The achievement-well-being trade-off in education

Author(s): Heller-Sahlgren, Gabriel

Organisation(s): Centre for Education Economics (UK)

Date: 2018

Pages: 29 p.

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The idea that pupil wellbeing 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 Gabriel Heller-Sahlgren discusses the evidence for and against the progressive theory of the relationship between pupil wellbeing and achievement; alternative conceptualisations; and whether that of trade-offs between different educational goals should be taken more seriously.

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