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Age group 6 to 11 years

A sense of belonging and supportive relationships at school

Students who feel a sense of belonging at their 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

Last updated May 2020

Some data is available on whether WA children aged 6 to 11 years are supported and feel like they belong at school.

Overview

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

In the Commissioner’s 2019 Speaking Out Survey, the majority of Year 4 to Year 6 students in WA reported liking school (67.2%) and usually getting along with their classmates (64.8%).4

With respect to relationships with teachers, the majority of Year 4 to Year 6 students reported that they usually get along with their teachers (73.8%) and that there is a teacher or another adult at their school who really cares about them (82.5%).

Areas of concern

According to the findings of the 2019 survey, a significantly lower proportion of Aboriginal than non-Aboriginal Year 4 to Year 6 students reported usually getting along with classmates (55.2% compared to 65.5%) or with teachers (65.4% compared to 74.4%).

Of concern is that less than one-half (44.2%) of Year 4 to Year 6 students feel safe at school all the time and 14.3 per cent feel safe only sometimes or less.

Further, two-in-five (43.2%) Year 4 to Year 6 students reported having ever been bullied, cyber bullied or both by students at their school and 13.2 per cent5 said they had missed school in the past due to being afraid of bullying.

Proportion of Year 4 to Year 6 students reporting they have or have not been bullied, cyber bullied or both by a student at their school or they don’t know, per cent, WA, 2019

Graph

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People 2020, Speaking Out Survey 2019 Data Tables [unpublished]

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.
  4. The Speaking Out Survey 2019 results for students’ views on their relationships at school are broadly consistent with the results of the Commissioner’s School and Learning Consultation undertaken in 2016. For further information refer to Commissioner for Children and Young People 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA, Perth, pp. 46-62 and pp. 63-89.
  5. The proportion of students who have missed school due to fear of bullying is likely to be higher than the quoted 13 per cent due to a further 8 per cent of students responding with the option ‘prefer not to say’.
Measure: Liking school and sense of belonging

Last updated May 2020

In the Commissioner’s Speaking Out Survey 2019, 42.5 per cent of WA Year 4 to Year 6 students reported that they like school a lot. One-quarter (24.7%) of students said they like school a bit and 22.2 per cent felt school is ‘OK’.

Proportion of Year 4 to Year 6 students reporting they like school a lot, a bit, it's OK, they don’t like school much or not at all by selected characteristics, per cent, WA, 2019

Male

Female

Metropolitan

Regional

Remote

Total

I like school a lot

40.4

44.1

42.8

43.3

37.2

42.5

I like school a bit

23.6

25.9

25.2

21.4

27.7

24.7

It's OK

23.6

21.3

22.0

23.2

22.6

22.2

I don't like school much

8.2

5.2

6.4

7.8

7.9

6.8

I don't like school at all

4.2

3.4

3.6

4.3

4.6

3.8

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2020, Speaking Out Survey 2019 Data Tables [unpublished]

Year 4 to Year 6 students reporting they like school a lot, a bit, it's OK, they don’t like school much or not at all, per cent, WA, 2019

Graph

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2020, Speaking Out Survey 2019 Data Tables [unpublished]

A higher proportion of female than male Year 4 to Year 6 students reported liking school a lot or a bit (70.0% compared to 64.0%) and a higher proportion of male than female students reported not liking school much or at all (12.4% compared to 8.6%). Interestingly, this difference between the genders was found to be reversed for students in Years 7 to 12 (refer to the indicator: A sense of belonging and supportive relationships at school  for 12 to 17 years).

With regard to regional differences, students in remote areas were somewhat less likely than students in metropolitan and regional areas to report liking school a lot (37.2% compared to 42.8% and 43.3%) and more likely to say they like school a bit (27.7% compared to 25.2% and 21.4%).

Proportion of Year 4 to Year 6 students reporting they like school a lot, a bit, it's OK, they don’t like school much or not at all by Aboriginal status, per cent, WA, 2019

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

Total

I like school a lot

48.8

42.0

42.5

I like school a bit

20.5

25.0

24.7

It's OK

19.9

22.4

22.2

I don't like school much

6.1

6.8

6.8

I don't like school at all

4.6

3.8

3.8

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2020, Speaking Out Survey 2019 Data Tables [unpublished]

A higher proportion of Aboriginal than non-Aboriginal Year 4 to Year 6 students said they liked school a lot (48.8% compared to 42.0%); however, the difference was not statistically significant.

