A mixed methods study of school environment, mental health and academic outcomes among inner city LGBTQ+ secondary school students: an intersectional and asset-based perspective


Supervisor: Charlotte Woodhead

Non-accademic partner: Mosaic LGBT Young Person’s Trust

Studentship start date: 01/10/2023

Application deadline: 26/02/2023

Application details: if you have any questions about the project or application process please get in touch with the supervisor. For more information and how to apply see https://www.kcl.ac.uk/ioppn/study/research-funding/lh-hpysch-liss-23

Charlotte Woodhead:

For more information and how to apply click here.

UK-wide, 6-12% of 14-17 year-olds report same-sex attraction, estimated ~1-3% identify as trans/gender diverse. LGBTQ+ adolescents report 2-6 fold greater odds of anxiety, depression, suicidal behaviours, self-harm, substance use, and eating disorders though data is limited for LGBTQ+ racialised /ethnic minority and faith groups, or to examine change overtime. Being LGBTQ+ is not a risk – not all LGBTQ+ adolescents have poor mental health. However, factors such as hostile/unsupportive school environments are highly influential. Recent data finds 30-70% of UK LGBTQ+ pupils have experienced discrimination, stigma and bullying at school linked to sexual orientation or gender identity. Black LGBTQ+ pupils are least likely to feel safe at school. There is a lower risk of suicidality and depressive symptoms for LGBTQ+ pupils in schools with more LGBTQ+-positive, compared to less positive, environments.

In prior research, we found that actions across the whole school which are sensitive to experiences linked to multiple aspects of pupil’s identities (‘intersectional’) (e.g. LGBTQ + and racialised), and which amplify positive experiences of belonging to the LGBTQ + community (e.g. visible represention, facilitating peer support and youth activism), arecritical but often overlooked. Much existing research is US-based, over-represents White, cisgender perspectives, and emphasises adversity over resistance and resilience, perpetuating deficit mindsets.

We also found barriers to implementing such actions in schools, such as prioritising academic attainment. Despite rising awareness of the association between pupil well-being and academic attainment, evidence relating this to LGBTQ+ pupil experience is lacking -constraining support for change. This project will address key evidence gaps relevant to education practitioners and policymakers, and increase representativeness of research about LGBTQ+ pupils. In an inner-city area diverse in terms of race/ethnicity, religion, and socio-economic status, it examines over time:

1) differences in mental health and academic outcomes by sexual orientation/gender identity

2) how experiences of school and peer belonging, perceived safety, and social support influence outcomes

3) other aspects of LGBTQ+ pupils’ school environments associated with better outcomes,

4) approaches to amplify belonging and thriving within/beyond schools

Qu 1-3: the student will examine the REACH (Resilience, Ethnicity and AdolesCent MentalHealth), a school-based study of adolescent mental health based in inner-city London, which has followed representative cohorts of students (initially >4000 students aged 11-14)annually 2016-2022. Most pupils are from racial and ethnic minority groups (>80%) and different faith communities. REACH asks about mental health, help-seeking, social circumstances, and many factors affecting mental health. By linking with education data we will also be able to examine academic outcomes.

Qu 2-4): the student will interview LGBTQ+ pupils about the influence of school climate on mental health and academic outcomes, factors which aid thriving, and ways to amplify support, resistance and belonging within and beyond schools.

The study will involve young persons throughout and involves collaboration with an LGBTQ + organisation experienced in offering culturally sensitive and safe support. We will actively share findings locally and nationally, targeting schools, staff and education policymakers.