Teachers say their students’ anxiety about National Standards testing is affecting their learning, while principals say they can’t access the outside help they need to deal with children’s mental health problems.
A survey of primary and intermediate schools by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER), released on Tuesday morning, shows 63 per cent of teachers agreed, or strongly agreed, that anxiety about National Standards performance had negatively affected some students’ learning.
That was up from 41 per cent in 2013’s survey.
While young students were feeling more anxious, only 20 per cent of teachers felt they had the training to help them recognise mental health warning signs in children.
Nearly 40 per cent of principals at intermediate and primary schools said they could not access support to work with students who have mental health issues.
This was down from 2013, when 46 per cent of principals reported they could not easily access this expertise.
Research also showed on average 15 per cent of school students reported being bullied at least once a week. Schools that had good policies in place, had lower numbers of students on average reporting being hit, pushed, or hurt in a mean way at least once a week.
NZCER senior researcher Sally Boyd, the survey’s principal author, said it showed overall that schools were doing many things to promote wellbeing, but there were areas of tension that showed schools were stretched.
The survey found more teachers disagreed that schools had systems in place to meet the mental health needs of students in 2016 than they did in 2013.
One of the other main findings of the survey was that schools were having difficulty in striking the right balance between learning and achievement, and well-being and positive behaviour.
“Schools have a lot on their plates, to find that balance can be hard for them . . . there’s a lot of focus on numeracy and literacy taking away from wellbeing.”
Decile 1 and 2 schools had more things in place to support vulnerable students than those in higher decile schools, but that did not stop teachers worrying about their students’ learning and wellbeing.
Only 33 per cent of of teachers at 1 and 2 decile schools agreed no student “falls through the cracks”, compared with over half of teachers at higher decile schools.
Lesley Murrihy, principal of Amesbury School in Wellington’s Churton Park, said anxiety in children was rising, but she was not sure it was linked to National Standards.
It was a problem schools everywhere were talking about. There was a growing number of mental health issues in schoolchildren, and while the school had been successful at getting support for its students, by the time that support was accessed the child’s issues were quite serious.
“It’s like the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, we need that kind of support earlier.”
Social Investment Minister Amy Adams and Health Minister Jonathan Coleman announced a raft of measures on Monday as part of a $100 million social investment fund for mental health.
For schools, it included a proposal for a pilot providing frontline mental health practitioners in selected Communities of Learning, or clusters of schools.
The Ministry of Education said the frontline health specialists would enable early identification of potential mental health issues and on-site access for students to mental health care.
For those schools not in the pilot, other initiatives would include $25m to expand and enhance primary and community mental health and addiction care; and $5m to ensure support and follow-up for those who attempt suicide.