Independent candidate for the North of Tyne Mayor John McCabe has pledged to enable schools in Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland to provide the very best mental health support to young children should he be elected.
Following a visit to St Bede’s RCVA Primary School in Bedlington, he has officially announced plans to roll out his A Sarah for Every School policy.
This will enable headteachers, from early years through to secondary school, to afford, employ or access the services of highly qualified, mental health professionals for their pupils.
It is named as St Bede’s, which is seen as a trailblazer school for child wellbeing provision, employs Sarah – a specialist young persons’ counsellor and ‘talk buddy’ who works closely with all pupils aged five to 11 should they be struggling with confidence, emotions, friendships or other personal issues.
Seen as a friend, the children are able to speak to Sarah at any time of the day and at their own request to work through and understand their feelings, and resolve any concerns they may have.
Headteacher Therese Worrall has, for the past year, used money from her own budget to employ Sarah who helps, on average, ten pupils each week.
As a result, the school is continuing to see a dramatic and positive impact on achievement rates, classroom participation and engagement and attendance, as well as pupil development.
She said: “Our mental health provision is underpinning everything that we do here at St Bede’s and Sarah has made a significant difference across all areas of learning.
“The environment that we have created allows the children to be themselves and ‘open up’ should they experience any problems or have any concerns, no matter how small they may be, and that’s a great basis from which to help them grow as individuals.
“This isn’t about bad behaviour, but rather ensuring that the children have the correct personal and social skills to face and overcome any issues, recognise their own talents and be the very best they can be.
“We’re teaching them about confidence, resilience, respect and individuality at an age appropriate level – and the difference it has made is incredible.
“Parents too are in full support, with one recently saying how her child had grown in confidence and now tackles things that would have worried her beforehand.
“I would urge all headteachers to seriously consider this and to try and find the funding to have mental health and wellbeing support for their pupils.
“Funding cuts have affected schools badly up and down the country, but the impact that Sarah has had at St Bede’s has changed the whole ethos of the school.
“For John to make this a priority should he be elected Mayor is absolutely fantastic, and it will change the lives of thousands of young people in the North of Tyne area.
“Meanwhile, I would ask any head to explore all possible avenues available to find funding as every school needs a Sarah.”
It currently costs St Bede’s approximately £250 per week to employ the services of a children’s mental health professional.
Mr McCabe said: “The results of this initiative, both on a personal level as well as in academic terms, have been remarkable and yet very few schools in the North of Tyne can afford to pay for something like this.
“This has simply got to change as if we can provide the best possible mental health support to children – with continuity of services throughout their school years, especially if moving to or progressing onto another school – we will go a very long way to breaking barriers to opportunity when they are older.
“I have been and always will be a huge advocate of raising awareness of mental wellbeing.
“Therese, as well as the pupils at St Bede’s, are a huge inspiration and if elected, I will introduce a cradle-to-grave approach to mental health in the North of Tyne region, bringing all necessary parties together in collaboration to roll this initiative out wide.”