No. V (1972)

The extent of social maladjustment among yough aged 15-17 "out of school and out of work"

Published 1972-09-04


  • boys and girls out of school and out of work,
  • social maladjustment,
  • juvenile

How to Cite

Ostrihanska, Z., Kołakowska-Przełomiec, H., Batawia, S., Kossowska, A., & Marek, M. (1972). The extent of social maladjustment among yough aged 15-17 "out of school and out of work". Archives of Criminology, (V), 7–149.



The paper discusses the findings of research conducted by the Department of Criminology of the Polish Academy Sciences’ Institute of Legal Sciences among Warsaw 15 - 17 years-olds who left school but were not gainfully employed, and were subject to the requirement of compulsory vocational training. The problem of this category of youth is of considerable social importance since it is closely connected with the problem of delinquent or socially at risk youth.

In 1967 and 1968 the educational authorities in Warsaw registered 5,749 boys and 2,477 girls aged 15 - 17 who were “out of school and out of work”. The Department’s surveys embraced a sample of only a proportion of the youth subject to registration, but it included in all probability a large majority of the boys and girls whose normal education had suffered the greatest disturbances:

1) ones who had completed only four, five or six grades of elementary school and had been directed to newly organized two-year vocational schools; and 2) ones who had completed the 7th grade but had failed to qualify for admission to the 8th grade or to a normal vocational school and had been directed to newly organized one-year vocational schools.

The object of organizing these one- and two-year vocational schools was to give the kind of children who drop out of the normal educational stream the chance of learning a trade and also those attending the two-year schools the possibility of continuing their elementary education. It should be noted that in the one-year schools classes are held only twice a week, and in the two-year schools three times a week. The remaining days are given over to practical in-work training.

In the 1967/68 school year the Department’s inquiry was conducted among boys attending one- and two-year building and electrical schools and a one-year motor mechanics school; they accounted for 52 per cent of the boys with the greatest degree of school retardation. In the following year, 1968/69, the subjects were boys attending one- and two-year building and electrical schools, to which 60 per cent of boys in this category had been directed.

In 1967 a sample for each school was drawn from a complete list of the pupils in attendance, providing a sample of 180 boys. In 1968 the survey embraced all the boys (a total of 252) at these two schools.

In 1968/69 the inquiry was extended to include girls as well: the subjects were all the girls enrolled at a one-year catering school (70) and a one-year clothing school (40).

As regards the age of the boys assigned to these vocational courses, 43 per cent were over 17 in the first survey, and 23 per cent in the second; the remainder were aged 15 and 16.

Girls over 17 formed 31 per cent of the sample.

The selection for the Department’s survey of pupils whose normal education had probably suffered the most serious disruptions made it reasonable to suppose that distinct symptoms of social maladjustment would be found among them. To ascertain the incidence of such symptoms and the size of the category of youth with clearly delinquent tendencies or records was one of the chief objects of the inquiry.

However, the working hypothesis was that 15 - I7-year-olds “out of school and out of work” were recruited from among the sort of boys and girls who had in the first place had serious problems with the elementary school course and that these difficulties had played a large part in their social maladjustment. As regards the degree of their social maladjustment it seemed likely that they were far less demoralized than the majority of juveniles with criminal convictions and tendencies to recidivism.

In the inquiry whose findings are discussed below the following breaches of the fundamental rules of society or the standards of behaviour expected of children and youth were considered evidence of maladjustment:

1) persistent truancy; 2) staying out of school and out of work; 3) keeping demoralized company; 4) running away from home; 5) excessive drinking; 6) delinquency; 7) sexual promiscuity among the girls.

Account was further taken of symptoms indicating serious school maladjustment: considerable school retardation and frequent commencement and discontinuance of attendance at different schools.

Only those subjects of the inquiry were classified as maladjusted in the case of whom evidence was obtained that they were given to conduct of a certain type and that they regularly displayed a combination of deviational symptoms and not only a single isolated one.

It should be indicated that in view of the impossibility of conducting medical and psychological examinations crucial aspects of the genesis and mechanism of difficulties at school and behaviour disorders could not be properly investigated.

The inquiry had necessarily to be restricted to symptomatic and not etiological criteria of maladjustment. These were, however, enough to identify on the basis of the degree of neglect of school work and specific behaviour certain boys and girls as being socially maladjusted to some extent or another ‒ which was the main purpose of the research undertaken among this category of youth and made it largely possible to single out the children in need of care and attention.

