‘Britain’s Sixteen-Year-Olds’ by Ken Fogelman

Ken Fogelman (Ed.) (1976) Britain’s sixteen-year-olds London: National Children’s Bureau 0 902817 10 8

The National Child Development Study, set up in 1964, had been able to complete surveys of the 1958 Perinatal Mortality Survey cohort (Butler and Bonham, 1963) in 1965, 1969 and 1974 but, after the 1969 survey, there had been nothing comparable to From birth to seven (Davie et al., 1972) on the 1965 survey. So Ken Fogelman edited this short summary of the key findings from the 1974 survey, when the cohort were sixteen, which is best read in conjunction with his later collection (Fogelman, 1983), which covers findings from the 1965, 1969 and 1974 surveys, in order to get a full flavour of the findings from the study as a whole.

Key Points

  • Responses were received in relation to 87% of the potential sample with lower response rates among certain socially disadvantaged groups.
  • Fewer than one in ten children had been in trouble with the police.
  • Young people are high consumers of health services.
  • Most children live in two-parent families and have conventional views about marriage and the family.
  • Most live in harmonious families and in increasingly affluent households.
  • Nearly half are dissatisfied with the availability of places where young people can meet and a quarter with the availability of sporting facilities.
  • Most children went to local authority maintained schools of under 1,000 pupils that were co-educational.
  • Only a small percentage were assessed as having serious learning or behaviour difficulties in school.
  • Though teachers and parents thought that only a minority had truanted, over half the children admitted to having truanted.
  • More children expected to leave school than their parents expected or their teachers would have liked, mostly to earn a wage and become independent.


In Chapter 1, The National Child Development Study, he outlines the history of the National Child Development Study, noting that the results of the 1969 study had resulted in 140 separate publications on aspects of the data. The purpose of this publication is make available the preliminary findings of the 1974 study.

In Chapter 2, The third follow-up, he outlines how the study differs from other longitudinal studies in that, rather than following the same cohort, they follow all the children born in the same week, whether or not they were born in the UK. The initial step is to obtain the names and addresses of all children born in the relevant week and then match them with the records from the previous studies; 90% of the children were traced in this way and the remainder by further steps, for example, to clarify misspelled names or uncertain birth dates and to identify those who had died or emigrated.

Just over a thousand parents asked to the omitted from the study, two reasons being that the child would be involved in exams and because of adverse publicity arising from the 1971 census.

The research was carried out using a medical examination form, a parental interview form, an educational questionnaire, an individual questionnaire and a test booklet. The individual questionnaire was new but the others were developed from the material used for the earlier studies and all were piloted.

Unfortunately, early 1974, when most of this material was sent out, coincided with the run up to local government reorganisation in England and Wales and health services reorganisation in Britain. Of the 16,333 children traced, some information had been returned on 14,761 by autumn 1974.

The results contained in this booklet only cover the first stage in data analysis when only gross errors will have been detected.

In Chapter 3, Introduction to results, he describes the main statistical measures that have been used and also cautions against using the figures in direct comparisons with other studies which have used different approaches to sampling.

An initial study of any possible bias arising from only getting responses from 87% of children born during the relevant week suggested that children from disadvantaged groups, including children receiving special education at eleven, illegitimate children and children who had been in care at seven, were under-represented by up to about 10%. These children had lower average reading, mathematics and general ability scores at eleven but in other areas did not differ significantly from the other children in the study.

In Chapter 4, The child, he reports that 51% of children were male, 95.7% were white and 88% right-handed. Parents and teachers mostly agreed in their assessments of teenagers’ behaviour. About half had a spare-time job; their most popular leisure time activity was watching TV, with dancing and outdoor games or sports coming second. Voluntary work was the thing they most wanted to do but had least opportunity. Only 16% had never done something like babysitting or an activity with younger children.

Just over a third smoked but over half had had an alcoholic drink recently, 37% mentioning a public house. Different questions had been posed to parents and teachers but these suggested that only a small minority of children (under 10%) had been in trouble with the police and an even smaller minority had been to court.

