British pupils feel less angst

17th October 2003 at 01:00
British pupils have fewer social hang-ups at school than their peers in any other developed country, a major international study revealed this week.

Despite the nation's reputation for spawning angst-ridden music acts from the Smiths to Radiohead, pupils here are the least likely to feel like outcasts or outsiders.

The findings come from an analysis by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development of questionnaires completed by 315,000 15-year-olds from 42 countries. However, ministers and teachers should not celebrate too much: the figures still show that one in six youngsters here feels lonely at school. It is just that in other countries, the situation is worse.

Pupils were asked whether they agreed with phrases summing up their feelings, including "I feel like an outsider", "I feel lonely" and "I feel awkward".

They were asked whether "I make friends easily", "I feel like I belong" and "other students seem to like me", described their situation at school.

Overall, 17 per cent of UK youngsters came up with answers suggesting feelings of isolation. This contrasted with 41 per cent in Korea and Poland, 38 per cent in Japan and 32 per cent in Belgium.

Britain came out best on this figure among the 27 OECD member countries and behind only Brazil among 15 non-members included in the survey.

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said that possibly the findings reflected the effectiveness, for example, of years of initiatives to tackle bullying in schools.

"Right the way through the last century, there has been an emphasis in Britain on schools as centres of their communities. Perhaps this is why students feel a greater sense of belonging here."

The findings are published a month after The TES revealed research from Edinburgh university showing that teenagers in England, Scotland and Wales are more positive about their school experiences than they were 20 years ago.

But the OECD research raised other issues of concern. Pupils were also asked whether they had missed a day at school, "skipped" individual lessons or been late for class in the past two weeks.

The UK scored fairly well in this truancy index, despite the Government's lack of success in cutting unauthorised absence from school in recent years.

On average 15 per cent of pupils were classed as poor attenders in the UK, compared with 34 per cent in Spain, according to the research, based on questionnaires sent out under the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment study in 2000.

But the influence of social class on poor attendance was higher in this country than anywhere else. UK pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds were 74 per cent more likely to be classed as poor attenders than their middle-class peers.

"Student engagement at school - a sense of belonging and participation" www.oecd.org

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