Recourse was had in the inquiry to opinions about the subjects collected from their elementary and vocational schools and from the work-places in which they underwent practical training, to court and police records, etc. Tn addition, in 1967/68 background interviews were conducted in the homes of the subjects. Both in the first and second survey tests were made of their level of achievement in Polish and mathematics at schools and of their intelligence on the Raven’s Progressive Matrices.

The inquiry was supplemented by follow-up studies which for the boys in each of the successive years embraced a period of 2 2/3 years and l 2/3 years (including the period of vocational school attendance).

The paper in question runs to 140 pp. of print and consists of a number of contributions: Introduction; Section 1, devoted chiefly to the criteria of social maladjustment among children and youth (written by Z. Ostrihanska); Section 2, discussing the findings of the studies of 432 boys (written by H. Kołakowska-Przełomiec); Section 3, reporting on the studies of 110 girls (written by Z. Ostrihanska, in association with A. Kossowska); Section 4, containing the results of the tests of the boys’ and girls’ achievements in Polish and mathematics (written by M. Marek); and a resume of the results of all the research and the conclusions to be drawn from it (written by S. Batawia).


The boys examined in the l967/68 school year (the first year in which the educational authorities registered this category of youth) were older than the subjects in the following year. As has been already indicated, 43 per cent of the boys in 1967/68 had passed their 17th birthday, compared to only 23 per cent in 1968/69. It is worth noting, however, that the number of l5-year-olds was small, only 23 and 36 per cent respectively.

Since only a third of all the subjects were at least 17 at the time of registration, the question of the employment of these boys in the period preceding their referral to vocational school is not worth entering into. The basic point is connected with the course of their school attendance – the degree to which the process of education at elementary school was disrupted and the length of time these boys had been out of school (among those who had completed the 7th grade and also those who had discontinued attendance at a normal vocational school).

The surveys revealed the important fact that only a small percentage of the youth described as “out of school and out of work” had in actual fact been absent from school for a period of more than six months (including the summer holiday): in the two succeeding years the number of boys of this kind was 28 and 21 per cent, while the number who had no breaks in school attendance whatsoever was 33 per cent in the first year and as much as 77 per cent in the next.

On the other hand, the process of education had been highly disturbed: among the subjects attending one-year vocational schools only 21 per cent had no record of retardation at elementary school, and barely one per cent in the two-year schools.

Among the boys attending the one-year schools 28 and 24 per cent had dropped two years behind, and 11 and 18 per cent three years or more.

The boys in the two-year schools who had completed only 4 - 6 grades were of course even more retarded: in 1967/68 retardation of two years was shown by 28 per cent and in 1968/69 by 45 per cent, and three years or more by 52 and 39 per cent respectively.

As many as 70 – 80 per cent of all the subjects had been systematically truant from elementary school, and about two-thirds had long-lasting disciplinary difficulties.

In considering these boys’ failures at school, attention should be given to the results of tests of their achievement level and of their scores in the Raven’s Progressive Matrices.

On the whole the subjects’ achievement level in mathematics differed markedly from that of a comparative sample of children in corresponding grades of elementary school. Bad marks in mathematics were scored by 62 and 64 per cent of the boys in the one-year schools and 83 and 86 per cent of the boys in the two-year schools.

There were also considerable differences in achievement in Polish between the subjects and the control group. Particular emphasis should be given to the bad scores recorded in silent reading and comprehension tests not only by many of the boys in the two-year schools who had not completed the 7th grade but also by many of the boys in the one-year schools.

This low achievement level in basic subjects was undoubtedly a serious obstacle to learning progress for the majority of the subjects, not only earlier at elementary school, but also at vocational school.

Raven’s Progressive Matrices testing, first of all, reasoning ability revealed in 1967/68 a larger percentage of boys with low and very low scores than in the control group. The subjects in the one-year schools had better scores than the subjects in the two-year school. In the following year, 1968/69, however, the percentage with low and very low scores decreased, though it remained higher among the boys attending two-year schools than one-year schools.

The Raven’s Progressive Matrices scores do not, however, explain all the reasons for the boys’ great degree of school retardation, since there was a fairly large group which had good and very good scores. Their failure at school must be connected with other factors than low reasoning ability. These may be deficiencies in other mental abilities, personality disorders, neglect at home, etc.

