IslingtonTribune

The independent London newspaper

Islington primary school headteacher warns of risks posed by social media

‘Schools alone can’t tackle issue of children’s mental wellbeing’

08 February, 2019 — By Helen Chapman

New North Academy head Nicola Percy: ‘Teachers are experts in learning, not experts in mental health’

A PRIMARY school headteacher has pointed to the increasing popularity of social media as a driving force behind poor mental health in children.

Nicola Percy, head of New North Academy, said: “The use of mobile technology is one of the significant issues impacting children’s mental wellbeing. We have seen that many children can lack the resilience and independent strategies to deal with difficulties and challenges. Providing opportunities to develop these key skills has been a priority for us.”

Ms Percy, 38, who joined the Popham Road school in February 2015, called for more support in schools to help children who may be suffering from poor mental health.

This week, senior medical advisors published guidelines advising parents to ban phones from the bedroom at night and from the dinner table at meal times.

A report said that, while there have been studies linking excessive time on social media to increased mental health issues, it is not clear that using the technology is inherently harmful.

Chief medical officers have called for technology companies to adopt an industry duty of care and a voluntary code of conduct, and have urged the government to adopt tougher new laws.

The moves come after the father of Molly Russell, a 14-year-old from Harrow who took her own life, criticised Pinterest and Instagram for hosting content he believed played a part in his daughter’s death.

Instagram yesterday (Thursday) pledged to remove graphic images of self-harm from the platform.

Ms Percy said: “I’m pleased to hear that companies like Facebook are looking to better monitor the use of public forums and sites but there’s a long way to go on this.

“We cover awareness and safety of children accessing social media as part of the curriculum. We are developing our Safer Schools Curriculum, which takes into account the worries our families have about online safety.”

She added: “The issue around mental wellbeing is vast – schools are just one part of a much wider strategy needed to help mitigate the risk that such powerful technology can bring.

“I think there should be more therapeutic support for children, particularly at an early age, but I am not convinced that any school should be expected to take sole responsibility for providing this.

“We as teachers are experts in learning, not experts in mental health. Often the blame for not meeting children’s high-level needs is pointed at a school, but often schools are seriously lacking timely intervention from other agencies – who are also under pressure. It goes far beyond the school’s remit.”

A freedom of information request by the Tribune revealed that New North Academy, off Essex Road, excluded five children between 2016 and 2017 – making up half of the borough’s primary school exclusions for that year.

Ms Percy said she permanently excluded the five children because “some children’s needs outstrip what can be offered in a mainstream school”. Her decision was upheld by a panel of governors.

Ms Percy added: “Making a decision around a permanent exclusion is one of the hardest a headteacher will make. You have to take into account so many factors – the child’s own needs and right to education is just one aspect, but other children’s entitlement to learn and feel safe, along with what is reasonable to expect of staff in a mainstream school and resources available are others.

“I am confident our team did all we could for those children excluded. Actually, we have experience of parents of excluded children being grateful for the extent of the support we offered.

“One parent hugged me and said ‘thank you’ for what our school did. We still see them regularly and are keen to hear of their child’s progress.”

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