Why Is Our Government Making British Children Unhappy?


England is the second worst nation in the world for child happiness, according to a recent study from the Children’s Society, coming second only to South Korea. Why is this? Is it the fault of parents, our government, or are schools simply failing in their own right?

The answer is our government. It has failed to deal with bullying – especially homophobic bullying – and allowed teenagers to become obsessed with body image. Although the statement that ‘England is the second worst nation in the world for child happiness’ is problematic, as the study was only conducted on 15 countries and English children were actually more happy than others with some aspects of life, the issues raised in the survey still need to be addressed.

The government treats the education system like a factory, producing excellent prototype students who are prepared for university or the world of work (but often destined for further education). This factory fails on many levels to actually focus on the individual talents and needs of children. After all, schools are judged by league tables, rather than individual students’ talents or pupil welfare.

When faced with reports of child unhappiness due to bullying a Government spokesman stated that:

Bullying of any kind is unacceptable. That is why we are providing more than £7m to help schools tackle bullying head on.

When will the government learn that just throwing money at something is not the way to solve an issue? There are loads of organisations out there to tackle these issues which are well funded. However funding is not the issue. The problem is that teachers, and schools in general, don’t know how to confront bullying. Stonewall’s 2012 schools report states that only half of schools teach that homophobic bullying is wrong, even less in faith schools at 37%, and three in five gay students say teachers who witness homophobic bullying never intervene.

Meanwhile 99% of gay students report hearing homophobic remarks in school, and 55% experience homophobic bullying, of which 46% have experienced symptoms consistent with depression as a result. In fact, since 2007, homophobic bullying has actually become the most severe type in schools, even ahead of bullying related to weight or race. New schemes of training and awareness need to be implemented; teaching is not just about delivering a lesson in History or English, but rather moulding individuals.

Many schools fail to tackle bullying and many do not even include it within their PSHE syllabuses. If the government is failing to implement active measures against bullying, then schools are left in the dark. The government just pushes money at the issue and hopes someone else will solve it. They need to take a more proactive approach; they could, for example, make education about bullying compulsory within the PSHE syllabus and mandate that more time in teacher training be spent on ensuring teachers are able to teach ‘values’ as well as ‘skills’ and are able to deal with bullying. We cannot blame schools when the government is not doing enough to reform the education system and help schools tackle the bullying problem.

Bullying aside, the report also looked at body image. I remember watching Tyger Drew Honey’s (who plays Jake in Outnumbered) BBC3 Documentary on this issue. What it showed is that obsession with body image (ranging from arm muscles, fashion and shaving genitals), has caused much child unhappiness, as many children who don’t fit this ‘image’ feel inadequate and unwanted. In May 2015, the Daily Mail reported that children as young as eight are unhappy with their bodies due to this obsession with body image. Why are we creating this idea that what someone looks like on the outside is more important than who they are on the inside? I myself have met some not so nice people who fit the ideal look and many excellent individuals who do not fit such an image. The ‘perfect’ person is not clean shaven, with Calvin Klein boxers, a Topman shirt, chinos and an 11-stone toned physique.

There is no link between someone’s image and their personality, or ability to be a good friend. Yet we make people who don’t fit this image feel inadequate. We need to stop the obsession. Yet, once again, the government does nothing. It fails to regulate media and fashion outlets that promote the ‘perfect‘ image, and consistently fails to address the issue with PSHE syllabuses by its continued conspicuous absence (even though the 2013 Young Minds Enquiry established clear links between body-image pressure with both depression and eating disorders). The government could put forward new regulations on advertising outlets in order to promote diversity in their selection of models, yet they do not, even though recent studies, including one conducted by the University of Kent, have shown that ‘average-sized models‘ could be better for business.

