Young people who think school is worthwhile are more likely to aspire to higher education

Feeling happy and engaged at school strengthens young people’s resolve to stay in education – but is particularly important for high achievers, boys and ethnic minority pupils, according to findings from Next Steps.

What we asked you

Throughout your secondary school years, we asked if you agreed with the following statements:

  • I am happy when I am at school.
  • School is a waste of time for me.
  • The work I do in lessons is a waste of time.
  • School work is worth doing.
  • Most of the time I don’t want to go to school.
  • On the whole, I like being at school.

Your answers showed how engaged you were in school. We also asked how likely you thought it was that you would stay on in school after the age of 16.

The researchers took into account other factors that might affect how you feel about education, such as gender, ethnicity, prior achievement and what your parents did for a living.

What the researchers found

Researchers at the UCL Institute of Education looked at how your engagement in school and your plans to stay on changed as you got older, and how they were connected.

In Year 9, boys were one and half times more likely to be uncertain they would stay on in school than girls, and more than twice as likely to say they planned on leaving at age 16. White British pupils were more than twice as likely as their ethnic minority peers to say they didn’t know if they would continue in education, and seven times more likely to say they would leave. Young people who had previously done well at school and those with professional parents were more certain that they would go on to higher education.

Most of you who had been unsure about continuing your studies changed your minds as you got older, and instead planned to stay in education. However, those who felt engaged with school were much more certain about their future plans. The connection between aspirations and engagement was strongest for high achievers, boys and ethnic minority pupils.

Why this research is important

There are many initiatives to encourage young people to continue in education past compulsory schooling age. Research like this shows the potential of using emotional engagement to bolster teenagers’ certainty to stay on in school, even if they face social or economic constraints.

Find out more about this research

The full paper was published in the Journal of Adolescence, which is behind a paywall. However, you can access the full paper for free from the University College London website.