School influences

The prevalence of delinquency among students varies dramatically between different secondary schools, as Power et al.(2D showed over 30 years ago in London. Characteristics of high delinquency rate schools are well known. For example, such schools have high levels of distrust between teachers and students, low commitment to school by students, and unclear and inconsistently enforced rules. However, what is far less clear is how much of the variation between schools should be attributed to differences in school organization, climate, and practices, and how much to differences in the composition of the student body.

In the Cambridge Study, the effects of secondary schools on delinquency were investigated by following boys from their primary schools to their secondary schools. The best primary school predictor of juvenile delinquency was the rating of the boy's troublesomeness at the age of 8 to 10 years by peers and teachers, showing the continuity in antisocial behaviour. The secondary schools differed dramatically in their official delinquency rates, from one school with 21 court appearances per 100 boys per year to another where the corresponding figure was only 0.3. Moreover, going to a high delinquency rate secondary school was a significant predictor of later convictions. It was, however, very noticeable that the most troublesome boys tended to go to the high delinquency rate schools, while the least troublesome boys tended to go to the low delinquency rate schools. Furthermore, most of the variation between schools in their delinquency rates could be explained by differences in their intakes of troublesome boys. The secondary schools themselves had only a very small effect on the boys' offending.

The most famous study of school effects on delinquency was also carried out in London, by Rutter et a/.(,28> They studied 12 comprehensive schools, and again found big differences in official delinquency rates between them. High delinquency rate schools tended to have high truancy rates, low ability pupils, and low social class parents. However, the differences between the schools in delinquency rates could not be entirely explained by differences in the social class and verbal reasoning scores of the pupils at intake (aged 11 years). Therefore, they must have been caused by some aspect of the schools themselves or by other, unmeasured factors.

In trying to discover which aspects of schools might be encouraging or inhibiting offending, Rutter et al.(28 found that the main school factors that were associated with delinquency were a high amount of punishment and a low amount of praise given by teachers in class. Unfortunately, it is difficult to know whether much punishment and little praise are causes or consequences of antisocial school behaviour, which in turn may be linked to offending outside school. In regard to other outcome measures, they argued that an academic emphasis, good classroom management, the careful use of praise and punishment, and student participation were important features of successful schools.

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