In Chapter 5, General health, he reports that 45% of children had missed at least one week’s school on health grounds, the main causes being upper respiratory infections and problems with periods. 55% of children had experienced lesser but nonetheless discomforting conditions. Girls’ pubertal development was more advanced than boys’. Less than 11% of children were adjudged obese but 12.5% thin or very thin. 35% of children had a skin condition, 11% had suffered a migraine in the past twelve months and 8% had wet the bed more than occasionally since the age of five.

12% had suffered asthma or a related condition at some time and 4% still did; 4% had suffered some form of convulsion at some time and 0.6% had done so in the previous twelve months; doctors assessed 7% of children as clumsy but this was marked in only 0.5%. 18% had been prescribed glasses but one in eight of those did not have the correct prescription; 1% were assessed as having a hearing problem and 0.5% had been prescribed a hearing aid, though only half of them were wearing it. 3% of children were assessed by the doctor as having a stammer or stutter but only 0.6% had a serious speech problem; only 1% were receiving speech therapy.

In Chapter 6, Use of medical resources, he reports that 49% of children had been in hospital overnight at least once, only 11% as a result of accidents but 21% for a tonsillectomy. 6% had been in hospital overnight in the previous twelve months and 13% had had outpatient treatment. However, 45% had visited hospital as a result of an accident, 19% in the previous twelve months. 65% had visited their GP.

79% had been vaccinated against TB and 73% against smallpox while 71% of the girls had had the rubella vaccine. Two thirds of children had seen a dentist; 3% had false teeth and 2% were wearing a brace (14% having worn one at some time).

3% of children were assessed as needing special education and slightly more had received help for psychiatric or behaviour disorders.

In Chapter 7, Family and parental characteristics, he reports that 94.9% of children were living with their natural mother and 86.7% with their natural father; one percent were in the care of the local authority and one fifth of one per cent in the care of a voluntary organisation. However, because of the bias in the sampling, the latter figures had to be treated with caution.

Around 90% of parents had been born in the UK; 93% of the male heads were working with skilled manual occupations accounting for nearly half the jobs; 66% of the mothers were working with over 50% in non-manual jobs. Over three quarters of parents had left school before sixteen. Nearly two thirds of fathers and nearly half of mothers were smokers. Most households had more than one source of income and 10% of children received free school meals. Most parents showed some interest in their children’s education. 17% of households had someone with a chronic illness, nearly half of these the father and a third the mother.

In Chapter 8, Relationships within and attitudes to the family, he reports that most children went out in the evening and that most households were harmonious, with the two most common areas of disagreement dress or hairstyle and coming in at night or going to bed, a finding supported by both parents and children. Most children anticipated getting married in their early twenties and having the first of their two or three children in their mid to late twenties.

In Chapter 9, Home and amenities, he begins with a caution that, just because 90% of children are reported as living in a house or bungalow, this does not mean that 90% of accommodation is houses or bungalows because more than one child can live at the same address. 50% were living in owner-occupied accommodation and 41% in council or housing association property. 4% lived in a house with two or more bathrooms and 17% in a house with two or more lavatories – 2-3% lived in accommodation without fixed amenities. 86% lived in a household which had a refrigerator, 41% a colour TV, 65% one or more cars, 54% a telephone and 47% central heating.

61% had their own bedroom and 92% their own bed; 21% had lived at the same address their whole lives and 16% had moved at least four times. Half of the children were dissatisfied with the available places for young people to meet and a quarter with the sporting facilities.

In Chapter 10, The school, he reports that 93% were attending local authority maintained schools, of which around a quarter were purpose-built comprehensive schools, around a quarter former secondary modern schools, around a fifth former grammar schools and the rest formed by amalgamation. Nearly two-thirds were in schools of fewer than 1,000 pupils and three-quarters were in co-educational schools. About a third of teachers reported that the schools were streamed and just over a third that the schools used sets for some subjects.

Most children had received some careers guidance and most had received some sex education. In only 11% of schools did teachers meet parents at least once a term; in 81% it was at least once a year. In 4% of schools there was no uniform and in 30% it was compulsory; in the remainder there were a variety of exemptions. Two-thirds of heads indicated that their school was lacking in facilities in at least one area, sports facilities being mentioned most frequently.

