State and Federal governments in Australia are targeting a 90% attainment rate of senior secondary certificates by 2015. Raising the school leaving age from 15 to 17 has been a policy towards this goal. However, only 72% of students from the lowest socioeconomic areas have achieved a senior secondary certificate compared to 92% of students from the highest socioeconomic areas.
Many students who remain in school because of the raised leaving age are disengaged, behave disruptively, and have higher suspension and absence rates. Given the attainment gap between SES groups and the disengagement of some low SES students, it seems that their academic goals do not align with government intentions. This study examined students’ goals when they are in school and their future plans. There was some evidence that low SES students see schools primarily as extensions of their social lives. To date, little research into achievement goals has examined the potential influence of socioeconomic status.
This exploratory study used both achievement goals theory and social achievement goal theory to examine the motivation of sixteen and seventeen year old students attending two schools in New South Wales that had significantly different socioeconomic status profiles. Six focus groups were conducted with 46 students from the two schools. Students were asked about their future goals, links between their current experience and their goals, decision to keep studying even when the work is difficult or boring, what they do when they dislike the teacher, mucking up in class, working hard because they like a teacher, desirable characteristics of a good teacher, and the influence of parents, peers, and teachers.
The study found that, contrary to expectations, low SES students appeared no more likely than high SES students to focus on social goals. Rather, low SES students had fewer academic goals than high SES students. The conclusion was that all students have social achievement goals. The point of difference was that low SES students do not see school as primarily a place of academic endeavour in the way high SES students do.