Top schools face mental health crisis

The Sunday Times is reporting warnings from leading private schools that they are facing an “unprecedented” outbreak of self-harm, eating disorders and depression among pupils weighed down by exam pressures, social media and family breakdown.

The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) has given The Sunday Times exclusive figures from a survey of 65 of its schools showing: 

  • More than 85% of them were concerned about the amount of depression among their pupils, an 85% increase on the proportion five years ago; 42% said it was a “significant” concern, compared to 12% in 2010 
  • A 57% increase in schools reporting self-harm as a problem and a 65% jump in the number worried by the amount of pupils with eating disorders. 

However, the paper also reports that, by contrast, levels of teenage drinking, underage sex, drug use and smoking have dropped compared to five years ago (something we have seen mirrored in other studies).

An HMC spokesman is quoted:

“There are now unprecedented levels of concern among heads over pupils disclosing online threats, depression, self-harm and eating disorders…”

The report indicates that social media was cited most often by head teachers (43 times from the 65 schools) as the biggest cause of concern but says there are also growing anxieties about the effect of exam stress on children. 

Chris Jeffery, head of The Grange School in Cheshire and chairman of the HMC’s wellbeing committee, is quoted:

“Young people in all types of school are experiencing pressures like never before. They worry about getting the right grades in public exams — where an A or A* seems the only acceptable currency for aspirational young­sters to deal in — a place at their chosen university and a good career beyond that so they can pay off increasing levels of student debt, all while constantly trying to look their best on social media.” 

The Sunday Times also suggests this is the first time private schools have admitted how serious the problems are (and claims that until recently many have denied that pupils are suffering). 

More at: Top schools face mental health crisis (subscription may be required)


See also this from Chris Jeffery of the HMC’s wellbeing committee in the Sunday Times: Lifeline wanted for young as their sea of troubles rages (subscription may be required)


Very interesting to see that the HMC has gone public on the issue of pupil mental health.

Presumably many of the same or equivalent issues are equally relevant to students in the state sector too or do you see special factors at play in the independent sector?

Please give us your insights and reactions in the comments or via Twitter…


Don’t forget you can sign up to receive our daily email bulletin every morning (around 7 am) with all the latest schools news stories. Your details will never be given to anyone else and you can unsubscribe at any stage. Just follow this link

Pay exam markers better to improve standards, says independent schools' chief
Students are not receiving enough debt management education in schools, say new surveys
Categories: Health and Private Schools.


  1. brighton118

    SchoolsImprove -The obsession with A/A* being the only grades worth having is not good. Have seen far too many teenagers over upset by this

  2. Bernadette1708

    SchoolsImprove we need to prioritise the mental health of children & young people by bring #mindfulness #GMS & #coaching into education

  3. brighton118 SchoolsImprove Similarly pressure further down the exam chain by insistence on ‘good’ GCSE grades.  This implies any grade less than a C is ‘bad’.  This reflects on those who hold these grades who are told their exam results are worthless.

  4. NorthSn

    SchoolsImprove NorthernCell1 Sadly with austerity cuts to staff and resources children health being missed by too many ;(

  5. johnnystone3

    NorthSn SchoolsImprove NorthernCell1 …we have to ask a bigger question as to why is all this pressure being put on the school system?

  6. NorthernCell1

    johnnystone3 NorthSn SchoolsImprove Anyone who ‘works’ / volunteers with children has a responsibility along with parents / family

  7. NorthSn

    NorthernCell1 johnnystone3 SchoolsImprove The empowered education safeguarding our children is everybody’s business as you said ! It must

Let us know what you think...