A student’s sense of school belonging is critical to school success, yet internationally, a large proportion of secondary students do not feel that they belong to their school. However, little is understood about how schools can address this issue, nor what evidence-based interventions are available to increase belonging among secondary school students. The aim of this study is to identify and critically review the evidence on school-based interventions that increase a sense of school belonging in adolescents. Seven electronic databases and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials were searched from 1999 to February 2021 using ‘school belonging’ and ‘intervention’ amongst the key search terms. A total of 22 controlled trials were identified with 14 studies reporting effective school-based interventions for enhancing a sense of adolescent school belonging. Successful interventions targeted students’ strengths and promoted positive interactions between students and between school staff and students. Overall, this review found a paucity of interventions that intentionally aimed to develop adolescent school belonging. Inconsistencies in terminology use and definitions describing school belonging were identified even when similar measurement tools were utilised. Findings of this review have important practice implications and provide information to support schools to select evidence-based interventions to improve students’ sense of school belonging.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Abdollahi, A., Panahipour, S., Tafti, M. A., & Allen, K. A. (2020). Academic hardiness as a mediator for the relationship between school belonging and academic stress. Psychology in the Schools, 57(5), 823–832. https://doi.org/10.1002/pits.22339.
*Acosta, J., Chinman, M., Ebener, P., Malone, P. S., Phillips, A., & Wilks, A. (2019). Evaluation of a whole-school change intervention: findings from a two-year cluster-randomized trial of the restorative practices intervention. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 48(5), 876-890. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-019-01013-2
Allen, K. A. (2020). The Psychology of Belonging. Routledge (Taylor and Francis Group).
Allen, K. A., & Bowles, T. V. (2012). Belonging as a guiding principle in the education of adolescents. Australian Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology, 12, 108–119.
Allen, K. A., & Kern, P. (2019). Boosting School Belonging in Adolescents. Routledge.
Allen, K. A., Kern, M. L., Vella-Brodrick, D., & Waters, L. (2017a). School values: A comparison of academic motivation, mental health promotion, and school belonging with student achievement. The Educational and Developmental Psychologist, 34(1), 31–47. https://doi.org/10.1017/edp.2017.5.
Allen, K. A., Vella-Brodrick, D., & Waters, L. (2017b). School belonging and the role of social and emotional competencies in fostering an adolescent’s sense of connectedness to their school. In E. Frydenberg, A. J. Martin, & R. J. Collie (Eds.), Social and Emotional Learning in Australia and the Asia-Pacific: Perspectives, Interventions and Approaches (1st ed., pp. 83–99). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-3394-0_5.
Allen, K. A., Kern, M. L., Vella-Brodrick, D., Hattie, J., & Waters, L. (2018a). What schools need to know about fostering school belonging: A meta-analysis. Educational Psychology Review, 30(1), 1–34. https://doi.org/10.1017/edp.2017.5.
Allen, K. A., Kern, P., Vella-Brodrick, D., & Waters, L. (2018b). Understanding the priorities of Australian secondary schools through an analysis of their mission and vision statements. Educational Administration Quarterly, 54(2), 249–274. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013161X18758655.
Allen, K. A., Vella-Brodrick, D., & Waters, L. (2018c). Rethinking school belonging: A socio-ecological framework. In K. A. Allen & C. Boyle (Eds.), Pathways to Belonging: Contemporary Research in School Belonging (1st ed., pp. 191–218). Brill. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004386969_011.
Allen, K. A., Kern, M., Rozec, C., McInerney, D., & Slavich, G. (2021). Belonging: A review of conceptual issues, an integrative framework, and directions for future research. Australian Journal of Psychology, 73(1), 87–102. https://doi.org/10.1080/00049530.2021.1883409.
Appleton, J. J., Christenson, S. L., Kim, D., & Reschly, A. L. (2006). Measuring cognitive and psychological engagement: Validation of the Student Engagement Instrument. Journal of School Psychology, 44(5), 427–445. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsp.2006.04.002.
