Skip to main content

Age group 6 to 11 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 participating students in Year 3 to Year 6 reported liking school (75.1%) and getting along with their peers most of the time (77.3%).

Proportion of Year 3 to Year 6 WA students saying they like school

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

Most students in Year 3 to Year 6 also reported that they get along with their teachers (98.1%) and felt that their teachers cared about them (97.9%).

In 2016, the majority of participating Year 3 to Year 6 students said they felt safe at school ‘all the time’ (53%) or ‘most of the time’ (36.1%).

Areas of concern

Aboriginal students were less likely than their non-Aboriginal peers to report getting along with their classmates ‘most of the time’ and more likely to say they get along with their classmates ‘sometimes’.

More than one in two (55.4%) participating Year 3 to Year 6 students reported that they were either ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ afraid that someone would hurt or bully them at school.

Proportion of Year 3 to Year 6 WA students saying they are afraid someone will hurt or bully them at 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 sense of belonging

In the Commissioner’s 2016 School and Learning Consultation,49 per cent of Year 3 to Year 6 students reported that they ‘like school a lot’. One-quarter of these students stated that they ‘like school a bit’ and around 20 per cent felt school ‘is OK’.2 

Proportion of Year 3 to Year 6 WA students saying they like school a bit, school is OK, they don't like school or not at all, by selected characteristics

Male

Female

Metropolitan

Regional

Non-Aboriginal

Aboriginal

All

Likes school a lot

43.6

52.9

48.8

49.2

48.4

54.8

49.0

Likes school a bit

24.5

27.2

26.0

26.2

26.8

19.2

26.1

It's OK

25.8

17.4

21.3

20.4

21.0

19.2

20.9

Doesn't like school

4.3

1.6

2.6

2.9

2.4

5.5

2.7

Doesn't like school at all

1.8

0.9

1.3

1.3

1.3

1.4

1.3

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

More female students ‘liked school’ or ‘liked school a lot’ than male students. There was no significant difference between regional and metropolitan students and students born in Australia and elsewhere.

More than four in five students (82.6% of Year 3 to Year 6 students) said they liked school because of ‘seeing/hanging out with my friends’. This was the most popular response from students when asked what they most liked about school.

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 is being 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, 80 per cent of Year 5 and Year 6 students in government schools either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I like being at school”. Twelve per cent neither agreed nor disagreed, while approximately seven per cent of students disagreed or strongly disagreed.3

National School Opinion Survey, 2016: Proportion of Year 5 and Year 6 WA government school students saying they 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)

Taking into account the different research methodologies and questions used between the NSOS and the School and Learning Consultation, the responses are relatively consistent. These results highlight that while most students report liking school, a significant proportion of between 10 and 20 per cent of students either do not like being at school or are ambivalent about it.  

Endnotes

  1. The Commissioner for Children and Young People’s School and Learning Consultation was conducted from July to November 2016. The purpose of the consultation was to seek the views of Year 3 to Year 12 students enrolled in government, Catholic and independent schools across WA on the positive and negative factors that influence their engagement in education. In total, 1,812 students across 98 schools participated in the survey and 1,174 students participated in the group discussion between July and November 2016. Schools from all nine geographic regions of WA were involved in the consultation. For more information refer: Commissioner for Children and Young People 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA, Perth.
  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. Results from the National School Opinion Survey 2016, custom report prepared by WA Department of Education for Commissioner for Children and Young People WA (unpublished).  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: Positive relationships at school

The School and Learning Consultation highlighted that quality interpersonal relationships are 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, Year 3 to Year 6 male and female students were about equally likely to say that they get along with the kids in their class ‘most of the time’ (79.6% compared to 75.7%) and also ‘sometimes’ (18.0% compared to 22.7%). There were no significant differences between regional and metropolitan Year 3 to Year 6 students in regard to this question.

Proportion of Year 3 to Year 6 WA students getting along with peers most of the time, sometimes or not at all, by selected characteristics

Male

Female

Metropolitan

Regional

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

All

Yes, most of the time

79.6

75.7

79.1

74.7

66.7

78.4

77.3

Sometimes

18.0

22.7

19.1

23.1

29.2

19.9

20.7

No, not at all

2.5

1.6

1.8

2.2

4.2

1.7

2.0

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

However, Aboriginal students were significantly less likely than their non-Aboriginal peers to say that they get along with the kids in their class ‘most of the time’ (66.7% compared to 78.4%) and more likely to say that they get along ‘sometimes’ (29.2% compared to 19.9%).

Proportion of Year 3 to Year 6 WA students getting along with peers most of the time, sometimes or not at all, by Aboriginal status

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

For more information on this, refer to the Commissioner for Children and Young People School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report.

Relationships with teachers and other staff

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 2016, nearly 60 per cent of Year 3 to Year 6 WA students reported that they ‘always’ get along with their teachers while 39 per cent answered ‘sometimes’. A few students (2.0%) said they do not get along ‘at all’.

Proportion of Year 3 to Year 6 WA students getting along with teachers always, sometimes or not at all, in per cent, by selected characteristics

Male

Female

Metropolitan

Regional

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

All

Yes, most of the time

50.3

65.6

60.1

57.8

53.4

59.9

59.2

Sometimes

46.3

33.5

38.6

39.3

42.5

38.4

38.9

No, not at all

3.4

0.9

1.3

2.9

4.1

1.7

1.9

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

In this cohort, girls were more likely than boys to say that they always get along with their teachers (65.6% of girls said this compared with 50.3% of boys). There was no significant difference between students in metropolitan and regional areas.

