The removal of the government’s mental health champion for schools, Natasha Devon is a concern, not only because Natasha has done a sterling job of articulating what needs to be done to support young people regarding their mental and emotional health concerns, but also – as Natasha mentioned on BBC’s Newsnight programme, because she was enabled to act independently of policy – and provide criticism where due. Government of no matter what hue needs to be reminded where its policies are a cause of concern; as an independent voice Natasha raised a very real concern about the effect the current fetish of rigorous testing is having on the mental health of students.
Whilst the Department of Education have stated that she has not been removed from her post because of criticism of government policy, others including Luciana Berger, mental health shadow minister have expressed concerns that Natasha has been ‘silenced’ for doing so. The DfE have said that Natasha’s position has become obsolete due to the pending appointment of a cross-government mental health champion; it seems an odd thing to do to remove someone from an unpaid position who clearly has a handle on mental health issues and offers an independent perspective and replace them with a no doubt politicised post who will follow the government’s mantra and not offer criticism or raise concerns – or at least in the public eye. Possibly it’s where Natasha fell foul of the apparatchiks at the DfE, that her opinions were too public for them to stomach, but then why appoint someone and allow them an independent voice in the first place? Her appointment deserved applause – her dismissal, and the whiff of hypocrisy it carries, should be condemned.
Natasha has been retained as a member of a steering group considering peer-to-peer mentoring, an issue that Mengage fully supports through our ‘Mentoring Male’ course (appropriate for use with sixth formers and Year 10s, and also for teaching assistants and others with an interest in improving the education of young men); we’d also point out that Natasha has been vocal in raising concerns about the mental health of young men and the need for action on this, again an issue that is part of Mengage’s remit, hence we can say with some conviction that we are deeply disappointed at Natasha’s removal and the public voice she gave to this work. Boys and young men’s work badly needs a real champion – someone to critically raise young men’s concerns publicly – and at policy level. Can we ask whoever the pending cross-government appointee is to do this? Given the breadth of their cross-government remit we doubt it – young men’s health related issues will no doubt recede once again into the backwaters of political debate; however we can be sure that Natasha will continue to offer an independent and critical voice on young people’s concerns – and we hope to champion specific work with young men too. Bravo Natasha!