How school attendance data could play a crucial role in targeting mental health support for pupils
In a new Data Insight, Professor Ann John of ADR Wales led a research team that examined the association of school absence and exclusion with recorded neurodevelopmental disorders, mental health disorders, or self-harm in a large cohort of children and young people in Wales.
Poor school attendance is associated with a range of negative outcomes across the life course, including poor educational attainment, unemployment, and poverty. Exclusions from schools in England and Wales are intended to be used in serious breaches of behavior policies such as violence, sexual abuse, supplying illegal drugs or using weapons. Currently rates of exclusion in England are rising, highlighting the importance of school-based policies that aim to improve behavior and support teachers and are in place in the UK, the US and elsewhere.
The team linked routinely collected and de-identified educational data to demographic, primary and secondary health datasets, creating a population-wide cohort of 437,412 pupils aged seven to 16 between 2009 and 2013 in Wales. The team identified a wide range of clinically diagnosed and recorded mental health disorders up to the age of 24, including less studied conditions in this context such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, more frequently diagnosed after school leaving age.
They found that children and young people diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disorder or mental disorder, or who have a record of self-harm, before 24 years of age are much more likely to miss school than their peers, even after adjusting for age, sex, and deprivation.
School-based mental health provision and integration with mental health services has been highlighted as a major strategic priority in the UK. This approach could benefit young people as highlighted by one of the study’s findings that having a Special Educational Needs (SEN) status decreases the odds of being absent or excluded, even if not removing the risk completely. Therefore, attendance and exclusion data that is already collected by schools could provide useful information about where to focus limited resources.
Read the full Data Insight: Association of school absence and exclusion with recorded neurodevelopmental disorders, mental disorders or self harm: A nationwide e-cohort study of children and young people in Wales.