The 2016 study found that students who ‘usually’ get along with their teachers and who also feel that their teachers care ‘a lot’ about them are 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 say they ‘sometimes’ get along with their teachers and feel that their teachers care ‘some’.

For more information on this, refer to the Commissioner for Children and Young People School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report.

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.
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 feel unsafe 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 School and Learning Consultation one in two Year 3 to Year 6 students (53.0%) said that they feel safe in their school ‘all the time’ and one in three (36.1%) said ‘most of the time’. However, one in 10 students reported that they ‘sometimes don’t feel safe’ (8.8%) or they ‘don’t feel safe’ (2.1%).

Proportion of Year 3 to Year 6 WA students reporting their feelings of safety, in per cent, by selected characteristics

Male

Female

Metropolitan

Regional

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

All

Yes, all the time

52.5

53.5

57.2

47.0

54.8

52.9

53.0

Most of the time

35.8

35.6

32.4

41.5

32.9

36.4

36.1

Sometimes I don't feel safe

8.3

9.2

8.3

9.6

11.0

8.5

8.8

No, I don't feel safe

2.5

1.8

2.2

1.9

1.3

2.1

2.1

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

Year 3 to Year 6 students in regional areas were less likely than their metropolitan counterparts to say they feel safe ‘all the time’ (47.0% versus 57.2%) and instead were more likely to say they feel safe ‘most of the time’. The proportion of students who did not feel safe was similar for students in both areas.

There was no significant difference measured between female and male students or between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students in regard to how safe they felt at school.

In the 2016 School and Learning Consultation, more than one in two Year 3 to Year 6 students reported that they were either ‘sometimes’ (45.7%) or ‘often’ (9.7%) afraid that someone would hurt or bully them at school. Girls were more likely than boys to be worried about this.

Proportion of Year 3 to Year 6 WA 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

49.8

40.7

45.2

43.6

50.0

44.1

44.6

Sometimes

40.0

49.9

45.9

45.5

40.3

46.2

45.7

Yes, often

10.2

9.4

8.9

10.9

9.7

9.7

9.7

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

The 2007 National Survey of Covert Bullying Prevalence, conducted by the Child Health Promotion Research Centre at Edith Cowan University, revealed that 20.5 per cent of Year 4 students, 39 per cent of Year 5 students and 22.4 per cent of Year 6 students had experienced bullying in Western Australia.2 This study also found that Year 5 and Year 8 are among the highest of the year groups to indicate they are bullied, and also to indicate they have bullied others.

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 National School Opinion Survey,3 81 per cent of participating Year 5 to Year 6 students in government schools either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I feel safe at my school”. Eleven per cent neither agreed nor disagreed, while seven per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement. 

Sixteen per cent of Aboriginal students disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement. A slightly higher number of female students than male students agreed or strongly agreed with this statement (72.1% versus 70.4%).

Endnotes

  1. Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) 2014, The Nest action agenda: Technical document, ARACY.
  2. Cross D et al 2009, Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study (ACBPS), Child Health Promotion Research Centre, Edith Cowan University, p. 182.
  3. 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. 
Children in care

Limited data exists on whether WA children 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 children 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.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

CREATE Foundation conducted a survey of 1,069 children in care across Australia (excluding WA) in 2013.3 In this survey, students living in out-of-home 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’.4 In reverse, this means that around one-third of respondent students living in out-of-home 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.5 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.6,7

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

In the 2013 survey, CREATE Foundation found that one-quarter of students living in out-of-home care reported experiences of bullying, which is similar to the proportion in the general Australian school population. Students living in out-of-home care primarily experienced bullying at school, with the exception being those children in residential care who experienced an equivalent level of bullying in the home.8

Children in care are a highly vulnerable group and it is critical that they feel safe and supported 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, p. 62. 
  5. Ibid, pp. 60-61.
  6. Rumberger R 2003, The Causes and Consequences of Student Mobility, The Journal of Negro Education, Vol 72 No 1, p.6.
  7. Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) 2016, Mobility of students in NSW government schools, Report prepared by Lu L & Rickard K.
  8. McDowall, JJ 2013, Experiencing out-of-home care in Australia: The views of children and young people (CREATE Report Card 2013), CREATE Foundation, Sydney, p. 65. Note: The initial response rate to this 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.
Children with disability

Limited data exists on whether WA children 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 children 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 by Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) in 2016, revealed that 52 per cent of the 1,396 students and parents who responded to the survey reported that the student had been subject to bullying.4 This is consistent with the findings from the School and Learning Consultation and highlights the specific vulnerability to bullying of children and young people with disability.

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.
Policy implications

Children 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 have positive relationships with their teachers and feel 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 contribute to a sense of connection to the school.2

A critical area of concern is that a significant proportion of Year 3 to Year 6 WA children do 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, safety at school is still a key issue for students. 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 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 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, Vol 30 No 1, pp. 1-34.
  2. Commissioner for Children and Young People 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
  3. Compare Blakemore SJ and 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