New study reinforces need to focus on pupil emotional health

The University of Hertfordshire’s 2015 Health Behaviours of School-aged Children (HBSC) report has been published today. The researchers undertook surveys with 5,335 young people aged 11, 13, and 15 on their physical and emotional wellbeing with the final report noting that ‘emotional well-being may be decreasing while physical health is improving’.

The research suggests that improvements in young people’s health behaviours do not extend to their overall life satisfaction, reinforcing concerns about pupil mental and emotional wellbeing raised by both our members  and in recent academic research.

While identifying many positive findings, including reductions in underage sexual activity and alcohol, tobacco and cannabis use, the report shows declining life satisfaction amongst children and young people since 2002.

The report also highlights a number of gender differences in life satisfaction rates. Overall, girls and young women were more likely to report low life satisfaction than boys and young men; they were also more likely to experience high levels of stress and say they are pressured ‘a lot’ by school work. Life satisfaction amongst girls and young women also decreases significantly as they get older, as female pupils are three times more likely to self-harm and significantly more likely to experience cyberbullying.

The report also highlights pupil perceptions of PSHE education. According to the study, 83% of young people reported receiving PSHE lessons, with 70% agreeing that it helped them care for others’ health and 74% agreeing it helped them care for their own.  The survey also suggests that while young people are very keen to receive PSHE lessons, coverage of some of the most important topics is patchy: only 56% of young people said that ‘staying safe’ had been covered in PSHE education, 48% said sex and relationships education had been well covered (despite respondents wanting more focus in PSHE on relationships and consent), and 56% said that health and wellbeing had been covered well in lessons.

On the basis of this important new report, the PSHE Association has updated its synthesis of recent evidence about trends relating to pupil health and wellbeing and risk-taking behaviours. You can download the latest document here.

PSHE Association Chief Executive Joe Hayman said:

“These findings reinforce the crucial need for high-quality PSHE education with pupil emotional wellbeing at its core for all school pupils. Ofsted says provision is ‘not good enough’, with lessons on issues like mental health falling off the curriculum altogether because teachers aren’t adequately trained, while the Commons Education Committee has said the picture is deteriorating. The report clearly demonstrates the gap between the importance pupils attach to PSHE and the quality of lessons they receive. That’s why statutory status for the subject is so important.”

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