The final issue – perhaps the most crucial of all – is that the government is promoting ‘exam focused’ education, where all that is important is gaining 5 A*-C at GCSE, including English and Maths, and then AAB at A-Level for a Russell Group university place. From my personal experience, those who are excellent at, for example, art or music but struggle with maths are often made to put their talents to one side. Equally, those achieving top grades have stress piled on, to ensure that schools keep their places in league tables. My old school had a motto plastered on its roof, saying this: ‘These are the best days of your life, make memories’. Sadly, however, the current schooling system piles on stress and pressure, making these ‘memories’ far from idyllic. I remember sitting A2 exams and feeling constantly stressed for months. The education system’s focus on producing good grades is putting students’ well-being at risk. The individual needs of pupils are not catered for; indeed PSHE and RS are not even compulsory on some school syllabuses. As the Young Minds 2013 Inquiry stated:

Mental health and emotional well-being are generally not covered very well, if at all, in PSHE lessons.

In a race to reach the intellectual level of the top-performing nations, the government has forgotten children and sacrificed their well-being for grades. What a shame.

So what can be done? The government needs to wake up and smell the roses. They must take a more active approach to bullying, tackle the ‘body image’ phenomenon and introduce more social elements into mainstream education. Until they do, the UK’s problem with bullying and children’s self-confidence will remain.


Discussion3 Comments

  1. avatar
    Gregory the Great

    “Is it the fault of parents, our government, or are schools simply failing in their own right?

    The answer is our government.”

    It’s a shame the author didn’t feel the need to expound upon their arrival at that conclusion

