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Conducting school-based health surveys with secondary schools in England: advice and recommendations from school staff, local authority professionals, and wider key stakeholders, a qualitative study

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Hatch, Lorna M. 
Widnall, Emily C. 
Albers, Patricia N. 
Hopkins, Georgina L. 
Kidger, Judi 


Background: Improving the health and well-being of young people is a public health priority. Schools present an ideal setting to implement strategies to improve young people’s health and well-being. A key strategy involves conducting surveys to assess student health needs, inform interventions, and monitor health over time. Conducting research in schools is, however, challenging. Schools can find it difficult to participate and adhere to research processes, even when they are keen to be involved in research, because of competing priorities (e.g., attendance and educational achievement), as well as time and resource constraints. There is a lack of literature on the perspectives of school staff and other key stakeholders working in young people’s health on how best to work with schools to conduct health research, and in particular, health surveys. Methods: Participants (n = 26) included members of staff from 11 secondary schools (covering students aged 11–16 years), 5 local authority professionals, and 10 wider key stakeholders in young people's health and well-being (e.g., a school governor, a national government member), based in South West England. Participants took part in semi-structured interviews that were conducted either over the phone or via an online platform. Data were analysed using the Framework Method. Results: Three main themes were identified: Recruitment and Retention, Practicalities of Data Collection in Schools, and Collaboration from Design to Dissemination. It is important to acknowledge the role of local authorities and academy trusts in the English education system, and work closely with these when conducting school-based health surveys. School staff prefer to be contacted about research via email and in the summer term, following exams. Researchers should contact a member of staff involved in student health/well-being, as well as senior leadership, during recruitment. Data collection during the start and end of the school year is undesirable. Research should be collaborative with school staff and young people, consistent with school priorities and values, and flexible and tailored to school timetables and resources. Conclusions: Overall the findings demonstrate that survey-based research methods should be school-led and tailored to each school.


Acknowledgements: The authors would like to express their thanks to the participating schools and all school staff, local authorities members and wider stakeholders who participated in an interview.


Health, Students, Recruitment, Young People, Well-being, Schools, Retention, Research

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BioMed Central
National Institute for Health and Care Research (PD-SPH-2015, PD-SPH-2015, PD-SPH-2015, PD-SPH-2015, PD-SPH-2015, PD-SPH-2015, PD-SPH-2015, PD-SPH-2015, PD-SPH-2015, PD-SPH-2015, PD-SPH-2015)