Arslan, G., Allen, K. A., & Ryan, T. (2020). Exploring the impacts of school belonging on youth wellbeing and mental health. Child Indicators Research, 13(5), 1619–1635. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12187-020-09721-z.
*Asogwa, U. D., Ofoegbu, T. O., Ogbonna, C. S., Eskay, M., Obiyo, N. O., Nji, G. C., Ngwoke, O. R, Eseadi, C., Agboti, C. I., Uwakwe, C., & Eze, B. C. (2020). Effect of video-guided educational intervention on school engagement of adolescent students with hearing impairment: Implications for health and physical education. Medicine, 99(23), e20643. https://doi.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000020643
Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Prentice-Hall.
Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Prentice-Hall.
Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497–529.
Berger, E. (2019). Multi-tiered approaches to trauma-informed care in schools: A systematic review. School Mental Health, 11(4), 650–664. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12310-019-09326-0.
Blaustein, M. E., & Kinniburgh, K. M. (2019). Treating traumatic stress in children and adolescents: how to foster resilience through attachment, self-regulation, and competency (2nd ed.). Guilford Press.
Bond L., Butler H., Thomas L., Carlin J., Glover S., Bowes G., Patton G. (2007). Social and school connectedness in early secondary school as predictors of late teenage substance use, mental health, and academic outcomes. Journal of Adolescent Health, 40(4), 35. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2006.10.013.
*Burnette, J. L., Russell, M. V., Hoyt, C. L., Orvidas, K., & Widman, L. (2018). An online growth mindset intervention in a sample of rural adolescent girls. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 88(3), 428-445.
Catalano, R. F., Kosterman, R., Hawkins, J. D., Newcomb, M. D., & Abbott, R. D. (1996). Modeling the etiology of adolescent substance use: A test of the social development model. Journal of Drug Issues, 26(2), 429–455.
Chapman, R. L., Buckley, L., Sheehan, M., & Shochet, I. (2013a). School-based interventions for increasing connectedness and reducing risk behavior: A systematic review. Educational Psychology Review, 25(1), 95–114. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-013-9216-4.
*Chapman, R. L., Buckley, L., Sheehan, M., & Shochet, I. M. (2013b). Pilot evaluation of an adolescent risk and injury prevention programme incorporating curriculum and school connectedness components. Health Education Research, 28(4), 612-625.
*Cross, D., Lester, L., Barnes, A., Cardoso, P., & Hadwen, K. (2015). If it's about me, why do it without me? Genuine student engagement in school cyberbullying education. International Journal of Emotional Education, 7(1), 35-51.
Demanet, J., & Van Houtte, M. (2012). School belonging and school misconduct: The differing role of teacher and peer attachment. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41(4), 499–514. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-011-9674-2.
Erickson, E. H. (1963). Childhood and Society (2nd ed.). Norton.
*Espelage, D. L. (2016). Leveraging school-based research to inform bullying prevention and policy. American Psychologist, 71(8), 768-775. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000095
*Ferrer-Cascales, R., Albaladejo-Blázquez, N., Sánchez-SanSegundo, M., Portilla-Tamarit, I., Lordan, O., & Ruiz-Robledillo, N. (2019). Effectiveness of the TEI program for bullying and cyberbullying reduction and school climate improvement. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(4), 580. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16040580
Fischl, D., Kaplan, H., & Cohen-Sayag, E. (2017). Ethiopian pupils: Characteristics of school belonging and social engagement—A Case Study. The Online Journal of New Horizons in Education, 7(3).
*Frank, J. L., Kohler, K., Peal, A., & Bose, B. (2017). Effectiveness of a school-based yoga program on adolescent mental health and school performance: Findings from a randomized controlled trial. Mindfulness, 8(3), 544-553. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-016-0628-3
Fredricks, J. A., Blumenfeld, P. C., & Paris, A. H. (2004). School engagement: Potential of the concept, state of the evidence. Review of Educational Research, 74(1), 59–109. https://doi.org/10.3102/00346543074001059.
