Skip to main content

Age group 12 to 17 years

A sense of belonging and supportive relationships at school

Students who feel that they belong at school and like attending school are more likely to have greater motivation and engagement as well as better academic outcomes.

Overview and areas of concern

Research suggests that a sense of belonging at school and the degree to which students report liking school has an important influence on student motivation, engagement, participation and academic outcomes.1,2 

A sense of belonging at school is derived through the school environment, positive and supportive teacher and peer relationships and personal characteristics, such as conscientiousness, optimism and self-esteem.3

Data overview

In the Commissioner’s 2016 study, most students reported liking school and feeling like they were part of their school.

Proportion of Year 7 to Year 12 WA students saying they feel like they are, unsure, or not, part of their school

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report

Most students in Year 7 to Year 12 reported usually getting along with each other (77.9%) and with their teachers (76.7%). However, less students in high school than primary school felt that school staff cared ‘a lot’ about them (39.1% compared to 60.0%).

Areas of concern

More than one in ten Year 7 to Year 12 students said they don’t like school. This rate is almost double for male students in regional areas.

Aboriginal students were less likely than their non-Aboriginal peers to report that they usually get along with their teachers and their class mates.

One in five students reported they feel safe at school about half the time or less.

Proportion of Year 7 to Year 12 WA students reporting they feel safe in their school

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report

Endnotes

  1. Goodenow C and Grady KE 1993, The Relationship of School Belonging and Friends’ Values to Academic Motivation Among Urban Adolescent Students, The Journal of Experimental Education, Vol 62 No 1, pp. 60-71.
  2. Ma X 2003, Sense of Belonging to School: Can Schools Make a Difference?, The Journal of Educational Research, Vol 96 No 6, pp. 340-349.
  3. Allen K et al 2016, What schools need to know about fostering school belonging: a meta-analysis, Educational Psychology Review, pp. 1-34.
Measure: Liking school and a sense of belonging

In 2016, the Commissioner for Children and Young People WA conducted the School and Learning Consultation across all regions of WA. In this consultation one-third (32.7%) of Year 7 to Year 12 students responded they liked school ‘a lot’ (this compares to one-half of Year 3 to Year 6 students saying the same). One-quarter (25.6%) said they liked school ‘a bit’ and 30.7 per cent thought school was ‘OK’. However more than one in 10 Year 7 to Year 12 students (11.0%) said they ‘don’t like school’ or ‘don’t like school at all’.

Proportion of Year 7 to Year 12 students saying they like school a bit, school is OK, they don't like school or not at all, in per cent, by selected characteristics

Male

Female

Metropolitan

Regional

Non-Aboriginal

Aboriginal

All

Likes school a lot

34.4

32.1

36.6

24.0

33.4

22.7

32.7

Likes school a bit

23.2

27.4

22.8

31.7

25.4

27.3

25.6

It's OK

32.3

29.2

30.0

32.2

30.3

36.4

30.7

Doesn't like school

7.7

6.7

6.8

8.7

7.5

4.5

7.3

Doesn't like school at all

2.5

4.6

3.8

3.4

3.4

9.1

3.7

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report

There was little difference between the genders. The increased likelihood for girls in Year 3 to Year 6 to like school ‘a lot’ compared to boys was not found for students in Year 7 to Year 12. Male and female students in Year 7 to Year 12 were almost equally likely to enjoy school.

Male Year 7 to Year 12 students in metropolitan areas emerged as the group most likely to say they like school ‘a lot’ (40.8%) while male students in regional areas were the group least likely to say this (21.3%).

A lower proportion of Aboriginal than non-Aboriginal students said that they ‘like school a lot’ (22.7% compared to 33.4%) however the difference was not statistically significant due to sample sizes. In regard to not liking school, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students were about equally likely to say that they ‘don’t like school’ (13.6% compared to 10.9%).1

There was little to no difference found between students born in Australia and students born elsewhere.