In examining the degree of social maladjustment (the criteria were discussed earlier) of the boys surveyed in 1967/68 it was found that:

1) only 28 per cent of the boys could be judged seriously socially maladjusted; they displayed a number of symptoms of marked demoralization and committed offences (theft);

2) 35 per cent could be called moderately maladjusted: they had been out of school or out of work longer than six months, had been frequently truant, and some of them also displayed other symptoms of maladjustment of a less marked order:

3) a relatively large group (36 per cent) were boys who by and large displayed only symptoms of school maladjustment, and symptoms of demoralization only sporadically.

It should be added that the number of seriously maladjusted boys was much smaller in the one-year schools (25 per cent) than among those who had not completed the 7th grade and had been placed in the two-year schools (33 per cent).

It is worth drawing attention to the fact that boys with various Raven scores and various achievement levels in basic subjects can be found in similar percentages both among the group of boys only  slightly socially maladjusted and the group of boys moderately or seriously maladjusted.

However, the more socially maladjusted boys had worse home backgrounds than the others and no doubt suffered from greater personality disorders since they had already earlier caused more serious disciplinary problems. The greater degree of maladjustment among this groups of boys who had made bad progress at school was, therefore, affected by factors connected with personality and home background.

It should be noted that 34 per cent of the subjects in 1967/68 and 33 per cent in 1968/69 came from broken homes. Fathers who were excessive drinkers (alcohol addicts among them) constituted 41 per cent of the total, and the number of brothers (over ten years of age) who displayed various symptoms of social maladjustment came to 30 per cent. Bad material conditions were found in almost half the homes of the subjects.

The surveys revealed that the percentage of boys “out of school and out of work” who had appeared before juvenile courts was relatively small. Among the total number of subjects (432), only 28.4 per cent had been prosecuted before being directed to vocational school. In the period of attendance to vocational school and later a total of 39 boys were convicted, but only 14 of those had previous convictions. The percentage of boys brought to court rose only very slightly to 31.7 per cent, and it should be emphasized that the percentage of recidivists with three or more cases among the total number convicted came to only 24 per cent (including juvenile court appearances). A large majority of the subjects are therefore boys who were not seriously delinquent even though they displayed a whole series of symptoms of social maladjustment.

The careers of the boys after placement in vocational schools are basically contingent on the degree of their social maladjustment, and only this, and not appearance in court, forms the proper criterion for assessing the difficulties encountered by efforts to normalize these boys.

Although the subjects’ attendance at the vocational schools was not regular and there was a considerable degree of absenteeism from the practical training periods, while a large percentage (53 and 41 per cent in the two succeeding years) failed to complete the vocational course on time, follow-up studies showed that only a third of the subjects in 1967/68 and a fifth in 1968/69 had not subsequently continued their education or entered employment. These boys, in the case of whom attempts at rehabilitation had been wholly unsuccessful, did not exceed 25 per cent of the total of 432. Virtually all of them came from the group of subjects with serious prior social maladjustment who had long displayed advanced symptoms of demoralization.


The publication presents the findings of an inquiry conducted among 110 girls aged 15 - 17 who had been directed, on the grounds of being “out of school and out of work”, to two one-year vocational schools in Warsaw (catering and clothing). All the girls enrolled in these schools were the subjects of the study.

The first point to be established was whether the girls classified as “out of school and out of work” had in fact not been attending school or gainfully employed for a longer period of time prior to admission. In point of fact the job question did not really enter the picture since almost all the subjects had never yet been employed, partly on account of their age: only 31 per cent of them had reached their 17th birthday at the time of the inquiry. Most of them had previously been attending school, while the period of idleness was as a rule very short: as many as 70 per cent had been in attendance until the end of the preceding school year and had found themselves without a place at the beginning of the new one. The number which had quit or interrupted school attendance in the course of the preceding school year came to 24 per cent; only 6 per cent had longer breaks in schooling of a year or more.

However, if we forego this formal criterion of non-attendance and take into account not only failure to enroll in a school, but also systematic truancy, it turns out that the number not attending school is much larger: two-thirds of the subjects had either left school or, though nominally in attendance had in fact been systematically truant in the course of the preceding school year.

The question of the criteria employed to classify young people as “out of school and out of work” merits special emphasis because, as we shall see, it was systematic staying away from school though nominally enrolled rather than brief official breaks in attendance which proved bad prediction for subsequent adjustment in the one-year vocational school.

Two-thirds of the girl subjects had fallen behind in elementary school, and among 46 per cent this retardation came to at least two years. The school retardation of the subjects was not only much greater than the general rate among children in the higher grades of elementary school in Poland, but also greater than among boy subjects attending analogous one-year vocational schools.