Furlong, M. J., Whipple, A. D., St. Jean, G., Simental, J., Soliz, A., & Punthuna, S. (2003). Multiple contexts of school engagement: Moving toward a unifying framework for educational research and practice. The California School Psychologist, 8(1), 99–113. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03340899.
Furlong, M. J., Froh, J. J., Muller, M. E., & Gonzalez, V. I. (2014). The role of gratitude in fostering school bonding. In D. J. Shernoff & J. Bempechat (Eds.), National Society for the Study of Education Yearbook: Engaging Youth in Schools: Empirically-Based Model to Guide Future Innovations (113th ed., pp. 58–79). Teachers College.
*Garcia, C., Pintor, J., Vazquez, G., & Alvarez-Zumarraga, E. (2011). Project Wings, a coping intervention for Latina adolescents: A pilot study. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 35(4), 434-458. https://doi.org/10.1177/0193945911407524
Garrity C., Jens K., Porter W. W., Sager N., Short-Camilli C. (1997). Bully proofing your school: Creating a positive climate. Intervention in School and Clinic, 32(4), 235–243. https://doi.org/10.1177/105345129703200407.
Goodenow, C., & Grady, K. E. (1993). The relationship of school belonging and friends' values to academic motivation among urban adolescent students. The Journal of Experimental Education, 62(1), 60–71. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220973.1993.9943831.
Greenwood, L., & Kelly, C. (2019). A systematic literature review to explore how staff in schools describe how a sense of belonging is created for their pupils. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, 24(1), 3–19. https://doi.org/10.1080/13632752.2018.1511113.
Hanson, T. L., & Kim, J. O. (2007). Measuring resilience and youth development: the psychometric properties of the Healthy Kids Survey. Regional Educational Laboratory West https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs/regions/west/pdf/REL_2007034.pdf.
Hawkins, J. D., & Weis, J. G. (1985). The social development model: An integrated approach to delinquency prevention. Journal of Primary Prevention, 6(2), 73–97.
*Holt, L. J., Bry, B. H., & Johnson, V. L. (2008). Enhancing school engagement in at-risk, urban minority adolescents through a school-based, adult mentoring intervention. Child & Family Behavior Therapy, 30(4), 297-318. https://doi.org/10.1080/07317100802482969
*Jenkinson, K. A., Naughton, G., & Benson, A. C. (2018). A stealth intervention: The GLAMA (Girls! Lead! Achieve! Mentor! Activate!) and BLAST (Boys! Lead! Activate! Succeed Together!) school connectedness, peer leadership and physical activity transition program. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 43(1), 3. https://doi.org/10.14221/ajte.2018v43n1.3
*Johnson, V. L., Holt, L. J., Bry, B. H., & Powell, S. R. (2008). Effects of an integrated prevention program on urban youth transitioning into high school. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 24(2), 225-246. https://doi.org/10.1080/15377900802089999
Kim, S. (1981). Student attitudinal inventory for outcome evaluation of adolescent drug abuse prevention programs. Journal of Primary Prevention, 2(2), 91–100. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01333746.
Korpershoek, H., Canrinus, E. T., Fokkens-Bruinsma, M., & de Boer, H. (2020). The relationships between school belonging and students’ motivational, social-emotional, behavioural, and academic outcomes in secondary education: A meta-analytic review. Research Papers in Education, 35(6), 641–680. https://doi.org/10.1080/02671522.2019.1615116.
*Kuperminc, G. P., Chan, W. Y., Hale, K. E., Joseph, H. L., & Delbasso, C. A. (2019a). The role of school-based group mentoring in promoting resilience among vulnerable high school students. American Journal of Community Psychology, 65(1-2), 136-148. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajcp.12347
Kuperminc, G. P., Seitz, S., Joseph, H., Khatib, N., Wilson, C., Collins, K., & Guessous, O. (2019b). Enhancing program quality in a national sample of after-school settings: The role of youth–staff interactions and staff/organizational functioning. American Journal of Community Psychology, 63, 391-404. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajcp.12329.
Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, coping, and adaptation. Springer.
*Lewis, K. M., Sullivan, C. M., & Bybee, D. (2006). An experimental evaluation of a school-based emancipatory intervention to promote African American well-being and youth leadership. Journal of Black Psychology, 32(1), 3-28. https://doi.org/10.1177/0095798405283229
Libbey, H. P. (2004). Measuring student relationships to school: Attachment, bonding, connectedness, and engagement. Journal of School Health, 74(7), 274–283. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1746-1561.2004.tb08284.x.
Lonczak, H. S., Abbott, R. D., Hawkins, J. D., Kosterman, R., & Catalano, R. F. (2002). Effects of the Seattle Social Development Project on sexual behavior, pregnancy, birth, and sexually transmitted disease outcomes by age 21 years. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 156(5), 438–447. https://doi.org/10.1001/archpedi.156.5.438.
Mann, M. J. (2013). Helping middle school girls at risk for school failure recover their confidence and achieve school success: An experimental study. Research in Middle Level Education Online, 36(9), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1080/19404476.2013.11462102.
*Mann, M. J., Smith, M. L., & Kristjansson, A. L. (2015). Improving academic self-efficacy, school connectedness, and identity in struggling middle school girls: a preliminary study of the REAL girls intervention. Health Education and Behavior, 42(1), 117-126. https://doi.org/10.1177/1090198114543005
Markus, H. R., & Nurius, P. (1986). Possible selves. American Psychologist, 41, 954–969. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.41.9.954.
Martin, F., & Oliver, T. (2019). Behavioral activation for children and adolescents: A systematic review of progress and promise. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 28(4), 427–441. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-018-1126-z.
Maslow, A. H. (1959). New knowledge in human values. Harper.
*Mcloughlin, C. S. (2009). Positive peer group interventions: An alternative to individualized interventions for promoting prosocial behavior in potentially disaffected youth. Electronic Journal of Research in Educational Psychology, 7(3), 1131-1156.
*McMullen, J. D., & McMullen, N. (2018). Evaluation of a teacher-led, life-skills intervention for secondary school students in Uganda. Social Science & Medicine, 217, 10-17. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.09.041
*Midgett, A., & Doumas, D. M. (2019). The impact of a brief bullying bystander intervention on depressive symptoms. Journal of Counseling & Development, 97(3), 270-280. https://doi.org/10.1002/jcad.12267
Moher, D., Shamseer, L., Clarke, M., Ghersi, D., Liberati, A., Petticrew, M., Shekelle, P., Stewart, L. A., & PRISMA-P Group. (2015). Preferred reporting items for systematic review and meta-analysis protocols (PRISMA-P) 2015 statement. Systematic Reviews, 4(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.1186/2046-4053-4-1.
National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). (2009) NHMRC levels of evidence and grades for recommendations for guideline developers. NHMRC. https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/file/guidelines/developers/nhmrc_levels_grades_evidence_120423.pdf
O’Brien, K. A., & Bowles, T. V. (2013). The importance of belonging for adolescents in secondary school settings. The European Journal of Social & Behavioural Sciences, 5(2), 976–984.
O'Brennan, L. M., & Furlong, M. J. (2010). Relations between students' perceptions of school connectedness and peer victimization. Journal of School Violence, 9(4), 375–391. https://doi.org/10.1080/15388220.2010.509009.
