Published on: 15 Sep 2016

From the first to second year of secondary education there is a significant drop in positive attitudes towards school

Changes in pupil attitude from Year 7 to Year 8 - what to look for and how to help

By Poppy Ionides, Educational Psychologist

The findings of the Pupil Attitudes to Self and School Report 2016 back up a view that has been voiced anecdotally in schools for years: from the first to second year of secondary education there is a significant drop in positive attitudes towards school.  This includes decreases in areas such as children’s beliefs about their ability to learn and motivation to persevere when presented with a challenge at school.  Attitude towards learning is linked with wellbeing, academic performance and life opportunities so what can be done if a child’s positivity towards school and learning plunges? 

Reducing attitudinal slips requires you to notice and respond to each child’s unique combination of academic factors, curricular factors, social and emotional factors, and role models.

Academic factors

As children settle into secondary school, academic expectations increase.  If you have a hunch that academic worries or difficulties could be influencing your child’s attitude towards school then you could ask them to rate how they feel about each subject with a number from 1-10.  Discussion can shed light on causes of low/high ratings.  For instance, are ratings influenced by:

  • Difficulty understanding the teacher’s instructions 
  • Behaviour of other children in the class
  • Amount of reading/writing in each subject
  • Time pressure in class
  • Finding the subject hard/easy
  • Fear of making mistakes
  • Relationship with the teacher

These findings could feed into a meeting with school – perhaps with your child’s tutor, head of year, special educational needs coordinator or another key adult – so that areas of concern can be addressed with a combination of assessment, intervention and teaching strategies. 

Curricular factors

As children sail away from the novelty of Year 7, the extrinsic motivators of GCSEs not yet in sight, it makes sense that scholastic focus might lapse.  For some children, however, deeper curricular factors than this come into play. 

Much of the curriculum and assessment in schools is built around language, literacy and logical-mathematical skills.  For those whose strengths lie in other areas – maybe practical skills, creativity, social skills, physical endurance – the assessment emphasis in secondary schools can be unintentionally disempowering.  This can be reduced by finding ways in which school can:

  • Recognise and develop your child’s strengths
  • Adapt teaching to take into account your child’s strengths and interests
  • Explicitly show links between learning in school and your child’s aspirations
  • Challenge the notion of particular skills (e.g. literacy, numeracy) having a greater value than others

Social and emotional factors

Relationships with peers take an increasingly central role in children’s lives as they move through secondary school but children also remain strongly influenced by their connections with school staff and family members. 

Questions to consider include:

  • Does your child have a quantity and quality of relationships with peers and staff to meet their social needs in school?  If not, school and home can support children to develop positive peer and teacher interactions (e.g. setting up opportunities to meet with friends outside of school; a Circle of Friends intervention at school; identifying and building on those teacher relationships which are positive).
  • Do you know what is going on in your child’s digital world?  If not, encourage your child to talk to you about this so that you can work with school to give support around issues such as cyber bullying.    
  • Are physical and hormonal changes contributing to tiredness and emotional volatility which will influence your child’s attitude towards school?  If so, communication between home and school will enable accommodations to be made for this.

Home and community role models

Be aware of the spoken and unspoken messages that your child may pick up at home about the importance or otherwise of skills, qualifications and aspirations.  Telling a child to work hard and show self-restraint will have greater success if they have role models who exemplify those values.

Poppy’s blog forms part of GL Assessment’s Pupil Attitudes to Self and School Report 2016. Read more about the report on Twitter using the #pupilattitudes hashtag.

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