and the same number reported cases increasing among pupils since the pandemic.

In secondary schools, four out of five said they referred more than 20 students to support services in the past year and all had seen a rise in mental health problems since Covid-19. The root causes for all pupils included family, peers, appearance, exams, and social media, while at secondary level triggers included child sexual exploitation, gangs, and gaps in learning due to Covid.

Sixty-four per cent of primary schools also listed anxiety as a cause of concern for staff, along with more than half of secondary schools.

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Mr Healey said the survey showed “despite five years of government promises to improve mental health support in schools, little has changed for the better”, with school leaders feeling they lack the expertise, funding or time to deal with the day-to-day issues they face to support students and staff.

Following the report findings, the MP called for new measures including specialist mental health support in every school and improved waiting times for specialist mental health services outside school.

Mr Healey said: “I will use these findings to meet ministers, promote the case for specialist mental health support in every school and work with teachers’ unions for better staff access to counselling support.”

Colin Price, Rotherham branch secretary for the NEU, said: “The dramatic cuts schools have experienced in funding date back for over a decade and have led to a cut in many areas of additional support schools provide to children including pastoral support and counselling,” he said.

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“This has had a dramatic effect not just on the health and wellbeing of students we work with but on teachers themselves as they have to cope with the accompanying behavioural issues that go hand-in-hand with students desperately struggling to cope.  

“On top of this, low wages for both teaching and support staff has led to thousands leaving the profession for good which is taking away invaluable experience and local understanding from schools at a time when students need it most. Quite simply the government’s decade-long failure to fund has left schools crying out for support — both internally and externally — and we find ourselves in a time of real crisis.”  

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Children's levels of happiness and life satisfaction are recovering to where they were before the pandemic, but we understand there is more to be done.

“We have committed at least £2.3 billion a year into mental health services with the aim that an additional 345,000 children and young people will be able to access NHS-funded mental health support by 2024.”

You can read Mr Healey’s report at