Over the past ten years, we have asked 60,000 children in the UK about what matters to them in their lives
The Good Childhood Report 2015 is the fourth annual report that we have produced in collaboration with the University of York.
It comes from the most extensive and coherent national research programme on children’s subjective well-being in the world.
This year's findings
Our research over the past ten years has generated a wealth of insights into why there are differences in children’s well-being.
Personality accounts for some of these differences but is only part of the picture. Alongside this, we have found a range of individual family factors, life events, activities and behaviours to play a role.
This year our research presents findings from a new international well-being study, which reveals problems children in England face at school and with their self image.
How do children in England compare with children in other countries?
Our report looks at the current state of children’s well-being and how children in England compare to those in 14 other countries around the world.
A new international study ranks England bottom for a number of aspects of children’s well-being, including those relating to school life, bullying and, especially for teenage girls, feelings about themselves.
Click on the areas of well-being below and see how children in England fare in comparison to the other 14 countries studied.
Page 50 of our full report shows the results for all 30 aspects of life that children were asked about in the study. England was in the bottom half of the table for 24 of these.
* The teachers, body image, appearance and self confidence rankings order countries by the proportion of children with low levels of wellbeing in each domain, from lowest (1) to highest (15). The rankings in the main report are different since they are ordered by children’s mean wellbeing in each country, rather than proportions of children with low wellbeing.
In the international study, children in England ranked 14th for satisfaction with life as a whole, only ahead of South Korea.
In line with our previous research we have found that as children move into adolescence, their well-being is likely to decline, with a downward trend from the age of 10 upwards.
As illustrated in the chart below, whilst 2.4% of respondents aged 10 had low levels of life satisfaction, this increased to 8.2% of respondents aged 16.
Overall, we found that most children are happy with their lives but 5-10% – depending on the measure used – have low well-being at any one time. Some groups of children raise particular concerns, including those not living with their family who could be in residential or foster care.
Children not living with their family are almost six times more likely to have low levels of life satisfaction as children living with their families
Children in England are unhappier with their school life than children in almost all of the other 14 countries taking part in the international study.
England ranked in the bottom third of countries for liking going to school as well as satisfaction with their school experience in general.
There was a sharp decline between Year 6 (10-11 year olds) and Year 8 (12-13 year olds) in satisfaction with most aspects of school asked about.
Almost twice as many 10-11 year olds totally agreed that they like going to school compared to 12-13 year olds.
Compared to other countries in the survey, children in England tended to report poor relationships with their teachers.
England ranked 14th for satisfaction with teachers and 14th for children feeling that they were treated fairly by teachers. Children in England also reported relatively low satisfaction with their relationships with other children in their class, ranking 12th.
Our research has highlighted that children who have been bullied are much more likely to have low well-being than other children.
Children in England experienced the highest levels of emotional bullying out of all of the 15 countries surveyed, with 50% of children reporting being left out by their classmates, and over a third (38%) of children having been hit by other children, in the last month.
Children who have been bullied four or more times in the last three months are six times more likely to have low well-being than children who haven’t been bullied.
Boys are 50% more likely than girls to have been hit in the last month.
Girls are 40% more likely than boys to be left out by classmates than boys in the last month.
One of the most striking findings from the survey was that girls in Year 8 (aged 12-13) were considerably more likely than boys of the same age to be unhappy with their appearance, body and self-confidence. They were also unhappier with these aspects than both girls and boys in Year 6 (aged 10-11).
This trend was not the same in the other 14 countries taking part in the international study, suggesting that this gender variation is not inevitable and could be addressed through social change.
Girls in England ranked bottom in terms of happiness with their body confidence, appearance and self-confidence compared to girls in every other country surveyed, with the exception of South Korea.
Percentage of children unhappy with their APPEARANCE
Our research shows that girls aged 12-13 are most likely to feel unhappy with their appearance.
Percentage of children unhappy with their BODY
Our research shows that girls aged 12-13 are most likely to feel unhappy about their body image.
Percentage of children unhappy with their SELF-CONFIDENCE
Our research shows that girls aged 12-13 are most likely to feel unhappy with their self-confidence.
The Good Childhood Report, which presents findings from a new international study of 15 countries around the world, places England close to the bottom of the table for the likelihood of children having low levels of wellbeing in several areas of their life, including for children’s feelings about school and themselves, and their experiences of bullying.
We have seen that girls are more likely to have low wellbeing than boys when it comes to how satisfied they are with their body, appearance and self-confidence. We also know that children who experience frequent bullying are more likely to have low well-being.
Although we know that most children are positive about their lives, the report has highlighted the vulnerability of certain groups of young people, particularly those who are in care or looked after by people other than their families. Half of children who don’t live with their family, for example those who are ‘looked after’ in residential or foster care, faced low levels of well-being.
We also know that children’s well-being is linked to their mental health, we need to act now to improve children’s happiness in the present, and to prevent the emergence of mental health problems that can last a lifetime.
What needs to happen
There's a lot that the Government can do to improve the well-being of children in England. Here are some of our recommendations.
Counselling in schools
School-based counselling services could go some way to tackling the low levels of children’s satisfaction with their school experience, as well as the high prevalence of bullying and unhappiness with self, experienced by many girls in England.
Counselling in school is currently a legal requirement in Wales and Northern Ireland and should become a legal requirement in England as well.
Mental health funding
Spending some of the Government’s £1.25 billion investment on improving levels of well-being among children could improve mental health for young people. The Children’s Society is asking the Government to ring-fence funding for children’s mental health and well-being.
Data regarding how many children are experiencing mental health problems is out of date.
The Department of Health needs to include questions on children’s subjective well-being as part of its survey into children’s mental health.
You can read more about how we can monitor and improve children's well-being and our priorities for future research in Chapter 3 of our full report.
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