For Year 7 to Year 12 students who reported that they ‘don’t like school’ or ‘don’t like school at all’, the reasons for not liking school included, ‘because it’s boring’ (53.3%), ‘don’t like the way that I’m being taught’ (49.3%) and ‘what I’m learning is not interesting’ (46.7%).

In terms of specifically measuring the sense of belonging, three-quarters (75.2%) of Year 7 to Year 12 students reported that they feel like they are ‘part of their school’, however around 20 per cent reported they feel ‘unsure’ about this. Five per cent of students said they do not feel like they are part of their school.2

Year 7 to Year 12 WA students who said they feel like they are part of their school were more likely than other students to say that they:

  • enjoy school ‘a lot’ or ‘a bit’
  • ‘usually’ get along with their class mates
  • feel safe ‘all the time’ or ‘most of the time’.

When asked about what makes students feel like they are part of their school, the most commonly mentioned reasons were ‘friends’, ‘teachers’ or particular activities and subjects offered by the school.

For more information on young people’s views, see the Commissioner’s 2018 report, Speaking out about School and Learning.

National School Opinion Survey

All WA government schools are required to administer parent, student and staff National School Opinion Surveys (NSOS) at least every two years, commencing in 2014. The Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) was responsible for the development and implementation of the NSOS. The WA Department of Education and individual schools can add additional questions to the survey.

In WA, the first complete (although non-mandatory) implementation of the survey was conducted in government schools in 2016. The next survey will be conducted in 2018. The data should be interpreted with caution as the survey is relatively new and there is a consequent lack of an agreed baseline for results.

In the 2016 survey, 56.4 per cent of Year 7 to Year 12 students in government schools either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement ‘I like being at school’. Twenty-three per cent neither agreed nor disagreed, while 18.5 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed. This represents a significant drop from the results for primary schools where 80 per cent of Year 5 to Year 6 students agreed or strongly agreed with this statement.3

National School Opinion Survey, 2016: Proportion of Year 7 to Year 12 WA government school students responding to the statement: ‘I like being at school’

 

Source: National School Opinion Survey 2016, Custom report prepared by WA Department of Education for the Commissioner for Children and Young People WA (unpublished)

There were also differences across geographic locations for this question, with 67.4 per cent of Year 5 to Year 12 students in the metropolitan area responding that they like being at school, while only 61.2 per cent of Year 5 to Year 12 students in very remote areas agreed or strongly agreed with this statement.

There were minimal differences between male and female students, or between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students.

These results differ from the findings of the Commissioner’s School and Learning Consultation where a larger proportion of students said that they like school. However the results between the two studies cannot be directly compared due to the different research methodologies between the NSOS and the School and Learning Consultation.

PISA Sense of Belonging Index

The sense of belonging of students at 15 years of age was measured in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2003, 2012 and 2015. The PISA sense of belonging index was based on responses to six statements related to sense of belonging and feeling accepted by peers. Refer to the PISA Australia in Focus Number 1: Sense of belonging at school for more information on the methodology.

In the 2015 PISA survey, 78 per cent of students in WA agreed that they ‘make friends easily at school’, which is consistent with the OECD average and similar to the Australian average (79.0%). Yet, only 70 per cent of WA students agreed that they ‘feel like I belong at school’. The OECD average was 73 per cent and the Australian average was 72 per cent.4

Australia-wide, 64 per cent of Aboriginal students agreed that they ‘feel like I belong at school’, compared to 72 per cent of non-Aboriginal students. Further, there was a significant difference between the responses of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds compared to those from higher socio-economic backgrounds and equivalent differences by remoteness (less students felt a sense of belonging at school in remote locations).5

Across all measures, there has been a negative trend in the sense of belonging at school of Australian students over time. In 2003, 91 per cent of Australian students agreed that they make friends easily at school, and by 2015 this percentage decreased to 79 per cent. In 2003, 88 per cent of Australian students agreed that they feel like they belong at school, and by 2015 this decreased to 72 per cent.6  This level of decline was relatively consistent across the English-speaking countries measured.

