In a rare piece of good news for ministers and teachers, an analysis of official government surveys over the past 15 years shows rising approval ratings by teenagers asked to assess their secondary schools.
Successive questionnaires since the mid-1980s have asked more than 100,000 youngsters aged 16 and 17 whether they agreed with three statements: school has given me confidence to make decisions; school has done little to prepare me for life; school has taught me things useful in a job.
On all three questions, the proportion giving answers reflecting well on their school rose sharply in the late 1980s, followed by a steady upward trend throughout the 1990s. The proportion of pupils in English secondaries agreeing with the first statement rose from 54 per cent in 1986 to 70 per cent in 1999. Welsh results were similar, while Scottish students recorded even bigger improvements.
Linda Croxford, of Edinburgh university, put forward the data, which covers the 13 years to 1999, from early findings of a three-year study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
"Young people throughout Britain are becoming increasingly satisfied with their school experience," she said.
"Overall, youngsters from independent schools were more satisfied than those from state schools. But grammar-school pupils gave lower approval ratings than those from comprehensives."
Laura Murtagh, a Year 12 pupil from Archbishop Grimshaw comprehensive in Solihull, said: "A lot of what we're learning is useful in practical terms.
And independent study in the sixth form really gives you confidence."