SIR NICHOLAS SOAMES SPEAKS IN MENTAL HEALTH EDUCATION IN SCHOOLS

6th November 2017

Sir Nicholas Soames MP takes part in Debate on Mental Health Education in Schools.

Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on her formidable introduction. It was completely dispassionate yet very powerful about this terribly serious issue. I also congratulate my hon. Friends who have spoken. I will, unusually, speak very briefly, just to make a couple of points.

My hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) made an important point about the ability of children and young people to confront this issue for themselves, and also to have the immense guts required to tell someone that they really do have a problem. It takes a brave person to do that, who will quite often be in a very ugly place, which, if anyone knew what they were dealing with, would have been identified sometime beforehand. This is where the Government have an immensely important part to play in the very difficult area of children’s centres and children’s hubs and all the works that go towards trying to help people through these very difficult periods.

However, those children all end up back at school somehow, and it is the teachers who have to pick up the pieces if the parents cannot; often, the parents will not be able to, or will be so worried that they will not know how. As so often, the teachers have to rescue the day. It is not easy to do that in such a specialist area for someone who has not been properly trained to do so.

The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) made mention of PHSE teaching. I had not thought of that, and it is true—if it is lumped at the end of the day, with no exam on it, who will take it seriously? I agree.

This issue is a fundamental part of growing up. Looking back on it, I know how lucky I was to have a happy, golden childhood. Parents come to see me in my surgery who are desperately worried about their children and anxious about what they will get at school. When we talk to the schools, the teachers say that they know they cannot do the job properly, and headteachers know they do not have the resources to do it.

My right hon. Friend the Minister and I live in West Sussex. He is a senior West Sussex Member, and he knows the difficulty that our local county council has with finance for this kind of thing. I was in a school the other day where I asked about mental health teaching ​and was told that an excellent lady had done it, but she had moved on in a general sort-out and had not been properly replaced. We are back into what my hon. Friend the Member for Telford and my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) were talking about.

I think this is a national crisis. I wish, if I may, to stray a little beyond what I normally do in public and to congratulate the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry on what they have done to bring national attention to this issue in a very powerful, acceptable and touching way. We can see the connection they have with these young people and the way the young people look to them for help, which is what they are providing. I commend them and the Duchess of Cambridge very strongly for what they are doing. It is very important work, and I hope they will go on doing it.

I do not want to overdo it. There are a number of areas in our national life where we constantly face great difficulties, but this is a real national crisis, and the scale of it is only just beginning to be realised. I know the Minister will take very seriously what the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North said, but the whole question of training teachers is cardinal. I repeat that if there is not consistent teaching across a diversity of providers, there is no way these children will be able to access the kind of services we want to see. Headteachers and teachers do not have the time; they have so many things to deal with, and they need to be confident they have the skills and ability to see these children right in referring them to other services.

Mr Brady, thank you very much for calling me to speak. I apologise for speaking so briefly, as I know it will disappoint you, but there are others here who know much more about this than I do.

 

Hansard volume 630
No 47
Columns 467WH – 508WH

| Hansard Full Debate

Columns 487WH – 488WH