The thesis investigated whether the reputations sought by students are related to their motivation and engagement in the schooling context. This research also sought to examine the extent to which the social construction of masculinity and peer-group memberships may influence the motivation and engagement of boys in establishing and maintaining a particular reputation. A mixed methods research design was employed using quantitative and qualitative techniques.
Quantitative surveys were administered to answer the first two research questions: What are the motivational and/or engagement states of students attending an all-boys private school and do they differ according to middle/senior school level? What are the reputational profiles of students with different levels of motivation and engagement as scored on the Motivation and Engagement Scale? The Motivation and Engagement Scale - High School (MES-HS) and the Reputation Enhancement Scale (RES) were administered to 613 Years 8 to 11 adolescent boys to examine the relationships between motivation and reputational orientations. Demographic information pertaining to the boys’ involvement in school life (e.g., extra-curricular activities, age, leisure pursuits) were also collected.
The results profiled students with a high level of positive motivation as conforming students who would like to be seen as polite and kind. These students admired socially conforming behaviour and wanted to be seen publicly as conforming students. In comparison, the results profiled students with high levels of negative motivation as nonconforming. These students wanted their friends to think they perform nonconforming behaviour and admire deviant behaviour. Students in the middle years of schooling were particularly vulnerable to wanting to be seen as having a nonconforming reputation, because of the belief that a nonconforming reputation will make them be viewed as a leader and popular among their peers. In contrast, the senior students were profiled as students who are conforming to social norms and admire people who publicly display that type of behaviour.
Qualitative interviews were subsequently employed to answer the remaining research question (Are the reputational profiles of engaged and disengaged students influenced by the school setting?) Both focus group and individual interviews were conducted with students from Years 9 and 10 who participated in the initial quantitative study. From the survey data, students were categorised into two groups to allow for the identification of (i) academically and/or behaviourally engaged, and (ii) academically and/or behaviourally disengaged. Consultation with Heads of Year, Head of Learning Support, and the School Psychologist confirmed the categorisations. Once identification was obtained, a total of 4 focus group interviews and 4 individual interviews were conducted with students from Year 9 who represented the Middle School. The same number and structure of focus groups and individual interviews was repeated with Year 10 students who represented the Senior School. Therefore, a total of eight 45 minute interviews were conducted for each year level.
The most significant finding was the discovery of an extra sub group within the disengaged group meaning three groups were described during the interviews. This clearly indicated a different public reputation was desired and maintained by the two disengaged groups and engaged group. The groups were renamed the Good Guys who were the engaged students, the Wantabees who were students who liked to be at school but not fully engaged academically and the Rebels who really didn’t like to be at school and were totally disengaged from school. With regard to peer influence, it was quite clear that the Good Guys and the Wantabees felt that they were being watched and were expected to perform in a certain way. The expected performance of the members of these groups aligned with the desired reputation the group wanted to display. It was assumed that members of the Rebels also behaved in a manner desired by the group.
In terms of the construction of masculinity, the Rebels were described as the typical hegemonic male group which rewarded street toughness, physical size and strength, and the ability to easily attract the opposite sex. Social life with outside school friends was very important to the Rebels. The Wantabees wanted part of this type of masculinity but also described humour and sport toughness as important. Social life was very important with this group but it was with their school friends, that this group enjoyed certain aspects of school life. The Good Guys appreciated sport toughness and physical fitness in all sports and acknowledged the effort and training needed in achieving skills in all sports, music and drama. Their social life was important but not at the expense of academic work. They did not need to have a girlfriend as they were deemed to take up too much time and effort at the expense of school work and school sport.
The overall findings of the thesis are significant in that they will add to the existing knowledge pertaining to the complex issues surrounding unmotivated and disengaged male adolescent students, by identifying different motivational orientations between middle and senior school students. Furthermore, the findings of this research allow for the creation of student profiles that may be generated to determine which boys are motivated or unmotivated and/or engaged or disengaged because of a specific reputational orientation. It is envisaged that a boy with a conforming reputational profile will have a positively motivated and engaged profile. A non-conforming student profile may be related to an unmotivated and disengaged profile. These findings are discussed in the light of previous research findings on reputational orientations, student motivation and masculinity.