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“I don’t wanna go to school”. We’ve all heard it before. However, when asked, the majority of kids like school and enjoy attending. Why are some students engaged and thriving at school, while others feel ambivalent, at best? Let’s find out. This week on School Stream, we look at a recent study focusing on how kids feel about school, why it matters, and what experts suggest to help.

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Why is it important to ‘like’ school?

School is like eating your greens – you don’t have to love your veggies to reap the benefits. But feeling good about school is important. Studies find that liking school is intrinsically linked with better academic results, stronger attendance and, most critically, higher levels of engagement.

The good news

Schools are champions at providing rich learning environments, offering tons of extracurricular activities to entice students who feel reluctant or negative about school. We’ve spoken to schools this year that have built a BMX track and introduced skateboarding instruction, to entice students to come to school – and feel good about it. No doubt your school is also working hard to make sure there is something for everyone too. The good news is these efforts are resonating with most students. In a recent study by researchers from Queensland University of Technology and University of Wollongong, two-thirds of teens reported liking school. This does leave us with one-third of students who don’t enjoy it at all. What can we learn from this cohort so they can experience the same positive outcomes as their classmates who feel good about the business of learning? 

“I feel like every day I go to school; I just flex my knowledge. I like to learn. Learning’s alright.”

The Conversation 

The implications of ‘not liking’ school

While the study found most students enjoyed school, there was a decent-sized group of students who actively disliked it. The potential ramifications for students who don’t like school are significant and can lead to them dropping out of education altogether. With this in mind, it’s worth understanding how these students could be encouraged to get on board with school, and whether research can offer any insight. As a bonus, if this cohort of students feel good about school, it makes life easier for everyone.  

What do teenagers who dislike school have to say?

It will come as zero surprise to anyone reading this, that of the students who reported disliking school, 23.7% nominated ‘break time’ as the best part of the day. In contrast, ‘break time’ was the highlight for only 7.3% of students who self-identified as enjoying school. ‘Sport’ (18.3%) and ‘friends’ (47.7%) were also popular with this cohort. 

“What do I like about school? Break. So I get to see my friends.”

The Conversation (edited for clarity)

The data is illuminating when it comes to what students dislike most about school too, with schoolwork being the most disliked aspect, followed by homework and discipline. 

What do students have to say about school? Let’s hear it in their own words 

Here are some quotes from students sourced from different studies and online forums about the things they dislike about school.

Sean on homework:

As a high school student, I have found many reasons to dislike school. It takes away your free time. Almost all of it. Unlike a job, school has no end. When you go home you are burdened with hours of homework which is quite similar to the work you do at school.”

Quora (Edited for length and clarity) 

Michael on schoolwork and starting high school:

“It just got boring and harder.

Caught between a rock and a hard place: disruptive boys’ views on mainstream and special schools in New South Wales, Australia 

US high school student:

“All you got to do is get suspended one time and you’re labelled… I see it, like they follow the same kids around, like everybody knows, hey, those are the bad kids….”

National Education Association USA (Edited for length and clarity) 

What does the research say?

Everything these students are telling us is borne out in the findings of numerous studies. For example, there are associations between students who have experienced exclusionary discipline and those who dislike school. And we all know that moving from primary school to secondary school is a time of great stress and worry for students and has the potential to set in motion a feeling of being disinterested or that it’s all too hard. 

What could help? Two big ideas from current research

Education experts and researchers have ideas about what might help. Here are two of the big ideas on the table: 

STEM-related career and tech options

An Assistant Professor from the University of Ohio, along with two colleagues, found that taking a STEM-related career and technical education course in school leads to low-income students being more engaged in school, more likely to attend, and less likely to be suspended. The study has a huge sample size (20,000 students!) and has something exciting to tell us about what motivates students from this cohort. 

Managing the transition to secondary school

Another approach can potentially be found in softening the transition process from primary school to secondary school. In 2015, Queensland implemented a junior secondary model for Years 7-9 with core subject teachers, so Year 7s had fewer teachers and code-switching to navigate. It also allows for the development of secure teacher-student relationships, which are a known protective factor when it comes to the storm and stress associated with this transition. 

In the meantime, school communities work tirelessly for all their students to create a place of belonging for everybody. We salute you.

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