Headlines: April 27th, 2004

A study published today shows that young people’s well-being drops drastically at secondary school, with significant effects on their personal development. The research was carried out by the think tank The New Economics Foundation in partnership with Nottingham City Council, which has been praised for its part in the survey.The study looked at two measures of well being in over 1,000 youngsters, life satisfaction and personal development. Previous studies have focused only on life satisfaction, but the report’s author, Nic Marks, believes personal development, which is related to being curious and engaging in challenging and absorbing activities, is important for people’s overall ability to cope well with the challenges of life and is directly related to physical health in later life.

The study shows that while 65 per cent of primary age children rate their school experience as positive the figure drops to 27 per cent at secondary school. In its small sample of schools, the study found that the academically top-performing primary school had significantly lower well-being than other schools surveyed. That, the report says, raises the question of whether there are trade-offs between academic success and promoting curiosity and personal development.
The study also shows that well-being falls substantially as children get older and that girls suffer a significantly greater drop in the personal development measure than boys. Victims of crime have significantly lower well-being but the fear of crime, does not appear to affect the well-being of young people. The findings also show that children who are unhappy at home are three times more likely to have lower well-being than average.

Nic Marks says the idea that government should be concerned with people’s well-being or happiness is no longer frivolous and there has been a surge of interest in this area. The Local Government Act 2000 gave authorities the power to promote and improve well-being, environmental, social or economic, in their area, but many have struggled with how this should be used. The report claims its findings, although from a relatively small study, shed light on policy areas from schooling to crime, and suggest that policy and measuring policy success should be based on personal well-being outcomes.

It says possible implications for policies include the worrying level of children at risk of depression, which suggests changes to the curriculum to incorporate skills and tools for well-being. The huge drop in satisfaction from primary to secondary school, the report says, suggests the way children are being taught needs to be re-evaluated. It calls, too, for increasing opportunities for sport in school and the community and says the continued loss of playing fields and open spaces and the reduction in sport at school have wider negative effects and need to be reversed urgently, Finally it says the drop in well-being associated with being a victim of crime, rather than the fear of crime, means policies need to be geared toward support for young victims of crime.

Davy Jones of the Audit Commission said Nottingham City Council was one of the first local authorities to carry out a profile of quality of life and services in its area. “This is a brave move by Nottingham City Council. It will provide a valuable insight into life in the area, and be a strong basis for improving their work for the children and young people of the city,” he added.