These negative trends were generally greater for female students, Aboriginal students and students in the lowest socio-economic quartile.

Endnotes

  1. Includes students who answered ‘I don’t like school’ and ‘I don’t like school at all’.
  2. Commissioner for Children and Young People 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA, p. 34.
  3. Source: Results from the National School Opinion Survey 2016, custom report prepared by WA Department of Education for Commissioner for Children and Young People WA. 
  4. Australian Council for Education Research (ACER) 2018, PISA Australia in Focus Number 1: Sense of belonging at school, Camberwell, Australian Council for Education Research Ltd, p. 17.
  5. Ibid, p. 20.
  6. Ibid, p. 21.

Measure: Positive relationships at school

Quality interpersonal relationships have been identified through the School and Learning Consultation as the foundation for student engagement with school and in learning activities. Relationships with peers, teachers and other school staff foster in students a sense of belonging and of feeling valued. Through relationships, students are more likely to develop patterns of persistence and motivation, and have access to a support network.1

Relationships with peers

In the 2016 School and Learning Consultation, 77.9 per cent of Year 7 to Year 12 WA students reported that they ‘usually’ get along with their class mates while almost 17.4 per cent said that they get along ‘sometimes’. A small proportion of students (3.0%) reported that they get along ‘hardly ever’ or ‘not at all’. These students were more likely to say that having a close friend in class was not important to them.

Proportion of Year 7 to Year 12 WA students getting along with peers usually, sometimes, hardly ever or not at all, in per cent, by selected characteristics

Male

Female

Metropolitan

Regional

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

All

Usually

79.3

77.1

77.8

78.4

54.5

79.4

77.9

Sometimes

14.7

19.0

17.8

16.3

29.5

16.5

17.4

Hardly ever

1.4

1.8

1.3

2.4

0.0

1.7

1.6

Not at all

1.8

0.3

0.8

1.0

6.8

0.6

0.9

Prefer not to say

2.8

1.8

2.3

1.9

9.1

1.7

2.2

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report

Aboriginal Year 7 to Year 12 students were significantly less likely than their non-Aboriginal peers to answer that they ‘usually’ get along with the other kids in their school (54.5% compared to 79.4%). Aboriginal students were also the group most likely to answer that they don’t get along with their class mates ‘at all’ or ‘prefer[red] not to say’.

For more information on this, refer to the Commissioner’s School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report.

Relationships with teachers

Positive relationships between students and teachers have a long-lasting impact and can contribute to students’ academic and social development, enable students to feel safe and secure in their learning environments and promote engagement with school and learning.2,3

In the 2016 study, more than three-quarters (76.7%) of Year 7 to Year 12 students reported that they ‘usually’ get along with their teachers while almost 20 per cent answered ‘sometimes’. A small proportion of students – 3.9 per cent – answered with ‘hardly ever’ or ‘not at all’.

Proportion of Year 7 to Year 12 WA students getting along with teachers usually, sometimes, hardly ever or not at all, in per cent, by selected characteristics

Male

Female

Metropolitan

Regional

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

All

Usually

72.3

79.7

75.1

80.3

65.1

77.4

76.7

Sometimes

23.5

16.7

20.5

16.8

27.3

18.8

19.4

Hardly ever

2.5

2.1

2.1

2.9

0.0

2.5

2.3

Not at all

1.8

1.5

2.3

0.0

7.0

1.3

1.6

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report

Aboriginal Year 7 to Year 12 students were less likely than their non-Aboriginal peers to report that they ‘usually’ get along with their teachers (65.1% compared to 77.4% of non-Aboriginal students) and more likely to report that they do not get along with their teachers ‘at all’ (7.0% compared to 1.3%).

Among Year 7 to Year 12 WA students, less than 40 per cent (39.1%) answered they feel people at school (like teachers, other school staff and the principal) care about them ‘a lot’. Over one-half (52.3%) said ‘some’ and almost one in 10 students (8.7%) answered ‘not at all’.4

Students in metropolitan areas were more likely than students in regional areas to feel that people at school care about them ‘a lot’ (41.0% compared to 34.6%) and also ‘not at all’ (9.9% compared to 5.8%).

