Wednesday, 30 Oct 2002

30 October 2002 Student Engagement with School: Individual and School-level Influences Participation in extracurricular activities important for students Students’ participation in extracurricular activities such as drama, music, sport, debating and community work can be important in their overall engagement with school, and may be related to positive educational outcomes. Importantly, schools are in a position to influence student participation in extracurricular activities of this kind, according to a recent ACER study. The study was conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) and published in a report, Student Engagement with School: Individual and school-level influences, by Dr Sue Fullarton. The national survey of school personnel and 11 000 Year 10 students was conducted in 1999 and forms part of the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) research program, which is jointly managed by ACER and the Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training. Deputy Director of ACER, Dr John Ainley, said “The study supports findings from other studies in Australia and overseas which indicate that participation by students in extracurricular activities at their school promotes a feeling of connectedness to the school community which has a flow-on effect to more academic parts of the curriculum.” The LSAY report indicates that the strongest influence on students’ engagement with school is an ‘ethos’ of participation at the whole school level. While between-school differences were not large, they were significant, and indicate that it does matter what school a child attends. As well as overall school engagement, a number of variables concerned with students and their background were also found to be important influences on students’ engagement with school. Participation rates in extracurricular activities for females were considerably higher than those for males in all areas except sport. This was apparent in all school sectors and at all achievement levels. This finding is consistent with other studies about gender differences associated with school engagement and achievement. High achieving students participated more often in extracurricular activities, except for sport in which participation rates were much the same for students across all achievement levels. Students with professional parents and those from higher socioeconomic backgrounds also recorded higher levels of participation, as did students from small schools and independent schools. Students’ perceptions about their class and school were also found to influence their engagement with school. School climate, as measured by the quality of teachers, effective discipline, student learning and school spirit, was one such influence. Related to this was the measure of class climate, which referred to students’ perceptions about their classmates showing interest in learning, making good progress, working hard and behaving well. These indicators of a structured and supportive school and class environment were important influences on student engagement, particularly for males. For females, as well as perceptions of school climate, the strongest influences were found to be socioeconomic status and self-concept of ability. “Some young people leave school early because they fail to see the relevance of school to them. If we are to encourage lifelong learning skills in students then we need to address low engagement with school,” Dr Ainley said. Often, educational research finds that the factors that have the greatest influence on student outcomes are those that are not easy to change, such as socioeconomic status or prior achievement. In this study, however, the focus on extracurricular activities provides an indication of areas that can be changed. Males appear to need more of a supportive school and classroom environment to be engaged with their school. They need to be strongly encouraged by their schools, parents and peers to participate in extracurricular activities. For females, schools need to focus on fostering a strong self-concept of ability and positive views of school climate. School authorities, administrations and parents might examine ways to improve and support a range of extracurricular activities with explicit encouragement of student participation in such activities.