Education & Family

Schools mental-health champion has job axed

Natasha Devon
Image caption Natasha Devon's role as mental health champion for schools has been axed less than a year after she was appointed

The government's mental-health champion for schools in England, who criticised the pressure put on children by the current testing regime, has been axed.

Natasha Devon who was appointed last August used a head teachers' conference last week to highlight the level of mental strain being put on pupils.

Ms Devon described the rigorous testing and academic pressure children faced as "detrimental" to their mental health.

The Department for Education denies the role was axed to silence criticism.


"Time and time again over recent years, young people - and the people who teach them - have spoken out about how a rigorous culture of testing and academic pressure is detrimental to their mental health," Ms Devon told the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference.

"At one end of the scale we've got four-year-olds being tested, at the other end of the scale we've got teenagers leaving school and facing the prospect of leaving university with record amounts of debt.

"Anxiety is the fastest growing illness in under-21s. These things are not a coincidence."

On Tuesday this week, numbers of parents across England kept their children off school for the day in protest at primary tests in England.

The Let Our Kids Be Kids campaign complains of a damaging culture of over-testing in schools.

Image caption On Tuesday, parents handed in an online petition to the DfE signed by more than 40,000 people complaining about "excessive" testing in primary schools

A Department for Education spokeswoman said an "independent NHS task force report" published in February had "recommended that a cross-government mental health champion be created".

"For this reason we have had to reconsider the department's own role," she said.

And Ms Devon's position was being axed to avoid "confusion".

"Natasha has done a great job of helping us to raise the profile of young people's mental health since her appointment last year," said the spokeswoman.

"We have asked Natasha and others who have been involved in our work to empower schools and young people to promote good mental health to continue to work with us as we prepare to launch our activity later this year."

The government says it is putting £1.4bn into children's mental health with separate money allocated by the Department for Education for peer support schemes in schools.

Young Minds chief executive Sarah Brennan said: "We are very surprised and sad that Natasha's role as mental health champion has ended.

"She has done a superb job of drawing attention to the crucial importance of mental health and wellbeing in schools."

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