The New Zealand government puts mental health above economic stability. Our schools should do the same, says Dr. Tara Porter in the TES.
Of course (nearly) all schools in the UK take mental health seriously, but what if they put it first, before any other responsibility? What if their primary purpose was to educate children to have a happy and healthy life?
There are economic as well as social arguments for this, as 50 per cent of all adult mental health problems start before the age of 14, and the total cost to the economy of mental health problems is estimated to be £105 billion a year.
Schools would not be ranked on the basis of academic output, but instead on children’s emotional wellbeing. The success of a school would, therefore, be determined not by its entries to top universities but by its ability to produce mentally well grown-ups.
A move to a wellbeing culture would mean that less-academic pupils would be encouraged to become well-rounded, law-abiding, productive citizens, at peace with themselves. School would focus on preparing children for life, rather than on their ability to regurgitate knowledge in an exam, so it would include information about finances and relationships.
A broad curriculum, with room for creative and active pursuits, would engage children in positive life habits and be protective for mental health and the avoidance of addiction or physical illness.
My speculations about the impact of adopting the tenets of the New Zealand budget in UK schools are obviously purely hypothetical. My inferences create a fantasy of schools not just being at the heart of their community but creating a community close to where their pupils live.
Dr Tara Porter is a clinical psychologist at the Royal Free London NHS Trust and Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, as well as Tes’ mental health columnist.