BSL's 15-Up Education Study
12 February 2007 at 5:03 pm
Schools must find ways to reduce the expenses that can stand in the way of children from low-income families making full use of their education, according to the seventh report from the Life Chances study by the Brotherhood of Laurence that has tracked some 140 teenagers since birth.
The latest study, which interviewed 41 of the children from different backgrounds as 15-year-olds, found that some missed out on school activities such as camps because they were too expensive.
This could in turn affect their academic work as well as their sense of belonging at school. Parents also spoke of their children missing out, and of their struggles to cover basic costs for uniforms, books and fees as well as for camps and excursions.
Brotherhood researcher Janet Taylor, wrote the report with colleague Lucy Nelms.
Taylor says the study, ‘School engagement and life chances: 15-year-olds in transition’, focuses on attitudes to education at the crucial time when young people are moving into adulthood, drawing on the voices of the young and their parents.
It found young people from low-income families were likely to be less engaged in their schooling than their higher-income counterparts, despite education being crucial to their future employment and lives.
Like the "Seven Up" British documentary series that returns to its subjects every seven years, the study has followed the 140 young people from different ethnic and income backgrounds since infancy in 1990, revisiting some or all every few years.
Other findings of the current report are:
In some low-income families young people were concerned about shift work and their parents’ fatigue, which curtailed family activities such as shared meals.
For some young people the desire to avoid unrewarding careers encouraged them in their studies in order to gain a better job.
Secure housing also underpins education. The study says that the importance of access to secure and affordable housing is highlighted by the number of school changes for some of the disadvantaged young people associated with their families having to move house.
The study supports other research that shows better student engagement in schools is linked to a strong disciplinary climate, high expectation of success by the school and good student-teacher relations.
The next report will follow up all 140 or so young people in the Life Chances study as 16 and 17-year-olds to explore how their school experience and life plans evolve.
"Life Chances" is a longitudinal study of children from diverse families born in 1990 in inner-Melbourne. In that year the researchers asked the maternal and child health nurses in two inner suburbs to ask all the mothers who had babies in particular months to take part.
It began with 167 children and has followed them and their families, which encompass different income levels and ethnic origins, over the years, in which time many moved elsewhere.
At first the researchers interviewed the mothers only. They have also interviewed fathers and the children as they grew up. There were interviews when the children were six months old, 18 months, three years, four years, six years, 11 or 12 years and 15 years.
The Brotherhood plans to continue the study to gain a better understanding of the longer-term effects of family and community circumstances on life chances.
The next stages will survey the 140 or so young people who are still taking part as 16 and 17-year-olds, while they are finishing school and thinking about work, further education and training.
In late 2005 Brotherhood researchers Janet Taylor, who has been involved with the study since it began, and Lucy Nelms followed up 41 of the young people when they were 15 years of age.
They selected all 33 who had grown up in families on low incomes and, for comparison, eight who had grown up in high-income families. The study included an interview with the young people, the self-completion "About Myself" survey and an interview with the parents.
Most of the 15-year-olds were in Year 9, with some in Year 10, one in Year 8 and two at special schools. One boy and one girl had already left school, one of whom was working part time. Fourteen of those at school already had part-time jobs and others were looking for them.
Attitudes to education: The young people typically named education as one of the most important things in their life, alongside family and friends. They all said their parents thought school was important (including parents who had had little formal education themselves). Most planned to complete Year 12, although a few wanted to leave earlier, for example, to go to TAFE.
Engagement with school: School engagement took into account: looking forward to going to school, getting on with teachers, enjoying learning, having friends, wagging and feeling left out. As a group, the 15-year-olds were less engaged with school than when they were aged 11 and 12. Some were enthusiastic about school.
School factors affecting engagement: Young people’s positive engagement was influenced by factors such as feeling they were doing well academically, having teachers they could talk to, having friends and participating in school sport and other activities.
Problems included feeling they did not understand the work, bullying and feeling left out. Some young people in families with low incomes missed out on activities such as camps because they were too expensive. This could in turn affect their academic work as well as their sense of belonging at school.
Improving school: The 15-year-olds’ suggestions about what would improve school for them included teachers having better control (in both classrooms and school grounds), more assistance for students who were having difficulties and assistance in planning their futures. They emphasised the importance of teachers who would listen to them.
The study concluded that several school issues seemed particularly relevant to encouraging the young people’s involvement in education: a climate of inclusion, for young people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, and for those with different academic abilities ensuring that the cost of activities, equipment and fees do not to exclude students on low incomes dealing with absenteeism (wagging) to avoid a harmful cycle leading to more absenteeism listening to students and engaging with them as young adults.
Find out more about the Life Chances Study at the Brotherhood’s website: www.bsl.org.au