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What it takes to keep children in school?: A research review
Linnaeus University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Education. (Studies in Curriculum, Teaching and Evaluation (SITE))ORCID iD: 0000-0002-0246-3039
2015 (English)In: Education and Transition. Contributions from Educational Research. ECER 2015, European Conference on Educational Research, Budapest, 7-11 September, 2015, 2015Conference paper, Abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Unauthorized absence from school is a problem that has been increasingly noted by the National Agency for Education, county councils, communities, and media in Sweden. There are elementary school students in Sweden who have not attended school for several years (Springe 2009), the phenomenon is found all over the world. There is an increased political interest in these questions worldwide, and most politicians emphasize school and the capacity to read and write as prerequisites for democracy (Reid 2012a). At the same time, schooling is questioned. Research has shown that school and development do not necessarily go hand in hand and that schooling increases segregation, inequalities, class differences, and gender structure. It is beyond the scope of this article to problematize schooling in this regard, but these school-related problems are entangled in several ways, and this question is returned to in the conclusion.

The point of departure in this research review must be that elementary education is a prerequisite for democracy and that ensuring future generations’ ability to read and write is to a large extent a task for schools. It is well documented that failure in school and early dropout can have negative effects (cf. Bradshaw, O’Brennan, and McNeely 2008). Research indicates that the road to criminality, drug abuse, and social exclusion is open (Nelson and Baldwin 2004; Henry, Thornberry, and Huizinga 2009) and that there is a straight line from truancy to dropout, youth crime, gang membership, teenage pregnancy, poor health, and reliance on social service (Kronholz 2011). Truancy is a more pre-eminent risk predictor even compared to average grades, according to Hallfors et al. (2002). This dark picture could be countered by Hill and Jepsen (2007, 600), who have demonstrated that many teen mothers and high school dropouts “experience success in the labour market, with earnings well above the poverty line and full-time jobs.” These successful individuals turn back to post-secondary schooling when they are in their mid-twenties. The authors have recommended policies that assist young people who have taken missteps. Truancy can also be linked to high potential academically; students that are under-challenged at school (Sälzer et al. 2012). There are many dimensions and perspectives in this study; the individual, institutional, organizational, societal. In a research review like this one, however, the illumination of the relation between research and development is a strong incentive and an object of the study.

In spring 2012 a community in Sweden sought out a researcher who could get to the root causes of the perceived local problem of unauthorized absence from schools. The questions raised in this community were how school absence could be prevented and attendance be stimulated through interventions in the school as well as in the local community. One part of this project was a review of research results focusing on prevention and attendance; this article presents the result of this research review. What does research globally demonstrate about what schools and communities can do to stimulate attendance and to prevent unauthorized absence?

Method

The collection of research builds on searches in the Swedish database Libris, for research catalogued in Sweden, and in the databases Academic Search Elite, ERIC, DOAJ, Ingenta Connect, and to some extent Google Scholar for international research. In Sweden, research in this field usually is catalogued under the keyword truancy, although different words are used in relation to the character of the absence. For example, in Sweden some students are called hallway ramblers: they go to school but do not assimilate the education because they do not attend lessons. Others, called home sitters, choose the Internet at home playing, reading and learning whatever they want instead of a lesson at school (Strandell 2009). In databases covering international research, the keywords mirror gradations from late arrival and scattered absenteeism to persistent truancy and dropouts. This project builds on material catalogued under the keywords that proved to be most frequent: truancy, absenteeism, and dropout, combined with prevention and attendance. Generally, the phenomenon labelled unauthorized absence from compulsory school is an intentional and active decision to skip a lesson, a school day, or a period. A huge amount of research focusing on truancy builds on the view that the problem either originates with individual mentally, psychologically, or socially deficiency, or stems from individual factors, such as milieu, parents or guardians, and peers. Research focusing on individuals, their deviations, and their risks has been excluded from this study (studies searching for correlations between truancy and drugs, truancy and sexuality, truancy and early pregnancies, truancy and criminality, etc.). The ambition in this study has been to examine research that focuses on prevention and attendance. This research field has apparently been given much less priority. The sample, greatly narrowed down for inspection, contains 155 peer-reviewed research articles collected from around the globe, represents geographical, cultural, social, and demographic differences, but the similarities outweigh these differences.The research examined has been published in the 21st century. It contains a large number of meta-analyses and some meta-meta-analyses. The sample, with few exceptions, represents extended quantitative studies and evidence-based research. This means that the material covers much more research and a longer time span than expected.

