Education Policy and mental weakness: a response to a mental health crisis

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Educationalists have been concerned with the labelling and treatment of children with mental health difficulties in the education system in England for some time (Timimi 2002; Rose 2005; Jull 2008, Cole 2015). These concerns have centred on the role of policy in ‘othering’ such students as deviant learners. The unprecedented number of children suffering from mental illnesses, has forced policymakers to address children’s mental health difficulties. This has involved the identification of a sub-set of the school population experiencing ‘less-severe’ mental health issues, to be addressed through a suite of policy interventions delivered by whole-school approaches, but targeted towards children situated as mentally ‘weak’. Drawing upon a Foucauldian theory of governmentality that addresses children’s behavioural motivations (Rose 1989; Millar and Rose 1990; Foucault 2001; 2008; Popkewitz 2012) an in-depth analysis of a number of educational policy initiatives related to mental health, is conducted, that it is argued are fundamentally flawed. This analysis is followed by a discussion of the performative culture of High Stakes Testing in contributing to children’s mental health difficulties. Here it is argued that a narrative of mental weakness serves to justify a neoliberal rationality towards the treatment of children for whom the performative logic assumed to motivate all learners, fails.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)242-266
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Education Policy
Issue number2
Early online date1 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2019


  • Foucault
  • high stakes testing
  • Mental health
  • school children

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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