Generally speaking, a student is engaged when they:
- participate in all areas of the school including academic, social and extracurricular activities (behavioural engagement)
- feel included in the school and has feelings of belonging to the school (emotional engagement)
- are personally invested in and take ownership of their learning (cognitive engagement).
Disengagement refers to a situation where a child or young person demonstrates none of these characteristics, and/or they are not enrolled or have very poor school attendance. Presence of only some of these characteristics may indicate a child or young person is at risk of disengagement.
There are a range of factors that may contribute to a child or young person becoming disengaged, or at risk of disengaging from school. These include:
Family and community factors such as poverty, parental unemployment and/or low educational attainment, homelessness, transience or living in out-of-home care, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander status, refugee background, family breakdown/relationship issues and domestic violence.
Personal factors such as physical or mental health issues, disability, behavioural issues, offending behaviour and/or contact with police or justice system, substance misuse or dependency, pregnancy or parenting, caring responsibilities, and learning difficulties.
School-related factors such as negative relationships with teachers or peers, unsupportive school culture, limited subject options and lack of student participation in decision making.
Young people may often experience multiple risk factors, which may be interdependent. For example, family breakdown may be a factor in substance misuse, which may itself contribute to other problems such as offending behaviour.
The impact of risk factors on engagement, health and wellbeing will vary between individuals, depending on their levels of resilience and protective factors such as support from a trusted adult. While the presence or one or more risk factor does not inevitably mean a child or young person will become disengaged, it is important that schools have an awareness of these factors to be able to identify and address issues as early as possible.
What schools should look out for
Indicators at the school level that a student may be at risk of disengaging include:
- erratic or no attendance
- low literacy or numeracy/poor attainment
- lack of interest in school and/or stated intention to leave
- negative interactions with peers
- behavioural issues including aggression, violence, or social withdrawal
- significant change in behaviour, attitude or performance.
Schools can draw on a range of data and tools to identify students that are at risk of disengagement. These may include:
- information on family background, educational history and personal issues collected at the time of enrolment
- attendance data
- educational, health or welfare assessments completed by in-school or Department support services (and external support services where these have been provided to the school with the student and their parents’ consent)
- reports from classroom teachers on learning and behavioural issues
- the student mapping tool, a computer-based application available to all Victorian Government schools that collates a range of school-level data to identify those students at risk of disengagement.