Over half a million children unhappy with school

The anticipated impact on children of the cost-of-living crisis, the effects of the pandemic and the continuing decline in children’s happiness, is revealed today as we release The Good Childhood Report 2022.

New findings from the Good Childhood Report, an annual look at young people’s well-being, show that around 1 in 16 children (6%) aged 10 to 15 in the UK are unhappy with their lives, and almost 1 in 8 (12%), an estimated 562,000 10–15 year olds, are unhappy with school. [1]

As expected, the current cost of living crisis is having a significant effect on families, with 85% of parents and carers surveyed in 2022 saying they are concerned about how it will affect their families in the next year, especially as over a third of parents and carers reported they already struggled with costs of school trips and uniform over the last year. [2]

The report also reveals that girls are significantly more unhappy with their appearance than boys, with almost 1 in 5 (18%) — the equivalent of an estimated 411,000 10–15 year old girls — unhappy with their looks compared to 10% of boys. This is a worrying jump for girls from 1 in 7 (15%) being unhappy with their appearance ten years ago. [3]

The pandemic’s damaging impact is laid bare with 1 in 9 children (11% aged 10 to 17) saying they did not cope overall with changes due to Coronavirus despite many of the restrictions being lifted when the survey was taken. [4] 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.

Mark Russell, our Chief Executive said:

‘It is desperately worrying that children’s well-being is in this state of decline, with huge numbers unhappy with school and thousands of girls struggling with the way they look.

‘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. School is a vital setting to influence children’s well-being, 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 roll-out 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 well-being catastrophe unless urgent action is taken.’

The research highlights the importance of ensuring that children feel listened to with 1 in 8 (13%) 10 to 17 year olds unhappy with how much they were listened to at school. [6]

The charity is calling for better support for schools in the form of a faster rollout of mental health support teams to provide a listening ear if a young person needs to talk to someone, national measurement of children’s well-being to understand how they are feeling and know how to respond, and a widening of the eligibility criteria for free school meals to all children on Universal Credit, making sure children in struggling families avoid hunger at school.

Media enquiries

For more information, please call our Media & PR Team on 020 7841 4422 or email media@childrenssociety.org.uk. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 0207 841 4407.

Sources

  • [1] Findings from the Understanding Society survey, which is a key source for the report. Understanding Society is a longitudinal survey, conducted by the University of Essex, covering a large representative sample of households in the UK. The most recent survey data available are for 2019–20. In 2019–20, the youth survey was completed by 2,100 children (aged 10 to 15) in the UK. The estimate of the number of children unhappy with school in the UK (562,000 10–15 year olds) was derived by applying the proportion of children found to be unhappy with school (12%) in the 2019–20 Understanding Society survey to the most recent mid-year population estimates for 2019 of children aged 10 to 15 in the UK (ONS, 2021). The estimate presented is rounded down to the nearest thousand. Population estimates for 2019 were used as the most recent data from Understanding Society are for 2019–20. Our household survey found 1 in 7 (14%) children (aged 10 to 17) were unhappy with school in 2022.
  • [2] Findings from our 2022 household survey, which is a key data source for The Good Childhood Report. The most recent survey was undertaken between May and June 2022, and collected responses from a sample of over 2,000 children (aged 10 to 17) and their parent or carer from across the UK.
  • [3] Findings from the latest Understanding Society survey for which data are available (2019–20). The estimate of the number of girls aged 10 to 15 in the UK population who might be unhappy with their appearance (411,000) was calculated by applying the proportion of girls unhappy with their appearance (18%) in the 2019–20 Understanding Society survey to the most recent mid-year population estimate for 2019 of girls aged 10 to 15 in the UK (mid-year population estimates for 2019 were used as the most recent data from Understanding Society are for 2019–20). The estimate presented is rounded down to the nearest thousand.
  • [4] Findings from our 2022 annual household survey. This includes questions for children and their parent or carer about several current issues, including the Coronavirus pandemic. Parents and carers, and children were also asked to indicate on a 0 to 10 scale how well they had coped overall with changes to daily life because of the pandemic. Overall, 11% of children had low scores (0 to 4) suggesting they had not coped well with changes because of the pandemic.
  • [5) Findings from the latest Understanding Society survey for which data are available (2019–20). The scores presented are marginal values from a linear regression analysis, which included five independent variables (gender, age, whether or not the young person had a long term health problem or disability, ethnic group and income quintile). Children (aged 10 to 15) in lower income households scored 7.0 out of 10 compared to 7.8 out of 10 among those in higher income households.
  • [6] Based on responses from children whose parent or carer said they were in full-time education in our household survey 2022.

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