Understanding Girls’ Disengagement: Identifying Patterns and the Role of Teacher and Peer Support using Latent Growth Modeling


Previous work has established a significant increase in disengagement as students progress through secondary school. This work has also established that rates of disengagement appear to be higher among boys, leading to an increased focus on the underlying causes and factors associated with disengagement within this population. However, less is known about the patterns of disengagement exhibited by girls. Given that disengagement is consistently associated with negative personal and academic outcomes, it is important to more closely examine the disengagement trajectories of girls. Moreover, it critical to identify factors that buffer the effects of disengagement that are the most effective for girls. Classroom interpersonal support from teachers and peers have been identified as factors that are likely to mitigate disengagement among girls. The present investigation examined longitudinal data from Australian adolescent girls (N = 302, age range 12–16 years old). Latent growth modeling was used to examine the extent to which disengagement was increasing among secondary school girls in Australia, as well as the effects of teacher and peer social support in slowing this increase. The results showed that disengagement significantly increased across 3 years and that teacher support (but not peer support) was associated with a reduction in girls’ upward disengagement trajectories. The results of the current study provide much-needed insight about the developmental trajectories of disengagement among adolescent girls and the role of teachers in buffering these problematic trajectories.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    In order to account for the potential influence of transitions from lower to upper secondary school campuses on students’ disengagement and the role of teacher and peer support, analyses were run that compared the original model with a model including school type (viz., with or without the lower to upper secondary transition) as a covariate. Results demonstrated that this inclusion did not significantly improve model fit (Δχ2 (1) = −237.94, p = 1.00) and did not alter substantive model paths.

  2. 2.

    The present investigation shares data with three other published papers (Burns et al. 2017, 2018a, 2018b). Because of this, it is important to distinguish this paper from those with which it shares data to articulate the unique contribution of this paper. The first paper (Burns et al. 2017) is cross-sectional and, thus, only shares matched T1 data with the present investigation. The second paper (Burns et al. 2018a) is two-wave longitudinal and, thus, only shares the matched T1-T2 data with the present investigation. Both the first and second paper included both genders and focused on the role of adaptability and personal best goal setting within the social cognitive framework. Thus, the substantive factors and research questions of the present investigation do not overlap with the first or second paper. The third paper (Burns et al. 2018b) utilizes the same data as the present investigation but includes both genders. Importantly, the third paper utilized a growth perspective on education framework to examine the role of personal best goal setting (as a learning strategy) on engagement (not disengagement) trajectories. Thus, the theoretical framework used, the substantive factors examined, and the research questions addressed in the present investigation are distinctly different from that of the third paper.


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We thank Dr Marianne Mansour for assisting with data collection.

Authors' Contributions

E.C.B. conceived the study, participated in the design of the study, performed statistical analysis, drafted the initial manuscript, and participated in extensive editing of the manuscript; K.C.P.B. conceived the study, participated in the design of the study, performed statistical analysis, and participated in extensive editing of the manuscript; R.J.C. participated in the design of the study, assisted with conceptualizing, contributed to statistical analysis, and participated in extensive editing of the manuscript; A.J.M. received the funding for this study, participated in the design of the study, assisted with conceptualizing, contributed to statistical analysis, and participated in extensive editing of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript and supplementary materials.


This study was funded by the Australian Research Council (Grant #DP140104294).

Data Sharing and Declaration

The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are not publicly available, in line with the study’s institutional ethics approval and parent/participant consent.

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Correspondence to Andrew J. Martin.

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Conflict of Interest

The disengagement measure in the study is one part of a longer commercially available instrument authored by A.J.M.; no fee was involved in its use for this study. The authors report no other conflict of interest.

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All procedures performed in the current study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. As the study included minors, informed consent was also obtained from a parent or guardian for each individual participant.

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Burns, E.C., Bostwick, K.C.P., Collie, R.J. et al. Understanding Girls’ Disengagement: Identifying Patterns and the Role of Teacher and Peer Support using Latent Growth Modeling. J Youth Adolescence 48, 979–995 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-019-00986-4

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  • Disengagement
  • Teacher support
  • Peer support
  • Adolescent development
  • Girls’ education
  • Latent growth modeling