Westminster Education Forum

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Improving children’s mental health in the wake of the pandemic - policy priorities, services and targeted support, workforce development, tackling root causes


Price: £95 PLUS VAT

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***
This conference will examine priorities, policy, and best practice for improving child mental health in England - with a particular focus on the impact of the pandemic.

We are pleased to be able to include keynote sessions with Gregor Henderson, Director, Mental Health, Public Health England; Dr Prathiba Chitsabesan, Associate National Clinical Director, Children and Young People’s Mental Health, NHS England; and Wendy Ghaffar HMI, Specialist Adviser, Cross Remit Safeguarding, Social Policy, Ofsted.

Overall, key areas for discussion in this conference include:

  • immediate priorities for supporting children’s mental health following the pandemic and a return to in-person education
  • identifying root causes of poor mental health, and best practice for prevention
  • assessing child mental health services and looking at how they can be improved, including the role of inspections in raising standards

It comes with a particular focus for policymakers and stakeholders at this time, with:

  • the Government consulting on its white paper on potential changes to the Mental Health Act following the independent review of the Act of 2018, including proposals to:
    • strengthen children’s and young people’s rights to be involved in decisions about their care and treatment
    • ensure they can challenge decisions, and that they are only detained for hospital treatment when necessary
  • research from NHS Digital indicating that in 2020 one in six children had a mental health concern, compared to one in nine in 2017
  • warnings from Ofsted that children who have suffered the most with their mental health through the pandemic have:
    • struggled on their return to school with their basic skills and learning
    • seen an increase in eating disorders and self-harm

The discussion is bringing together stakeholders with key policy officials who are due to attend from the DfE; Ofsted; the DHSC; the NAO and the Government Legal Department.

The agenda

  • National child mental health policy and the impact of the pandemic 
  • How multi agency partnerships identify and support children with mental ill health - key findings from joint targeted inspections
  • Immediate priorities for supporting child mental health post-pandemic - the return to in-person education, identifying children most affected, and strengthening support networks
  • Tackling root causes behind poor mental health affecting children and offering targeted support for disproportionately-impacted groups in society
  • Improving child mental health services - capacity and demand, sharing data and best practice, preventative measures and fostering a whole-system approach
  • Next steps for child mental health provision moving forward 
  • The COVID Generation - policy priorities for mental health and wellbeing in a post-pandemic world

Key areas for discussion:

Supporting child mental health post-pandemic - discussing immediate priorities, including:

  • returning to in-person education - with discussion around:
    • priorities for schools - looking at:
      • the experience of staff with identifying children most affected, and supporting children with pre-existing mental health conditions
      • achieving a balance between catching up on learning and mental health recovery
    • policy - looking at the effectiveness of initiatives such as the Wellbeing for Education Return Programme
    • wider implications - understanding the knock-on effects of poor mental health on educational attainment and broader life chances
  • the Psychological First Aid training programme - assessing its usefulness in supporting frontline workers to improve their readiness to assist children’s mental health, as well as:
    • next steps for improving frontline workers’ awareness of best practice in providing immediate support
    • opportunities for strengthening cross-sector collaboration through the programme

Root causes of poor mental health - looking at factors of importance in the current climate, and developing a holistic policy response:

  • domestic abuse:
    • assessing the extent of children and young people who have suffered from domestic abuse during the pandemic, and the particular mental health issues resulting from this
    • spreading awareness of trauma and PTSD-informed practice
  • poverty, hunger, and ill health:
    • understanding the relationship between poverty and issues with mental health, especially in light of increased economic hardship in the wake of the pandemic
    • the role of physical health factors, such as access to healthy nutrition
  • targeted support - including children from groups that have been found to be more likely to encounter poor mental health, such as those with SEND, those who are from ethnic minority backgrounds, and LGBT children

Improving child mental health services going forward:

  • capacity and demand - assessing the funding needed for:
    • mental health services - ensuring they are able to adequately respond to poor mental health amongst children, both in response to COVID-19 and in terms of long-term support
    • supporting the workforce - best practice for guarding against burnout amongst frontline workers, and strategies for sharing workloads and resources
  • prevention - including priorities for:
    • funding - the role of investment in early support and prevention, as well as flexibility in funding for tailored local solutions
    • schools:
      • educating children on mental health issues, techniques for managing adverse life experiences, and fostering resilience
      • the experience so far with the RSE curriculum in helping students learn skills to support their mental wellbeing
  • collaboration:
    • strengthening working relationships between the education, social care, and healthcare sectors
    • sharing data and harnessing the National Data Strategy to boost productivity and efficiency

Regulation in support for child wellbeing - with discussion on:

  • Ofsted - looking at the experience of Ofsted visits and remote inspections during the pandemic, and progress with mapping out the current state of play with the quality of support on offer
  • ensuring comprehensive support - assessing the extent to which children with poor mental health, or suffering from hidden harms, may have fallen through the cracks of support networks
  • joint inspections:
    • building on the successes of deepened collaboration before the pandemic
    • priorities for implementing effective in-person joint inspections following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions

Background to the discussion:

  • the Mental Health Recovery Plan - the recently published policy paper setting out the Government’s response to the mental health impacts of the pandemic, backed by £500m, and including: 
    • £15m for local authorities in deprived areas to support early intervention services
    • £13m designed to bridge the gap between children’s and adult mental health services, and provide tailored services for 18-25 year olds
    • £31m to tackle the backlog in SEND diagnoses, and support mental health interventions for children and young people with learning disabilities and autism 
  • Schools and colleges to benefit from boost in expert mental health support - the recent Government announcement of more than £17m in funding to enable schools to train a senior mental health lead
    • announced alongside a new Wellbeing for Education Recovery programme, designed to build on the Wellbeing for Education Return programme, and provide training and support for staff dealing with children and young people suffering from trauma or grief
  • PHE launches new Psychological First Aid training - recent training developed by Public Health England for helping frontline workers, as well as community volunteers, to improve their skills in providing emotional support for children and young people impacted by the COVID-19 crisis
  • Prime Minister appoints Dr Alex George as Youth Mental Health Ambassador - to advise the Government on mental health education in schools, and raise its profile
  • The COVID Generation - the recent report from the All-Part Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood:
    • forecasting significant increase in poor mental health amongst young people
    • calling for a cross-departmental, multi-disciplinary, and UK-wide strategy to support the mental health of children, with ring-fenced funding, and built on current best practice and an evidence-informed approach
  • The COVID Decade: understanding the long-term societal impacts of COVID-19 - the recently published British Academy report noting the increasing prevalence of anxiety, emotional and behavioural difficulties - as well as a worsening of pre-existing mental health conditions - as a result of the national response to the pandemic, with children from lower income families being particularly affected
  • New Action Group to boost mental health education - aimed at helping improve support for young people transitioning between year groups, and targeted support for students most in need of help
  • £79m to boost mental health support for children and young people - with commitments including:
    • increasing the number of Mental Health Support Teams in schools and colleges
    • supporting strengthening community mental health services, as well as services for responding to eating disorders among children
  • Building resilience - a recent report from the LGA:
    • outlining best practice on how councils can support children’s mental health, including through effective partnerships and a focus on early prevention
    • calling for long-term investment into early support services from the government to help avoid children reaching crisis points
  • The state of children’s mental health services 2020/21 - the recent annual report from the Children’s Commissioner:
    • finding that services were not able to meet the required standard around child mental health issues even before the pandemic
    • including recommendations such as:
      • a government review of funding and capacity of the NHS
      • implementation of Mental Health Support Teams across all of England
  • Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2020 - NHS figures from 2020, as part of the Mental Health of Children and Young People Surveys, showing that:
    • rates of mental health complications amongst children aged 5-16 have increased from 10% to 16% since 2017
    • children with experience of arguments or financial hardship in their household were more likely to have problems with mental health
  • Joint working improving children’s access to mental health services - Ofsted, the CQC, HMICFRS and HMI Probation report, based on inspections carried out before the pandemic, finding:
    • improved multi-agency working has helped to broaden the support available for child mental health issues, enabling earlier identification and referrals
    • issues still persist around improving the support available in schools and improving services in areas with overstretched resources
  • the Relationships and Sex Education Curriculum - which came into force in September 2020, and includes education on how to manage mental health and emotional wellbeing
  • Country in the grip of a mental health crisis - recent analysis by the Royal College of Psychiatrists finding that children and young people bear the brunt of the pandemic’s mental health effects, with nearly 40,00 children seeking help for mental health problems
  • related major policy developments, including:
    • the upcoming Domestic Abuse Bill - set to enshrine in law a statutory definition of domestic abuse, as well as improving support for victims of domestic abuse and their children
    • the Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy - including aims for high quality support for victims, and survivors and improving understanding of what works in recovery from childhood sexual abuse
    • the NHS Long Term Plan - with ambitions for boosting child mental health services, such as:
      • more children and young people to be able to receive support from NHS-funded mental health services or Mental Health Support Teams based at schools and colleges by 2023/24
      • specialist support to all children and young people who need it by 2028
    • the National Data Strategy - including aims to improve the use of data by health and social care sectors for improving service delivery


Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by officials from the Department for Education; the Department of Health and Social Care; the Government Legal Department; the National Audit Office; and Ofsted. Also due to attend are representatives from Appleton Academy, Bradford; Arts Council England; Association of Educational Psychologists; Barnardo's; Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust; Candesic; City of Wolverhampton Council; Individual; KIDS; Kirklees Council; London Borough of Merton; NHS South Central and West CSU; NIHR; Royal College of Psychiatrists; Switch Midlands CIC and The Kids Network.
Overall, we expect further speakers and other delegates to be an informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, senior government officials involved in this area of public policy, together with representatives from Public Health England, teachers, school leaders, MATs, education lawyers, SEND groups, universities, training providers, local authorities, teaching unions, charities, child psychologists, NHS Trusts, CCGs, think tanks, academics, education consultants, publishers, parents groups, education businesses, subject associations, and other interested parties.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording and transcript to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Shortly after every Westminster Education Forum seminar, a briefing document is produced. This is distributed to all delegates on the day as well as to our policymaker contacts in government, and to stakeholders more widely.

A seminar publication provides a timely record of proceedings, and acts as a guide to the latest thinking on current policy issues for those unable to be at the event.

This publication includes


Contributions from keynotes and panellists, including accompanying slides*
*Subject to approval

Delegate Pack

Information from the day, including delegate list, biographies and agenda


Transcript of questions and comments posed to speakers from attending delegates


Supplementary articles from speakers
and delegates