Schools, teens, and feeling a sense of belonging: in research from the Universities of Reading, Oxford, Seville, and Vigo Professor Jill Porter asks, “What makes a Difference?”

 

As part of the Institute of Education’s regular research features on these pages, Professor Jill Porter asks: “What makes a Difference? Exploring the Relationship between Learning and the Feeling of Belonging.”

A number of children go under the radar- at least until a crisis point is reached. This includes children who are frequently absent from school, those with mental health difficulties, children who are carers. Additionally, children sometimes find it difficult to take part in school life and this can affect their learning. 

February 2018 saw the launch of a new collaborative partnership that will aim to understand better why this happens and what schools can do to change things. The study will include the IoE’s Jill Porter at the University of Reading; Jenni Ingram and Harry Daniels at the University of Oxford; Angeles Parilla Latas at the University of Vigo and Carmen Gallego Vega at the University of Seville. The researchers will be looking at how the views of pupils can best be gathered and used by schools to make changes.

Often the approach is to identify categories of learners and match them to particular interventions; however barriers are often shared across groups. Our previous[i] research has identified that it is the social aspects of schooling that particularly impinge on children, both in relation to the barriers they encounter but also the supports they receive.  This project is therefore underpinned by recognition of the interconnectedness between learning, relating and belonging. If we can identify and remove the barriers children should be more engaged with schooling and learn better. Exclusion data reveals that ages 13 and 14 are particularly turbulent times with the highest rates of fixed and permanent exclusions occurring during these years[ii] so years 8/9 are the initial focal groups.

The research will explore the barriers that are experienced within school that contribute to children’s disengagement with learning; we will work with schools to remove these barriers and then evaluate the outcome, including the change in children’s feeling of connectedness to school.

Our research questions:

  • What barriers are encountered by children who experience different levels of connectedness with school?
  • How can children’s experiences best be used to inform the removal of barriers?
  • How does the removal of barriers impact on the levels of connectedness within the school? Does the removal lead to higher levels among those who are disengaged?
  • What does a comparison with Spain tell us about different cultures of schooling?

We are currently working with 6 secondary schools in Oxfordshire and our colleagues in Spain are carrying out parallel research. This provides a unique opportunity to examine the utility of this approach across cultures that differ in their sense of community and the public scrutiny of performance data.  Our long term purpose is to support schools in responding to the needs of diverse learners. Given the rise in school exclusions this is a timely piece of research.

[1]  Porter  J. 2015 Understanding & Responding to the Experience of Disability. London Routledge

[1] DfE 2016 Permanent & Fixed-Period Exclusions in England: 2014 to 2015 SFR26/2016

[i]  Porter  J. 2015 Understanding & Responding to the Experience of Disability. London Routledge

[ii] DfE 2016 Permanent & Fixed-Period Exclusions in England: 2014 to 2015 SFR26/2016