Study finds private schooling not linked to better mental health

The results of a recent study suggest that those who went to private school in England were no happier with their lives in their early twenties than their state-educated peers.

The results of the study have been published in the journal “Cambridge Journal of Education”. Previous work has shown that students in private schools do better academically than those who attend public schools. But whether they also enjoy non-academic benefits, such as better mental health, is less clear.

To find out more, researchers at University College London (UCL) analyzed data from the Next Steps study, conducted by the Center for Longitudinal Studies, which tracks the lives of a representative sample of 15,770 people born in England between 1989 and 1990.

Participants have been regularly interviewed since 2004, when they were 13 and 14 year old high school students. Life satisfaction was measured at ages 20 and 25 by asking participants if they were satisfied or dissatisfied with how their life had gone so far.

At first glance, those who had gone to private school were more satisfied with their lot. However, after factors such as socioeconomic background and ethnicity were taken into account, the difference disappeared.

Mental health was measured at ages 14, 16, and 25 by asking questions such as “have you been able to concentrate on what you are doing?” and “did you lose sleep over worrying?”. The General Health Questionnaire is a standardized and validated measure of mental health, comprising twelve of these questions.

The results suggest that there was no benefit of private school for the mental health of boys at any age. At age 16, private school girls had slightly better mental health than their public school counterparts. No such difference was observed at ages 14 or 25.

The researchers concluded that, overall, there was no convincing evidence of a difference in mental health or life satisfaction between students in private and public schools, either at teens or early twenties. They also note that this analysis identifies associations between educational status and well-being rather than establishing a causal relationship.

The findings surprised researchers who point out that private schools, which educate around 7% of pupils in England, have far more money to spend on resources than state schools. Private schools have also placed particular emphasis on mental health ministry in recent years.

Additionally, better educational attainment, already associated with private schools, is linked to better mental health.

Private school students, however, may be under greater pressure than their public school peers. “I think it’s possible that the increased pastoral support is just beginning to make a difference for this cohort,” said researcher Dr Morag Henderson, a sociologist.

“But it’s also likely that although school resources are greater in private schools, the academic stress that students face could be greater too and so we see each force canceling out the other,” Dr Morag added. Henderson.

Dr Henderson added that the results could be different for school children today, as private schools are better able to support students struggling with their mental health since the start of the pandemic.

She explained: “It’s speculation, but we may see public school students fare worse in terms of mental health than private school students, post-lockdown. This issue is ripe for discussion. future analyses; and is one of the areas that the new COVID Social Mobility and Opportunities Study (COSMO) cohort study, led by Dr. Jake Anders – one of the co-authors – is gathering evidence.

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Posted: Saturday April 16th 2022, 8:22 PM IST

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