Understanding Society Scientific Conference 2019 - , University of Essex

The impact of mental health and well-being on GCSE perfomance in England: a longitudinal analysis of the National Pupil Database linked to Understanding Society

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Day:Wed 3 Jul
  • Neil Smith, NatCen Social Research

Recent government policy programmes have emphasised the role of schools in supporting children and young people's mental health and improving early identification of and intervention for pupils with mental health needs. Evidence of a causal relationship between poor mental health and wellbeing and lower academic attainment could further encourage education policymakers and schools to invest in mental health. Using the data linkage between the National Pupil Database and waves 1 and 3 of Understanding Society, we investigate longitudinal associations between mental health and wellbeing in early adolescence and later attainment at GCSE Key Stage 4. Mental health was self-assessed using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire and wellbeing was estimated using a self-assessment of happiness with life as a whole. Poorer mental health and wellbeing when aged 11-14 years was significantly associated with a lower likelihood of achieving 5 A*-C at GCSE, including maths and English at ages 15-16. Young people with poor mental health were over twice as likely to not achieve 5 A*-C GCSEs including maths and English than their healthier counterparts, after controlling for several confounding demographic and socioeconomic factors. The association between wellbeing and attainment was largely explained by socioeconomic factors. Interventions or whole-school approaches aimed at preventing, or raising, poor mental health and wellbeing are likely to be an effective means of improving educational attainment at secondary school. Given the higher prevalence of poor mental health in lower socioeconomic groups, improving adolescent mental health and wellbeing may be an effective mechanism for boosting social mobility.