<< Return to search results  

Defining at risk students .

author:Ministry of Education - Janet Rivers

Defining at risk students .
Before looking at how to introduce a successful intervention for at risk students it is important to consider what is meant by at risk.
Educationally, the term at risk refers to children and young people who are likely to have:

  • poor educational outcomes, measured by indicators such as truancy and suspension statistics, low literacy and numeracy levels, alternative education enrolments, low school leaver qualifications, and school drop-out rates
  • adverse non-educational outcomes, including abuse in the home, youth suicide, drug and alcohol abuse and poor mental health
  • a negative impact on other students as a result of behaviours such as bullying, violence, aggression, and assault.

From an education perspective, an at risk student, without successful intervention, is likely to end up without the necessary skills, attitudes and knowledge to make a successful transition beyond school.

However, it is important to recognise that students at risk do not form a homogeneous group. Also, using the term at risk can lead to the impression that the cause of the risk always lies with the student, when, in fact, the cause may be more to do with the student's environment. Refugee children, for example, would often not be at risk had it not been for the events that led to their becoming refugees. Also, a school environment itself can be responsible for placing a student at risk.

Some major sources of risk for students include:

  • an adverse social environment, in which children are subject to domestic and sexual abuse, dangerous neighbourhoods, poor health, racist attitudes, poor parenting and poverty
  • social and economic shock, such as that affecting refugee children, children whose parents die, tudents who are pregnant at a young age, or students whose peers have experienced sudden trauma
  • poor educational settings, such as poor teaching, low professional capability, an inappropriate curriculum, disrupted classrooms, low expectations and failing schools. So-called at risk students are often intellectually able, and large numbers of children who would otherwise be regarded at risk can achieve educational success when the educational environment changes.
  • individual impairment where children are put at risk of underachievement because of psycho-social factors (motivation, personality), physical/physiological factors (disability/health) and behavioural factors (internalised and externalised behaviours, drug and alcohol abuse, disruptive behaviour).

There is often a significant overlap in the environments placing children at risk. For example, truancy or disengagement is more likely to occur in poor educational settings, but it is also linked with an adverse social environments.

There is an overlap between students considered at risk and special education or special needs students. The boundary between the two groups merges most obviously for students with behavioural or emotional difficulties.

There is a diverse range of factors that can place a student at risk of educational failure. It is important to recognise the term at risk applies not only, for example, to children from abusive homes with offending behaviours, but that it could equally apply to students who are placed at risk because their needs are not being met by their schools.

. 2012