By Emily Reynolds
Several factors influence our educational performance: the way we are taught, our special needs and how they are met, our parents and our socio-economic background, to name a few. Gaps in performance can start very early: some children fall behind before the age of seven.
But what about how much we enjoy School? A new study in npj science of learning, led by Tim Morris of the University of Bristol, examines this relatively under-explored factor. And the team finds that joy at the age of six has a significant impact on performance, which was evident years later when participants completed their GCSEs.
The data was collected from participants in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, which has followed parents and their children since 1991. At the age of six, participants were asked if they liked the school before answering more questions about their joy six months later.
Education levels were measured using exam results at age 16, and the team also looked at gender, month and school year of birth, ethnicity, cognitive skills at age eight, maternal education, and the socioeconomic position of parents. Mothers who participated in the study also reported how much their children liked their teachers by the age of six, and the children themselves reported their temperament by answering questions about how happy or angry they were.
From the age of eight, the children answered questions about their confidence in their work and intelligence, as well as their satisfaction with the number of friends and the quality of their friendships. Finally, the team examined the home learning environment through questions of how families taught their children colors, language, numbers, songs, and shapes and sizes.
There was no connection between joy in school and the socio-economic status of the parents: Those who had parents in so-called “qualified” professions enjoyed school just as much as those in “unskilled” professions. Children with higher cognitive abilities were more likely than not to have fun in school, girls twice as likely to say they liked school than boys, and non-white children almost twice as likely to say they like school than their white counterparts .
Unsurprisingly, there was a strong correlation between children’s views of their teacher and their joy in school: those whose parents said they liked their teachers were more than nine times more likely to enjoy school than those who didn’t. Likewise, those who had confidence in their work enjoyed school more.
The joy of school was not only noticeable in the short term, however. Those who attended school by the age of six scored an average of 14.4 points higher on the GCSE – a difference of two grades – even when the researchers checked other factors related to educational achievement such as cognitive skills and the socioeconomic status of the family had. They were also 29% more likely to get five or more A * C grades, including math and English skills that are so important to employment. In fact, enjoyment of school at age six was almost as powerful a predictor of educational achievement at age 16 as other factors such as gender and socioeconomic status.
It may seem obvious that enjoying school has an impact on grades. It is striking, however, that indulgence at the age of six can affect grades at age 16, especially when one considers its relative importance alongside factors such as gender and cognitive abilities.
The results also appear promising for possible interventions. Enjoyment is potentially more changeable than socio-economic factors; Designing interventions aimed at school fun and encouraging positive feelings about school could therefore have a significant impact on school performance many years later.
The team notes that the results should not be viewed as a definitive way of tackling inequality in education, an issue that is clearly complex and multi-faceted; future research could also explore Why Children have or do not enjoy school and how it interacts with external, social factors. However, careful thinking about enjoyment could be part of the academic achievement puzzle.
– Relationship between joy in school at the age of 6 and later educational achievement: Evidence from a British cohort study
Emily Reynolds is an associate at BPS Biomedarticles