So large a degree of school retardation prompts the question whether poor progress was not due to the diminished intelligence level of the subjects. This point was examined with the help of Raven’s Progressive Matrices, tests of achievement in basic subjects, and the opinions obtained from teachers at the schools which the subjects had previously attended.

A large percentage of the girls (41 per cent) had low and very low Raven scores (under 25 percentiles). Girls attending one-year vocational schools had far worse scores than average school children, and worse ones than boys attending one-year vocational schools and even than boys attending two-year vocational schools.

These Raven scores must be put into the context of data obtained by other means. As had been said, tests were made of the level of achievement in basic subjects (Polish and mathematics). The percentage of subjects who displayed a very low level of achievement was greater than the percentage with low and very low Raven scores. The girls attending one-year vocational schools differed markedly in level of achievement from the control group of elementary school children.

Additional information on the abilities of the subjects was obtained from questionnaires answered by teachers at the schools which these girls had previously attended. On this evidence, more of them were found to be “dull” than had been suggested by their Raven scores.

The variations in the data obtained from different sources require clarification. Raven’s Progressive Matrices test only certain abilities (reasoning visual perception) important to learning. But there are also a number of other abilities which play a part in progress at school (e.g. memory, audial perception, verbal abilities) and deficiencies where these are concerned might have contributed to the low scores of the subjects in the tests of achievement and to the teachers’ estimates of their abilities. The failures or difficulties of a part of the subjects at school might have been connected with disturbances in these particular learning abilities. But they might equally well have been due to personality factors or – and this seems especially important given the evidence obtained in interviews – to considerable neglect at home. The school retardation of the subjects, their achievement level, their low Raven scores and the teachers’ opinions of their poor abilities are all signs that their being “out of school and out of work” was clearly bound up with failures at school and objective difficulties with learning.


The next question was the degree of social maladjustment of the subjects. Only a small number of the girls (18 per cent) had no record of considerable school retardation, presented no particular problems of conduct at school, and displayed no symptoms of social maladjustment. The biggest quantitative problem among the subjects were the girls (almost half) who only manifested evidence of maladjustment as regards school work, i.e. retardation of two or more years, systematic truancy, and repeated discontinuance of school attendance. Only a third of the girls were found, however, to have other symptoms of social maladjustment: keeping demoralized company, running away from home, excessive drinking, stealing and suspected sexual promiscuity. It was only these girls in whom the relevant symptom or symptoms had occurred frequently or jointly that were classified as socially maladjusted. It should be added, however, that only three of the girls had been previously convicted, only 10 per cent were found to have committed thefts and only 10 per cent were suspected of sexual promiscuity. These percentages are insignificant when compared to those found in girls brought before the courts. However, for a third of the girls to reveal evidence of social maladjustment constitutes a relatively large proportion if it is compared with the degree of social maladjustment found in an average schoolgirl population.

In the inquiry a comparison was made of the girls who displayed only symptoms of maladjustment at school (notably considerable school retardation) with those whose behaviour indicated evidence of social maladjustment as well. It was found that the subjects in the latter category tended indeed to come more frequently from adverse home environments and were more often described by school teachers as excitable, restless and aggressive.

Although systematic truancy has in this study been placed under the heading of maladjustment at school, it proved in fact to be more frequent among the socially maladjusted girls than those who displayed only school maladjustment. This fact, as well as evidence of a connection between social maladjustment and certain personality features, suggest that it is not difficulties and failures at school as such, but the modes of reaction to them that lead to major maladjustment.

The next point tackled by the inquiry related to the environmental, health and personality factors behind the subjects’ non-attendance of school and lack of employment. Here the data was obtained by means of background interviews and interviews with 62 of the girls who qualified most obviously for the designation of “out of school and out of work” on account of interrupted school attendance and systematic truancy.

Of these 62 girts, as many as 44 per cent came from broken homes. Among their families there was a high incidence (47 per cent) of excessive drinking by the father. A third of the fathers had criminal convictions and in 30 per cent of the families there were brothers with convictions. This data indicates that the girls who were “out of school and out of work” had frequently been brought up in homes which constituted socially negative educative environments and got their children off to a bad start in life.

Health data showed that 29 per cent of the girls “out of school and out of work” had suffered various protracted illnesses resulting in long absences from school which could have led to low achievement level. Hospital or sanatorium treatment had been prescribed at some time for 44 per cent. The interviews afforded grounds for suspecting that 23 per cent had suffered brain damage. These are all factors which interfere with progress at school. But they are obstacles which could have been more easily overcome if the girls could have counted on the help and care of their families; in the home environment in which many of the subjects grew up, on the other hand, they formed serious barriers to normal results at school.

