The kids are not alright

The UK comes bottom in a damning Unicef survey rating children's happiness and well-being

A STUDY depicting British children as the unhappiest in the developed world is a signal to politicians to give more priority to developing pupils'

social skills, it was claimed this week.

Schools must be encouraged to prioritise these aspects from an early age, educationists said, after the research found that adolescents here rate lowest when it comes to getting on with one another.

This country was also top for under-age drinking and sex, while more secondary pupils claim to smoke and take cannabis than their counterparts in almost all of the 21 countries surveyed.

The findings came in an amalgamation by the children's charity Unicef of several previous studies, mainly covering secondary pupils. Many of the social indicators were based on a 2001 survey.

It rated countries in six categories, including children's material and educational well-being and their own views on their happiness.

The United Kingdom came bottom overall, with the United States second last.

Top was the Netherlands, followed by Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Spain.

However, Rebecca Smith, assistant international co-ordinator of the Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children Study, compiled by Edinburgh University's Child and Adolescent Health Research Unit, said the data used in the report was entirely English - it did not include Scottish or Welsh data.

She conceded that the figures were still relevant for Scotland, although the findings regarding education might vary given the different education systems north and south of the border.

Top for binge drinking, the UK ranked fifth for the likelihood of its children to have been involved in a fight in the past year.

Kathleen Marshall, Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People, said: "Scotland cannot distance itself from this UK-wide picture. I believe we have some particular strengths - for example, our sense of justice and injustice which has supported the outcry about the treatment of asylum-seeking families.

"But we also have other failings, such as the lack of self-confidence our children seem to have, instilled by a culture of 'put downs'."

Alan Smithers, professor of education at Buckingham University, said: "The most concerning finding relates to the way that children here regard each other. As well as learning to read and add up, we have to ensure in nursery education and in primary education that children learn to relate to one another, and also to adults."

Anthony Seldon, head of Wellington College, Berkshire, which has introduced lessons in happiness, said the study underlined how notions of student well-being were not "fluffy and trivial".

Some will query the study's methodology. On "educational well-being", the UK came 17th out of 21, despite faring better than average in the reading, maths and science tests used as one of the three criteria. It has been penalised for low post-16 staying on rates.

UK children came fourth-bottom on "material well-being" because relative, rather than absolute, poverty indicators were used. The Government said children's well-being was "at the heart of (its) policy-making", adding that rates of teenage smoking, cannabis use and pregnancy were falling.

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