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New research commissioned as part of the Changing Adolescence programme

By Nuffield Foundation

The best days of your life?

School time is an important factor in young people’s development and achievement. Two recent publications explore this relationship by looking at changes in schooling over time. Both are based on research commissioned by the Foundation’s Changing Adolescence Programme.

Evidence shows that despite legal freedom to change school timetables and calendars, these have in fact remained remarkably similar over a 30 year period. However some shifts have occurred, including shorter break times leading to a shorter school day, and the increasing prevalence of 16-18 year olds in educational tracks instead of employment. 

These findings are presented in an article by Ann Hagell and Jennifer Symonds in Educational Review, Volume 61, Issue 3.

School sign
School time is an important factor in young people’s development and achievement.

The Supportive School

Schooling is further explored in The Supportive School, which uses the results of over 300 research studies to identify the key factors related to schooling which impact upon young people’s development and affect their well-being. To what extent do young people feel ‘connected’ with school? How do they relate with teachers and with their peers? What are the different ways they respond to the pressures of academic work?

The book’s authors argue that what matters is how schools bring these elements together to create a strong ‘culture of support’. They document how schools handle young people, particularly at the key transition point from primary to secondary school, as well as the ways in which they respond to their pastoral and other concerns.

The Supportive School also places the UK’s much-criticised ‘performance’ on well-being issues in an international context and asks challenging questions about how far the UK is lagging behind.

Written by John Gray, Maurice Galton, Colleen McLaughlin, Barbie Clarke and Jennifer Symonds, The Supportive School will be published in October 2011 and is available to order from Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Parental mental health and youth emotional problems

In the July issue of Social Science & Medicine, Karen Schepman, Stephan Collishaw, Frances Gardner, Barbara Maughan, Jacqueline Scott and Andrew Pickles as ‘Do changes in parent mental health explain trends in youth emotional problems?

The study aimed to test whether time trends in parents’ emotional difficulties contributed to increases in the prevalence of emotional problems in young people. Using data from two national surveys of English teenagers and parents studied twenty years apart (1986 and 2006), the authors found that maternal emotional problems increased across all socio-demographic groups between 1986 and 2006, mirroring increases in adolescent emotional problems over this period. They concluded that rising rates of maternal emotional problems have likely contributed to, but do not fully explain, recent time trends in adolescent emotional problems.

The full article is available in Social Science & Medicine, Volume 73, Issue 2, July 2011

sixth form students
There is little evidence of a decline in quality of parenting.

Historical changes in parent-child relationships

The coincidence of historical trends in antisocial behavior by young people and change in family make-up has led some to speculate one has led to the other, in other words, the standard of parenting has declined.  

However, research evidence shows that between 1986 and 2006, parental monitoring, expectations, and parent–child quality time increased. There was no change in the level of parental interest. Furthermore, parenting differences between affluent and disadvantaged families narrowed over time.

Writing in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, Stephan Collishaw, Frances Gardner, Barbara Maughan, Jacqueline Scott and Andrew Pickles conclude there is little evidence of a decline in quality of parenting for the population as a whole, or for disadvantaged subgroups.

The full article is available on the SpringerLink website.

About the Changing Adolescence Programme

The Foundation’s Changing Adolescence Programme looks to research evidence to better understand how the lives of young people have changed over the last 30 years.

The programme consists of a series of commissioned research reviews to look at trends in various aspects of teenage life over time, as well as seminars and workshops to bring together researchers, policy makers and practitioners in strategic discussions.

The findings from these research reviews will be brought together in a volume to be published in early 2012. 

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We improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in EducationWelfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We offer our grant-holders the freedom to frame questions and enable new thinking. Our research must stand up to rigorous academic scrutiny, but we understand that to be successful in effecting change, it also needs to be relevant to people’s experience.