Pisa: UK teenagers 'less happy than in other countries'

Almost one in 10 students in the UK reported always being sad in the latest Pisa international education research

Claudia Civinini

Pisa 2018: The latest international research has raised fears about student wellbeing in the UK

Students in the UK are less satisfied with their lives than their peers in many other countries, according to the newly published report of the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).

Only 53 per cent of students in the UK reported being satisfied with their life, lower than the average across Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, which stands at 67 per cent.

Of the 15-year-olds included in the international survey, 26 per cent in the UK said they were not satisfied with their life – compared with countries such as Albania, Kazakhstan or the Netherlands where less than 6 per cent of students said this.

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Background: What is the Pisa test and what does it measure?

Almost one in 10 (8.7 per cent of) students in the UK said they always felt sad, above the OECD average of 6.5 per cent.

Boys were more likely than girls to say they were satisfied with their lives across all countries, but the gender gap in life satisfaction was wider in the UK, and in other countries such as Korea, Poland, Slovenia and Sweden.

Pisa: Student wellbeing fears

The finding has prompted concern among some UK education figures.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It is clear that many young people feel under great pressure in a society in which the stakes often seem very high to them in terms of achieving their goals.

“We must do more to understand the complex factors which affect wellbeing and ensure schools and colleges are sufficiently funded to be able to provide appropriate pastoral support.”

 The NAHT headteachers' union defined the statistics on student wellbeing as "nothing to be proud of".

Carole Willis, chief executive of the National Foundation for Educational Research,  also said that the wellbeing results require attention.

“What requires further analysis and consideration is pupils’ perception of their wellbeing. While most pupils were happy, pupils in England were more likely to have negative feelings than pupils across the OECD countries, which raises questions which need further investigation,” she said.

One of the factors impacting negatively on life satisfaction was bullying. Students with the least exposure to bullying reported higher life satisfaction scores, averaging 7.47 compared with 6.35 for students with the greatest exposure to bullying.

In the UK, more than one in four students reported being bullied at least a few times a month – again, slightly higher than the OECD average of 22.7 per cent.

The factor most positively influencing life satisfaction was a sense of belonging at school.

Pisa boss Andreas Schleicher said that, on this measure, the UK “doesn’t do so well”.

Students who reported a higher sense of belonging were more likely to report a higher life satisfaction: 8.05 compared with 5.85 for students who said they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at school.

The Pisa report highlights that a sense of belonging is also predictive of educational outcomes, especially for students from a disadvantaged background.

The report states: "On average across OECD countries, a one-unit increase in the index of sense of belonging at school...was associated with an increase of four score points in reading, after accounting for the socioeconomic profile of students and schools. In Jordan, Kosovo, Malaysia and the Philippines, this increase was greater than 20 score points."

Only in the United States did students with a stronger sense of belonging score lower than did students with a weaker sense of belonging. 

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Claudia Civinini

Claudia Civinini

Find me on Twitter @claudiacivinini

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