Student engagement and discipline

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The Victorian Government uses the term ‘student engagement’ to talk about the many-layered ways that your child takes part in ­– and feels a part of – what happens in their school.

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The concept of student engagement – and the risk of a student ‘disengaging’ – also underpins the way that the government requires schools to approach student discipline. Understanding these concepts will help you to speak up for your child at school, for example if your child needs more support, if they are in trouble at school, or if you are worried that they are at risk of dropping out.

What is student engagement?

Student engagement has three aspects:

  • Behavioural engagement: whether your child can actively participate at school, including in all academic, social and extra-curricular activities
  • Emotional engagement: how comfortable your child feels being part of their class and school community – their sense of belonging and connection at school
  • Cognitive engagement: how your child feels about learning – their interest and motivation to learn.

When all these are in place, your child has their best chance of achieving their potential at school.


Supporting your child’s engagement

Here are the five main factors that DET says contribute to Student Engagement.

  • The teacher: their teaching style and interactions with students, and their academic and behavioural expectations for that student
  • The school: the physical and sensory environment, how supports are provided and discipline is managed
  • The student: their physical, emotional and mental state, and relationships with other students
  • Home, family and community: their circumstances at home, and family support for learning
  • Curriculum and resources: including whether the level of difficulty, support provided and assessment tasks match the student’s needs.

You can discuss how you and the school can support your child in all of these areas, for example at your child’s Student Support Group meetings.


If your child is struggling to engage

If your child is in trouble, for example, government policy requires that the school respond in ways that:

  • Support your child to stay at school and not disengage further – for example your child should not be sent home, or suspended or expelled, except as a last resort.
  • Explore and address the underlying reasons for their behaviour –  by talking with you and developing a plan to support your child to behave positively in future. This should feed into your child’s Individual Learning Plan.
  • Consider changes in the environment, teaching approaches or other adjustments your child might need.
  • Offer support for your child and family such as student welfare or referral to community agencies, and
  • Provide appropriate discipline that is proportionate to (matches) the problem behaviour.


Early intervention, support and re-engagement

The government’s Student Engagement Policy (available on the DET website) describes early signs that a student is at risk of disengaging, such as: low attendance, low marks, lack of interest at school, poor relationships with other students, and behaviours such as aggression, violence or withdrawal. The policy says that school approaches should emphasise supporting positive behaviour amongst students, as well as early intervention and support for students at risk.

Resources are available on the DET website to help schools do this, including through better use of teaching resources, professional development, student mentoring and tutoring, welfare support and planning for your child’s future at school and after school. Your child’s supports, identified through their Student Support Group and written in their plan, are also very important. The DET website also includes information to help school support students at particular risk of disengaging, including students who are homeless, students in out-of-home care, Aboriginal students and students with a disability.

If all of these strategies have bee tried and do not work, there are programs – run by schools or community agencies – that provide alternative education pathways or support students to re-engage with school.


Find out more