While the proportion of students who said they ‘always’ or ‘usually’ get along with their teachers did not change significantly between primary and high school, there was a notable negative shift in students’ assessment of how much they felt that teachers cared about them. This is consistent with results of the National School Opinion Survey discussed below.

Students who said they ‘usually’ get along with their teachers and who also felt that their teachers cared ‘a lot’ about them were more likely to like school, feel a sense of belonging, rate their academic achievement higher and perceive attending school regularly as important, than students who said they ‘sometimes’ get along with their teachers and felt that their teachers care ‘some’.

National School Opinion Survey

In the 2016 National School Opinion Survey, 51 per cent of participating Year 7 to Year 12 students in WA government schools either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement ‘my teachers care about me’. Twenty-four per cent neither agreed nor disagreed with this, while 12 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed. This represents a significant decrease from the results for primary schools where 78 per cent of Year 5 and Year 6 students agreed or strongly agreed with this statement.

National School Opinion Survey, 2016: Proportion of Year 7 to Year 12 WA government school students responding to the statement: ‘my teachers care about me’

Source: National School Opinion Survey 2016, Custom report prepared by WA Department of Education for the Commissioner for Children and Young People WA (unpublished)

Endnotes

  1. Martin A and Dowson M 2009, Interpersonal Relationships, Motivation, Engagement, and Achievement: Yields for Theory, Current Issues, and Educational Practice, Review of Educational Research, Vol 79 No 1, pp. 327-365.
  2. Berry D and O’Connor E 2010, Behavioural risk, teacher-child relationships, and social skill development across middle childhood: A child-by-environment analysis of change, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, Vol 31 No 1, pp. 1-14.
  3. Hamre B and Pianta R 2001, Early Teacher-Child Relationships and the Trajectory of Children’s School Outcomes through Eighth Grade, Child Development, Vol 72 No 2, pp. 625-638.
  4. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA, p. 66.
Measure: Feeling safe at school

Within schools, feeling and being safe is essential for students to be ready and able to engage with learning. When students do not feel safe it affects their behaviour and their feelings towards school and learning.

Further, evidence suggests that children and young people who feel safe are more resilient, confident and have a stronger sense of self-identity.1

In the 2016 School and Learning Consultation, 80 per cent of Year 7 to Year 12 students said they feel safe ‘all the time’ or ‘most of the time’ and one in five said ‘about half the time’ or less.2 Aboriginal students were slightly more likely to feel unsafe than non-Aboriginal students.

Proportion of Year 7 to Year 12 students saying they feel safe, in per cent, by selected characteristics

Male

Female

Metropolitan

Regional

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

All

Yes, all the time

40.5

34.5

39.7

30.0

43.2

36.2

36.7

Yes, most of the time

43.0

44.3

39.9

52.2

34.1

44.3

43.7

About half of the time

11.6

14.4

13.4

14.0

11.4

13.7

13.6

No, less than half of the time

3.2

3.9

4.0

2.9

4.5

3.6

3.7

No, not at all

1.8

2.8

3.0

1.0

6.8

2.2

2.4

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report

Proportion of Year 7 to Year 12 WA students saying they feel safe

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report

Almost one in two Year 7 to Year 12 students reported having been afraid of being hurt or bullied and 28 per cent have not gone to school at least once because of it.

