Pupils who attend private schools are not happier than ones who attend state institutions, according to a study.
Research published on Thursday by University College London (UCL) showed little difference in life satisfaction and mental health for young people after comparing their educational backgrounds.
Previous studies cited in the report have found that while private schooling generally helps pupils achieve better academic results, it can also lead to increased stress, which in turn can cause mental health issues to develop.
Using data from UCL’s Next Steps study, which surveys 15,770 people born in England in 1989 and 1990, a team of academics found that there was no significant mental health advantage for privately educated men and women aged 14 and 25.
For girls aged 16, there was some evidence that going to a private school slightly protected their mental health compared with state school peers, which was attributed to “increased pastoral support”.
Pupils’ mental health was measured at ages 14, 16 and 25 with questions such as “Have you been able to concentrate on what you are doing?” and “Have you lost sleep over worry?”
Mental health profound impact on women
Results showed that 27 per cent of state-educated females reported symptoms of mental ill-health at 25 years old, compared to 23 per cent of women who attended private schools.
For men in their mid-20s, 21 per cent said they had symptoms of mental ill-health after attending state school, compared to 19 per cent of privately educated men.
However, the lead researchers said that after family background, individual characteristics and prior attainment were taken into account, there were no statistically significant differences between those who had gone to state or private schools.
They were surprised by the findings as private schools have more money and resources to help their pupils than state schools and have placed particular emphasis on pastoral support for pupils in recent years.
‘Wellbeing better at fee-paying schools’
They said that smaller class sizes and better access to school counselors and support staff, who can more easily implement adolescent wellness programmes, meant that wellbeing may be positively impacted at fee-paying schools.
However, while having more resources, the study pointed out that some privately-educated pupils may struggle with their wellbeing with stress factors, such as pressure on academic performance and being away from home.
Dr Morag Henderson, one of the researchers, said: “I think it is possible that the increased pastoral support was just starting to make a difference for this cohort.
“It is also likely that although school resource is greater in private schools, the academic stress students face might be too, and so we see each force canceling the other out.”
Lockdown impact on school pupils
Dr Henderson added that the results could be different for pupils now given how private schools were better able to support pupils’ mental health during the pandemic.
“This is speculation, but it might be that we see state school students fare worse in terms of mental health compared to private school students, post-lockdown,” she said.
The report notes that since the Eighties, private schools have increased their spending on pupils while there has been more focus on young people’s mental health in society overall in recent years.
Things such as higher education achievement are also linked to better mental health.
Dr Henderson said that the mental health comparison needed further analysis, but was being explored through an ongoing Covid social mobility and opportunities study.
The study was published in the Cambridge Journal of Education.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.