Social exclusion linked to academic struggles for young people in poor health

Teenagers with poor physical and mental health are often excluded from social circles and activities, which can have a knock-on effect on their performance at school and in the labour market, according to new research from Next Steps.

What we asked you

When you were in Year 9, we asked your parents if you had any long-term physical or mental health conditions, disabilities, behaviour problems, or learning difficulties. We also asked you a series of questions to determine whether you were psychologically distressed.

Many of your parents also gave permission to add information from your school records to the information collected from the surveys. We added your GCSE results to determine how you were getting on at school. You also told us if you had played truant, been disruptive in class, or had trouble getting along with your peers.

Once you left school, we asked if you were in further education, employment or other training.

What the researchers found

Young people who were in poor health in Year 9 ended up with fewer good GCSEs (A*-C) and were more likely to not be in education, employment or training by age 19.

While the researchers couldn’t be certain exactly how health affected your schooling, it appeared that those with long-term physical health conditions struggled at school due to lengthy absences, and for girls, being psychologically distressed.

On the other hand, young people with mental health problems grappled with behaviour problems, truancy and substance use, which in turn influenced their results.

However, all young people with health problems – whether physical or mental – were more likely to be left out of groups of friends or activities, which was consistently linked to their academic performance and later employment.

Why this research is important

It is well known that education affects our health, but much less is known about how health influences our education. Research like this can encourage schools to focus on pupils’ health when trying to steer them on the track to academic success, for example by screening young people who play truant for mental health problems.

The researchers noted that the burden of poor health falls disproportionately on teenagers from deprived homes, meaning that their subsequent struggles at school and in work may serve to entrench social inequalities.

Find out more about this research

The full paper was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.