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The achievement-wellbeing trade-off in education

The idea that pupil well-being and effective learning go hand in hand is an important tenet of progressive educational theory. Since genuine learning is supposed to be experienced as enjoyable and energising, education that does not deliver this experience tends to be seen as inadequate. 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 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.
CfEE wishes to thank Cambridge Assessment for its sponsorship of the report.



Download the full report here.

Media coverage

The report was widely covered in the national and education press, including by the newspaperThe Daily Telegraph, the TESEducation Executive, and FE News.


CFEE Director James Croft wrote this comment piece for Schools Week‘Is pupil enjoyment key to effective learning?’