Proportion of Year 7 to Year 12 students saying they are never, sometimes or often afraid that someone will hurt of bully them at school, in per cent, by selected characteristics

Male

Female

Metropolitan

Regional

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

All

No, never

61.3

52.3

58.0

51.2

68.2

55.0

55.9

Sometimes

22.2

31.2

25.1

32.9

18.2

28.0

27.4

Yes, often

6.3

8.2

7.4

7.7

4.5

7.7

7.5

Female Year 7 to Year 12 students were more likely to be afraid that someone will hurt or bully them than male students, and to say that they had missed school sometime in the past because of fear of being hurt or bullied.3

The 2007 National Survey of Covert Bullying Prevalence, conducted by the Child Health Promotion Research Centre at Edith Cowan University, revealed that 24.1 per cent of Year 7 students, 26.5 per cent of Year 8 students and 21.4 per cent of Year 9 students had experienced bullying in WA.4 This study also found that Year 5 and Year 8 students are among the most likely of any year group to indicate they are being bullied, and also to have bullied others.

The School and Learning Consultation found that students who feel safe at school are more likely to have positive engagement outcomes (like school a lot, feel like part of their school, say being at school every day is very important, and achieve highly).5

Children and young people’s experiences of bullying online (or cyber-bulling) will be discussed in the Safe in the community indicator, which will be released at a future date.

The Commissioner’s policy brief Children and young people speak out about education and safety in schools provides further information on this topic.

National School Opinion Survey

In the 2016 NSOS survey,6 64 per cent of participating Year 7 to Year 12 students in government schools either agreed or strongly agreed that they ‘feel safe at school’. Twenty-one per cent neither agreed nor disagreed with this statement, while 13 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed. This represents a significant decrease from the results for primary schools where 81 per cent of Year 5 and Year 6 students agreed or strongly agreed that they ‘feel safe at school’.

Endnotes

  1. Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) 2014, The Nest action agenda: Technical document, ARACY.
  2. Commissioner for Children and Young People 2017, Speaking Out About School and Learning, The views of WA children and young people on factors that support their engagement in school and learning, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
  3. Commissioner for Children and Young People 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
  4. Cross D et al 2009, Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study (ACBPS), Child Health Promotion Research Centre, Edith Cowan University, p. 182.
  5. Commissioner for Children and Young People 2017, Speaking Out About School and Learning, The views of WA children and young people on factors that support their engagement in school and learning, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
  6. Source: Results from the National School Opinion Survey 2016, custom report prepared by WA Department of Education for Commissioner for Children and Young People WA. All WA government schools are required to administer parent, student and staff National School Opinion Surveys (NSOS) at least every two years, commencing in 2014. The Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) was responsible for the development and implementation of the NSOS. The WA Department of Education and individual schools are also able to add additional questions to the survey. In WA, the first complete (although non-mandatory) implementation of the survey was conducted in government schools in 2016. The next survey will be conducted in 2018. The data should be interpreted with caution as the survey is relatively new and there is a consequent lack of an agreed baseline for results. 
Measure: Cultural recognition, respect and support

For young people to be fully engaged in learning they need to feel recognised, respected and supported in their culture. A term that encompasses this measure is cultural safety which defines ‘an environment that is safe for people: where there is no assault, challenge or denial of their identity, of who they are and what they need. It is about shared respect, shared meaning, shared knowledge and experience, of learning, living and working together with dignity and truly listening’.1

This applies to all students but especially to Aboriginal young people, young people who are culturally and linguistically diverse and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex (LGBTI)  young people.

As understanding of the longer-term impacts of discrimination and bias through stereotypes on children and young people increases, it becomes more critical to collect and report on cultural safety,2 however at this point in time there is very limited data available on this.

The Department of Education’s Aboriginal Cultural Standards is a useful tool for developing proficiency in Aboriginal culture, as it provides a continuum to measure cultural understanding and inclusive practice.

In the 2016 School and Learning Consultation, more than two-thirds of Aboriginal Year 7 to Year 12 students agreed with the statement that ‘some teachers have shown a special interest in my culture or ethnic background’.However, this is not a robust measure of cultural safety and the Commissioner for Children and Young People WA will continue to advocate for the development of reporting frameworks and collection of data that measures cultural safety in schools more effectively.

For more information, refer to the Commissioner’s Engaging with Aboriginal Children and Young People Toolkit.

