Academic journal article Journal of Education and Learning

(Dis)advantage and (Dis)engaged: Reflections from the First Year of Secondary School in Australia

Academic journal article Journal of Education and Learning

(Dis)advantage and (Dis)engaged: Reflections from the First Year of Secondary School in Australia

Article excerpt


Adolescents continue to be at risk of disengaging from formal education, particularly in the transition year from primary to secondary schooling. This is a critical time in their education journey and can affect their ongoing academic performances. This paper reflects on the initial findings of a project to gauge students' levels of engagement in the first year of secondary school (12-13 years of age). The project was undertaken with students in 4 schools in two Australian states, located in low socio economic areas. Approximately 80 students from the 4 schools were selected to participate in an intervention project with specific targeted activities that aimed to increase levels of engagement in schooling to eventually aid them to aspire to desired career choices. A mixed methods research approach enabled us to capture, analyse and report on the participating students' perceptions in terms of their attitudes towards schooling, their academic performance, and selected aspects of school life. We also interviewed their parents and teachers about these topics. The results indicated that there were some changes in attitudes towards schooling for some individuals, but generally the majority of student engagement levels remained static or tended to be negative. This remains a cause of concern for educators who are trying to find ways to encourage students to be more engaged with formal education that supports their career aspirations.

Keywords: intervention programs, low socio-economic students, student engagement

1. Introduction

The social and academic needs of students in middle-years are located within the school and its culture not simply in academic activity (Stoll, Fink, & Earl, 2003). However, "for some marginalised students, it is the particular culture of the school that does not easily allow them to belong" (McKenna et al., 2013, p. 224). A report by Lee et al. (1999) recognised that schools and school cultures remain a vital aspect in extending students' academic knowledge. The Lee report also recommended that secondary schools in particular should address two complementary matters to improve student academic knowledge¾social support and an emphasis on academic curriculum. The report suggested that this combination is a key link to high levels of student engagement in learning (Lee et al., 1999, p. 28). Whilst there is a need to emphasise academic requirements as an essential part of middle-years schooling, there is a need to ensure it is relevant, engaging and personally satisfying for students (Manzo, 2000).

Discussions regarding disengaged students in the middle-years of schooling has abounded for many years (e.g. Hill et al., 1993; Middle Years Research and Development, 2001; Luke et al., 2003). It is manifested in reported behaviours such as declining levels of student enjoyment and achievement regarding school participation, alienation, increases in at-risk behaviours (such as truancy, disruptive class behavior, low self-esteem) and early school leaving that is often associated with unemployment. As such, (dis)engagement remains an ongoing concern, further evidenced by the large number of academic articles on the topic as well as opinions and narratives shared online in forums such as Aussie Educator (2013). Position statements, support materials, samples of work, and various Departments of Education reports, have been made available to advise and guide what needs to be done to improve the levels of engagement of students in the middle years and to promote successful learning behaviours.

Too many young people are disengaged from school, especially during the middle years of schooling (Years 5 to 9). Disengagement and low achievement are strong predictors of lifelong socio-economic disadvantage. Worryingly, they are more prevalent amongst students growing up in poorer families and in schools with high concentrations of these students. (Black, 2007, p. 7)

Evidence based research (e. …

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