Ex-schools mental health champion criticises axing of role

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06 May 2016

The government's decision to axe her role silences young people and teachers, the former mental health champion for schools in England says.

Natasha Devon told BBC Newsnight that she had wanted to give young people a voice at government level.

The loss of her role came after she had used a head teachers' conference to stress the level of mental strain being put on pupils by rigorous testing.

But the Department for Education denied the role was cut to silence criticism.

It said an "independent NHS task force report" published in February had "recommended that a cross-government mental health champion be created", which had forced it to reconsider Ms Devon's role.

'Mental health crisis'

Ms Devon, who took up the post last August, told BBC Newsnight: "When I first took the role, I said to the department what I want to do is... bring the concerns of young people and the people who teach them to government level.

"So it's not actually me that's being silenced, it's young people and teachers.

"I think the government knows that young people don't vote, or if they do they are very unlikely to vote Tory, and they have historically ignored their needs and the price they have paid is now we have seen a crisis in their mental health."

Ms Devon, who was made a MBE in 2015 for her work helping young people conquer mental health and body image issues, said she had not been paid for the role as it was important she remained independent and objective.

She warned the new, paid mental-health champion could "be paid effectively to toe the party line".

She said she hoped the new champion would be a "positive force for good", but she was "sceptical".

'Great job'

In a statement, the Department for Education said: "Natasha has done a great job of helping us to raise the profile of young people's mental health since her appointment last year.

"We have asked Natasha and others who have been involved in our work to empower schools and young people to promote good mental health to continue to work with us as we prepare to launch our activity later this year."

The government says it is putting £1.4bn into children's mental health with separate money allocated by the Department for Education for peer support schemes in schools.

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