PISA 2018 additional analyses: What does PISA tell us about the wellbeing of 15 year olds?

Lisa Kuhn, Sally Bradshaw, Angela Donkin, Lydia Fletcher, Jose Liht, Rebecca Wheater

10 February 2021


In this report we analysed data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018 exploring life satisfaction and the wellbeing of pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The PISA 2018 results, released in December 2019, raised concerns about our young people’s wellbeing. Pupils in the UK were less satisfied with their lives than pupils across the OECD, on average. Further, life satisfaction of 15-year-olds in the UK dropped at a faster rate than anywhere else since 2015.

Pupils who are most satisfied with their lives have a strong sense of belonging at school

Our analysis finds strong personal relationships are crucial to pupils’ wellbeing. Feeling a sense of belonging at school was most strongly linked to higher life satisfaction, closely followed by strong relationships with parents and teachers. These findings emphasise the importance of the wider aspects of school life – of ensuring pupils have a voice, supporting positive relationships between pupils, teachers and family, and the importance of positive feedback from teachers.

Key Findings

The analysis also found:

  • In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, on average, pupils reported a lower sense of belonging and less emotional parental support than in 2015, whereas they reported higher levels of teacher feedback.
  • In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, life satisfaction was lower for disadvantaged pupils than their more advantaged peers.
  • In Northern Ireland, emotional parental support was linked to better reading performance.
  • In Wales, emotional parental support played a significant role in advantaged households for reading, maths and science performance.
  • In Northern Ireland, disadvantaged pupils who tended to avoid mistakes, or had a ‘fear of failure’, had higher reading attainment than pupils with lower levels of ‘fear of failure’.
  • In England, there was no evidence that aspects of pupils’ wellbeing affected the relationship between level of disadvantage and attainment in reading, maths or science.