Children wellbeing: what parents and schools can do

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Teenagers who feel part of a school community and enjoy good relations with their parents and teachers are more likely to perform better academically and be happier with their lives, according to the first OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) PISA assessment of students’ well-being.

The findings are based on a survey of 540,000 students in 72 participating countries and economies who also completed the main OECD PISA 2015 test on science, mathematics and reading.

Many students are very anxious about school work and tests and the analysis reveals this is not related to the number of school hours or the frequency of tests but with how supportive they feel their teachers and schools to be: on average across OECD countries, 59% of students reported they often worry that taking a test will be difficult, and 66% reported feeling stressed about poor grades. Some 55% of students say they are very anxious for a test even if they are well prepared. In all countries, girls reported greater schoolwork-related anxiety than boys; and anxiety about schoolwork, homework and tests is negatively related to performance.

Teachers play a big role in creating the conditions for students’ well-being at school and governments should not define the role of teachers solely through the number of instruction hours. Happier students tend to report positive relations with their teachers. Students in schools where life satisfaction is above the national average reported a higher level of support from their teacher than students in schools where life satisfaction is below average.

Parents can make a big difference too. Students whose parents reported “spending time just talking to my child,” “eating the main meal with my child around a table” or “discussing how well my child is doing at school” regularly were between 22% and 39% more likely to report high levels of life satisfaction. The academic impact is also significant: students who spent time talking with their parents were two-thirds of a school year ahead in science learning, and even after accounting for socio-economic status, the advantage remains at one-third of a school year.