Coping with school moves

Year: 2009

Author: Boon, Helen

Type of paper: Refereed paper

School mobility is widely held to be disruptive to students' education either directly, by disrupting curriculum continuity or indirectly through social stress and engagement issues affecting the student. Paradoxically, mobility has not been consistently linked to poorer academic outcomes; where mobility was linked with lower academic achievement, behaviour problems and/or inadequate adjustment issues were also found. Adjustment problems implicate student coping strategies. There is a gap in the mobility literature in relation to coping strategies.

This study tests the hypothesis that when particular academic coping strategies are employed by mobile students academic achievement is supported and behavioural problems are avoided. A sample of over one thousand secondary students was employed to gather measures of mobility, academic achievement, suspensions and coping strategies in the pursuit of the following questions:

1. Is mobility linked to lower achievement in Australian students?
2. Is mobility linked to suspensions in Australian students?
3. Are coping strategies employed by mobile students whose academic achievement is satisfactory or better different from those employed by mobile students who are failing?
4. Are coping strategies employed by mobile students who are suspended different from those employed by mobile students who are never suspended?

Supporting prior findings the mobile students of this study achieved at lower levels and had more suspensions than the non-mobile students. Results indicate that positive coping strategies play an important role in the achievement profile of mobile students. Adaptive coping was linked to higher academic achievement while the converse was found for non-productive coping strategies in mobile students. Possible explanations for prior inconsistent findings are suggested.

Children of mobile middle and high SES families and those whose moves are necessitated by parental employment such as military families, rarely report negative effects. In addition, pre-existing differences have been found to account for achievement differences between mobile and other students in longitudinal studies. Results here suggest that it is not only mobility per se that determines children's outcomes but rather the reasons for moving and the family's attitude to moving. Adolescent's coping repertoires have been found to be largely developed over time in concert with their family's reactions to the range of circumstances they face. They result from socialising influences found within the family. Strategies modelled at home might be the ones the child/adolescent learns to use to manage stress. This could explain why children of some highly mobile families rarely report adverse academic achievement outcomes.