From education to employment

The achievement-wellbeing trade-off in education

New research from the Centre for Education Economics (CfEE) questions received wisdom about the relationship between wellbeing and learning.

The idea that pupil well-being and effective learning go hand in hand is an important tenet of progressive educational theory. Since ‘deep’, genuine learning is supposed to be invigorating and joyful, education that does not live up to these ideals tends to be seen as ineffective and wasteful. Progressive theory has therefore come to highlight the relationship between pupil-led learning, enjoyment, and performance as a virtuous circle. Yet little rigorous evidence has been presented in favour of this assumption. Indeed, the paper presents evidence showing to the contrary that effective learning is often not enjoyable. Rather, several interventions and strategies – such as homework, school competition, and traditional teaching methods – involve an achievement-happiness trade-off.

In this report, CfEE lead economist and report author Gabriel Heller-Sahlgren discusses the evidence for and against the progressive theory of the relationship between pupil well-being and achievement; alternative conceptualisations; and whether we might be served by taking the concept of trade-offs between different educational goals more seriously.

Download the full report, ‘The achievement-wellbeing trade-off in education’ by Gabriel Heller-Sahlgren here.

About the author: Gabriel Heller-Sahlgren is Lead Economist at the Centre for Education Economics and Affiliated Researcher at the Research Institute of Industrial Economics in Stockholm, Sweden. He is also a PhD student at the London School of Economics. He has published widely in the field of economics of education, and appears frequently in international media on issues related to applied microeconomics.

About CfEE: The Centre for Education Economics is an independent think tank working to improve policy and practice in education through impartial economic research.

The Centre exists for the study of education reform – to research and disseminate evidence addressed to how to improve the quality and efficiency of education services; achieve optimal outcomes for young people; and maximise the benefits of education to society as a whole.

CfEE publishes books and in-depth policy studies, which in turn frame and inform our shorter reports and comment pieces on day-to-day education policy matters. We also run a variety of stakeholder engagement projects to inform our research and engage the public in the policy debate.

Acknowledgements: CfEE wishes to thank Cambridge Assessment for its sponsorship of the report.

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