Overall, nine-in-ten students in Years 4 to 6 agreed they feel happy at school (39.8% agreed and 50.8% strongly agreed) and they like learning at school (42.1% agreed and 46.2% strongly agreed).1

The Speaking Out Survey did not ask Year 4 to Year 6 students about their perceptions of belonging at school. Survey data on this topic is available for students in Years 7 to 12 (refer to the indicator: A sense of belonging and supportive relationships at 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 extra 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 was conducted in 2018 and results will be published once it has been compiled. 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.2

Taking into account the different research methodologies and questions used between the NSOS and the Speaking Out Survey, the responses are relatively consistent.  

Endnotes

  1. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2020, Speaking Out Survey 2019 Data Tables [unpublished].
  2. 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].
Measure: Positive relationships at school

Last updated May 2020

The Commissioner’s 2016 School and Learning Consultation1 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, motivation and resilience and have access to a support network.2,3

Relationships with peers

According to results from the Speaking Out Survey 2019, female Year 4 to Year 6 students view their relationships with classmates less positively than their male peers. The survey found that a significantly higher proportion of male than female Year 4 to Year 6 students reported usually getting along with their classmates (68.8% compared to 60.7%). Female students were more likely to report getting along sometimes (32.0% compared to 25.9%) or hardly ever/not at all (5.1% compared to 2.9%).

Geographic location was also a factor with Year 4 to Year 6 students in remote areas viewing their relationships with classmates less positively than students in regional and metropolitan areas: 56.0 per cent of remote students reported usually getting along with classmates compared to 61.7 per cent of regional and 66.4 per cent of metropolitan students.

Proportion of Year 4 to Year 6 students saying they usually, sometimes, or hardly ever/never get along with their classmates by selected characteristics, per cent, WA, 2019

Male

Female

Metropolitan

Regional

Remote

Total

Usually

68.8

60.7

66.4

61.7

56.0

64.8

Sometimes

25.9

32.0

27.6

31.0

36.1

28.8

Hardly ever / not at all

2.9

5.1

3.9

3.0

5.1

3.8

Prefer not to say

2.5

2.2

2.0

4.4

2.8

2.5

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2020, Speaking Out Survey 2019 Data Tables [unpublished]

A significantly lower proportion of Aboriginal than non-Aboriginal Year 4 to Year 6 students reported usually getting along with classmates (55.2% Aboriginal compared to 65.5% non-Aboriginal) and a higher proportion reported getting along hardly ever or not all (7.0% compared to 3.6%).

Proportion of Year 4 to Year 6 students saying they usually, sometimes, or hardly ever/never get along with their classmates by Aboriginal status, per cent, WA, 2019

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

Total

Usually

55.2

65.5

64.8

Sometimes

35.1

28.3

28.8

Hardly ever / not at all

7.0

3.6

3.8

Prefer not to say

2.7

2.5

2.5

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2020, Speaking Out Survey 2019 Data Tables [unpublished]

Proportion of Year 4 to Year 6 students saying they usually, sometimes, or hardly ever/never get along with their classmates by Aboriginal status, per cent, WA, 2019

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2020, Speaking Out Survey 2019 Data Tables [unpublished]

Note: Answer option ‘prefer not to say’ is not included.

In many of the Commissioner’s consultations, non-Aboriginal children and young people highlight that friendships provide significant support and happiness, with some explaining that only friends truly understand them.4 Aboriginal children and young people have expressed slightly different views. While Aboriginal children and young people highly valued their friends, they considered their family to be the most important source of happiness, support and guidance.5,6

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.7,8

According to the Speaking Out Survey, three-quarters (73.8%) of Year 4 to Year 6 students in WA reported usually getting along with their teachers. One-in-five students (20.6%) answered sometimes and a small proportion (2.9%) said they hardly ever or never get along with their teachers.

