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New research finds GCSE results linked to child’s enjoyment of school aged six.

Press release issued: 21 June 2021

A child's enjoyment of school at six years old is linked to their GCSE results aged 16, according to new research from the University of Bristol, published in the journal Science of Learning.

 A child's enjoyment of school at six years old is linked to their GCSE results aged 16, according to new research from the University of Bristol, published in the journal Science of Learning .

 The research team used data from world renowned health study Children of the 90s, to answer three research questions:

  • Is school enjoyment patterned by biological sex at birth, socioeconomic background of cognition?
  • How does school enjoyment relate to GCSE achievement?
  • Does school enjoyment relate to social or sex differences in GCSE achievement?

The team found that pupil’s school enjoyment measured at six years old is patterned by their sex and cognitive ability but not their family’s socioeconomic background. For example, girls were twice as likely to report enjoying school than boys. School enjoyment strongly related to GCSE achievement at age 16 even after consideration of their socioeconomic background and cognitive ability. Pupils who reported enjoying school at age 6 went on to  score on average 14.4 more GCSE points, equivalent to almost a three-grade increase across all GCSE’s and were 29 per cent more likely to obtain five plus GCSE’s grade A*- Cs including Maths and English than those who did not enjoy school.

 Lead author Dr Tim Morris said: “While it is intuitive that a pupil's school enjoyment relates to their education, it is quite remarkable that school enjoyment as early as age six is so strongly linked to GCSE’s 10 years later. That this link persists even after considering family and pupil factors provides support that a lack of school enjoyment may have long lasting effects on pupil’s educational outcomes.”

 “Research into methods for improving school enjoyment and the effectiveness of interventions in this area could have beneficial effects for children.”

Professor Nic Timpson, Principal Investigator for Children of the 90s said: “This is an important piece of research which shows how Children of the 90s data has helped inform our understanding of educational attainment as well as health/wellbeing.”

Further information

Associations between school enjoyment at age 6 and later educational achievement: evidence from a UK cohort study’ by Tim T. Morris, Danny Dorling , Neil M. Davies and George Davey Smith in Science of Learning  [open access]


This research was funded by the Medical Research Council and ESRC.

About Children of the 90s
Based at the University of Bristol, Children of the 90s, also known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), is a long-term health-research project that enrolled more than 14,500 pregnant women in 1991 and 1992. It has been following the health and development of the parents and their children in detail ever since and is currently recruiting the children of the original children into the study.

The study has a huge catalogue of data and biosamples and continues to be used to collect new material. These resources can be used to quickly answer policy questions that arise given current conditions. Rapid response to important social and health questions has been a hallmark of the Children of the 90s’ contribution to COVID-19. Contributions have varied widely - from asking about the age of grandparents or the social and health effects of lockdown to finding out how long immunity lasts or how effective vaccines will be.

The study receives core funding from the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the University of Bristol, where it is based. Find out more at

About the MRC IEU

The MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit (IEU) at the University of Bristol conducts some of the UK's most advanced population health science research. It uses genetics, population data and experimental interventions to look for the underlying causes of chronic disease. The unit exploits the latest advances in genetic and epigenetic technologies. We develop new analysis methods to improve understanding of how our family background, behaviours and genes work together. Using these to investigate how people develop and remain healthy or become ill.

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