Pupils with some anxiety 'more likely to leave school with a qualification'

Students may be at optimal disposition to succeed in school when they experience moderate levels of stress, study shows

Moderate levels of anxiety may be linked to greater academic success at school, according to a study.

Research among almost 5,000 secondary school students in Canada found that pupils reporting moderate anxiety were more likely to leave school with a qualification.

In contrast, those with either high or low levels of anxiety were more likely to leave without qualifications, indicating that a moderate degree of stress may help academic attainment, but too much or too little do not.

The findings were made in a study looking at possible links between depressive and anxious symptoms among young people and the risk of dropping out of secondary school without any qualifications.

Lead researcher Frédéric N Brière, of the University of Montreal, said: “A troubling proportion (6-22%) of adolescents do not complete secondary school in the UK and North America. These adolescents are at high risk of experiencing a wide range of psychosocial, physical and mental health difficulties as adults.

“Secondary school non-completion is one of the main mechanisms that perpetuate social and health inequalities across generations.”

Starting in 2002, researchers tracked 4,962 secondary school students in Quebec from the age of 12 to the end of secondary school, checking them annually. According to their findings “students may be at optimal disposition to succeed in school when they experience moderate levels of anxiety”.

Conversely, “the lack of anxiety experienced by some students directly or indirectly contributes to their chances of leaving secondary school without qualifications”.

The study also found that depressive symptoms posed a greater risk in high-achieving students, and while dropping out of school was more common in boys, depression and anxiety levels were more elevated in girls.

Commenting on the study, published on Thursday in the British Journal of Psychiatry, Dr Jon Goldin at the Royal College of Psychiatrists said: “This interesting study suggests that moderate levels of anxiety can potentially help students leave school with a qualification.

“One might hypothesise that a degree of anxiety (not too much or too little) is helpful for motivating students to do the work required to achieve a qualification.”


Sally Weale Education correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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