Mental Health Champion AxedMay 4, 2016
Twitter just brought my attention to the following story in the Guardian:
Mental health champion for UK schools axed after criticising government
Department of Education denies axing of role is connected to Natasha Devon’s criticism of policies such as increased testing
The government has dropped its mental health champion for schools after she publicly criticised current education policies, in particular the testing regime which she claims is detrimental to children’s mental health.
Natasha Devon was appointed by the government last August to raise awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding young people’s mental health, as part of a wider £1.25bn drive to improve care.
On Wednesday however, it emerged that the high-profile role had been axed, raising concerns that the government was attempting to silence her.
You may recall that Natasha Devon has been popping up a lot recently in these parts. Over on the Labour Teachers blog (which I edit), Nick Rose revealed she had a history of advocating NLP, a solidly debunked bit of pseudo-science that should be kept out of schools. I wrote a blogpost about her when it turned out she was judging and shortlisting for TES’s teacher blogger of the year award (the shortlisting part of which appears to have been done rather badly) mainly dealing with her habit of being insulting about bloggers. She was insulting about anyone who challenged her on social media, but she also attacked Tom Bennett who had not even mentioned her:
She managed to react to my complaint that she was rude to bloggers by suggesting that her critics “mixed things which were true with things that weren’t in order to create the impression of truth which, incidentally, was a technique favoured by Hitler”.
She then turned up again when I blogged about various newspaper articles that seemed to be using very misleading statistics to suggest there is a mental health crisis in schools. She has been at the forefront of trying to create panic over mental health, often being quite dismissive of anybody who dares try to put the issue into perspective.
The Guardian, unfortunately, has not considered whether her abusive comments on social media, her scaremongering, or her indifference to evidence may have been the reason the government cut her loose. They are right that she has criticised the government for testing children, although they are mistaken if they think that the government has increased testing. Is it really that long ago that they were under fire for decoupling AS-levels and discouraging resits and modular exams? It seems unlikely that her criticisms did any more than bring to their attention that her anti-academic agenda is not their own.
The government should not be criticised for letting her go, but for appointing her in the first place. There is an all too familiar pattern here where politicians publicly cosy up to charities that work with children. I would argue that Natasha Devon, like Camila Batmanghelidjh before her, is somebody with the best of intentions, some very odd ideas and whose greatest talent lies in getting media attention. Politicians who want to make a difference to young people should stop looking for photo-opportunities, and ask “Am I dealing with somebody who knows what they are doing?”