Dealing with disaffection: The influence of work-based learning on 14–16-year-old students’ attitudes to school

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Abstract Background: Recent developments in policy concerned with raising achievement in schools have given rise to work-based learning as a mechanism for dealing with disaffection. Alongside this redress is the potential for promoting alternative pathways into further education and/or employment. This paper looks at the impact of a work-based learning programme on engagement/re-engagement for disaffected 14–16-year-olds. Drawing on data collected in a small borough in the north of England, it examines attitudes to learning in school and a vocational learning environment. Methods: Teachers’ and tutors’ attitudinal scoring of disaffected students was collected in school and a work-based learning provider, and interviews were conducted with a smaller sample of the students. Results: The retention of a strong school connection is identified as crucial in improving attitude to learning in disaffected students, while attitude and engagement is shown to be heavily interrelated. Students who solely attend a work-based learning provider are seen to further dissociate from school. Conclusions: This study explores the relationship between engagement and attitude to learning in disaffected 14-16-year-olds. Vocational learning is seen to be highly engaging and promotes an overall improvement in general attitude to learning. In relation to school, however, there is strong evidence of reinforced negative attitudes and further disaffection when students are fully removed from this environment. Thus, the most potent recipe for dealing with disaffection in this research is shown to be a mixture of environments where a connection with school is retained.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
JournalEmpirical Research in Vocational Education and Training
Issue number10
Early online date7 Nov 2014
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Nov 2014


  • Disaffection
  • Vocational learning
  • Student attitudes


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