15% of schools had expelled at least one pupil in the previous year; reports to parents, behaviour reports, extra work and staying at school after hours were the most common disciplinary measures; only 20% never used corporal punishment.

In Chapter 11 The child in the school, he reports that 65% of children had been to the same secondary school throughout but 11% had been at their current school for two years or less; 3½% were at a boarding school. Most children studied English in streamed classes or sets and most were in classes of between 20 and 39 children; teachers considered less than 2% unable to read well enough to cope with everyday needs. Even more children were taught maths in streamed classes or sets and teachers considered less than 3% unable to do all the calculations needed for everyday shopping.

Teachers and pupils agreed that English was the subject in which children were most likely to do best but initial comparisons in other subjects were more difficult as not all children took all subjects to the same level. Surprisingly 2% of pupils said they had never studied maths along with 25% who had never studied art and 47% who had never studied music.

Teachers said that 7% of children were receiving help with learning difficulties, of which 2% could do with more help, and there was another 2% who were receiving none but would benefit from it. 5% were receiving help with behaviour difficulties, of which 2% could do with more help, and there was another 3% who were receiving none but would benefit from it. 1% were receiving help for physical disabilities, of which 0.2% could do with more help, and 0.5% who were receiving none but would benefit from it.

Teachers had spoken specifically to the parents of 45% of children about their child in the past year, most often to both parents but otherwise more often to the mother alone. Teachers considered that around 20% of children had truanted in the past year though parents put the figure nearer 13%. Parents also said there were times they had kept children off school which they might not have regarded as truancy. 52% of children, however, admitted to not having been in school when they should have been. Among the reasons given were because they were “fed up with school” (20%), had to help at home (10%) or “wanted to do something special away from school” (12%). However, it is worth noting that this was the first cohort required to stay on at school to the age of sixteen.

Nine percent of pupils had not learned anything about sex education at school and the remainder were more likely to have learned about the physiological than the emotional aspects of sex and parenthood at school. Their answers to the question about what more they wanted to know almost exactly reflected what they had not learned at school.

In Chapter 12, Attitudes to school, he reports that over a quarter of parents and of the young people had been unhappy about the raising of the school-leaving age. Most of the parents cited the lack of benefit the child was getting while, among the young people, two-thirds had said they had been happy to stay on but a third could not see any benefit in forcing everyone to stay on.

In practice, only eight per cent of parents expressed serious dissatisfaction with the school whereas around a third of young people were seriously dissatisfied with school and over a third thought their parents were anxious about how well they did at school.

Less than half of pupils were against corporal punishment with lower proportions against expulsion, detention, suspension or having a letter sent to their parents in that order.

In Chapter 13, Further education and employment, he reports that 62% of pupils anticipated leaving school at sixteen and 23% staying on to eighteen or later; parents had slightly higher expectations of their children remaining in education. In contrast, more parents would have liked their children to continue in education than expected them to and teachers would have liked more of their pupils to continue their education than were planning to.

Nearly half of pupils said they were leaving to earn a wage and become independent and over a fifth because they didn’t think they were good enough to stay on; just under a fifth were leaving because they did not like school. Teachers’ and pupils’ aspirations for full-time further or higher education were similar and involved around a third of the young people. The young people were more likely than their parents or their teachers to say they had a specific job in mind rather than an area of work but otherwise they were broadly in agreement. Professional and managerial, manual and clerical jobs were mentioned in between half and two-thirds of the responses from young people, parents and teachers. The most likely sources of information were parents and school, newspapers, friends and relatives; less than a fifth had gained information from the Youth Employment Officer. Pay and variety were mentioned as the most important considerations with opportunities for promotion and to help others and convenient hours and conditions also ranking highly. Over half the young people were willing to move to get a job, with less than one six saying they would not.

In Summary, he concludes, with a reminder of the slight bias caused by the lower response rate from socially disadvantaged young people, by summarising the findings described in the earlier chapters.

In the Appendices, Harvey Goldstein outlines that statistical analyses that led to the calculation of the slight bias in the results.