Endnotes

  1. Williams R 2008, Cultural safety; what does it mean for our work practice? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, Vol 23 No 2, pp. 213-214.
  2. Bin-Sallik M 2003, Cultural Safety: Let's Name It!, The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, Vol 32, pp. 21-28. ISSN: 1326-0111.
  3. Commissioner for Children and Young People 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA, p 224.
Young people in care

Limited data exists on whether WA young people in care like school or feel like they belong, or whether they have supportive relationships at school. There is also limited data on how safe WA young people in care feel at school. 

The WA Department of Communities collects data from children and young people in out-of-home care in WA through Viewpoint an interactive software program for children aged between five and 17 years which seeks their views on their care experiences, wishes and worries.1 Data from the Viewpoint survey is not published other than two collated effectiveness indicators in the Annual Report regarding the children and young people’s experiences of safety and support in their care arrangement.2

In a 2013 survey, CREATE Foundation conducted a survey of 1,069 children in care across Australia (excluding WA) in 2013.3 In this survey, CREATE Foundation found that one-quarter of children and young people reported experiences of bullying, which is similar to the proportion in the general Australian school population. These children primarily experienced bullying at school, with the exception being those children in residential care who experienced an equivalent level of bullying in the home.Children and young people in care are a highly vulnerable group and it is critical that they feel safe and supported at school.

Further, in this survey, students living in care were asked to rate their educational experience and 64.6 per cent of respondents aged eight to 17 years described their learning experience at school as ‘quite good’ or ‘very good’.5 In reverse, this means that around one-third of respondent students living in care had a less than positive learning experience.

CREATE Foundation also found that a significant proportion of the respondent children had attended four or more schools during their primary school years. Students living in residential care (as opposed to kinship or foster care) were most likely to have attended multiple schools.6 Research into the effects of student transience has shown that frequent school moves can have significant negative impacts on the student’s engagement and educational outcomes such as low achievement and increased absence and, in addition, can also disrupt the schools and classrooms the student is leaving and joining.7,8

There is no information available on how WA children and young people in care experience their relationships with teachers and peers at school. 

Endnotes

  1. The Department for Child Protection and Family Support (Department of Communities) 2016-2017 Annual Report indicated 1,269 Viewpoint surveys were completed by children in care. It should be noted that where the same young person completes a survey more than once in the relevant time period, all their responses are included in this statistic. There were a total number of 3,604 children aged five to 17 years in care, therefore the maximum possible participation rate that year was 35 per cent. The total number of children in care is 4,795 at 30 June 2017.
  2. The effectiveness indicators publicly reported are: proportion of children and young people in care who felt safe in their care arrangement (96% in 2016-17) and proportion of children and young people in care who felt supported in their care arrangement (83% in 2016-17). 
  3. The initial response rate to the survey was low (53.6%) therefore the data was supplemented with other data held by CREATE Foundation. While the final number of participants (1,069) was considered a reasonable sample size, there were insufficient respondents to allow for categorical variables such as sex, age, culture and placement type. Source: McDowall, JJ 2013, Experiencing out-of-home care in Australia: The views of children and young people (CREATE Report Card 2013), CREATE Foundation, p. 12.
  4. McDowall JJ 2013, Experiencing out-of-home care in Australia: The views of children and young people (CREATE Report Card 2013), CREATE Foundation, Sydney. 
  5. Ibid, p. 62.
  6. Ibid, pp. 60-61.
  7. Rumberger R 2003, The Causes and Consequences of Student Mobility, The Journal of Negro Education, Vol 72 No 1, p.6.
  8. Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) 2016, Mobility of students in NSW government schools, Report prepared by Lu L and Rickard K.
Young people with disability

Limited data exists on whether WA young people with disability like school or feel like they belong, or on whether they have supportive relationships at school. There is also limited data on how safe WA young people with disability feel at school. 

