Northern Ireland 15-year-olds 'happy with lives'

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

Image source, SolStock
Image caption, The findings are based on a survey of 540,000 students

Most 15-year-olds in Northern Ireland are happy with their lives.

That is according to an international study of students' well-being.

The report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that Northern Irish pupils were more satisfied with their lives than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK.

They had an average satisfaction score of 7.24 on a scale from nought to 10, close to the OECD average of 7.3.

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

In their responses to questions about their sense of well-being, Northern Irish boys generally expressed more satisfaction with their lives than girls.

Image source, DGLimages
Image caption, A quarter of Northern Irish pupils reported skipping breakfast before school

Yet worries about exams and bullying remain a problem for many young people.

In Northern Ireland, about 70% of students said they were very anxious before a test, even if they were well prepared for it - well above the OECD average of 55%.

Around one in six Northern Irish pupils said they had were experienced bullying at least a few times a month.

However this was the lowest rate in the UK, with one in four students in England, for example, reporting similar levels of bullying.

Good relationships

A quarter of Northern Irish pupils also reported skipping breakfast before school.

The OECD study also suggests that heavy internet use leaves many pupils feeling lonely and less satisfied.

More positively, the study concluded that the vast majority of teenagers in Northern Ireland had good relationships with their parents and teachers.

Almost 95% reported that they spoke to their parents regularly about school and felt supported by them.

Image source, DGLimages
Image caption, Northern Irish pupils also tended to be driven and ambitious

This meant they were more likely to perform better academically and be happier with their lives.

Students who felt their teacher was willing to provide help and was interested in their learning were about 1.3 times more likely to feel that they belonged at school, researchers found.

Northern Irish pupils also tended to be driven and ambitious with 95% saying they aimed for top grades in all of their courses.

More 15-year-olds in Northern Ireland (45%) also expected to complete a university degree than those in England, Scotland and Wales.

However, the study suggests that extensive internet use can lead to students being less satisfied with their lives.

Life satisfaction

In the UK, almost one in four students reported using the internet outside school for more than six hours a day.

This was well above the overall OECD rate, where one in six students reporting using the internet for a similar amount of time each day.

Generally, the study reveals large variations in life satisfaction across the 72 OECD countries.

In the Netherlands, fewer than 4% of young people said they were not satisfied with their lives.

But in South Korea and Turkey, 20% reported low satisfaction scores.

In Northern Ireland, by contrast, 12.6% of pupils said they were not satisfied with their lives.

Overall, the study found girls and disadvantaged students were less likely than boys and advantaged students to report high levels of life satisfaction.