Return to blog

Worry in schools on the rise over pupil mental health - September, 2016

Press Releases
A blog post image

Concern for pupils’ mental health has risen by 13% among school leaders over the past year, according to findings released today by The Key, the organisation providing leadership and management support to schools.

Eight in 10 (80%) headteachers and other school leaders surveyed by The Key this year are worried about their pupils’ mental health, an increase on two-thirds (67%) of those surveyed in 2015[1]. For the second year running, mental health has topped the list of pupil health and safeguarding concerns for school leaders across both primary and secondary schools and all English regions - it came ahead of issues including bullying, obesity and domestic violence.

This increase in concern among school leaders correlates with a recent Department for Education (DfE) research finding[2] that young people’s health and wellbeing was worsein 2014 than in 2005; girls in particular recorded higher levels of psychological distress.

Speaking about The Key’s findings, Fergal Roche, CEO, said: “Pupil mental health is a significant and growing concern, and one that transcends school stage and location. Schools take their duty of care seriously but need the right resources to best support their pupils. It’s encouraging that the government has committed funding with the aim to transform support for children and young people’s mental health by 2020[3], and I hope that schools will both have a say in how this is used and see the impact.”

The Key's latest findings also highlight changes in school leader concern about other pupil health and safeguarding issues. Over the past year, worry about the effects of domestic violence on pupils has increased by 11% – up from nearly six in 10 (58%) school leaders expressing concern about this in 2015 to almost seven in 10 (69%)  in 2016.

While a smaller proportion of school leaders in 2016 appear to be worried about bullying among their pupils (33% this year, down from 38% in 2015), concern about obesity has seen a rise of 5% over the same period – up from 36% to 41%. The findings also show slight increases in the proportion of school leaders worried about sexting, drugs and radicalisation for their pupils, as well as gangs and youth violence.

In primary schools, the issues concerning school leaders after mental health (79%) are domestic violence (73%) and child poverty (61%).

In secondary settings, it is concern about the effects of sexting (62%) and cyberbullying (60%) on pupils that is most prevalent among school leaders, after mental health (82%).

Awareness of a need to safeguard pupils in their use of technology is reflected in changes to government statutory safeguarding guidance[4] which come into effect next week (5th September). From the start of the autumn term, all schools will be expected to ensure appropriate internet filters and monitoring systems are in place to protect pupils from potentially harmful or inappropriate content, and should have a clear policy on the use of mobile technology.

Fergal Roche, CEO of The Key, continues: “This year’s survey findings about pupil health and safeguarding concerns illustrate the challenging and complex task befalling schools when it comes to protecting their pupils from harm. As society changes and technology evolves, schools are constantly having to adapt and ensure they are equipped with the skills and understanding to meet new demands.”

To support school leaders with some of the issues highlighted by its survey, The Key has made a number of resources on pupil health and wellbeing available at: 

For a visual summary of The Key’s survey findings, please also visit: 


[1] The Key surveyed its members in 2015 to learn about their views on pupil wellbeing; read a summary of the findings here:
[2] Department for Education (DfE) research report, July 2016 – Longitudinal Study of Young People in England cohort 2: health and wellbeing at wave 2:
[3] The government has committed £1.4bn by 2020 to transform children and young people’s mental health services: Children and young people’s mental health in schools, Minister for Childcare and Education, Sam Gyimah, December 2015
[4] The DfE has published an updated version of its statutory safeguarding guidance for schools, Keeping Children Safe in Education, which takes effect from 5 September 2016:

About the survey

The Key invited a sample of its members to complete its annual survey in January 2016. The questionnaire for this study was designed by The Key and conducted online using Survey Monkey. 1,188 school leaders completed the full survey. The survey response data was weighted to match the population profile of schools in England in terms of region, school phase and school type, so the data described in this summary can therefore be taken to provide an indication of the opinions of school leaders in mainstream schools across England.

Top 10 pupil health and safeguarding issues of concern to school leaders in 2015 and 2016

Rank 2015 2016
1 Mental health (67%) Mental health (80%)
2 Domestic violence (58%) Domestic violence (69%)
3 Cyberbullying (55%) Child poverty* (60%)
4 Bullying (38%) Cyberbullying (53%)
5 Obesity (36%) Obesity (41%)
6 Drugs (23%) Bullying (33%)
7 Sexting (21%) Child missing from education* (32%)
8 Child sexual exploitation (20%) Drugs (25%)
9 Gangs and youth violence (13%) Sexting (23%)
10 Female genital mutilation (11%) Child sexual exploitation (20%)

*Please note, ‘child poverty’ and ‘child missing from education’ were added to the 2016 survey options.

For more detailed findings, please contact Jessica Bull via email: [email protected] 

Sign up for our news briefing

The Key's weekly education sector round-up, delivered to your inbox every Friday.

Get weekly news briefing