GCSE results and the correlation with children and young people’s mental health

GCSE results and the correlation with children and young people's mental health
GCSE results day 2021 is today and according to The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) study, published in the BMJ Open Journal, mental health at ages 11-14 was independently linked to educational success at age 16.

The study analysed responses from 1,100 children aged 11-14 from the Understanding Society study and used the National Pupil Database for England to link this information to their exam results at age 16.

"As the school year comes to an end, young people are facing a double hit to their educational prospects. First, disruption to schooling caused by the pandemic has directly impacted on learning. Second, the pandemic has adversely affected many young peoples’ mental health, and it’s likely those whose mental health was affected the most by the pandemic will face greater difficulties in making up for learning time that’s been lost.”

Dr Neil Smith, researcher at NatCen.

Researchers found that mental health difficulties affected young people's GCSE grades regardless of their background but lower grades at GCSE were more common for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Children who experienced mental health difficulties were still twice as likely to not reach the benchmark of five GCSE grades A*-C (or 9-4) including Maths and English, compared to 30% of their peers with typical levels of development.

Could mental health interventions in schools and colleges improve GCSE results?

The research agues that “improving young people’s mental health can narrow the attainment gap at GCSE level by boosting the performance of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are more likely to experience mental health difficulties.”

However, this is correlational research and does not establish causation, further research is needed.
 
Addressing the structural inequalities that underlie poor mental health moves services away from an individualised approach that prioritises treating illness or promoting ‘resilience’ towards a collective approach that sees people in their social context and seeks to make change happen around them too.
Questions to ask yourself as a school leader based on the insights of this study
  • Consider what preventative strategies you have in place to support mental health – do you evaluate them?  How do you know if they are working?  Are they evidence based?
  • It was noted that happiness with school explained some of this link of ‘Socioemotional development in early adolescence was strongly associated with educational success later on at GCSE’ – do you measure happiness at school?  What do you do when students are unhappy?
Masters in Leadership of School Mental Health and Wellbeing: the next cohort starts in September 2021

It’s time to empower education professionals to support the mental health needs of the whole school community. School leaders taking our qualification develop the confidence and skills to effectively support mental health needs of pupils and educators.

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