Essentials: Why Kids' Mental Health Deteriorates In Secondary School (with John Jerrim)

Essentials: Why Kids' Mental Health Deteriorates In Secondary School (with John Jerrim)

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As children move from primary to secondary education, we know we see an increase in the number of mental health issues. But what's really causing that increase - is it to do with the change in teaching approach and style, or is there something else going on?

In this essentials episode, expert John Jerrim reveals the (surprising) reason we see more mental health needs in secondary students.

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Click here for the full interview from episode 49.

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Show notes / transcription

John Jerrim  0:00  

The fact that we find children in different school year groups adjacent school year groups have very similar mental health outcomes in terms of going to see GPs or whatever it would suggest. It's probably not being driven by the school or the education system.

Simon Currigan  0:16  

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Hi there, Simon Currigan here and welcome to another essentials episode of School Behaviour Secrets, where I share with you one important insight or strategy or piece of information from a previous interview episode that can have an impact in how you support your students with estimation behaviour you need in your classroom. I think that in a world, especially in education, where we're constantly hit with this massive wave of information day after day after day, it's good to keep these concepts at the forefront of our minds. In this essentials episode, I'm going to share part of my interview with John Jerrim from episode 49. John, who's a researcher for UCL did some really interesting research to see if there was any evidence to support the idea that many children experienced mental health difficulties. Because of the transition from primary to secondary school, he wanted to know, were the increases we see in mental health challenges and children of that age, because of the different teaching styles and organisation of primary and secondary schools or was there something else going on? And here's what he found out? Can you tell us about what research has been done on the effect of moving from primary to secondary education in the past on what that research discovered, or that point at which children sort of move into adolescence and how it affects their mental well being

John Jerrim  2:23  

what I might do actually is pick up there the thing that I probably know the most about, and that's within the area that I live actually, in Kent, where we have the grammar school system, right. So here, you've got a very particular transition to primary and secondary school, where young people take the 11 Plus test. And they're segregated, you know, into grad schools or not into our schools based upon the results, we actually did the research behind that a few years back, because there's a big view that this not only has big academic consequences, but also potentially long lasting impacts upon young people's well being actually then we found another kind of challenge, I suppose the conventional wisdom that at least by age 14, so a fair point after they've been within their secondary school. Actually, you don't see any difference between selective and nonselective education systems, but also within a selective education systems, you don't see much change in the well being between those that do get into grad schools and those that don't. So I think that again, that's all around the transition, right, to some extent, because that group makes a very particular transition in a very particular way. And I think it's really interesting to see those large potential differences in those transitions into different types of schools don't make too much of a difference to young people's kind of well being.

Simon Currigan  3:40  

So when you're talking about looking at children's well being, how are you assessing or measuring or looking at that and making judgments?

John Jerrim  3:48  

That varies across different pieces of work, and there's different pieces of research. And you end up thinking about this as kind of a big jigsaw puzzle, not one piece of research or evidence or measure is going to give you everything. Different things can tell you different aspects, and you've kind of got to look holistically and join up the dots. So we've in some aspects of my research, I've done what I suppose most people have done in this area, and used drawn upon questionnaire data. So young people are asked about their feelings about what's going well in their life, if they're kind of upset about their schoolwork, things like that. In other pieces of evidence, we've drawn upon similar questions, but it's asked to their parents about how young people are and behaving. But then in some of the most recent research, I've also drawn upon GP records where you're looking at the much more severe end of the mental health spectrum, but to look at who's gone to the GP about potential mental health issues or received a referral, or is taking prescription medication, horses for courses. Those measures have kind of pros and cons. You know, the good thing about the GP records is that it's objective data. You might think Well, that's the gold standard to begin with, but there's problems with it as well. Right? So who actually goes to seek treatment might well differ between different groups, different socio economic groups, things like that come into it. Whereas the questionnaire measures, it's all very much How seriously do people take it when they're filling in those questionnaires? Do people put in their maximum effort? Are they revealing the truth? So again, yeah, you have to look across these different sources to come to a holistic view, in my in my opinion.

Simon Currigan  5:23  

And when you look at those surveys and questionnaires you're getting a snapshot of what someone says it a moment in time. And when I read your research, you said there was surprisingly little attempt to track the mental health of cohorts longitudinally, can you explain to our listeners, what that means and how that's different from taking a snapshot?

