Skip to content
  • General news
  • Media coverage
  • Research

Pupils isolated from family, school and community at highest risk of exclusion

New research released today (Tuesday 5 February) shows that children who report weaker ties with their family, community and school are most likely to be excluded from school and experience mental health problems.

These are the latest findings from a pioneering survey of over 30,000 young people (aged 11 to 14) collected as part the National Lottery-funded HeadStart programme by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families and UCL’s Evidence Based Practice Unit.

The research highlights the link between mental health difficulties, lower academic attainment and persistent absence from school. It also finds that pupils excluded from school consistently have higher levels of behavioural problems, difficulties with peers and attention difficulties than their peers.

The research found that:

  • Young people who were excluded from school scored lower on average for family support, community support, school and peer support. They were also less likely to participate in community, home and school activities.
  • Additionally, young people excluded from school demonstrated a lower ability in managing emotions, problem solving, goal setting, empathy and helping others.
  • Young people excluded from school were more likely to experience behavioural and attention difficulties, difficulties with peers, and perceived stress.
  • On average, children and young people experiencing higher levels of mental health, behavioural and attention difficulties are likely to achieve lower levels of academic attainment and are more likely to be absent from school.
  • White children were most likely to be absent from school. Black and Asian children were least likely to be absent.

The report is part of the evaluation of HeadStart, a five-year, £56 million National Lottery funded programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund. HeadStart aims to explore and test new ways to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people aged 10 to 16 and prevent serious mental health issues from developing.

HeadStart Blackpool’s ‘Back on Track’ project is one example of work taking place to ensure young people stay in mainstream education. Young people in care, who are at risk of exclusion, are matched with a Resilience Coach who work with the young person to build their resilience and improve their wellbeing.

In total 30,569 young people in years 7 (11-12) and 9 (13 to 14) completed the Wellbeing Measurement Framework, as part of the HeadStart evaluation. Pupils answered questions about their mental health and wellbeing, emotional strengths and skills, and support networks, and their responses were combined with information about their school exclusions held in the National Pupil Database.

The research findings support the new policy and practice initiatives which are being developed to provide better links between schools and mental health services. It also suggests that mental health providers could consider educational outcomes as potential indicators of mental health difficulties.

Research Lead, Dr Jessica Deighton, said: “In the past the focus of educational reforms has mainly been on academic outcomes, and that social and emotional learning has taken a back seat. Our findings suggest that if we are serious about finding the best way to prevent children from being excluded from school we need to look in more depth about how we support these children through their difficulties by working with their families and schools.”

“Our research clearly demonstrates the need to look at the mental health needs of those at risk of exclusion. The findings highlight that this group are likely to feel less supported at home, at school and in the community than their peers. Increasing support for this group in these contexts might help them not only to manage their mental health needs but also their ability to access education.”

“Our results highlight the importance of prevention, early intervention and school-based support for mental health difficulties and building stronger links between schools and mental health services and are pleased to see that action is being taken in these areas.”

“The research aims to build a fuller picture of children’s experiences so that schools can support children and young people so they get the help they need at the right time and build resilience.”

Emma Ackerman, England Deputy Director at The National Lottery Community Fund, said: “This research helps to build a clear picture of young people’s mental health and wellbeing during their all-important school years. This insight is important as it will enable families, schools and children to understand where and what support is needed – a key step towards building resilience and seeing young people and their communities thrive.”

Read the full Evidence Briefing from the HeadStart Learning Team.