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FE Colleges demonstrate deep commitment to supporting good mental health by launch of Mental Health Charter

15 May 2019

This week further education colleges across the country are signing up to new AoC Mental Health Charter. The context to reaching this point is important to consider. Over the last couple of years colleges have done some amazing work in sharing resource and practice. As chair of the AOC Mental Health Portfolio Group over this period I have been delighted to see that the conversations around student and staff mental health have become deeper and more compelling. Our interventions more sophisticated and steeped in evidence. Commitments by colleges have been impressive and frankly much needed with Mental Health and Wellbeing stats soaring. Collectively and individually we have made a great response to the increasing pressures of student and staff mental health in colleges. Colleges have proactively guided and influenced the government Mental Health Green paper and are participants in key national conversations with including the recently publicised Mental Health Task Force brought together by the Secretary of State for Education, Damien Hinds MP. There is, however, some inconsistency to college approaches and the need to set a strong national platform backed by local action to build on for the next phase. Now feels the right time to enshrine some of these behaviours into formal commitments in the form of a charter whilst retaining space for localised response. The charter is not intended to create some over onerous administration framework but seeks to create an underlying set of core commitments that colleges can publically make to supporting mental health for students and staff. The Mental Health and Wellbeing Policy Group who have led this work wished it to be connected to everyday college life but also ensure that good mental health sufficiently competes for strategic space in a 21st century college and recognizes this in senior teams and across corporation agendas. The charter also helps to cement a long-term commitment to our strategic partners and agencies such as Charlie Waller Memorial Trust, Public Health England and the NHS. It helps us nationally keep pace with schools and universities both of whom have made similar commitments to develop charters. Although it’s pleasing that FE, being rooted in practice have got on and delivered one with over 10% of the sector signing up in advance of it going live. We have a powerful history of being capable of educational policy delivery and in mental health it’s a similar good story. As nationally increasing pressure on college finances force challenges to everyday college life, supporting good mental health must be seen as a key element in the delivery of academic performance and developing our wider college communities. If we are not careful it is a core activity that is easily dismissed as the work of the NHS, other agencies or the third sector. As the Spending Review starts to form colleges making commitments to continue to deliver ‘beyond the qualifications’ and add the social value through the influence and support of wider outcomes, such as mental health, feels like it creates a compelling case for increasing funding. Outside of this politic there continues to be recognised in colleges an acute need both morally and practically to support student mental health. These pressures and demands seem set to continue to rise for our students and as such our activity and commitments in colleges should rise with this need. We hope that we can count on your support?