Male students view their relationships with teachers less positively than their female peers. The survey found that a significantly higher proportion of female than male Year 4 to Year 6 students reported usually getting along with their teachers (79.4% compared to 68.3%). Male students were more likely to report getting along sometimes (25.4% compared to 15.6%).

Geographic location was also a factor, with Year 4 to Year 6 students in remote areas viewing their relationships with teachers less positively than students in regional and metropolitan areas: 64.2 per cent of remote students reported usually getting along with their teachers compared to 76.6 per cent of regional and 74.0 per cent of metropolitan students.

Proportion of Year 4 to Year 6 students saying they usually, sometimes, or hardly ever/never get along with their teachers by selected characteristics, per cent, WA, 2019

Male

Female

Metropolitan

Regional

Remote

Total

Usually

68.3

79.4

74.0

76.6

64.2

73.8

Sometimes

25.4

15.6

20.7

16.4

29.8

20.6

Hardly ever / not at all

3.6

2.2

2.8

2.8

4.2

2.9

Prefer not to say

2.7

2.7

2.6

4.2

1.8

2.8

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2020, Speaking Out Survey 2019 Data Tables [unpublished]

A significantly lower proportion of Aboriginal than non-Aboriginal Year 4 to Year 6 students reported usually getting along with their teachers (65.4% compared to 74.4%) and a higher proportion reported getting along hardly ever or not all (3.9% compared to 2.7%). A similar difference was found for older students and Year 4 to Year 12 students overall (refer to the indicator A sense of belonging and supportive relationships at school for 12 to 17 years).9,10

Proportion of Year 4 to Year 6 students saying they usually, sometimes, or hardly ever/never get along with their teachers by Aboriginal status, per cent, WA, 2019

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

Total

Usually

65.4

74.4

73.8

Sometimes

26.9

20.1

20.6

Hardly ever / not at all

3.9

2.7

2.9

Prefer not to say

3.7

2.7

2.8

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2020, Speaking Out Survey 2019 Data Tables [unpublished]

Proportion of Year 4 to Year 6 students saying they usually, sometimes, or hardly ever/never get along with their teachers by Aboriginal status, per cent, WA, 2019

Graph

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2020, Speaking Out Survey 2019 Data Tables [unpublished]

The majority of Year 4 to Year 6 students reported that there is a teacher or another adult at their school who really cares about them (82.5%).

Proportion of Year 4 to Year 6 students saying it is very much true, pretty much true, a little true or not at all true that there is a teacher or another adult at their school who really cares about them by selected characteristics, per cent, WA, 2019

Male

Female

Metropolitan

Regional

Remote

Total

Very much true

39.6

48.6

43.4

45.8

51.1

44.3

Pretty much true

40.8

36.2

39.2

36.4

32.6

38.2

A little true

15.5

12.0

13.7

13.5

13.5

13.7

Not at all true

4.2

3.2

3.7

4.3

2.9

3.7

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2020, Speaking Out Survey 2019 Data Tables [unpublished]

The survey found that a significantly higher proportion of female than male Year 4 to Year 6 students reported it is very much true that there is a teacher or other adult at school who really cares about them (48.6% compared to 39.6%).

Proportion of Year 4 to Year 6 students saying it is very much true, pretty much true, a little true or not at all true that there is a teacher or another adult at their school who really cares about them by Aboriginal status, per cent, WA, 2019

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

Total

Very much true

56.4

43.4

44.3

Pretty much true

28.3

39.0

38.2

A little true

11.6

13.8

13.7

Not at all true

3.7

3.7

3.7

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2020, Speaking Out Survey 2019 Data Tables [unpublished]

A significantly higher proportion of Aboriginal than non-Aboriginal Year 4 to Year 6 students reported that it is very much true that there is a teacher or other adult at school who really cares about them (56.4% compared to 43.4%).