Expected Outcomes

Research today indicates that school must have meaning for the individual (cf. Englund 2007) and that school needs to challenge students (cf. Biesta 2005). Individuals who absent themselves experience schoolwork as meaningless, entailing no challenges, and react to it. Truancy is resistance and a demonstration against traditional school culture, class reproduction, and bad treatment. These students are questioning the legitimacy of the educational system (Zhang 2007). This review unambiguously demonstrates a need to divert attention from the characteristics of individuals and truancy to study what success in school requires, drawing out children’s strengths rather than weaknesses. First, changes on all levels are needed to update schools and develop a positive school culture: at the governmental level, at the community level, within the school organization, and among staff. Second, students need adults to bond with - adults who care for, listen to, respect, and engage both socially and educationally. Third, core competencies are a prerequisite for all learning; self-reflection, attitudes and communication skills. Self-esteem and the ability to make decisions produce a sense of one’s ability to manage schoolwork (cf. Ahlström 2010). If core competencies are encouraged, they will transform enhanced learning outcomes and reinforce schoolwork. And it is possible to learn the ability to bounce back (cf. Andrén 2012). This study does not reveal anything about schools in real life. Perhaps it is a good guess that if a study of real-life interventions in schools had been conducted, it would have resulted in a picture of counting, more regulations and disciplinary restrictions - a reality that accords with the new public-management era (cf. Ball 1995, Ball 1997) and contemporary politics in the governing-by-numbers discourse (cf. Lawn and Grek 2012). This contrasts with everything we know from decades of research and recommendations.

References

Archambault, Isabelle, Michel Janosz, Jean-Sébastien Fallu, and Linda S. Pagani. 2009.” Student engagement and its relationship with early high school dropout.” Journal of Adolescence no. 32:651–670. Ball, Stephen 1997. “Policy, sociology and critical social research: A personal review of recent education policy and policy research.” British Educational Research Journal no. 23:257–274.Biesta, Gert. 2005. “Against learning. Reclaiming a language for education in an age of learning.” Nordisk Pedagogik no. 25:54–66. Bradshaw, Catherine P., Lindsey M. O’Brennan, and Clea A. McNeely. 2008. “Core competencies and the prevention of school failure and early school leaving.” New Directions for Child & Adolescent Development no. 2008 (122):19–32. Claes, Ellen, Marc Hooghe, and Tim Reeskens. 2009. “Truancy as a contextual and school-related problem: a comparative multilevel analysis of country and school characteristics on civic knowledge among 14 year olds.” Educational Studies (03055698) no. 35 (2):123–142. Englund, Tomas, ed. 2007. Skillnad och konsekvens: mötet lärare-studerande och undervisning som meningserbjudande. [Difference and consequenses: the meeting between teacher and student and education as offering meaning]. Lund: Studentlitteratur Fraser, Barry J. 1987. “Identifying the salient facets of a model of student learning: A synthesis of meta-analyses.” International journal of educational research no. 11 (2):187–212.Henry, Kimberly L., Kelly E. Knight, and Terence P. Thornberry. 2012. “School disengagement as a predictor of dropout, deliquency, and problem substance use during adolescence and early adulthood.” J Youth Adolesc no. 41 (2):156–166. Hiatt, James S. 1915. The Truant Problem and the Parental School. Bulletin, 1915, No. 29. Whole Number 656. United States Bureau of Education, Department of the Interior.Lawn, M. , and S. Grek. 2012. Europeanizing Education: governing a new policy space. Oxford: Symposium Books Ltd.Reid, Ken. 2014a. An Essential Guide to Improving Attendance in Your School: Practical Resources for All School Managers. London: Routledge.Rutter, Michael. 1987. “Psychosocial resilience and protective mechanisms.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry no. 57 (3):316–331.Southwell, Neil. 2006. “Truants on truancy—a badness or a valuable indicator of unmet special educational needs?” British Journal of Special Education no. 33 (2):91–97. Sälzer, Christine, Ulrich Trautwein, Oliver Lütke, and Margrit Stamm. 2012. “Predicting adolescent truancy: The importance of distinguishing between different aspects of instructional quality.” Learning and Instruction no. 22:311–319. Zhang, Ming. 2007. “School Absenteeism and the Implementation of Truancy-Related Penalty Notices.” Pastoral Care in Education no. 25 (4):25–34.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2015.
National Category
Educational Sciences
Research subject
Pedagogics and Educational Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:lnu:diva-55827OAI: oai:DiVA.org:lnu-55827DiVA: diva2:956140
Conference
ECER 2015, European Conference on Educational Research, Budapest, 7-11 September, 2015
Available from: 2016-08-29 Created: 2016-08-29 Last updated: 2016-08-30Bibliographically approved

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