One in five pupils in the UK experience emotional and behavioural problems

Around one in five children and young people in the UK experience emotional and behavioural problems according to the first findings from a survey of over 30,000 young people (aged 11 to 14), which were collected as part the National Lottery-funded HeadStart programme.

Pupils in the 114 participating HeadStart schools were asked to complete the online Wellbeing Measurement Framework. This report, by Jessica Deighton and colleagues, explores the data related to the prevalence of mental health problems in young people and how this varies by gender, ethnicity, special educational needs status, free school meal eligibility, and child-in-need status. The findings reveal that:

  • Pupils in Year 9 are more likely to report mental health problems than those in Year 7.
  • Girls are more likely to say they had experienced emotional problems (with 25% of girls saying they had a problem compared to 11% of boys) but in contrast, boys are more likely to say they have experienced behavioural problems (with 23% of boys saying they had experienced them compared with 15% of girls).
  • Pupils from Asian, Black, Mixed, and other ethnic groups were less likely to indicate they were experiencing emotional problems than young people in the White ethnic group.
  • Pupils with special educational needs, those eligible for free school meals, and those classified as children in need were also more likely to say they were experiencing both emotional and behavioural problems.

The report concludes that there is a consistent association between deprivation and mental health problems, however, the schools involved in HeadStart are typically located in less socially and economically advantaged areas of the UK and differ from the national average in terms of proportions with special educational needs and proportions of white pupils, so all results must be understood in this context.

Source: Mental health problems in young people, aged 11 to 14: Results from the first HeadStart annual survey of 30,000 children (January 2018), Evidence Based Practice Unit (EBPU) Evidence Briefing #1:11

Turning around maladaptive behaviour

Pupils with significant behaviour problems typically have lower grades, higher dropout rates, and lower rates of employment when they leave school. To head off these problems, many schools use social problem-solving programmes within the classroom, yet no large research review has been done on social problem-solving programmes since 1993. To update these findings, Kristin Merrill and colleagues at the University of Florida performed a literature review of social problem-solving (SPS) programme studies in grades K-12 (Years 1-13) spanning 1993-2015.

From a group of 380 studies that the authors found, 18 met inclusion criteria, which included that studies must have been from peer-reviewed journals, been quantitative and addressed a specific programme implemented during school hours.

Results found positive outcomes related to SPS skills acquisition and to peer acceptance. The greatest evidence was found for older pupils, at-risk pupils, and programmes specifically targeting aggressive behaviours. In the studies that followed pupils after they were no longer in SPS programmes, some maintained improved behaviours for up to a year. The key features of an effective SPS programme were that pupils be taught step-by-step techniques to think through tough situations, having them rehearse and reflect on their desired behaviours; that emotional regulation skills be taught early; and that in order to maintain these gains, pupils actively think about how they use these new skills in real-life situations.

Source: A review of social problem-solving interventions: Past findings, current status, and future directions (February 2017), Review of Educational Research , Vol. 87, No. 1, pp. 71–102

Least restrictive…for whom?

Numerous studies show the academic and social benefits for children with emotional and behavioural disorders (EBD) of including them in classes with children who do not have these issues. Few studies, however, examine the effects of this inclusion on their non-disabled classmates.

Given that children who have EBD often cause disruptions, and that disruptions are associated with reduced student engagement, Michael Gottfried, Anna Egalite, and J Jacob Kirksey recently examined the correlation between the absentee rate of non-disabled kindergartners (Year 1) who had peers with EBD in their classrooms with those who didn’t.

Subjects were the nationally representative sample of kindergartners used in the US Early Childhood Longitudinal Study 2010-2011, a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics. Results showed more annual absences in classes that included peers with an EBD than in classes that didn’t. The incidences of chronic absence were also higher for students who had an EBD classmate. Patterns emerged for absent students: girls were more likely to be absent than boys, as were non-ELL and higher-income students. Patterns also emerged showing that students with EBD classmates were less likely to be absent when they had teachers with more experience, teachers certified in special education, or teachers who spent more time on discipline. They found that including children with other types of disabilities did not cause the same types of disruptions as including those with EBDs.

Source: Does the Presence of a Classmate with Emotional/behavioral Disabilities Link to Other Students’ Absences in Kindergarten? (2016), Early Childhood Research Quarterly