The Commissioner’s School and Learning Consultation in 2016 found that students who usually get along with their teachers and who 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 other students.11

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

Endnotes

  1. 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, pp. 11-19
  2. 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.
  3. Cahill H et al 2014, Building Resilience in Children and Young People, A Literature Review for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD), Youth Research Centre, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, p. 5
  4. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2010, Policy Brief: Aboriginal children and young people speak out about families, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
  5. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2016, Speaking out about wellbeing: Children and young people speak out about friends, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
  6. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2010, Policy Brief: Aboriginal children and young people speak out about families, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2020, Speaking Out Survey: The views of WA children and young people on their wellbeing - a summary report, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA, Perth.
  10. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2020, Speaking Out Survey 2019 Data Tables, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA [unpublished].
  11. Commissioner for Children and Young People 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA, Perth.
Measure: Feeling safe at school
#611-feelingsafe

Last updated May 2020

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 identity.1

According to results from the Speaking Out Survey 2019, less than one-half of WA Year 4 to Year 6 students (44.2%) feel safe in their school ‘all the time’. Two-in-five (40.2%) students feel safe most of the time, one-in-ten (9.7%) sometimes and almost five per cent (4.6%) never or only a little bit of the time.

Proportion of Year 4 to Year 6 students saying they feel safe at school all the time, most of the time, sometimes or a little bit of the time/never by selected characteristics, per cent, WA, 2019

Male

Female

Metropolitan

Regional

Remote

Total

All the time

46.1

42.7

43.5

47.2

44.6

44.2

Most of the time

39.4

41.1

42.1

33.5

36.3

40.2

Sometimes

8.8

10.6

9.3

10.4

11.8

9.7

A little bit of the time / never

4.9

4.0

4.0

6.4

6.4

4.6

Prefer not to say

0.8

1.6

1.2

2.6

N/A

1.4

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2020, Speaking Out Survey 2019 Data Tables [unpublished]

Proportion of Year 4 to Year 6 students saying they feel safe at school all the time, most of the time, sometimes or a little bit of the time/never, per cent, WA, 2019

Graph

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2020, Speaking Out Survey 2019 Data Tables [unpublished]

A higher proportion of male than female Year 4 to Year 6 students reported feeling safe at school all the time (46.1% compared to 42.7%) and a higher proportion of regional than metropolitan or remote students reported feeling safe all the time (47.2% compared to 43.5% and 44.6%). These differences were not statistically significant.

Aboriginal Year 4 to Year 6 students were significantly more likely than non-Aboriginal students to report feeling safe all the time (54.3% compared to 43.4%).

Proportion of Year 4 to Year 6 students saying they feel safe at school all the time, most of the time, sometimes or a little bit of the time/never by Aboriginal status, per cent, WA, 2019

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

Total

All the time

54.3

43.4

44.2

Most of the time

28.2

41.1

40.2

Sometimes

9.4

9.7

9.7

A little bit of the time/never

7.0

4.3

4.6

Prefer not to say

1.2

1.4

1.4

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2020, Speaking Out Survey 2019 Data Tables [unpublished]

National School Opinion Survey

In the 2016 National School Opinion Survey,2 81.0 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% compared to 70.4%).3

Experiences of bullying

In the Commissioner’s consultations, children and young people have said that safety at school is a critical influence on their engagement in education. They referred to various aspects of the school environment as either creating or hindering feelings of safety, including the physical environment, the behaviour of peers and school staff, relationships with others in the school, teaching practices and use/access of the school grounds by community members.4 Children and young people particularly identify bullying as a significant safety concern.5

In the 2019 Speaking Out Survey, two-in-five (43.2%) Year 4 to Year 6 students reported having ever been bullied, cyber bullied or both by students from their school and 13.2 per cent said they had missed school in the past due to being afraid of bullying.

Proportion of Year 4 to Year 6 students reporting they have or have not been bullied, cyber bullied or both by students from their school or they don’t know by selected characteristics, per cent, WA, 2019

Male

Female

Metropolitan

Regional

Remote

Total

No

50.0

44.2

47.2

44.2

49.6

46.9

Yes, bullied

32.0

35.1

33.6

36.1

30.2

33.8

Yes, cyber bullied

2.5

2.1

2.1

2.2

3.8

2.3

Both bullied and cyber bullied

6.5

7.7

7.0

7.7

6.6

7.1

I don’t know

5.2

5.8

5.4

6.2

4.6

5.5

Prefer not to say

3.7

5.0

4.6

3.5

5.2

4.5

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2020, Speaking Out Survey 2019 Data Tables [unpublished]

Male Year 4 to Year 6 students were more likely than female students to report not having been bullied (50.0% compared to 44.2%). The difference was not statistically significant for this year level; however, for students in Years 7 to 12, male students are significantly more likely to report that they have never been bullied (refer to the indicator A sense of belonging and supportive relationships at school for 12 to 17 years ).

