Despite significant tuition fee rises, 80 per cent of 14-year-olds still intend to apply for a place at university, new research has found.
But, while younger children like going to school regardless of how well they perform academically, by Year 9 those who achieve good grades are more likely than their peers to say that they enjoy school.
As part of the Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE) project, researchers have been following the academic and social development of around 3,000 children since 1997 when they were 3 years old. Their latest findings were presented at the recent British Educational Research Association conference, held at the University of Manchester.
The pupils, now aged 14, still express general confidence in their own ability. More than 90 per cent believe that they can do most things well, and 75 per cent describe themselves as clever. They are, however, less confident in their ability in modern languages and ICT than in any other subjects.
The majority say that they enjoy school, with 84 per cent specifically saying that they like their lessons. Those teenagers whose families have emphasised learning from an early age are more likely than their peers to enjoy school at age 14.
But 40 per cent of all pupils say they are sometimes bored during lessons, and 10 per cent actively dislike school.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, pupils were significantly more enthusiastic about school when they were younger. Half of them said they liked school all of the time when they were in Year 2; by Year 5, this number had halved, and it dropped even further by Year 9. But the academic effectiveness of their primary schools had no effect on how much they now enjoyed secondary school.
The academics hypothesised that these findings "may reflect greater self-awareness, as well as differences in schooling demands and life pressures, plus ... interest in activities outside school".
Nonetheless, nearly all pupils believe it is important for them to attain GCSE and A-level qualifications. And more than 75 per cent believe it is likely that they will go on to university.
Teenagers' confidence in their own ability reflects broader social trends. For example, girls are significantly less confident in their maths skills than boys. And, although girls performed much better than boys in English lessons, girls and boys are equally confident in that subject.
Boys are also more likely than girls to enjoy - and feel competent in - science and ICT. Girls, meanwhile, enjoy modern languages and the arts.
"These reflect areas in which there are also national differences in subject choices found at GCSE and A level," the academics said.
Girls also tend to believe they are less popular than their male classmates, and are more likely to be anxious. These findings, the researchers said, should inform the development of girl-friendly school pastoral policies.
Nonetheless, most of the 14-year-olds believe that they are popular. One in 10, though, finds it difficult to make friends, and 20 per cent confess that they are unpopular. Rich teenagers are more likely to say they are popular than their less-affluent classmates.
And pupils' dispositions are significantly affected by their academic attainment. In particular, those who are confident about their ability in maths and English tend to enjoy school more than their classmates. This was not the case when they were in Year 5.
The academics added: "Enjoyment of school was strongly related to the support students reported they received from teachers."
Ofsted's judgements about secondary schools' quality and effectiveness also reliably predict how much pupils at those schools like attending.
"The findings ... reveal important links between features of students' secondary school experiences, their academic and behavioural outcomes and their dispositions," the researchers said.
"This suggests that schools should be encouraged to value students' views and take steps to collect information about their perspectives on a regular basis."
Sammons, P., Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., et al. Influences on Students' Dispositions in Key Stage 3: exploring enjoyment of school, popularity, anxiety, citizenship values and academic self-concepts in Year 9 (Institute of Education, 2011)
Corresponding author: Brenda Taggart, Institute of Education
Effective Preschool, Primary and Secondary Education Project