How do schools influence the emotional and behavioural health of their pupils? A multi-level analysis of 135 schools in the Born in Bradford inner city multi-ethnic birth cohort

Publication authors

Dan Lewer, Simon Gilbody, Gemma Lewis, Joseph Pryce, Gillian Santorelli, Ruth Wadman, Aidan Watmuff & John Wright



To estimate variation in emotional and behavioural problems between primary schools in Bradford, an ethnically diverse and relatively deprived city in the UK.


We did a cross-sectional analysis of data collected from 2017 to 2021 as part of the ‘Born In Bradford’ birth cohort study. We used multilevel linear regression in which the dependent variable was the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) total score, with a random intercept for schools. We adjusted for pupil-level characteristics including age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and parental mental health.


The study included 5,036 participants from 135 schools. Participants were aged 7–11 years and 56% were of Pakistani heritage. The mean SDQ score was 8.84 out of a maximum 40. We estimated that the standard deviation in school-level scores was 1.41 (95% CI 1.11–1.74) and 5.49% (95% CI 3.19–9.37%) of variation was explained at school level. After adjusting for pupil characteristics, the standard deviation of school-level scores was 1.04 (95% CI 0.76–1.32) and 3.51% (95% CI 1.75–6.18%) of variation was explained at school level. Simulation suggested that a primary school with 396 pupils at the middle of the distribution has 63 pupils (95% CI 49–78) with a ‘raised’ SDQ score of 15 + /40; and shifting a school from the lower to the upper quartile would prevent 26 cases (95% CI 5–46).


The prevalence of emotional and behavioural problems varies between schools. This is partially explained by pupil characteristics; though residual variation in adjusted scores may suggest that schools have a differential impact on mental wellbeing.