  2. avatar

    Interesting article, here are my thoughts on it that you might like to consider. Do feel free to respond to or offer a counter position to anything I have said.
    “England is the second worst nation in the world for child happiness” “The answer is our government. It has failed to deal with bullying – especially homophobic bullying”
    As bad as homophobic bullying is, I don’t imagine that it would underpin the idea that England is the second worst nation for child happiness as you seem to be implying, considering the fact that only around 1% of the population is homosexual. Meaning that less than 1% will actually be effected as it isn’t even a given that homosexuals will be bullied during their schooling years.
    “After all, schools are judged by league tables, rather than individual students’ talents or pupil welfare.”
    I think that it is actually quite fair to judge schools based on league tables. Generally schools with successful league table results are going to have pupil welfare relative to that anyway. Furthermore the entire system of education is supposed to be geared towards developing individuals academically and league tables reflect that. Parents send their kids off to school with the knowledge that the purpose of it all is so their child/children can academically develop and gain essential knowledge and skills applicable to them throughout their lives. By changing or abolishing league tables, you are essentially modifying the whole sphere of education that has gone hand in hand with academia throughout the history of civilisation. League tables provide more reason to encourage competitive educational success which mirrors the competitive environment of the real world. Pupil welfare is never going to get left in the ditch because the standards set by league tables would be unreachable without a certain amount of consideration given to welfare in the first place. And as far as talents go, the ones within the sphere of academia would be factored into league tables anyway so there is no issue. The ones that aren’t would not be caused by the educational institution in question and so it should not naturally reflect that extra talent within the league table as it rightfully does not as it stands. So where is the problem?
    “When will the government learn that just throwing money at something is not the way to solve an issue?”
    There are very specific and practical limitations on what government is capable of doing in this kind of a scenario unless there is a necessary call for intervention. You advocate a syllabus altering approach in order to tackle the issue of bullying, however as previously mentioned you have overstated the problem and furthermore there is no guarantee that your ideal will work as a practical solution to the issue. The primary reason as to why bullying happens is because young children are mentally underdeveloped and have not matured to the level of adult world understanding in the respect that although it is possible for them to acknowledge their actions are ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’, they do not understand the level of structurally created responsibility distilled upon them as they get older. So until they develop the understanding that bullying has severe consequences and that it is not acceptable for them to take part in such an activity, they will not care who is affected. The point being is that children will sometimes act ‘bad’ for the sake of being bad. Maturing to the point of acknowledging the level of responsibility you have for your own actions as an individual is something that comes with age. The worry with introducing syllabus changes and teaching underdeveloped brains about bullying is that you are effectively telling them what power they have. When you ban words and behaviours with children, sometimes it will only encourage them to do and say the ‘bad’ things more. Kids thrive on the idea of rebellion and if you don’t give bullying a place to begin with, you won’t end up feeding the problem. The fact of the matter is that whether a programme change initiative will work is up in the air and there is a cloud of uncertainty surrounding it. Government won’t do anything about an issue if there isn’t enough evidence to show that the solution to the issue would solve the problem, you haven’t provided enough to demonstrate that this will be the case and so you can’t legitimately blame government and expect them to act upon this when there is no clear path to take. Either way it seems that you are overly fixated on blaming government as when they do support the anti-bullying initiative in the only way which can be reasonably expected of them (through funding) you are against that and still demand more.
    “We cannot blame schools when the government is not doing enough to reform the education system and help schools tackle the bullying problem.”
    Teachers are the ones who are supposed to have the specialist expertise in dealing with children (which includes bullying) and have the practical capacity to tackle the issue. So if there was ever going to be some expectancy on anyone, it would naturally be schools who should take that responsibility. Would you like the government to tuck you into bed at night too? How do you know where to draw the line? This has been left unaddressed. Ultimately bullying can never truly be eradicated as it is mostly just the cause of what happens when underdeveloped children interact with each other. And as bizarre as this may sound to you, bullying isn’t always necessarily a negative thing. Sometimes it is useful for children to develop thick skin and to learn that the real world can be somewhat adversarial.
    “There is no link between someone’s image and their personality”
    When you say ‘image’, are you talking about what a specific individual looks like, or are you referring to their wider image which would include things such as clothes and tattoos? Because you used the term image, I’m going to assume that you are including the wider usage rather than just the individual features that one person could have (especially as these aren’t usually negatively judged on the whole in society anyway). In which case, I would be inclined to disagree, people often wear certain clothes and mould themselves in a particular way in order to reflect who they are. The entire point of tattoos or any skin marking for that matter is specifically that, they tell a story about a person and people get them because they mean something to the individual. In effect, they directly link someone’s image to their personality.
    “Yet, once again, the government does nothing. It fails to regulate media and fashion outlets that promote the ‘perfect’ image”
    Are you suggesting that we should coerce media and fashion outlets to conform to standards which you feel are acceptable? I think you are a bit too entitled with your view here as ultimately what you are saying is just an abstract complaint with no objectivity. To then go as far as to blame the government because they don’t enforce your viewpoint is a very unrealistic stance to take. This is a political discussion with varying viewpoints, the government isn’t ‘failing’ (as you put it) to do anything, it is just not doing what you say as it doesn’t agree with your stance. Personally, I feel that it is a great positive of society that we are provided with aspirational models. What you are essentially advocating when you talk about ‘diversity in models’ and ‘average sized models’ is a culture of obesity. Which is a real problem with health costs and NHS ramifications. Bigger models would send out the wrong sort of message to people, it is important to give individuals something to strive towards and to tell people that it doesn’t matter what they do or how they look with their bodies is an irresponsible trend distil in them. I would much rather take a little insecurity over running the risk of having serious health problems and costs to the country. You might say that the changes won’t have that sort of an impact but ultimately it would be encouraging an irresponsible sort of trend and there is still the issue of explaining why you believe government would be justified in telling the individual industry sectors how to do their job.
    “The final issue – perhaps the most crucial of all – is that the government is promoting ‘exam focused’ education”
    It should be promoting exam focused education realistically as successful exam results are what is required to progress educationally. I’m not exactly sure what the alternative to this is, you didn’t make it clear if you had one. Yes, exams can be stressful, however they are important and give off the essential life lesson that if you work hard, you will achieve and be successful. You mentioned that PSHE is not compulsory on some school syllabuses however even if it was, education would still essentially be exam focused. It is not governmental black magic which creates this, it is just simply a matter of how education will work if exams or any form of assessment is done. Children are going to naturally want to succeed and parents of the children will want their kids to succeed and so when the time comes to assess their ability, those children are going to be academically pushed and they might feel pressure from that. How is this the fault of government?

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