School engagement for academically at-risk students: a participatory research project

Nadia O'Toole, Clemence Due

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


While past literature has explored school engagement in older students, there is less research for younger children specifically, and very little which engages children themselves in the research process. This paper provides insight into school engagement for academically at-risk students in the second year of school through a participatory research project. Specifically, the paper reports on a project which examined three groups of students within the Catholic Education system in Australia, namely, those not considered at-risk academically, those considered at-risk but receiving one-on-one support, and those considered to be at-risk but not receiving support. Students participated in focus groups and a photo elicitation project, with questions adapted from The School Engagement Questionnaire forming the basis of data collection. In relation to behavioural engagement, the thematic analysis demonstrated that students in each group valued social interaction, while at-risk students spoke about experiences of punishment at school and students in the group receiving support spoke about rewards. In relation to cognitive engagement, themes of boredom were evident across all groups, while students in the non at-risk group were more likely to speak about the value of learning. At-risk students also displayed some anxiety in relation to school which was not displayed by students who were receiving support. Free time, favourite lessons and technology were all identified as prominent themes in all groups in relation to affective engagement. While the study has some limitations due to restricted timeframe and sample size, it provides an insight into the utility of considering school engagement in developing an understanding of the school experience of at-risk students in primary school. Future studies in this area should examine broader, more representative samples and also consider students with multiple risk factors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalAustralian Educational Researcher
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Mar 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Childhood
  • Education
  • Participatory research
  • School engagement


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