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Are they really at risk? Students' stories of success.

In 2011, as the year level dean for year 13, I was surprised and pleased to see a group of students complete their fifth year of secondary schooling, contrary to teacher expectations, and in spite of earlier signs of disengagement and struggle. Such students are frequently labelled “at risk” in our secondary schools. Truancy, lack of achievement, conduct issues, learning difficulties and health problems are seen as indicators of an at risk student by teachers. Statistically in Aotearoa, Māori and Pasifika students and students from low socio-economic families tend to be overrepresented among disengaged or early leavers from secondary schools, and so being from these cultures, and being from a low socio-economic group becomes a “risk” factor. This can lead to assumptions among teachers about the students’ families, how parents value education, and even about the capacity of these groups to be able to succeed in education. A range of strategies and programmes have been implemented in an attempt to address these issues, including Te Kotahitanga, Ka Hikitia and the Pasifika Education Plan, Resource Teachers Learning and Behaviour, Restorative Practice, and more recently Positive Behaviour for Learning While there has been a shift in such approaches from deficit of students to emphasising more positive attitudes in teachers, the perspectives of the students themselves are missing from the discussion about these issues. This study asks students what factors helped them to stay, and to achieve at least a level one NCEA qualification The findings show that retention and engagement of “at risk” students requires careful attention to the quality of relationships across the school community: students, teachers and parents. They discredit some commonly held assumptions that “at risk” students and their parents do not value education and that teachers cannot support these students sufficiently. These quality relationships are respectful, responsive and tenacious showing a high level of respect for and interest in the students that goes beyond a teaching and learning relationship. It also suggests that the discourse of “risk” invites a disrespectful response to retention and engagement of students.
Type of thesis
Gray, S. (2012). Are they really at risk? Students’ stories of success. (Thesis, Master of Education (MEd)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/6619
University of Waikato
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