Wellbeing of Wales, 2022: children and young people’s wellbeing - A more equal Wales
This supplementary report is an extract of the analysis contained in the Well-being of Wales report concerning the wellbeing of children.
In this page
The goal for a more equal Wales
A society that enables people to fulfil their potential no matter what their background or circumstances (including their socio-economic background and circumstances).
Pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) have poorer educational outcomes in schools on average with the gap widening as pupils get older
Using eligibility for free school meals as a measure of deprivation, there is a link between deprivation and attainment levels at school. While achievement is consistently improving across all pupils, those who are eligible for FSM have poorer performance at every key stage and on all performance measures. This gap increases as pupils get older. National Survey for Wales data also show that parents in deprived households are less likely to be supporting their children with school work, and also have less confidence to do so.
At GCSE there remains a gap in educational outcomes for children eligible for free school meals and those who are not. The gap in entries achieving A* to A grades at GCSE has widened in the last six years, with the gap in entries achieving A* to C grades being relatively stable. Data up to 2019 indicates that at earlier stages of school the gap widens as pupils get older.
In 2020/21, the gap between pupils not eligible for free school meals (FSM) and pupils eligible for FSM awarded GCSE grades A* to A widened to 21.3 percentage points, from 17.8 percentage points in 2019/20. The gap had previously been relatively stable at around 14.7 percentage points between 2015/16 and 2018/19 before widening in the most recent 2 years.
Inequalities also exist for children receiving care and support, again with the gap increasing as pupils get older. Analysis of school performance from 2019 found that children receiving care and support performed less well than pupils overall.
The most recent report from the School Health Research Network Student Health and Wellbeing survey comparing mental wellbeing findings from before to during the pandemic (2019 to 2021) found a fall in mental wellbeing for 11 to 16 years olds, using the average Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (SWEMWBS). Breakdown by family affluence showed declines of similar magnitude between 2019 and 2021 among students of lower and higher family affluence, suggesting pre-existing socio-economic inequalities in mental wellbeing had not widened over this period.
In 2021, 14% of 11 to 16 year-olds in Wales reported that they often felt alone, up from 12% in 2019, with a higher reported loneliness among students of lower affluence compared to higher affluence.
The School Health Research Network primary school survey of year 6 pupils in 2021 showed that there was a clear socio-economic gradient in reported emotional difficulties scores, with a higher mean score among students from less affluent families, with children from the least affluent families most likely to report clinically significant emotional difficulties. In terms of life satisfaction there was some evidence of a social gradient, with fewer year 6 children from less affluent families reporting high life satisfaction.
Girls continue to achieve better educational outcomes than boys and are also more likely to continue their full-time education after the age of 16.
In summer 2021, girls were awarded more grades at A* to C than boys. The largest grade disparity was at the A* and A grade. Girls were awarded 6.5 and 4.5 percentage points, respectively, more than boys.
A higher proportion of females aged 16 to 18 than males remain in full-time education. This is also the case for those aged 19 to 24 years old.
The most recent report from the School Health Research Network Student Health and Wellbeing survey comparing mental wellbeing findings from before to during the pandemic (2019 to 2021) included breakdowns by gender and year group which showed those self-identifying as neither a boy nor a girl reporting the lowest mental wellbeing, and girls reporting lower mental wellbeing than boys. Mental wellbeing scores declined with age.
More than two-fifths of students self-identifying as neither a boy nor a girl reported often feeling alone in both 2019 and 2021; approximately four and three times greater than the proportion of boys (10% in 2019 and 11% in 2021) and girls (14% in 2019 and 15% in 2021).
The School Health Research Network primary school survey of year 6 pupils in 2021 showed that girls had a higher average emotional difficulties score on the Me & My Feelings measure in comparison to boys (i.e. greater emotional difficulties), whilst boys had a higher average behavioural difficulties score in comparison to girls (i.e. greater behavioural difficulties). A slightly higher proportion of boys reported high life satisfaction.
In 2021, a higher percentage of Asian babies had a low birthweight (8.4%) compared to other ethnic groups. The number of low birthweight babies per year in Wales is small when categorised by ethnic group, so there can be relatively large changes from year-to-year through natural volatility. However, a larger proportion of Asian babies had low birthweights than any other ethnic group in three out of the four years for which there is data available (starting in 2018).
Children from some ethnic groups (for example, Asian and children with a mixed ethnic background) tend to achieve better on average in school compared to others.
GCSE results for 2020/21 show that 35.6% of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic pupils achieved A* to A grades compared to 28.9% of White pupils. This gap has been widening since 2015/16 (4.5 percentage points in 2015/16 to 6.7 percentage points in 2020/21). The gap in pupils achieving A* to C grades has also widened, from 0.9 in 2015/16 percentage points to 3.3 percentage points in 2020/21.
At A level, the grade distribution shifted upwards again in 2020/21, but this was not the case for all broad ethnic groups. The proportion of A2 (second year of A level) learners with Black, African, Caribbean, Black British backgrounds who got at least 3 Cs fell steeply, undoing much of the rise in grades in 2019/20. In 2020/21, only 54% of learners with these backgrounds achieved at least three Cs compared to 72% in 2019/20. This was the group with the lowest percentage of A* to Cs at A2 in 2020/21, while the highest percentage of A* to Cs was seen amongst the Asian or Asian British (74%) and White (73%) groups.
Between August 2017 and July 2021, year 11 students with Gypsy, Traveller or Irish Traveller backgrounds were less likely to continue onto post-16 learning than other ethnic groups. For most other minority ethnic groups participation in post-16 learning was close to, or above, the Wales average.
The School Workforce Census reported that the proportion of school teachers who were Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (excluding White ethnic minorities) was 1.1% in November 2021, significantly lower than the .9.1% of pupils aged 5 or over in Wales who are from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (excluding White ethnic minorities) group in the February 2022 School Census.
9% of Welsh student enrolments at higher education institutions in Wales in 2020/21 were stated to be from an ethnic minority group.
Whilst the most recent report from the School Health Research Network Student Health and Wellbeing survey comparing mental wellbeing findings from before to during the pandemic (2019 to 2021) found a fall in mental wellbeing for 11 to 16 year olds, trends by ethnicity highlighted a smaller relative decline in mental wellbeing among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students compared to White students. Compared to a small increase in reported loneliness among White students between 2019 and 2021, no change was observed among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students.
Data sources and further reading
Participation of young people in education and the labour market
Youth mental health and wellbeing in Wales: Comparing findings from the 2019 and 2021 School Health Research Network Student Health and Wellbeing survey (School Health Research Network Student Health and Wellbeing survey)
Student Health and Wellbeing in Wales: Key findings from the 2021 School Health Research Network Primary School Student Health and Wellbeing Survey (School Health Research Network Student Health and Wellbeing survey)