No significant difference was measured for students in different geographic areas and between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students.

Proportion of Year 4 to Year 6 students reporting they have or have not been bullied, cyber bullied or both by students from their school or they don’t know by Aboriginal status, per cent, WA, 2019

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

Total

No

46.5

46.9

46.9

Yes, bullied

35.9

33.6

33.8

Yes, cyber bullied

3.2

2.2

2.3

Both bullied and cyber bullied

5.7

7.2

7.1

I don’t know

4.9

5.5

5.5

Prefer not to say

3.8

4.5

4.5

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2020, Speaking Out Survey 2019 Data Tables [unpublished]

With respect to missing school due to fear of being bullied, male Year 4 to Year 6 students were significantly more likely than their female peers to say they have never missed school because of this. One-quarter of female Year 4 to Year 6 students had either missed school due to fear of being bullied (15.5%) or chose to respond with the option ‘prefer not to say’ (9.3%).

Proportion of Year 4 to Year 6 students saying they have or have not ever missed school due to being afraid of bullying or they prefer not to say by gender, per cent, WA, 2019

Male

Female

Total

Never

82.6

75.3

78.7

Yes

11.3

15.5

13.2

Prefer not to say

6.1

9.3

8.1

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2020, Speaking Out Survey 2019 Data Tables [unpublished]

Proportion of Year 4 to Year 6 students saying they have or have not ever missed school due to being afraid of bullying or they prefer not to say by gender, per cent, WA, 2019

Graph

Source: Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2020, Speaking Out Survey 2019 Data Tables [unpublished]

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, 39.0 per cent of Year 5 students and 22.4 per cent of Year 6 students had experienced bullying in WA.6 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 online bullying (or cyber bullying) are discussed in more detail in the Safe in the community indicator.

The Commissioner’s Policy Brief Children and young people speak out about education and safety in schools provides further information on safety at school.

Endnotes

  1. Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) 2014, The Nest action agenda: Technical document, ARACY.
  2. 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 was conducted in 2018 and this data will be published when compiled. 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.
  3. National School Opinion Survey 2016, custom report prepared by WA Department of Education for Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
  4. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2018, Policy Brief: Children and young people speak out about education and safety in schools, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
  5. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA, p. 41.
  6. Cross D et al 2009, Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study (ACBPS), Child Health Promotion Research Centre, Edith Cowan University, p. 182.
Children in care

Last updated May 2020

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.

At 30 June 2019, there were 1,618 WA children in care aged between five and nine years, more than one-half of whom (55.1%) were Aboriginal.1

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.2 Data from the Viewpoint survey is not published other than one effectiveness indicator in the annual report regarding the children and young people’s experiences of safety in their care arrangement.3

In 2017, CREATE Foundation asked 1,275 Australian children and young people aged 10 to 17 years about their lives in the care system. CREATE Foundation noted in their report that the recruitment of participants proved difficult and that it resulted in a non-random sample with the possibility of bias.4 In this survey, students living in out-of-home care were asked to rate their educational experience using the scale: 0 (very poor) to 100 (very good). An overall rating of 72.7 suggests that ‘perceptions were reasonably positive’, however, there is room for improvement.5

In their 2013 survey, CREATE Foundation reported 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 can also disrupt the schools and classrooms the student is leaving and joining.7,8

In the 2017 survey, CREATE Foundation found that one-quarter of students living in out-of-home care reported experiences of bullying at school. Most cases of bullying occurred at school, while between 8.6 per cent were bullied in their placement and 6.1 per cent reported being bullied online.9 Children and young people living in residential care and independently were more likely to experience bullying at school, in their placement and online.10

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

Children in care are a highly vulnerable group and it is critical that they feel safe and supported at school.

