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Closing educational attainment gap offers potential benefits for health, well-being and equity

Published: 30 November 2023

A tool designed to increase understanding of the connected factors affecting a child’s educational achievement and a review of the mechanisms by which this affects health have been developed by Public Health Wales. 

Good education and skills are a building block for health and well-being. However, not all children and young people have the same opportunities for learning and there is a gap in educational attainment between children from different socio-economic backgrounds. 

To understand this further, the Wider Determinants of Health Unit at Public Health Wales explored what affects educational achievement in Wales and the ways in which education affects health. This work demonstrates the close relationship between health and education, and that reducing the socio-economic gap in attainment in Wales cannot be done by schools alone. 

Involving subject experts and diverse partners, the team has mapped the factors that affect educational achievement. This map describes how a child’s mental well-being, engagement with the school and home learning environment contribute to educational achievement. These are in turn influenced by a wide range of family, home and social factors, including some which start before a child is born.   

Not only does health affect education, but research demonstrates how education affects health in later life, through three main pathways. These are good employment and income, social and psychological factors, and health knowledge and behaviours. However, although educational achievement can be an important driver of opportunity, it can also contribute to increased health inequalities by perpetuating cycles of intergenerational inequality.  

Ciarán Humphreys, Consultant at Public Health Wales, said: “In Wales, too many people die too early due to a lack of the basic building blocks for health. Education is one of these foundations for health. When we have a good education it gives us the chance to get a decent job and money to buy what we need for good health, such as food and heating. This also reduces stress that can impact our mental and physical health.  

“We can’t expect schools to solve the problem of the educational attainment gap alone. Partners need to work together to improve opportunities for the future of our communities, recognising health and education as shared goals. This can happen by supporting learners, families, and communities through initiatives that strengthen a whole school approach to health and well-being as well as community focussed schools. Additionally, it goes beyond the reach of the school to how we plan our housing systems, and the nature of work for parents that can all affect the opportunities for children, especially those facing disadvantage, to thrive, learn and grow.”