Primary schools get £5m for wellbeing

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The Minister of Education announced the start of a multi-million pound pilot project to support therapeutic and advisory services in primary schools.

The Healthy Happy Minds service will cover all primary schools and private schools with primary-aged pupils and out-of-school primary education and will run until the end of March 2022.

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The investment comes as Treasury Secretary Conor Murphy has warned departments that they will face budget cuts in the next fiscal year to address mounting pressures on health services.

The scheme costs the Department of Education £5m, but when welcoming Education Secretary Michelle McIlvin to his school in The Donald on Tuesday morning, Brooklands Primary School Principal Jeremy Armstrong said you couldn’t put a price tag on children’s happiness and well-being.

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“We have experience through the Engage program to help pupils return to school after Covid and we have used this money for mental health, emotional well-being and how far that really went to provide support,” he said.

“We’re already thinking about how we can use this money to benefit more kids through drama lessons, gardening, and ways to integrate what we’re already doing and take a step forward.

“The reality of the situation is that the need for this is greater than ever.

“The kids came back after the second shutdown and we immediately noticed an increased need for programs like this,” he said.

“There is still a lot of uncertainty in the world, and on a smaller scale in every child’s life.

“Any money that would ever allow us to look at that very important early stage, the emotional well-being of children, is received with immense gratitude.”

The education secretary knows there will be tough financial decisions ahead, but said the recent investment in welfare is another critical step in supporting children.

“This will allow students in all primary schools to participate in treatment and counseling services until the end of March 2022,” the minister said.

The Healthy Happy Minds pilot program is one of a set of measures that support the implementation of “The Emotional Health and Well-being of Children and Young People in Education”, providing support to primary school students with the goal of preventing and reducing mental health problems.

“When we consider that 50% of mental health problems arise by age 14, the importance of promoting emotional health and well-being in the early stage is clear.”

Schools will receive direct benefits, 50% immediately and 50% in January 2022.

“Covid has focused a lot on this, but I think it’s something we need to look at developing further going forward,” McElvin added.

“These things are very budget-focused. We will have to see what share of education is from the current budget round, but that is a very important aspect of school life.”

Sinn Fein MLA Pat Sheehan welcomed the funding but said there was a lot more to be done.

“The minister’s announcement will only help schools until March, but the problems facing our children and youth will remain for a long time after that,” he said.

“I call on the minister to develop an appropriate plan to address mental health challenges in our schools and to move beyond these short-term initiatives.”

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