According to a new study by researchers at University College London, young adults and teenagers who attend public schools in England are happier with their lives than their peers in private schools.
The study found some differences in mental health or life satisfaction between the two groups, which surprised the study authors because there is considerable benefit in spending for the well-being and support they enjoy in private schools.
Dr. Morag Henderson, UCL’s Institute for Social Research, lead author of the paper, says: “While school resources are high in private schools, academic stress can also affect students, and so we see that each force is discouraging the other.”
The study – published in the Cambridge Journal of Education on Thursday – was based on a national sample of more than 15,000 people born between 1989 and 1990 who went to school in England and surveyed teenagers and later in their 20s.
“While these approaches do not prove causal, the absence of significant positive effects suggests that there is no evidence that parents who decide to pay for private schools are benefiting their children’s mental health and life satisfaction,” the author says.
The study measured participants’ mental health by asking questions such as: “Have you been able to focus on what you are doing?” And “Are you sleep deprived due to anxiety?” It found slight differences in responses between the two groups before and after adjusting for factors such as social background and educational attainment.
Those who attended fee-paying individual schools reported higher life satisfaction in their 20s. But after adjusting responses to exclude benefit effects such as higher income, home ownership, and better test results, the researchers again found no significant difference in satisfaction levels.
Private school girls reported better mental health status at age 16 than their peers at state schools but did not see the same gap at age 14 or 15.
The study concludes that “there is no added benefit to private schooling in terms of mental health and life satisfaction” for the study group. But it warns that since the sample group went to school, private schools have increased their spending on health and pastoral care.
Dr Henderson said it was possible that increased pastoral support had “just begun to make a difference” for private school students, who he thought might have received more support during the Covid lockdown.
“It simply came to our notice then. This question is ready for future analysis, “said Dr. Henderson.
A preliminary study of those born in 1970 found that women in a private school in the UK were associated with “higher emotional distress”. But since the 1980s, private schools have increased their spending to support students.