I have made it my mission to visit every school in Brentwood and Ongar within the next year and am enjoying meeting so many bright, enthusiastic and infinitely curious young people.
I’ve been a “Friday treat” at Shenfield St Mary’s, helped with Popcorn Day at West Horndon Primary, and answered some challenging questions at St Helen’s Junior School and Larchwood Primary in Pilgrims Hatch. I’m often asked whether I have met the Queen and the Prime Minister and what do I do in Parliament, but have also been able to assure the children that, yes, I buy from the same shops as they do (usually Brentwood Sainsbury’s or the Co-op), and if I had a secret power it would be to fly. Or be invisible.
One of the most noticeable features of many of the schools I have visited, both primary and secondary, is the quiet space they provide where children can go when they feel upset, or sad or just overwhelmed by the day. In an age where are children are bombarded with information and social media demands through their phones at all hours, it is lovely to see schools making sure there is a place which is an oasis of calm.
The mental health and wellbeing of our children is something on which the Government is working to transform in coming years. We have made huge progress in understanding mental health issues, but there is much more still to be done to make sure children and young people are getting the help they need.
The Children and Young People's Mental Health Green Paper has seen the departments for health and education work together on ambitious proposals to improve mental health services for children and young people. There’s £300 million of funding available nationally to support schools and colleges to train designated leaders for their pupils' mental health, and introduce new mental health teams, both of which will ease pressure on NHS mental health services.
I know more is needed, and I know it takes time to get the right assessments, care and treatment for many young people…too much time in too many cases. But I am pleased schools and the Government have recognised we need to make sure our children’s mental health is nurtured as much as their physical and academic wellbeing. In my experience, Brentwood and Ongar’s children are fabulous, funny and inspirational…and we need to keep them on the right track.