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Here we answer a few common questions from parents about our school mental health survey.

Q1: Does my child have to take part if their school has signed up?

If for any reason you don't want your child to take part, then you can notify your child's school and ask them not to invite your child to take part. Even if you are happy for your child to take part, your child may choose not to complete the survey, or to opt-out of any questions that they really don't want to answer. Young people of 16 years and older can decide for themselves whether they wish to take part without giving their parents the opportunity to opt-out.

Q2: If my child takes part, can their answers be identified by the university or schools?

We do NOT want to identify the young people who take part. Therefore we do not ask pupils for explicit identifiers (such as name, date-of-birth, ethnicity, postcode, address), and we do not use unique logins to the survey. Due to the large number of questions in the survey, including some demographics, we do treat the data as personal data and have included a privacy notice in the parent information sheet. To maintain the privacy of the pupils who take part, we do NOT share the raw individual data with schools or others outside our research team, only summaries or extracts of the data. In cases where a response indicates that a child might be in immediate danger, we do notify schools of the year group and (if given) gender of the child so that they can ensure that appropriate support is accessible to pupils in the relevant year group.

Q3: What are the topics of the questions in the survey - will my child be asked about things they aren't aware of?

Some of the questions in the survey are about sensitive topics. However, with this concern in mind, the survey questions have been selected to be age-appropriate, to ensure that children and young people are only asked about things that they are likely to already know about. The survey version for school years 4-7 does NOT include clinical measures of mental health or ask questions about the vulnerable behaviours associated with adolescence. Instead the survey for pupils in years 4-7 includes a measure of mental wellbeing (WEMWBS), so that children are asked to say how much they agree with positive statements like "I've been feeling good about myself".

Pupils in year 8 and above also complete validated measures of mental health (including RCADS), are asked some questions related to substances, gaming, domestic and peer abuse, and see a few questions related to self-harm. To minimise the chance that they are asked questions about topics that they are not aware of, there are gateway questions that only open up more detailed questions when pupils indicate that they have experience in these topics (e.g. self-harm or being offered illegal drugs). 

Students in years 12 and 13 or at Further Education Colleges (over 16 years old) are also asked about gambling, exposure to suicide (friends or family), sexual relationships, and about Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Q4: Can I see the full list of survey questions before I decide whether my child takes part?

We do not send survey links to parents or provide the full list of questions because most pupils will see only a limited number of the questions. However, we do understand the concern of parents and we have provided information on the content of the survey in the presentation for pupils (see links on the main page) and in the response to Q3 above. If you have concerns about survey questions on specific topics then we would be grateful to hear from you and willing to discuss those questions with you (pathfinder@psych.ox.ac.uk). 

Q5: Why does this research study use an opt-out procedure with parents, rather than seeking explicit consent?

With an opt-out process, parents need to be sent the approved information on the study (at least one week before running the survey), and provided with contact details for the research team and instructions on how to opt-out, rather than having to provide explicit consent.
This opt-out process is only suitable for studies that follow specific research procedures with children and have received ethical approval following review. For example, this research is carried out through the school and no harm or distress is caused to the pupils. The research team has no direct contact with the participants and does not collect names, addresses or other explicit identifiers.
The goals of this study also depend on a large and representative sample from each school taking part. Summaries of the data are provided to schools once the data has been collected, to help inform their own in-school interventions. A representative sample and informative summaries would not be possible via an opt-in consenting process with parents. This is because the parents who took the time to respond and consent would be limited in numbers and not representative of the whole school or year group, often missing the more vulnerable groups of pupils who are most likely to benefit from the the survey findings being used by the schools.
 
Parents/carers should notify the school if for any reason they are still concerned and do not want their child to take part.