Are independent schools facing a mental health crisis? New research finds half have seen rise in pupil stress and anxiety


  • 11 is the average age pupil mental health issues are being identified
  • Almost nine in 10 independent schools have increased mental health support for pupils 
  • Peer pressure to fit in, unrealistic body images, and dysfunctional home lives are the top contributing factors to poor pupil mental health


New research1 from specialist education insurer Ecclesiastical has revealed half of UK independent schools have seen an increase in pupil stress (49%) and anxiety (47%) during the past 12 months, representing a steep rise since the pandemic2.


The survey of 250 UK independent school leaders discovered two in five schools have also witnessed an increase in body image issues (43%) and depression (41%) among pupils, up sharply on previous years3.


Contributing factors to pupil mental health issues


The average age independent schools are identifying pupil mental health issues is 11 years old. A crucial and anxious year for many pupils, as they transition from junior to secondary education.


The research discovered the top contributing factors to poor pupil mental health were peer pressure to fit in (33%), unrealistic body images portrayed on social media/mainstream media (33%), and dysfunctional home life (32%). Pressure from parents to be successful (31%) and face to face bullying (31%) are also key contributors to pupil mental health issues.


Supporting pupils with mental health issues


Supporting pupils with mental health issues is a top priority for independent schools. The survey found the vast majority (86%) have increased support for pupils with mental health issues.


Seven in 10 (71%) feel equipped to identify pupils with mental health issues and four in five (78%) feel equipped to support pupils with mental health issues. Encouragingly, the number of independent school teachers who don’t feel equipped to support pupils has halved from 16% during the pandemic to just 8% in 2024.


Ecclesiastical supports independent schools with free Youth Mental Health First Aid and Suicide First Aid training to manage pupils’ mental health. Funded by Ecclesiastical and delivered in partnership with Mental Health in Business, during the past two years 64 independent schools learnt practical skills to spot the signs of mental health issues and how to support young people in distress. A further 32 independent schools will benefit from the training in 2024.


Laura Carter, Customer Segment Director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, said: “As one of the leading insurers of independent schools in the UK, Ecclesiastical is passionate about supporting the independent education sector. Our research has found pupil mental health issues have increased however it is encouraging to see the majority of independent schools have increased their support for pupils and feel equipped to support them. We encourage independent schools to think about the risks they may face and how best to protect their organisations for the future.”


Ecclesiastical Insurance’s Independent Schools Risk Barometer 2024 explores the top risks within the education sector and focuses on key areas of concern including mergers and acquisitions, mental health and safeguarding. It is the latest in a series of sector insights from Ecclesiastical Insurance, combining independent research with specialist knowledge from the insurer.


Ecclesiastical Insurance offers a range of risk management support and guidance to help independent schools manage the risks they face. For more information, visit the Ecclesiastical website for education risk guidance here.