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 schould 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.
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