Why the `sober and responsible' shall inherit the earth

Teens are increasingly studious and risk-averse, research finds

William Stewart

England's teenagers are more studious and ambitious than ever before and are taught overwhelmingly in "good" schools with effective discipline, according to a major government study.

The research into the lives and schooling of a representative sample of thousands of 13- and 14-year-olds paints a positive picture of secondary education today. It shows that pupils have more opportunities for studying in school after lessons than a decade ago and are praised, cared for and motivated by their teachers.

Teenagers are more likely to want to go to university and are less likely to drink and indulge in "risky" behaviour. Parents seem happy, too: at least 90 per cent think their child's school is good or better and are satisfied with progress, according to the findings from the second Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE).

"Thirteen-year-olds and their parents are, on the whole, positive about their school, home and personal lives," the Department for Education report concludes. "They appear more likely to make responsible choices than 10 years ago.this is a sober, responsible generation of young people."

But the study also reveals the pressures placed on pupils, with significant numbers seeing private tutors outside school. It finds that two-fifths of the teenagers have been bullied in the past year and that they are less likely to socialise with friends and more likely to play computer games than their counterparts a decade ago.

The survey involved interviews with 13,100 Year 9 pupils, who will be tracked for seven years.

They are significantly more positive about discipline in their schools than the cohort of Year 9s interviewed in 2004 for the first LSYPE. Just 12 per cent think discipline in their school is "not strict enough", compared with 16 per cent a decade ago.

The proportion who think their school is "too strict" has also declined, from 24 to 17 per cent, and the number who think discipline is "about right" has risen from 60 to 71 per cent.

The poorer a school's overall Ofsted rating, the more pupils are likely to be concerned by lax discipline. A quarter of teenagers in schools rated inadequate believe their school is "not strict enough", compared with just 8 per cent of those attending outstanding schools.

Overall, the proportion of teenagers likely to report other pupils for "causing trouble in most or all of their classes" has fallen from 32 to 23 per cent in 10 years.

Less than a third (32 per cent) of the Year 9 pupils have tried alcohol, down from 55 per cent in 2004. More of the teenagers have positive relationships with their parents, participation in sport has increased, and the proportion who say they have played truant in the past year is down to 9 per cent from 15 per cent a decade ago.

The overwhelming majority (93 per cent) agree that "school work is worth doing".

"Young people generally report that they enjoy school and work as hard as they can," the study says. "This positive attitude to school can also be seen in their aspirations."

Richard de Visser, a specialist in young people's health and behaviour at the University of Sussex, believes a range of factors are contributing to changes in teenage behaviour.

"There are other options for socialising now," Dr de Visser said. "You don't have to sit in a park drinking, you don't have to go to a pub, you can go to a cafe.

"You don't even have to be face-to-face - my own son will use Snapchat lying on his bed. There is a sense maybe that alcohol use and heavy drinking isn't as appealing as it may have been. If you look at the death of Amy Winehouse, there is more media coverage of the downside. But there are still plenty of young people who do drink, and drink excessively.

"The perceived importance of a university education might have increased because of broader socio-economic factors and the news about the economic downturn."

The survey also uncovers a big rise in the number of schools giving pupils the time and facilities for study outside normal lessons - up from 56 to 74 per cent in a decade.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "These findings provide further evidence that we have a very good education system which is benefiting from the hard work of our profession. There is always scope for further development but it should never be forgotten that we are working from a very strong base."

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William Stewart

William Stewart

William Stewart is News editor at Tes

Find me on Twitter @wstewarttes

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