Published on: 27 Apr 2018

Looking at patterns of dissatisfaction in pupils

By Richard Brink, Surveys Publisher, GL Assessment

If you had to look for patterns of dissatisfaction in pupils, where would you look?

Could you Google it? Your fingers might hover over the keyboard, but I’m not sure what you’d be searching for. And sadly, looking down the back of the sofa won’t help with this one.

If you do want to get an insight into these patterns in your school, you might be interested in our new study, published today. Our report, Children’s Wellbeing, takes into account the views of more than 850,000 pupils in schools across the UK – and the findings might surprise you.

Think about your preconceptions: tell me who you think may have the lowest self-regard in your class – or the highest perception of their own capabilities as learners?

Chances are you will have an inkling one way or the other; some general views of which children are faring better at school. But how can you know for sure?

To take just one example, it sometimes feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy that girls and boys see themselves differently. Interestingly, though, our study found that there is no substantive difference in girls’ and boys’ attitudes when it comes to their self-regard and perceived learning capacity. None.

Yes, the standard view is borne out in some ways. We did find that girls feel more positive about school than boys, and girls also feel more prepared for learning than boys. However, the indicators of risk show no real gaps. Boys and girls are equally confident in their own learning, they have equally positive views of their teachers, and they both respond equally well to curriculum demands. Who saw that coming?

Comparing attitudes between boys and girls is far from the only way of looking at attitudes across the school population, of course. Another is deprivation. When comparing the views of pupils in schools with higher numbers of children on Free School Meals and those with smaller numbers of children on FSM, we have found equally few differences in pupil attitudes but one notable difference did crop up: pupils in more deprived areas have a more positive attitude towards their teachers than those in less deprived areas.

The findings weren’t all rosy, though. More than one in twenty children (6%) exhibited extremely poor attitudes to their learning and had very low self-regard, which marks them out as potentially vulnerable. Low perceptions in these areas can be the first steps on the path to poor wellbeing and mental health.

We also found that just under a fifth of pupils (18%) have negative feelings about school. 15% exhibited a low work ethic, and the same proportion had poor attitudes to attendance. Children also tend to exhibit increasingly negative attitudes as they get older.

That said, while these figures show the big picture trends, national averages can conceal some very wide differences when it comes to schools or even classes. Teachers we speak to often say that – even in specific year groups – individual children or groups of children can have particularly low scores in one factor or another, which then require specific intervention. One size definitely doesn’t fit all.

Our study is based on data from our Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (PASS) attitudinal survey, which is used by schools to identify children who may have hidden barriers to learning. As one of our contributors put it, it's not necessarily the pupil whose voice is always heard that is the pupil that actually needs to be heard. Using attitudinal surveys can help schools find these children and help teachers take action.

Find out more at