Mental Health Support Teams reach only a third of pupils

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Five years after the launch of the government’s Mental Health Support Team (MHST) initiative, only a third of pupils are covered.

The policy has been long-criticised for its slow roll-out and the latest data published this week – Mental Health Awareness Week – by the Department for Education (DfE, 2023) shows just how far there is to go.

As of 2022/23, 28% of schools and colleges (about 6,800) are covered by a MHST and 35% of pupils.

This is projected to rise to 35% of schools and colleges and 44% of learners by April 2024.

MHSTs support the mental health needs of children and young people in primary, secondary and further education (ages 5 to 18), providing early intervention on issues such as mild to moderate anxiety. Delivery is led by the NHS with support from the DfE.

Each MHST covers an average of 8,500 learners in 17 schools or colleges and are also intended to support education settings in promoting good mental health and wellbeing. There are currently around 400 in operation, with another 100 due to come online in April next year.

The initiative was announced in July 2018 as part of the government’s mental health Green Paper. The plans also included funded training for senior mental health leads in schools (DfE, 2021). MHSTs are intended to work closely with mental health leads and give advice to schools and colleges, including supporting with referrals.

Within the DfE data, we discover that secondary schools enjoy the best coverage from MHSTs (46%) while only 28% of primaries are covered.

The figures come at a time when NHS data suggests that almost one in five children aged seven to 16 have a probable mental health disorder, rising to more than one in four 17 to 19-year-olds (Newlove-Delgado et al, 2022). There are particular concerns about issues including self-harm, anxiety, and loneliness.

When it comes to the senior mental health leads, the DfE data shows that 13,800 schools and colleges (58%) have claimed the £1,200 grant for the training.

The funding has been available since October 2021, although the training is not compulsory. The trained mental health lead is charged with developing a whole-school or college approach to mental health and wellbeing.

Broken down by setting, 73% of secondaries have applied for the grant, compared to 59% of primaries, and 66% of special schools.

The data shows that the most common staff members to take on the training include safeguarding leads and the SENCO followed by headteachers and assistant heads. Half of those working in the role, said they were now dedicating half to one day a week to these new duties.

Commenting on the data, Sarah Hannafin, head of policy at the National Association of Head Teachers, said that mental health support was a priority for schools, especially post-Covid, but provision has been hampered by the slow roll-out of the MHSTs, leaving school leaders facing “significant challenges”.

She continued: “We have long called for the government to speed up the roll-out of mental health support teams which can play an important role to in supporting children and young people before any needs escalate.

“This, combined with inadequate government investment in children’s mental health services and local authority services means many pupils are missing out on early intervention and specialist treatment when they really need it.

“There is a real urgency for additional resources to support the mental health and wellbeing of pupils, including access to fully funded counselling for all who need it. The government also needs to invest much more in community services like early help hubs and in specialist treatment.”

  • DfE: Transforming children and young people’s mental health implementation programme: Data release, May 2023:
  • DfE: Guidance: Senior mental health lead training, June 2021:
  • Newlove-Delgado et al: Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2022, NHS Digital, November 2022:

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