Twenty-one students with disability attending Year 3 to Year 12 at an education support centre participated in the School and Learning Consultation. One-half of these students reported liking school ‘a lot’ with the remainder saying they like school ‘a bit’ or ‘it is OK’.1 However, this is a small sample and therefore cannot be deemed representative of students with disability.

When asked about relationships with other students, three-quarters of these students reported getting along with the kids in their class ‘most of the time’. The remainder answered that they get along ‘sometimes’ and one student said that he/she does not get along with the kids in his/her class.2

In addition, the School and Learning Consultation included 178 students with disability and/or a long-term health condition who attend Year 7 to Year 12 at a mainstream school. These students were less likely than students with no such health problems to like school ‘a lot’ or ‘a bit’ (52.8% compared to 60.2%).3

A survey conducted by Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) in 2016, revealed that 52 per cent of respondents (1,396 students and/or parents) reported that the student had been subject to bullying.4

More research is required into the school experiences of both students with disability at special schools and students with disability or long term health conditions in mainstream schools.

Endnotes

  1. Responses from a small sample of students (n = 21) and across Year 3 to Year 12. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2017, Speaking Out About School and Learning, The views of WA children and young people on factors that support their engagement in school and learning, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
  2. Ibid, p. 210.
  3. Sourced from internal calculations by the Commissioner for Children and Young People WA from the School and Learning Survey.
  4. Children and Young People with Disability Australia 2016, Education Survey 2016, CDA.
Policy implications

Young people who like school, have positive relationships with their peers and teachers and who feel safe are more likely to be engaged and motivated to participate in education to their full capacity.

Students who believe that they have positive relationships with their teachers and that their teachers are caring, empathetic, fair and help resolve personal problems, are more likely to feel a greater sense of belonging than those students who perceive a negative relationship with their teachers.1

School activities and programs that facilitate a sense of belonging and improve peer and teacher relationships include peer mentoring, music, sports, science and academic extension programs, school councils and extracurricular activities. In the School and Learning Consultation, parents noted that involvement in these programs increased the number of peers students socialised with, thereby increasing their friendship group and support network, supporting learning and making students feel valued – all of which contributed to a sense of connection to the school.2

The 2016 consultation revealed that a significant proportion of Year 7 to Year 12 WA young people does not feel safe at school all the time. Evidence however shows there is a strong interrelationship between learning and safety and that students who do not feel safe at school cannot learn to their full potential because they are distracted by feelings of stress or anxiety.3

For more information on safety in schools refer to the Commissioner’s policy brief Children and young people speak out about education and safety in schools.

There has been considerable research and policy focus on safety and bullying in schools over recent years. There are a number of online resources which help school communities to create safer learning environments including the ‘Bullying. No Way!’ website managed by the Safe and Supportive School Communities Working Group, the National Centre Against Bullying website, the Office of the eSafety Commissioner website and the Friendly Schools Plus website.

The Commissioner for Children and Young People WA also publishes the Child Safe Organisations WA: Guidelines and other child safe resources to assist organisations, including schools, to become more child safe.

Yet despite strong policy interventions and much research and investment in the area, students in the School and Learning Consultation nominated feeling safe at school as a key issue. School governing bodies therefore should review and monitor resources and programs to continuously improve policy and practice in this area. This should include monitoring of outcomes to determine whether existing programs are having an impact.

Data gaps

Research has highlighted that children and young people with disability are more likely to experience bullying and feel unsafe at school, and yet there is no periodic data collection or survey measuring how WA children and young people with disability and/or long-term health conditions feel about school.

Endnotes

  1. Allen K et al 2016, What schools need to know about fostering school belonging: a meta-analysis, Educational Psychology Review, pp. 1-34.
  2. Commissioner for Children and Young People 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA, p. 234.
  3. Compare Blakemore SJ & Frith U 2005, The learning brain: Lessons for education, Blackwell Publishing.
Further resources

For more information on children and young peoples’ opinions about school, sense of belonging and bullying and the resulting impact on attendance, engagement and educational outcomes refer to the following resources:

For more information on young people’s views, see Speaking out about School and Learning.