English schoolchildren among most unhappiest in the world

Schoolchildren in England are among the unhappiest in the world, faring worse than those in Ethiopia, Algeria and Romania, with warnings made today schools should be a “safe haven, not a battleground.”

Researchers found exam stress and claims of a tests culture in the country’s education system were all contributing to the low spirits of pupils, according to the survey carried out by the University of York in partnership with The Children’s Society.

English children ranked 14th out of 15 countries for overall life satisfaction, just ahead of South Korea, and scored low for aspects related to their “self” and school. Levels of unhappiness at school were higher among teenagers, with 43 per cent of year eights saying they enjoyed school, compared to 61 per cent of year six students.

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The Good Childhood Report 2015, which examined the experiences of 53,000 children across 15 countries, found bullied youngsters in England are six times more likely to have low well-being. More than a third of English students, 38 per cent of those aged ten and 12 reported being physically bullied in the last month, and 50 per cent had felt excluded at school.

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers said the findings were “very concerning,” and called on the Government to “consider seriously the impact of their policies on children’s well-being.”

He said: “As our own research demonstrates, the accountability agenda handed down to schools by both Ofsted and the Department for Education is having a tangible effect on pupil behaviour.

“Children can now expect to be branded ‘failures’ when barely into primary education, and many of those who undergo high-stakes tests and examinations at all stages of school life experience serious stress-related anxiety.”

Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said it should be a legal requirement for English schools to provide counselling, and funding for children’s mental health should be increased.

He said: “It is deeply worrying that children in this country are so unhappy at school compared to other countries and it is truly shocking that thousands of children are being physically and emotionally bullied, damaging their happiness.

“School should be a safe haven, not a battleground.”

The report also ranked girls in England second lowest for happiness with their body confidence, self-confidence and appearance, just above South Korea, and behind countries including Colombia, Turkey, Spain and Poland.

Professor Jonathan Bradshaw, from the department of social policy and social work at York, said: “We need to make more effort to monitor the well-being of our children and we need to devote more resources to understanding how they are doing and to ensuring that their childhood is as good as it can be.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “The best schools create a happy, safe and supportive environment for children, laying the foundations for fulfilment in adulthood.

“Bullying of any kind is unacceptable and all schools must have measures in place to tackle it. That is why we are providing more than £7m to help schools tackle bullying head on. We are also promoting greater use of counselling in schools, improving teaching about mental health, and supporting joint working between mental health services and schools.”