Daniil Alexandrov, Head of the Laboratory, and Valeria Ivanushina, Senior Research Fellow at the HSE Research Laboratory of Sociology in Education and Science in Saint Petersburg, assert in their article ‘Anti-School Culture and Social Networks of Pupils’ that the polarity of attitudes is established at the level of close friendship groups in the grade, so called ‘cliques’. Pupils in a clique, that includes on average five persons, share the same attitudes towards school, that undoubtedly affect their educational performance.
Their study shows that the type of school, whether it is a regular or specialist language or mathematics school, a lycee or a grammar school, does not play an important role in pupil achievement.
How much you Love School Depends on your Family
The Russian school system is subject to sharp social stratification. Pupil achievement, USE (school leaving/university entrance exam) results, and the number of pupils leaving school after the ninth grade in regular schools differ clearly from grammar schools, lyceums, and special schools. The social environment in schools is mixed and can be divided into many micro groups. This is the first study of attitudes to studying among these cliques.
D. Alexandrov and V. Ivanushina interviewed 7063 ninth and tenth graders from 104 state schools in Saint Petersburg in spring 2010. The method of network analysis helped to identify small communication groups within a grade.
The pupil ‘mood barometer’ included a scale of eight opinions that could express a whole range of emotions towards school, from rejection to enthusiasm. Some positive viewsare based on the idea of career prospects, for example ‘Only good education will get you a good job’. Some put the blame on parents and teachers who care more about exam results than the pupils themselves. Some only expressed their parents’ position, for example ‘I want to go to a good school even if it’s far from home’.
The research also took into account individual pupil performance, the socio-economic status of the family, parents’ education, the status of non-Russian migrants (for families from Central Asia and the Trans Caucasus regions, for whom Russian is not a native language), and the type of the school.
Alexandrov and Ivanushina noticed that in regular non-specialist schools the level of pro-school attitudes tend to be a little lower. The researchers specified the characteristics of these schools: the socio-economic status of families and pupil performances are rather low, parents rarely apply for higher education.
In specialist schools the level of pro-school attitudes is higher. A positive attitude to school is connected with higher socio-professional status among family and parents with higher education. Besides, pro-school attitudes are more widespread among girls and children from migrant families.
During the research D. Alexandrov and V. Ivanushina found that the level of pro-school attitudes is determined by a pupil’s individual and family characteristics.
One group of friends – One Attitude
After constructing a three-tier model ‘individual – clique – school’ in order to examine the connection between pro-school attitudes and pupil achievement, the researchers came to the conclusion that small groups of friends stick to the same educational aims.
It turned out that only 7% of the dependent variable variation is related to the school level, and 18% is related to the ‘clique’ one in the model.
The results show that the extent of pro-school attitudes greatly affects the achievement of pupils with stable socio-demographical characteristics and motivation levels, studying in the same type of school.
In other words, the index of attitude on the ‘clique’ level is positively connected with pupil achievement. Pupils, who have close relations with each other and spend a lot of time together, develop common ideas and values, which may differ from the ideas of other friendship groups in school.
A School’s ‘Average Temperature’ Hides Contrasts
Varying pupils’ attitudes from one group of friends to another can result in extremes and totally opposite notions about a school. Thus average attitudes towards school (so called ‘school culture’) may hide significant opinion polarity among groups of teenagers.