NSW government funds more school psychologists as part of state budget

Reaching out: The NSW government has dedicated more funds to making psychologists available in high schools.
Reaching out: The NSW government has dedicated more funds to making psychologists available in high schools.

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has welcomed the NSW government's budget commitment to employ psychologists in all NSW secondary schools.

The 2019-2020 NSW Education Budget has allocated $88.4 million to hire a full time psychologist and social worker in every NSW government high school.

APS president Ros Knight says a raft of mental health issues are common in children and young people, and qualified psychologists are urgently needed in all Australian schools to address the crisis.

The APS in its submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Mental Health has urged the federal government to develop a national benchmark for school-based psychologist to student ratios.

The APS recommends a ratio of one psychologist to 500 students, in line with the 2010 recommendation of the NSW coroner in response to a student suicide at school.

"Psychologists employed in schools are able to work at a whole-of-school level on programs to prevent mental health disorders," Ms Knight said.

"They're also able to identify children at risk of mental health issues and intervene early to prevent serious problems developing.

"Psychologists are also trained to assess learning difficulties or intellectual disability and to work with teachers and families to support children with behavioural issues.

"Additionally, psychologists can support teachers and principals, particularly during challenging times. They really do benefit the whole school community."

She says almost 1 in 7 children and young people (aged 4 -17 years) are affected by mental health issues.

"Fifty per cent of lifelong mental health issues start before the age of 14 years, so school is the appropriate setting to catch early signs and provide early intervention," she said.

The 2015 Report on the Second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Well-being shows students with mental disorders have poorer NAPLAN results, more absences from school and don't feel as connected to school or engaged with school work.

Ms Knight said these findings highlight the importance of a well-resourced and highly trained psychology workforce in schools to provide prevention, early intervention and support for students at risk of mental health problems, poor academic achievement, disengagement from school and poor adjustment into the adult workforce.

"Evidence show the link between mental health and student outcomes," she said. "More psychologists in schools will mean children who need extra help will get it, and won't be left behind."

The NSW government this month delivered a record investment in education, with the budget providing new and upgraded schools, and 4600 new teachers, psychologists and social workers in every high school.

State premier Gladys Berejiklian says the investment is part of the government's plan to have the best education system in Australia, if not the world.

"We are delivering on our promise to provide a quality education to students, no matter where they live or what their circumstances may be," Ms Berejiklian said.

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said the funding demonstrated the government's commitment to delivering a world class education system for the students of NSW.

"We don't run surpluses for the sake of it," Mr Perrottet said. "We run surpluses so we can give young people every opportunity to be their best."

Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning Sarah Mitchell says this budget recognises the complexity of the education system.

"Not only is this budget focused on continuing to deliver our record school infrastructure program and hiring new teachers - it also recognises the importance of mental health to student outcomes, as well as the crucial role that quality teachers play in educating our children," Ms Mitchell said.

A joint Productivity Commission Inquiry into mental health by Orygen and headspace shows that the mental health of youth is key to the nation's productivity and economic success.

Young people aged 10-24 are the most likely of all age groups to experience the onset of mental-ill health, says headspace chief executive Jason Trethowan.

"If you look at the total number of Australians to experience mental ill-health throughout their lifetime, half of them will have will have experienced onset by the time they're just 14-years-old," Mr Trethowan said.

"Three-quarters will have done so by the time they're 24."

Principal of Endeavour Sports High School, James Kozlowski applauds the funding for boosting students' well-being with extra social support.

"Any additional funding to enhance resources for the mental health and wel-lbeing of students is welcome," he said.

"This is a growing area of concern for schools and it is important to have the expertise on the ground to support students effectively."