Finally progress at school has been analysed in 110 pupils attending one-year schools as well as their accomplishment in a successive year. A total of 40 per cent of the subjects attended the one-year vocational schools very irregularly, cutting over a quarter of the days of instruction. This poor attendance record had a statistically significant interdependence with systematic truancy in the preceding school year (though insignificant with the break in school attendance prior to enrolment in the one-year vocational school). This indicates that truancy should be regarded by schools as a particularly urgent warning to pay greater attention to the children involved. Irregular attendance of the one-year vocational schools was also connected with social maladjustment in the period preceding admission. The girls with the greatest degree of social maladjustment were the ones who found it hardest to adapt in the vocational schools.

A year after the end of the school year in which the inquiry was conducted, follow-up interviews were made in order to see if the former pupils of the one year vocational schools were still attending school or gainfully employed. It was found that almost half the girls were continuing their education and 29 per cent were working (half of them in jobs matching their vocational qualifications); only about a fifth were “out of school and out of work”. The reasons they gave for this varied and in certain cases the fact that they were neither attending school nor working was clearly justified by special circumstances.


In the light of the surveys of the 15 - l7-year-olds “out of school and out of work,” it can be seen that a large majority of the subjects are recruited from among boys and girls whose basic problems can be reduced to school maladjustment, serious learning difficulties and inability to adapt to the school curriculum. With most of the subjects social maladjustment is clearly connected with school maladjustment, which is no doubt frequently the anterior process.

The lack of detailed psychological and medical tests makes it impossible to say what are the factors chiefly responsible fur such school retardation: what percentage of the subjects are backward children, children with only partial developmental retardation, children with certain congenital defects which are serious obstacles to learning to read and write, or children with personality disorders which interfere considerable with a normal process of education, reduce their capacity for systematic effort, impede concentration, etc.

The children whose normal progress at school encounters serious difficulties and cannot cope unaided with their school obligations have a sense of inferiority with regard to the other children in their class, and the conflict situations experienced by them continually and their fear of the consequences of bad results at school make for a hostile attitude to school, truancy, seeking contacts outside school with peers in a similar position, spending much of their time with other maladjusted boys in whose company they can win approval. Children of this kind frequently drop far behind in elementary school and sometimes fail to complete it altogether. Subsequently, they have a very difficult start in life, extremely limited prospects of employment in jobs with a low social status and a sense of personal failure and rejection which frequently helps to develop antisocial attitudes.

In dealing with boys and girls of this sort who have already reached an older age bracket, one should realize that their considerable school retardation, their unaccustomedness for systematic study and the development of certain adverse habits militate against progress in the vocational schools to which they are directed. In view of the fact that teaching them a specific trade in combination with practical         in-work training may be of vital importance to their subsequent careers, the syllabus in these special vocational schools should be adjusted to the degree of inability displayed by such boys and girls. Since the boys who have not even completed six or seven grades of elementary school are in a worse position than those who have completed a greater number of grades, the syllabus of the vocational courses for these children should be differentiated to match their achievement level in elementary school. It seems essential therefore, before directing such boys and girls to a vocational school, to submit them to psychological tests to discover their intelligence level and suitability for a specific trade.

The findings of these surveys make clear the importance from the point of view not only of the practice of the educational authorities but also of social policy of paying special attention to cases of recurring repetition of elementary school grades and truancy, and of failure to complete elementary school. Problems and failures at school require the early intervention of psychologists and doctors and the extension of special attention to such children in the earliest grades. The elimination and prevention of symptoms of school maladjustment depend on the proper organization of school work to allow for the specific problems of this category of children. It is essential to provide a sufficient number of special classes in the lower years to enable children making poor progress to catch up and also individual coaching of pupils who have special learning problems.

The surveys show how important the implementation of the above recommendations could be for prevention of social maladjustment and demoralization among a large proportion of the children subsequently classified as “out of school and out of work”. The fact that among juvenile offenders there is a large incidence of records of serious disturbances in the course of their education from an early age is obvious evidence of the need to pay special attention to school maladjustment with a view to the prevention of juvenile delinquency.

Since the surveys have shown that a large proportion of children with serious school failures come from adverse home backgrounds, from broken homes, from homes in which the father is an alcoholic and from homes whose material circumstances are bad, it is essential to put such families under special supervision and also to provide welfare benefits to the mothers of children in such home.


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