Anxiety fears for school children, new UCD research

Posted 14 December, 2020

Anxiety among school children in Ireland is on the rise due to family issues and standardised tests, according to new research by the UCD School of Education.

Concerns by teachers and principals about “increasing levels of anxiety and worry" among school children were detailed in 'Children’s School Lives', a landmark study following 4,000 children across almost 200 schools.

The study, commissioned by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), was led by Professor Dympna DevineAssociate Professor Jennifer Symonds and Assistant Professor Seaneen Sloan.

Divided into two reports, the study aims to take into children’s experiences and perspectives “on what matters to them in their young lives", and its findings will feed into the review of the primary curriculum, according to Arlene Forster, NCCA chief executive.

“Along with the perspectives of teachers, school leaders, parents and the wider school community, [this study] will help us in the NCCA to ensure that the next iteration of the primary curriculum can provide a strong foundation for children to thrive, flourish and realise their full potential during childhood and into the future,” she said.

“Children's School Lives provides a robust evidence base, rooted especially in the voices of children, of what is happening in our primary schools,” added Professor Dympna Devine, lead researcher on the study at the UCD School of Education.

“It highlights the centrality of primary schools to community in Ireland, including during times of national crisis, and the breadth and diversity of experiences that exist across our primary school sector.

“It provides a unique window with which to capture change in children's experiences over time that will be instrumental to evidenced based curriculum reform.’

The first report 'Children’s School Lives – An Introduction, Report No. 1' details aspects of children's lives, including their place of birth, mother tongue social, cultural and material resources, family structure, home learning environment, and involvement in extra-curricular activities.

The report also provides insights into their experiences of attending primary school.

Among its findings was that teachers and principals felt that rising levels of anxiety in school children were linked to their parents’ working lives, family breakdown and the stress of standardised testing.

More than half of teachers interviewed believed children were anxious about their performance on standardised tests - which are mandatory in second, fourth and sixth class.

The impact of extensive screen time was also a concern.

More than two-thirds of second class pupils reported that they were “never” or rarely read to, and a similar number said that they never or rarely practised counting at home.

Many children however reported their involvement with a range of out-of-school activities, with nearly half playing a team sport and a similar number involved with music, art, dancing or swimming.

The second report 'Experiences of Remote Teaching and Learning in Ireland During the COVID-19 Pandemic' gathered data on what it was like for children, their school leaders, teachers and parents at the height of the first national lock-down in Ireland earlier this year.

Among its findings were that two-thirds of 2nd class children learned remotely for 10 minutes to 1 hour per day. More than half of parents continued to work their normal work hours during this period.

A total of 149 schools, 123 principals, 85 teachers, 418 parents, and 548 children participated, and provided insights into teaching and learning digitally as well as the emotional experiences of remote learning.

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations