The unhappy generation

16th February 2007 at 00:00
Damning report prompts call for UK pupils to be given happiness and well-being lessons

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

social skills, it was claimed this week.

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

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

The UK came bottom overall, with the United States second last. Top was the Netherlands, followed by Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Spain. This country fared particularly badly in the social categories. Asked whether they found their peers "kind and helpful", only 43 per cent of UK children agreed. The international average was 66 per cent.

UK children also rated themselves as less healthy, more "awkward" and generally less satisfied than the international average. Comfortably top for binge drinking, the UK also ranked fifth for children having been involved in a fight in the past year.

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... that children learn to relate to one another, and also to adults."

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

The Government said some of the Unicef data was based on a survey conducted six years ago. 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 appears to have been penalised for its low post-16 staying on rates.

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