O'Connor, M. (2010). Positive development over the transition to adulthood: its nature and antecedents (Doctoral dissertation). Melbourne Graduate School of Education, The University of Melbourne. https://minerva-access.unimelb.edu.au/bitstream/handle/11343/36108/269720_FINAL%20FULL%20THESIS%20with%20minor%20changes.pdf
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2019). PISA 2018 Results (Volume III): What School Life Means for Students’ Lives. https://www.oecd.org/publications/pisa-2018-results-volume-iii-acd78851-en.htm
*Orthner, D. K., Jones-Sanpei, H., Akos, P., & Rose, R. A. (2013). Improving middle school student engagement through career-relevant instruction in the core curriculum. The Journal of Educational Research, 106(1), 27-38. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220671.2012.658454
Oud, M., de Winter, L., Vermeulen-Smit, E., Bodden, D., Nauta, M., Stone, L., van den Heuvel, M., Taher, R. A., de Graaf, I., Kendall, T., Engels, R., & Stikkelbroek, Y. (2019). Effectiveness of CBT for children and adolescents with depression: A systematic review and meta-regression analysis. European Psychiatry, 57, 33–45. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eurpsy.2018.12.008.
Parr, E. J., Shochet, I. M., Cockshaw, W. D., & Kelly, R. L. (2020). General belonging is a key predictor of adolescent depressive symptoms and partially mediates school belonging. School Mental Health, 12(3), 626–637. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12310-020-09371-0.
Pearce, N., Cross, D., Monks, H., Waters, S., & Falconer, S. (2011). Current evidence of best practice in whole-school bullying intervention and its potential to inform cyberbullying interventions. Australian Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 21(1), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1375/ajgc.21.1.1.
*Portwood, S. G., Ayers, P. M., Kinnison, K. E., Waris, R. G., & Wise, D. L. (2005). YouthFriends: Outcomes from a school-based mentoring program. Journal of Primary Prevention, 26(2), 129-188. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10935-005-1975-3
Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish. Nicholas Brealey.
Shochet, I. M., Smyth, T., & Homel, R. (2007). The impact of parental attachment on adolescent perception of the school environment and school connectedness. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 28(2), 109–118. https://doi.org/10.1375/anft.28.2.109.
*Shoshani, A., Steinmetz, S., & Kanat-Maymon, Y. (2016). Effects of the Maytiv positive psychology school intervention on early adolescents' well-being, engagement, and achievement. Journal of School Psychology, 57, 73-92. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsp.2016.05.003
Steiner, R. J., Sheremenko, G., Lesesne, C., Dittus, P. J., Sieving, R. E., & Ethier, K. A. (2019). Adolescent connectedness and adult health outcomes. Pediatrics, 144(1), e20183766. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2018-3766.
Triandis, H., Bontempo, J., Villareal, M., Asai, M., & Lucca, N. (1998). Individualism and collectivism: Crosscultural perspectives on self–ingroup relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(2), 323–338. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.523.
Van Ryzin, M. J., Gravely, A. A., & Roseth, C. J. (2009). Autonomy, belongingness, and engagement in school as contributors to adolescent psychological well-being. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38(1), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-007-9257-4.
Wike, T. L., & Fraser, M. W. (2009). School shootings: Making sense of the senseless. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 14(3), 162–169. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.avb.2009.01.005.
Willms, J. D. (2000). Monitoring school performance for 'standards-based reform'. Evaluation & Research in Education, 14(3-4), 237–253. https://doi.org/10.1080/09500790008666976.
Wonderly, D. M. (1991). Motivation, Behavior, and Emotional Health: An Everyman's Interpretation. University Press Of America.
*Wright, R., John, L., Livingstone, A. M., Shepherd, N., & Duku, E. (2007). Effects of school-based interventions on secondary school students with high and low risks for antisocial behaviour. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 22(1), 32-49.
Wyman, P. A., Pickering, T. A., Pisani, A. R., Rulison, K., Schmeelk-Cone, K., Hartley, C., Gould, M., Caine, E. D., LoMurray, M., Brown, C. H., & Valente, T. W. (2019). Peer-adult network structure and suicide attempts in 38 high schools: implications for network-informed suicide prevention. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 60(10), 1065–1075. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.13102.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Allen, KA., Jamshidi, N., Berger, E. et al. Impact of School-Based Interventions for Building School Belonging in Adolescence: a Systematic Review. Educ Psychol Rev 34, 229–257 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-021-09621-w
- School belonging
- Social and emotional learning
- Systematic review