Associations between school enjoyment at age 6 and later educational achievement: evidence from a UK cohort study

Tim T Morris*, Danny Dorling, Neil M Davies, George Davey Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
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Education is influenced by a broad range of factors but there has been limited research into the role that early school enjoyment plays in pupil’s educational achievement. Here we used data from a UK cohort to answer three research questions. What is the association between early school enjoyment and later academic achievement? To what extent do family background factors underlie this association? Do sex differences in school enjoyment underlie sex differences in achievement? School enjoyment was self-reported in two questionnaires completed at age 6. We used multiple imputation to account for missing covariates in this study, giving an imputed sample size of 12,135. Children’s school enjoyment at age 6 associated with sex and cognitive ability but not family socioeconomic background. For example, girls were twice as likely to report enjoying school than boys (OR: 1.97; 95% CI: 1.56, 2.48). School enjoyment strongly associated with later achievement in age 16 compulsory GCSE exams even after adjustment for socioeconomic background and cognitive ability; pupils who reported enjoying school scored on average 14.4 (95% CI: 6.9, 21.9) more points (equivalent to almost a 3-grade increase across all subjects) and were 29% more likely to obtain 5+ A*-C GCSE’s including Maths and English (OR: 1.29; 95% CI: 0.99, 1.7) than those who did not enjoy school. These results highlight the importance of school enjoyment for educational achievement. As a potentially more modifiable factor than socioeconomic background, cognitive ability or sex, school enjoyment may represent a promising intervention target for improving educational outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number18
Number of pages9
Journalnpj Science of Learning
Issue number1
Early online date15 Jun 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are extremely grateful to all the families who took part in this study, the midwives for their help in recruiting them, and the whole ALSPAC team, which includes interviewers, computer and laboratory technicians, clerical workers, research scientists, volunteers, managers, receptionists and nurses. Ethical approval for the study was obtained from the ALSPAC Ethics and Law Committee and the Local Research Ethics Committees. The UK Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust (Grant ref: 102215/2/13/2) and the University of Bristol provide core support for ALSPAC. T.T.M. was funded by an Economics and Social Research Council (ESRC) Postdoctoral Fellowship [ES/S011021/1] for the duration of this project. The Medical Research Council (MRC) and the University of Bristol fund the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit [MC_UU_00011/1]. The ESRC support NMD via a Future Research Leaders grant [ES/N000757/1] and the Norwegian Research Council support him via grant number 295989. This work is part of a project entitled ‘social and economic consequences of health: causal inference methods and longitudinal, intergenerational data’, which is part of the Health Foundation’s Efficiency Research Programme. The Health Foundation is an independent charity committed to bringing about better health and health care for people in the UK.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • education
  • achievement
  • emotion


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