Hi, my name is Kim Petersen and I’m a second year PhD
student at the Manchester Institute of Education (MIE).
My PhD research focusses on primary school children’s mental
health and wellbeing. I am interested in looking at lots of different aspects
of children’s mental health and wellbeing (e.g. feeling sad, angry, happy,
enjoying life etc.) and finding common
patterns of mental health and wellbeing. I want to find out:
1) what causes the different
patterns of mental health
2) whether behaviour programmes
used in schools affect children’s mental health
I hope this information will help us to find ways to improve
children’s mental health and wellbeing in the future.
How did I get here?
After my A-levels I went to Glasgow University to do a
degree in Psychology. I went on to work for a charity, supporting children with
different neurological conditions, like autism spectrum disorder. Then, I did a
PGCE teacher training qualification and worked as a primary school teacher. While
working as a teacher I became really interested in children’s mental health and
wellbeing and what schools could do to try and improve it. So, I decided to go
back to university to do research in
this area. First, I did a Master’s degree in Psychology and Education and then I
applied to do a research PhD. I didn’t always know that I would end up doing
this, but my experiences and interests sort of led me here, and I really enjoy
what I am doing.
What is mental health?
Mental health is a term we have all heard of, but what does
it actually mean? Sometimes, when people talk about ‘mental health’, they are
only talking about mental health disorders, like depression or schizophrenia.
Today, many researchers, and others, think that mental health is more than
this. As well as mental health difficulties, there are also positive aspects of
mental health like feeling good and satisfied with your life. There is a widely
held statistic that ‘1 in 4 people have mental health problems’. However, 4 out of 4 people have mental health because 4 out of 4 people have brains! In other words
mental health is something we all have and we should focus on helping everyone
gain better mental health and wellbeing.
I am investigating mental health in this broad way, which
includes both mental health problems and positive aspects of mental wellbeing. We collected information about children’s
mental health and wellbeing by giving surveys to around 3000 primary school children
and their teachers. We also collected other information about the children,
like whether they were male or female, how they felt about their school, their
relationships with other children, their school grades, and whether they had
taken part in a school behaviour programme.
To make sense of all the information collected I use a
computer programme to help me to find patterns in the data. For example, I can
use the programme to see if there are some groups of children who show very
similar patterns of mental health. I can then look at what other characteristics
these children have. For example, if I found a group of children that had no
mental health problems but felt very happy and satisfied with life, I could
find out if those children were more likely to be male or female, have better relationships with their friends,
or have taken part in a school behaviour programme, compared to other
groups. The aim is to identify what might be important for good mental health
and wellbeing so that we can try to improve children’s mental health in the
Why is this kind of research important?
Improving children’s mental health has been highlighted as
an important issue in the UK. The government has said that schools have an
important role to play in doing this. Research is needed to show what schools
can do to try and improve children’s mental health and wellbeing.
Find out more about children’s mental health and wellbeing
on these charities’ webpages:
The Good Childhood Report provides information about what
children and young people say about their own mental health and wellbeing:
This is a summary of a recent government proposal for how to
improve children’s mental health and wellbeing:
Here is a link to the Manchester Institute of Education so
you can see what courses we offer and what research we do:
Hi, my name is Kelly and I now work in the Student
Recruitment and Widening Participation department of the University of
Manchester. For the past three years, I have been a student studying Psychology
at the University and for the thirteen years before that, I too was propelled
along the standard education pipeline (or maybe not so standard anymore) by
attending first school, middle school and high school.
One of the main parts of my job, for the past couple months
now, has been the development of an EBL project for our visiting Year 11
students. EBL stands for ‘Enquiry Based Learning’ (or Inquiry Based Learning if
you’re American) and is equivalent to ‘Problem Based Learning’, which you might
have heard of before. This method of teaching starts with a question, a problem
or a scenario, and it is the student’s task to solve this problem, with the aid
of a facilitator.
Not a teacher.
That’s great, right?
The lack of teacher leading the way means that the road from
problem to solution is less smooth, less clear, but then when in life is the
answer ever clear? In this situation, you are
responsible for your own learning, for figuring out your answers and where they
fall into the topic of your choice. This method of independent learning is
fundamental to the way students traditionally learn at university.
- You’re given a topic
or a lecture – a foundation, so you can understand the task
- You are provided
with resources to be used as starting points (these can be textbooks, journal
articles or websites)
- And then you have to
produce work at the end of it e.g. an essay, a report or a presentation, about
what you've found out
This is what I've tried to
recreate in my own EBL project for visiting Y11 students. This project is the
finale to the flagship pre-16 Gateways programme, ran by the University of
Manchester. Groups of school pupils visit campus year upon year, from Y7 to Y11,
to find out more about the opportunities to study in Higher Education and
develop new and transferable skills. In this final part of the programme,
students are presented with a lecture on a case study (a Volcanic Disaster for
this year). They were then sorted into groups depending on their interests and
sent away (with the help of a Student Ambassador) to research that area for an
hour and a half. The day finishes with each group giving a presentation on what
they found and a prize is given to the group that presented the best.
This transition from teacher-led to research-led learning
replicates what you would experience if you chose to study at university. When
you’re at the cutting edge of your field and learning the newest knowledge
being published to date, it’s highly likely that you’ll find yourself not knowing
the answers, and being in the position where YOU could contribute to future
knowledge, explanations and discoveries.
Throughout your early school days, you may have been taught
that there’s only one right answer, and you’ll get a mark for getting that
answer right. University is different. There might be some things that we THINK
answer the question, but these may still be debated. Something you, or the
media or the educational system take for a fact, may still actually be not so
Some courses at university take advantage of this method.
Medicine is taught using in many universities around the country. It works in similar
to the EBL project above: all of the medics would be split off into groups with
people they don’t know, they would be given a case study – perhaps a patient
with a case of symptoms. It would be their job to work together to research and
collaborate and figure out the causes and treatments of the case.
I believe taking part in EBL tasks early on in education has
the advantage of pressing students to think outside of the box and to find their
own answers; sometimes topics can be more complicated than just getting the
Here are some references you may find useful: