In last week’s blog, Alan Bevan agreed the McKinsey Report was on the money in terms of system inputs, but raised the issue what the student brings. It was therefore with great interest that I read one of the latest NCVER research reports that focused on how schools can build students’ social capital.
Since the 1970s Australia has been collecting longitudinal data on young people’s transition from schooling to post-school pathways, tracking a significant group of young people from about age 15 to about age 25. This is a valuable Australian education resource. Currently NCVER has the contract to produce research reports based on the LSAY (Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth) data. One of the latest such reports to be released is Social Capital and Youth Transitions by Ronnie Semo and Tom Karmel.
Their definition of social capital is the attributes and qualities of the family, social and community networks that facilitate cooperation between individuals and communities. The authors use the LSAY data to explore the links between participation in education and training one year beyond the age of compulsion (on average, age 17) and social capital measured for the same cohort when at school (average age 15).
The report identifies five discrete social capital factors: student connectedness with school; student-teacher relations; the influence of networks when thinking about the future; participation in school-based activities and participation in sport. The authors found participation in school-based activities and the relationship students have with their teachers to be by far the most important of these.
The main point of this analysis is that the effects are additional to background characteristics such as socioeconomic status. The implication is that one way of addressing disadvantage is by promoting elements of social capital – by ensuring that students relate to their teachers and participate in school activities and sport. (p8)
What I like about this research is that it provides practical things that schools can do. Previous research using LSAY data indicates the importance of parent education level, occupational status and place of birth (as Alan suggested) in predicting student participation in post-school education and training – but that is cold comfort to parents, teachers or policy makers wanting to improve participation for those without the advantage factors. Semo and Karmel, however, offer two clear things schools can do to improve student pathways, regardless of the background – improve the student’s connectedness with the school and place a high value on the relationships between students and teachers.
A school staff, or a year level group, a faculty group, a leadership group – could get their heads around these goals and make them happen for particular students, or groups of students. It’s feasible and achievable. Kids and parents can get the message. It is simple and understandable – and, according to Semo and Karmel, it makes a significant difference. It’s about community, it makes sense – and it fits with what we all know about schools.
Way to go.