John Jerrim  5:39  

I'll take a step back and think, Well, if I could do any research study that was possible into this issue, what you would want is a really good measure of mental health, well, being stress, whatever, collected really, really regularly from the same kids at loads of different points in time. Why do you want that? Well, then you can see something happens in that young person's life. And you can see how that will end up changing their stress, their well being levels, their levels of anxiety, with Outlook and shooter or data, you can't do that tracking the same child over time, right? So you've only got one point in time is really difficult to end up working out what's impacted, what's affected, what's driven, that kind of level of well being amongst that kid? Is that just how the kid always feels or as something happened, that's kind of triggered it off. And that's one of the problems of just having a snapshot. The other thing is to answer questions such as How does the well being of that young person change as they move through the schooling system? How's it impacted by things like the key stage two tests have or GCSEs have things like that the pandemic? That's another great one, how is that impacting impacted by the pandemic? Yeah, it's very difficult unless you've had measures pre pandemic to work out what impact your hands are, because had on that kid,

Simon Currigan  6:54  

So can you tell us about your research? How did you conduct it? And what kind of impact did you find on children changing from primary sector to the secondary sector and beyond in terms of their mental health and their well being?

John Jerrim  7:07  

Yeah, so one of the really unique things I think about the work that I've recently done is that we've drawn on data from GP and hospital records to track a cohorts, roughly around 10% of the population from when they've reached it at that GP through to the end, or almost the end of secondary school. And what that data collects is basically every interaction that those children have had with primary and secondary health care services. So if they've been to the GP, that's recorded, and then the outcome of that GP consultations recorded such as whether there's kind of suspected anxiety or prescription of medication for anxiety and things like that. So we're able to then track those young people, you know, over a long period of time to look at, well, how regularly are they accessing such services?

Simon Currigan  7:59  

And how many children were you looking at? In that research?

John Jerrim  8:02  

Good question, I have to remember off the top of my head, and it was different ways of cutting the data for different parts, but it differed between different parts of the analysis, but it was around about 20 to 30,000, I believe we had in the final piece. So this is a significant number of children. Yeah, it wasn't small data. And that's one of the advantages of using things like GP records, right, that you end up having a large sample size to be able to look into such issues.

Simon Currigan  8:31  

And what were your results? What did you find,

John Jerrim  8:33  

One of the key things that we found was actually, if you compare young people have a similar biological age, but happened to be in different school year groups than actually, they seem to have very similar mental health out. So for instance, if you compare a summer board and children in year 10, to an awesome born child in year 11, actually, their mental health outcomes that measured in terms of their propensity to kind of seek mental health treatment seems to be pretty similar. And that holds true for almost all the adjacent year groups between year six and year seven, and year 10, and year 11. So what we ended up concluding from that was, well, actually, those differences between school year groups don't seem to be driving the large increase in mental health issues that we know to occur during secondary school, we think it's probably more driven by biological change, rather than changes in those young people experiences through education.

Simon Currigan  9:35  

So it's not the changing of setting or environment or school. What's happening is the child is growing and the biological changes are actually accounting for more of that difference in well being over time.

John Jerrim  9:46  

That's very much consistent. We believe we've our conclusion. So like I said, it's really hard to definitely tease out the two but that's how I would interpret our findings. I think the facts that we find Children in different school year groups, adjacent school year groups have very similar mental health outcomes in terms of going to see GPS or whatever it would suggest. It's probably not being driven by the school or the education system.

Simon Currigan  10:15  

And that was John Jerrim, talking about what really causes the bump in mental health needs that we see in adolescents and teenagers as they move from primary into the secondary education system. And it's a really interesting cautionary tale, for me, I think about looking for evidence for beliefs that we hold as teaching professionals, and for never taking anything for granted. If you want to hear John talk about his research in more detail, head back to Episode 49 - and I'll put a direct link in the episode description. And that is all we've got time for on today's essentials episode. If you've enjoyed listening today or found it valuable, please remember to rate and review us. It takes just 30 seconds. And when you give us a rating and review, it prompts the algorithm to share school behaviour secrets with other listeners. And that helps us grow the podcast and reach other teachers and parents and school leaders. And while you've got your podcast app open, remember to hit the subscribe button so you never miss another episode. Thanks for listening and I look forward to seeing you next time on School Behaviour Secrets.

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)