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News: ‘School is too much pressure’- young people identify school as a contributing factor to poor mental health

NEW: Join us at 6.15pm on 27th February as we talk to Maddi and Sarah live about this research. There’ll be Q&A opportunities too.

Dr Popoola and Dr Sivers, two educational psychologists, have gathered survey data from 640 children and young people, exploring their views on mental health.

School experiences are a significant factor for young people’s mental health

Results of the online survey showed that:

  • 37% of children report finding it difficult to cope with daily life
  • 52% of children identified that school is having a negative impact on their mental health

There were many elements of school life which children shared that impacted negatively on their mental health, including the stress, worry and fear they experienced, workload, rules and relationships.

The positive influences on children’s mental health predominantly focused on relationships with family and friends.

There were some children who found school a positive experience and we can learn from the theme of motivation for learning which is part of this positivity.

Key recommendations – 21st century learners

Dr Popoola and Dr Sivers propose 5 key recommendations from the research:

  • A move towards genuine and embedded trauma-informed and relational practices in schools. Which should include a shift from strict behaviour policies to relationship-based ones.
  • The current educational system needs re-evaluating with a focus on finding ways to incorporate Self Determination Theory principles of Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness across all layers of school-life.
  • An update of the National Curriculum to be more in line with the needs and demands of 21st-century learners.
  • Further exploration and appreciation of the digital lives that young people now live. This includes ensuring this environment is safe and also drawing on it as a way to motivate learning and support mental health in positive ways.
  • Increased opportunities for all young people to have access to a range of activities that do not solely focus on academic ability or improvement, in and out of school. This should include sport, the arts, suitable in and outside spaces and a growth mindset outlook from all.

Child voice at the centre of decision making

Speaking to edpsy, Dr Popoola commented:

We feel passionate about ensuring that child voice is at the centre of decision making at a policy level. The recommendations made are linked to both psychological theory and the voices of the children who we are ever grateful to for answering our questions. Children need to be listened to, and we strongly believe it is our responsibility to hear them

Dr Popoola, January 2024

The narrative that children’s mental is on the decline is something that is prevalent within research (Barnardo‚Äôs, 2022), current media coverage and across social media. The authors of the report argue that there is a strong need to explore ‘why’ this is happening and to consider what factors are impacting on children’s mental health. They advocate for asking children directly and holding in mind that changes in young people’s mental health may be a natural response to the difficult times we are living through.

Given that the government has recently focused on school attendance and looks to implement initiatives such as funding for attendance mentors, Dr Popoola and Dr Sivers advocate for a focus on the deeper systemic issues in the current education system that are contributing to children not wanting to be in school.

Our focus should be on how we engage and motivate children and young people to enjoy education & have a love for learning. It is time to create an education system which fits 21st century learners rather than try and make 21st century learners fit into the current system. It is time to be innovative

Dr Sivers, January 2024

For the full report: Young peoples’ views on mental health: school is too much pressure (Popoola, Sivers, Hooper & Ahad, 2024)

The current research builds on previous work by the authors that explored pupil’s views during the Covid-19 pandemic and offered advice to education policy makers.

Contact the authors on Twitter – @drmaddi1 and @sarsivers

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