Douvan and Adelson (1966) and Kandel and Lesser (1972) had already reported that adolescents in the US and Denmark lived in relative harmony with their parents; so the almost simultaneous publication of these findings and those from the Isle of Wight study (Rutter et al., 1976) finally knocked on the head the traditional view that adolescence was a period of “storm and stress” (Hall, 1904) and generational conflict. It was to be replaced by Coleman’s rather more measured view that, where adolescents pass through the challenges of growing up in a relatively orderly sequence, they can cope with them adequately (Coleman, 1980) . The problems arise when an adolescent has to cope with a number of problems simultaneously and does not have the resources to deal with them all at once. Later Youniss and Smollar (1985) were to show that the views of adolescents and their friends are normally quite similar to their parents’ views and that the ‘generation gap’ is largely a myth.

The proportion of children that teachers assessed as in need of educational help is lower than the proportion suggested by Clegg and Megson (1968) but nonetheless favours rather than undermines their argument that a higher proportion of children needed help than were getting it. Clegg and Megson would probably have been disappointed that, after their evidence of the futility of corporal punishment, it was still being widely used in schools.

The study as a whole highlights how different the situations of children who come into contact with child care services are from the vast majority of children and how abnormal it is to live in family discord. However, there are some situations where the disadvantages experienced by many young people, for example, the lack of facilities for them to meet informally or the mainly physiological focus of sex education at school, will inevitably have an impact on disadvantaged children.

Nearly two-thirds of young people had their own bedroom and, while most had changed address at least once in their lives, two-thirds had been at the same secondary school throughout. The chaotic lives experienced by many children in care, both in their own families and through the frequent moves in care (Reinach and Roberts, 1979) are a far cry from a ‘normal’ childhood.

It is worth noting that the disadvantaged groups, including children receiving special education at eleven, illegitimate children and children who had been in care at seven, did not differ significantly from other children in the study except that their attainments had been depressed. In other words, apart from the social status of illegitimacy, social disadvantage arose from being subject to certain forms of intervention, not from the reasons for those interventions. Children in care do not do badly because they come from disadvantaged backgrounds; they do badly from the experience of being in care (Cawson and Martell, 1979; Department for Education and Skills, 2006) – something which is not generally true in continental Europe (Wolins, 1969) or Israel (Wiener and Wiener, 1990).


Butler, N R and Bonham, D G (1963) Perinatal mortality: the first report of the 1958 British Perinatal Mortality Survey under the auspices of the National Birthday Trust Fund Edinburgh: E & S Livingstone

Cawson, P and Martell, M (1979) Children referred to closed units DHSS Research Report No 5 London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office See also Children Webmag December 2009.

Clegg, A B and Megson, B E (1968) Children in distress Harmondsworth: Penguin See also Children Webmag September 2009.

Coleman, J C (1980) The nature of adolescence London: Methuen

Davie, R, Butler, N R and Goldstein, H (1972) From birth to seven: the second report of the National Child Development Study (1958 Cohort) London: Longmans See also Children Webmag November 2010.

Department for Education and Skills (2006) Care matters: transforming the lives of children and young people in care Cm 6932 London: The Stationery Office

Douvan, E and Adelson, J (1966) The adolescent experience London: Wiley

Fogelman, K (Ed.) (1983) Growing up in Great Britain: papers from the National Child Development Study London: Macmillan

Hall, G S (1904) Adolescence: its psychology and its relations to physiology, anthropology, sociology, sex, crime, religion and education New York: Appleton

Kandel, D B and Lesser, G S (1972) Youth in two worlds London: Jossey Bass

Reinach, E and Roberts, G (1979) “Consequences”: the progress of sixty-five children after a period of residential observation and assessment Portsmouth: Social Services Research and Information Unit See also Children Webmag July 2010.

Rutter, M, Graham, P, Chadwick, O and Yule, W (1976) Adolescent turmoil: fact or fiction? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 17, 35-56

Wiener, A and Wiener, E (1990) Expanding the options in child placement Lanham MD: University Press of America See also Children Webmag January 2010.

Wolins, M (1969) Group care: friend or foe? Social work 14 (1), 35-53 Reprinted in M. Wolins (Ed.) (1974) Successful group care Chicago: Aldine

Youniss, J and Smollar, J (1985) Adolescent relations with mothers, fathers and friends Chicago: Chicago University Press

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