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CEP discussion paper
Disengagement 14-16: Context and Evidence
Hilary Steedman and Sheila Stoney
October 2004
Paper No' CEPDP0654:
Full Paper (pdf)

JEL Classification: I21

Tags: disengagement; motivation; under-achievement

This paper presents an overview of our current state of knowledge regarding poor motivation of 14-16 year old school pupils in the UK. A number of experts in the field from a variety of disciplines presented papers on this topic to a series of seminars held at the London School of Economics between 2002 and 2003. These papers, summarised here, present evidence from a historical, comparative, and social science perspectives and report the results of evaluation of government intervention programmes to improve motivation. International comparisons (PISA) show UK disengagement below the OECD average but the UK has the strongest link between socioeconomic disadvantage and disengagement. We identify a very small ‘out of touch’ group who have practically lost touch with school and a larger group – around one fifth of the cohort - who could be characterised as ‘disaffected but in touch’. Finally, we identify a further group – perhaps 15 per cent of the cohort who gain between 1 and 4 GCSE passes at Grades A*-C but who have not reached full potential as a result of loss of interest in learning. The ‘out of touch’ group often requires intensive one-on-one mentoring outside the school context. Evaluation of government intervention programmes has not so far shown an obvious way forward for the ‘disaffected but in touch’ group, targeted principally by workplace learning measures. For the ‘1-4 Grade C’ group, there may be something of a magic bullet - namely better vocational options.