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Rethinking success in school

Our latest wellbeing research shows that pupils are less happy with school than a decade ago. Through lack of funding, teacher shortages and a one size fits all approach to success, some students are feeling frustrated and forgotten. We asked Eamon, 19, what he thinks of the current school system and how he thinks things should change. 


school children

Girl looking glum in class with books

Intended suffering

“An argument I have heard is that school is supposed to be years of torture to prove you can then handle a less torturous job for even more years.” 

“I wholeheartedly disagree with this sentiment. This belief of suffering makes me pause for a whole array of different reasons. At the core of it is the assumption that school was meant to be this way, that the purpose of school is to harm as a test.” 

Mental health and wellbeing in children

“So, what are the usual views on suffering, and why does this version feel so wrong to me? Suffering is usually advertised as being testing. A common view is that it is through that adversity that strengthens a person's character. Therefore, schools should have some suffering.”

“I do believe education should challenge students, because challenge is what births intrigue and intrigue is what lights passion. But suffering feels far too much like torture. Torture isn't a test, it's a something designed to break you, it's inescapable.”

“I recall a few years ago my hatred of the cycle of school. The erosion of my escape as homework started to take over."

success in other pats of life other than school

Pigeonholing success

“But let’s take a step back. What are the metrics of success? School ends up becoming the core metric of success, but I don’t think it’s a fair one for young people.” 

“There's no doubt academic achievement should be taken into account. The ability to learn is impressive. But there should be other ways to measure how well someone is doing.”  

“So, what should they be? I have two suggestions. First is friends and family. To have a close party of friends and allies is a meaningful achievement. It shows you can be a good friend and a great team player.”  

boy cleans glasses with dad

Giving opportunities to children and young people

“Second is creating new opportunities. This gives young people something they can call their own. Working with The Children's Society, I feel like I have achieved something. It is something I can call my own, it is something that has breathed purpose into me. It's a healthy metric of success as it is something that can really last.”

“Like school, it is something that has helped me develop my abilities. But unlike school, my work here is something I am proud of, because it has left a true impact on others. Having more opportunities, like this one at The Children’s Society is something that I feel could help young people’s decline in wellbeing.” 

girl wearing hoodie smiles and takes a selfie

The Good Childhood Report

Our Good Childhood Report 2023 shows the latest trends in children's wellbeing. Our research seeks to understand how young people feel about different aspects of their lives. This year we've found that school, friendships and appearance continue to cause the greatest dissatisfaction in adolescence.

School unfair

School felt like the uncaring machine I dreaded. School felt like the uncaring machine I dreaded.

Crying out for help

“Teachers are being stretched thin. Schools are underfunded, with no-one to help them. They often have to juggle multiple whole classes, planning, marking, assisting their pupils during tasks. It truly is a day and night job.” 

“Pupils can see that, and it becomes difficult to ask for help, especially in higher levels of secondary school. You don’t want to feel like you are taking away help that could be given to others.”  

“Another thing is that classes are just too big, Teachers inevitably have to focus on the group rather than the individuals."

Picking positives 

“My best memories are of a specialist school. Class sizes were smaller. It was here that I learnt the true power of school. When there is less pressure on teachers, they can thrive, and by the same coin, so can the students.” 

I believe school is a system that can be fixed and bettered.

“Having students and teachers that really feel like they understand me really made school better. It felt like teamwork between the students and the teacher.”

Author: Edward Herbert