Link found between mental health, NCEA pass rate

University of Otago researcher Dr Nick Bowden was a part of nationwide research on outcomes for...
University of Otago researcher Dr Nick Bowden was a part of nationwide research on outcomes for secondary pupils with prior mental health conditions. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
A nationwide study has found that pupils entering secondary school with prior mental health conditions were less likely to pass NCEA level 1 and more likely to be stood down or suspended.

Researchers from the University of Otago, University of Canterbury and University of Westminster, in England, teamed up to conduct a five-year study for all pupils doing NCEA that entered year 9 between 2013 and 2017 in New Zealand.

The study identified individuals with any mental health conditions, anxiety or depression and externalising conditions, related to impulse-control issues, such as ADHD.

University of Otago researcher Dr Nick Bowden said the results of the study were particularly concerning for pupils with externalising conditions.

"The strongest results or the saddest results, depending how you look at it, were the kids with externalising conditions were 38% less likely to get their NCEA level 1 and they were 2.3 times more likely to get stood down or suspended."

He said systematic change was needed to meet the needs of pupils with mental health conditions.

"The main message really here is another call to action around the unmet educational needs for young students with mental health concerns.

"I think it comes mostly down to funding, but also around awareness, understanding and communication between school teachers and family."


Successive governments had chronically underfunded mental health conditions in both the education and health sector, Dr Bowden said.

"It’s a big challenge because it is a fast growing group.

"Mental health concerns are rising globally within that age group and it’s no different in New Zealand."

He said the results showed pupils with mental health conditions were capable of obtaining NCEA level 1 because a lot of them were passing.

However, the rate at which they were being stood down or suspended was making it harder.

"It doesn’t help as well that these kids are getting suspended and stood down, as well, lots.

It’s very hard to achieve at school if you’re getting told to stay home."

He said many of the pupils had to start fresh at a new school and at 13 years old that was not an easy thing to do.