Pupils’ happiness in school shows a marked decline with age, according to a study released today (22 September) by The Children’s Society.
The latest edition of the Good Child report found that, on average, 10-year-olds rated their happiness with school as 8.1 out of 10. For those aged 15, the rating was 6.6.
Besides age, household income was found to be a consequential factor, with children from lower income backgrounds notably less happy with school and schoolwork.
A significant minority (13%) of 10-17-year-olds said they were unhappy with how much they were listened to at school.
The Children’s Society is calling for improved support for schools, in the form of a faster rollout of mental health support teams to provide a listening ear, together with a national measurement of children’s wellbeing to understand how young people are feeling and know how to respond.
The charity is also concerned that some children are struggling with hunger at school, and demands widening the eligibility for free school meals to all pupils from families claiming universal credit.
The eleventh annual report found that children were less happy in other aspects of their lives, too. Almost one in five girls (18%) said that they were unhappy with their appearance, compared to 15% a decade ago.
Ten percent of boys expressed unhappiness with their looks.
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“It is desperately worrying that children’s wellbeing is in this state of decline, with huge numbers unhappy with school and thousands of girls struggling with the way they look,” said the Children’s Society chief executive, Mark Russell.
Researchers found that one in 16 children (6%) said they were broadly unhappy with their lives.
Two major extrinsic events were found to have impacted on young people’s happiness levels.
Eleven percent of 10-17-year-olds said they did not cope with pandemic-related changes to their lives, despite many of the restrictions having been lifted when the survey was taken.
“Months of lost learning, facing in-person exams for the first time and mounting pressure could all have had a detrimental effect on children’s wellbeing,” suggested the charity.
It is desperately worrying that children’s wellbeing is in this state of decline – Mark Russell, Children’s Society
The report also found that the cost of living crisis was having an impact on home and school life.
Eighty-five percent of parents and carers said they were concerned about how it will affect their families in the next year, while more than a third stated that they were already struggling with the expense of school trips and uniform.
“Right now, the negative effects of the cost of living crisis, the disruption of the pandemic to young people’s education, and the ongoing decline in children’s happiness are on a collision course,” said Russell.
“School is a vital setting to influence children’s wellbeing, but they need more support, as the reality of what’s facing children and the lack of a holistic response is a national scandal.
“We need a faster rollout of mental health support teams in schools – alongside early support hubs in every local community – and there needs to be more support for children whose families are struggling to make ends meet, with free school meals available to all children on universal credit.
“There is nowhere to hide from the ensuing wellbeing catastrophe unless urgent action is taken.”