William Eichler 26 February 2019

Primary schools to teach about mental wellbeing

The Department for Education has announced that primary school children are to be taught how to look after their mental wellbeing and how to recognise when classmates may be struggling.

The education secretary Damian Hinds has unveiled new guidance for the introduction of compulsory health education that will focus on promoting the positive link between physical and mental health.

Pupils will learn about looking after their mental and physical wellbeing in their daily life and about the importance of self-care, like getting enough sleep, spending time outdoors, and eating well.

Mr Hinds’ announcement follows an extensive call for evidence and three-month consultation on the draft regulations and guidance. This received more than 11,000 responses including from leading charities, teaching unions and subject associations.

According to the new guidance, primary school children will also be taught age-appropriate online safety and the importance of balancing time spent online with time spent outdoors.

The guidance for secondary schools will build on what is taught at the primary level, ensuring pupils can spot the signs of common mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression in themselves or others.

Secondary pupils will also be taught online safety topics, including the serious risks of sharing private photos, the impact of viewing explicit or harmful content, as well as how the internet can sometimes promote an unhealthy view of sex and relationships.

To ensure teachers are prepared ahead of the subjects becoming mandatory in 2020, there will be a £6m budget in 2019/20 for a school support package to cover training and resources.

‘Growing up and adolescence are hard enough, but the internet and social media add new pressures that just weren’t there even one generation ago,’ said Mr Hinds.

‘So many things about the way people interact have changed, and this new world, seamless between online and offline, can be difficult to navigate.

‘Almost twenty years on from the last time guidance on sex education was updated, there is a lot to catch up on.

‘Although sex education is only mandatory to teach at secondary, it must be grounded in a firm understanding and valuing of positive relationships, and respect for others, from primary age.

‘In turn positive relationships are connected with good mental health, which itself is linked with physical wellbeing. So it is appropriate to make health education universal alongside relationships and sex education.’

Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, commented: ‘The guidance published today is a welcome step forward in preparing children for adulthood, improving their wellbeing and keeping them safe and healthy.

‘By providing compulsory health education with a strong focus on mental wellbeing, and guaranteeing relationships education in primary schools and relationships and sex education in secondary schools, the Government has responded to the needs and concerns of children, young people and parents.

‘This is an important milestone but there is further work ahead to ensure the new requirements fulfil their potential for helping children grow up healthier and happier.’

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