Bernard Trafford letter to the Times: we all need far greater information and education on mental health issues

The Times, 16.06.15 , HMC member Bernard Trafford, headmaster of RGS Newcastle writes:

Sir, It was good to read such common sense from Tony Little about the need for a variety of approaches to drugs in schools (“Eton head seeks random tests in new approach to pupils’ drug use”, June 15). Running a day school, I am spared some of the dilemmas that my boarding colleagues face. Indeed, when episodes spill over into school, the scorn of fellow students for the perpetrators is generally palpable.

If we find drugs being supplied or used, my school still takes a draconian line and expels. However, rather like Eton’s policy, our drug policy states that “any student (or parent or friend acting on their behalf) genuinely seeking help on a drugs-related matter will be supported in a non-disciplinary manner”. Then together we can work out a way through without detriment to students’ academic progress. Random drug-testing (by agreement with the student and parents) can occasionally prove useful in helping the student to stay “clean”.

Mr Little somewhat misses the point on mental health, however. Certainly parents’ willingness to listen and offer unconditional love is essential, but pupils, parents and school staff alike need far greater information and education so that mental health issues can be addressed with confidence and genuine expertise; in general, schools have a long way to go in this area.

Bernard Trafford, Headmaster, Royal Grammar School, Newcastle upon Tyne