OECD Report Highlights Problems of Student Disaffection in Schools


14/10/2003 - Student absenteeism and disaffection with school pose widespread challenges for teachers and policy makers, according to a new OECD report drawing on data from 42 mostly developed nations.

While most 15-year-olds in these countries regularly attend classes and feel that school is somewhere they belong, the report reveals a low sense of belonging at school among an average of one in four students, with one in five admitting to being regularly absent.

The findings raise important issues for policy makers, both because disaffected students may not achieve their full potential at school and because they may suffer continued difficulties in adulthood. In addition, they may become disruptive in class and exert a negative influence on other students. 
Student engagement at school - a sense of belonging and participation also reveals significant differences between different schools’ ability to engage their students. In Belgium, for example, some schools have over a third of students reporting absence, while in others only 4% are in this category.

Schools that are best at limiting student disaffection include those where students come from more advantaged homes, but also those with a strong disciplinary climate, good student-teacher relations and high expectations, regardless of social composition. Schools where students feel a sense of belonging also tend to achieve lower absenteeism.

The report looks at two ways in which students can become "disaffected". One is through a low ‘sense of belonging’ at school: for example, students may believe their school experience has little bearing on their future or they may feel rejected by their classmates or teachers. The other is through "low participation", or absenteeism, calculated on the basis of their recent attendance at school.

Measured in these ways, disaffection rates vary widely across countries. In Denmark and Spain, a third of students, and in Canada, Greece, Iceland, New Zealand and Poland over a quarter, appear regularly to miss school or skip classes. In Japan and Korea, by contrast, fewer than one in 10 are in the low attendance category. 

Even in countries where attendance is high, however, students do not always feel happy in school. Low sense of belonging is greatest in Japan, Korea and Poland, with over a third of students feeling they do not belong in at least one respect. It is least prevalent in Hungary, Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom, where the proportion is below one in five.

The report’s findings emerge from further analysis of results obtained in the first Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study carried out between 2000 and 2001. Students were asked about their participation and their attitudes, as well as being assessed in their reading, mathematical and scientific literacy skills.

Contrary to what might be expected, the findings reveal that disaffected students are not principally those who have the lowest literacy levels: they are drawn from the full range of abilities. Students who feel the lowest sense of belonging at school have, on average, literacy skills somewhat above the norm. Students who are most frequently absent are often lower achievers, but not at the bottom: they perform on average at Level 2 on a five-level literacy scale, showing at least a basic level of skill.

Student engagement at school - a sense of belonging and participation  is available to journalists from the OECD’s Media Relations Division (tel.  +33 1 45 24 97 00) (available in English only). For further comment, journalists can also contact Douglas Willms, the author of the report, at the University of New Brunswick, PO Box 4400 Fredericton, NB  E3B 5A3 Canada (Tel: +1 (506) 447 3178) or Andreas Schleicher, the Head of PISA at the OECD (Tel: +33 1 45 24 93 66, mobile +33 6 0738 5464).

Subscribers and readers at subscribing institutions can access the study via SourceOECD our online library. Non-subscribers will be able to purchase the study via our Online Bookshop.

See tables (Percentage of students in each country with low participation; Percentage of students in each country with low sense of belonging).

For more information on PISA.


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