Endnotes

  1. Department of Communities 2019, Annual Report: 2018–19, WA Government p. 26.
  2. The Department of Communities 2018–2019 Annual Report indicated 1,938 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. Furthermore the selection of participants in not random and respondents are usually supported by their caseworker to answer the questions. There were a total number of 4,038 children aged five to 17 years in care, therefore the maximum possible participation rate that year was 48 per cent. The total number of children in care at 30 June 2019 was 5,379.
  3. The proportion of children and young people who reported via Viewpoint feeling safe in their care arrangement was 96 per cent in 2018–19. Department of Communities 2019, Annual Report: 2018–19, WA Government p. 70.
  4. McDowall JJ 2018, Out-of-home care in Australia: Children and young people’s views after five years of National Standards, CREATE Foundation, pp. 17-19.
  5. Ibid, p. 80.
  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 & Rickard K.
  9. McDowall JJ 2018, Out-of-home care in Australia: Children and young people’s views after five years of National Standards, CREATE Foundation, p. 83.
  10. Ibid, p. 84.
Children with disability

Last updated May 2020

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.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics Disability, Ageing and Carers, 2018 data collection reports that approximately 30,200 WA children and young people (9.2%) aged five to 14 years have reported disability.1,2

Twenty-one students with disability attending Year 3 to Year 12 at an education support centre participated in the Commissioner’s 2016 School and Learning Consultation. This is a small sample and therefore cannot be deemed representative of students with disability, however, one-half of these students reported liking school ‘a lot’ with the remainder saying they like school ‘a bit’ or ‘it is OK’.3

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.4

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%).5

A survey by Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) in 2016, revealed that 52 per cent of the 1,396 Australian students and parents who responded to the survey reported that the student had been subject to bullying.6 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 than 300 Year 7 to Year 12 students with disability who attend mainstream classes or programs participated in the Speaking Out Survey 2019. For more information refer to the A sense of belonging and supportive relationships at school for the 12 to 17 years age group.   

More research is required on 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. The ABS uses the following definition of disability: ‘In the context of health experience, the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICFDH) defines disability as an umbrella term for impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions… In this survey, a person has a disability if they report they have a limitation, restriction or impairment, which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least six months and restricts everyday activities.’ Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia, 2015, Glossary.
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia, 2018, Western Australia, Table 1.1 Persons with disability, by age and sex, estimate, and Table 1.3 Persons with disability, by age and sex, proportion of persons.
  3. 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.
  4. Ibid, p. 210.
  5. Sourced from internal calculations by the Commissioner for Children and Young People WA from the School and Learning Survey.
  6. Children and Young People with Disability Australia 2016, Education Survey 2016.
Policy implications

Last updated May 2020

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 Positive relationships within school also promote resilience which enables young people to cope and thrive in the face of negative events, challenges or adversity.2

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.3

A critical area of concern is that a majority (55.8%) of Year 4 to Year 6 WA children do not feel safe at school all the time. Evidence 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.4

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.

One reason children do not feel safe at school is bullying, either physical experiences of bullying or online experiences (cyber bullying). There has been considerable research and policy focus on safety and bullying in schools over recent years. There are several online resources that help school communities to create safer learning environments including the ‘Bullying. No Way!’ website managed by the Safe and Supportive School Communities Working Group, and the National Centre Against Bullying, Office of the eSafety Commissioner and Friendly Schools Plus websites.

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.

Despite strong policy interventions and much research and investment into safety and bullying, safety at school is still a key issue for students. Therefore, school governing bodies 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.

There is also limited data on whether WA children in care feel a sense of belonging and support at school and no information on whether they feel safe at school. Children in care are a highly vulnerable group and it is critical that they feel safe and supported at 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. Cahill H et al 2014, Building Resilience in Children and Young People, A Literature Review for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD), Youth Research Centre, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, p. 5
  3. Commissioner for Children and Young People 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
  4. 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, supportive relationships and bullying and the resulting impact on attendance, engagement and educational outcomes refer to the following resources:

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