Reference Work Entry

Handbook of Children and Youth Studies

pp 517-528


Education and the Politics of Belonging : Attachments and Actions

  • Debra HayesAffiliated withFaculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney Email author 
  • , Jennifer SkattebolAffiliated withSocial Policy Research Centre, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of New South Wales


This entry explores the relationship between education and belonging through the experiences of young people excluded from school. It draws on research about young people who participated in an unconventional school hosted by a youth service located in the social housing estate where they lived. Their stories challenge educators to reconceptualize what it means to belong in schools for young people from communities who are typically poorly served by education systems. During the interviews, the young people accounted for their low school attendance and engagement in ways that offered insights into the complexity of their lives and the failure of conventional schooling to accommodate their needs, such as recognizing the importance of their friendship networks. Their recollections are marked by memories of failure, exclusion, racism, invasion of privacy, and forced separation from friends. Despite these experiences, most acknowledged that a second chance at gaining a schooling credential provided an opportunity to stay connected to learning. Their experiences suggest that a more socially just first-chance opportunity at school might have held them by affording respite from responsibility, access to supplementary resources, and the pleasure of interactions with chosen friends and caring adults. While unconventional schools can assist students to remain connected to learning, these places do not necessarily alleviate the sense of failure experienced by young people who do not succeed in conventional schools. In this entry, some of the boundaries that separate students into those suited to school and those that are unsuited are examined. It is argued that young people who feel like they do not belong are likely to be viewed as unsuited for school.