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20 Nov 2023

‘It's not just for naughty kids' – Project explores girls' experiences of alternative education settings

Drawing of an eye

Girls’ perspectives on mental health and wellbeing support in alternative education have been shared as part of a study supported by the NIHR ARC North East and North Cumbria.

Girls from across the region have shared their views on what needs to improve in alternative education settings, to support their mental health and wellbeing.

Between 2017 and 2021, girls were more likely than boys to report a decline in their mental health, and girls’ mental health was more negatively affected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With increasing demands on mental health services for children and young people, schools could play a key role in early intervention.

However, very little is known about how girls’ mental health and wellbeing is supported in specialist education settings – where boys account for around 74% of the population nationally.

The research team, led by Dr Pamela Graham at Northumbria University, worked with girls aged 14-16 in alternative education settings in our region, which included Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) and Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) schools.

The girls were interviewed about their experiences and asked to reflect on the most important things they’d like other people to know.

Key findings included:

  • Relationships are important: Girls felt that staff in alternative education had time to help them when they needed it and they could get this help easily. Having female staff there to talk to was important for some girls when they needed to talk about health issues. Some felt sad about leaving friends behind in their old schools when they moved to alternative education.
  • More choices and chances: Girls talked about how staff in alternative education helped them to work through tough days so they were more likely to stay and do their work. They could go and work in different spaces in alternative education and felt like they were given more chances to think about their actions.
  • Not ‘just naughty kids’: Girls talked about how alternative education is seen as a place that is just for ‘naughty kids’ and they wanted people to know that it’s not. Young people go to alternative education for lots of different reasons and it’s not always related to poor behaviour. Alternative education is usually a calm place to be.

A website has since been developed which aims to help school staff and leaders to understand what works, what doesn’t work and what needs to change in order to support girls more effectively in alternative education.

You can visit the website, here.

You can read a plain language summary of this work, here.