Private school pupils no happier than state school peers, study finds
A study published on Thursday in the Cambridge Journal of Education found that privately-educated pupils were no happier in their early 20s than their state school peers when factors such as family background were taken into account
Going to private school does not protect pupils’ mental health or make them happier than attending a state school, new research has found.
A study published on Thursday in the Cambridge Journal of Education found that privately-educated pupils were no happier in their early 20s than their state school peers when factors such as family background were taken into account.
Previous studies cited in the report have found that while private schooling leads to better academic results for pupils, it does not give any protection against psychological distress. In a prior study of those born in 1970, it was even found that mental health issues were heightened among privately-educated women.
The report notes that since the 1980s, 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.
Using data from the Next Steps study, which follows the lives of a representative sample of 15,770 people born in England in 1989 and 1990, it found there was no statistically significant mental health advantage for privately-educated men and women at age 14 and 25.
For girls aged 16, there was some evidence that going to private school slightly protected their mental health compared with state school peers.
While those who had attended private school were more likely to report higher levels of life satisfaction at age 20 and 25, when individual characteristics and background were accounted for there were no statistically significant differences between those who had gone to state or private schools.
The researchers 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.
“I think it is possible that the increased pastoral support was just starting to make a difference for this cohort,” researcher Dr Morag Henderson said.
“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 cancelling the other out.”
She said the results could be different for pupils today 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.
She said the question needed further analysis but was being explored by the new Covid social mobility and opportunities study (COSMO) cohort study, headed up by Dr Jake Anders, one of the co-authors of the report.