Abbey TY students Shane O’Connor and Liam Carew
Shane O’Connor and Liam Carew, Transition Year students at Abbey School, Tipperary, were awarded 1st place in the category Social and Behavioural Science (Intermediate Group) of the 2021 BT Young Scientist Exhibition.
Their award-winning research project: Assessing the impact of second level education on key aspects of adolescent life and development, investigates the impact of second level school on students’ mental, physical, and social wellbeing.
As the students came to the end of the Junior Cycle course last year, they began to pause and reflect on the last three years.
They had both developed well in each aspect of school life and felt that their first three years of secondary school had allowed them to grow exponentially.
However, they also saw some of their fellow students who had not enjoyed their time in school and felt that in the three years they had not really developed much or learned anything of great significance to themselves. This caused them to pose the question: How does second level education impact on students?
The project aimed to assess the impact of second level education on students in four main areas; mental health, social interaction, physical health and the impact of coronavirus.
They involved students in all years and across schools with different social and gender mixes, to gain a representative opinion.
Through their research, they gained valuable qualitative and quantitative data about the student experience, which formed a comprehensive analysis and led to their recommendations.
They undertook their research through three main methods: (1) 622 students were surveyed online across single-sex, mixed, DEIS and Non-DEIS school using Microsoft Forms; (2) Focus groups were carried out with a boys’ school, a girls’ school and a mixed school in person and online by Zoom; (3) Interviews were carried out with leading figures in the field of education and advocacy.
Results from the four main areas were as follows; Mental Health - female students, in senior cycle and mixed schools, are likely to report a negative impact of secondary school on their mental health.
67% of students indicate that they did not receive educational guidance on their mental health within the school environment.
Under Social Interaction all students reported the impact of secondary school on their social development/interaction more positively than any other area examined.
“Being with Friends” and “Socialising” were most frequently cited as positive aspects of second level education for students.
Among the students who felt that second level education had a negative impact on their social development/interaction, excessive homework and exam pressures were the two primary reasons cited.
In the area of Physical Health, males were found to have a more positive outlook on the impact of second level on their physical health than females.
Mixed schools had a significantly lower rating for the impact of PE classes on physical health than students in single-sex schools.
29% of students had dropped the majority of their physical activities outside of school since starting second level education. 86% of these students dropped their activities during Junior Cycle.
Under Covid-19, students indicated that the pandemic had negatively impacted all key aspects assessed.
Physical health was the least impacted area, followed by mental health.
Students’ social interaction/development has been most adversely impacted by the pandemic, with average scores falling significantly (by 2.83) since the beginning of the pandemic.
Based on the study the following conclusions were drawn:
Students who are most vulnerable to negative school experiences are females, senior cycle students (particularly Sixth Years/ LCA Students), students in Mixed Schools and DEIS Schools. Students were never happier in school than in the September – December 2020 timeframe.
Social interaction is a vital aspect of school life and this is emphasized by students unequivocally.
Students in mixed schools (DEIS and Non-DEIS) should be encouraged to participate in physical activities to a greater extent.
Students in Junior Cycle should be encouraged to keep up extracurricular activities and be shown the benefits to staying well.
Students are not always aware of the mental health supports available to them.
Shane and Liam say that they believe that the best way to foster a good mental health status amongst the student body is to create positive and caring student/teacher relationships and provide excellent pastoral care.
They are of the opinion that social interaction is an absolutely vital aspect of school and that students should be given every opportunity to socialise and participate in peer-based activities as possible.
They say that students in mixed schools (DEIS and Non-DEIS) should be encouraged to participate in physical activities and PE classes to a greater extent and that students in Junior Cycle should be encouraged to keep up extracurricular activities and be shown the (mental) health benefits to staying fit and healthy.
Finally, in relation to Covid-19, they say that students have been hard hit by the pandemic, particularly in terms of social interaction and mental health and that students will need support to recover from these experiences and that policies will need to adapt with the ongoing and ever-changing restrictions.
Well done to Shane and Liam on their excellent project which has been formulated into a poster which is being shared all over the country.