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Sense of Belonging at School Print or save as PDF

How is it defined?

Students’ sense of belonging at school refers to the extent to which students identify with and value schooling outcomes, and participate in academic and non-academic school activities (Willms, 2003). Sense of belonging pertains to students’ feelings of being accepted and valued by their peers and by others at school. It reflects ‘the extent to which students feel personally accepted, respected, included, and supported by others in the school social environment’ (Goodenow, 1993a, p. 80).

The Learning Bar’s framework on student engagement includes measures of social, institutional, and intellectual engagement. Sense of belonging is a key component of social engagement, situated alongside participation in sports and extra-curricular activities and making positive friendships at school.

Why is it important?

Students’ sense of belonging at school is related to their academic achievement and well-being.

  • When students do not feel they belong at school they tend to reject school values, withdraw from school activities, and become alienated or disaffected (Finn, 1989).
  • Sense of belonging has a strong influence on students’ academic motivation (Goodenow, 1993b) and thus is related to their academic outcomes (Becker & Luthar, 2002).
  • Students who have a strong sense of belonging tend to be happier, have greater interest in school activities,and are more confident (Osterman, 2000; Furrer & Skinner, 2003).
  • Schools vary in their sense of belonging, even after taking into account students’ socioeconomic status (Willms, 2003).

How do we measure it?

In Tell Them From Me, in both the primary and secondary school questionnaires, students respond to Likert questions about their sense of belonging at school. The data are scaled on a 10-point scale, and students with a score greater than or equal to 6 (i.e., slightly higher than neutral) are considered to have a ‘positive sense of belonging’. The results are reported as ‘the percentage of students with a positive sense of belonging’.



Becker, B. E., & Luthar, S. S. (2002). Social-emotional factors affecting achievement outcomes among disadvantaged students: Closing the achievement gap. Educational Psychologist, 37(4), 197-214.

Finn, J. D. (1989). Withdrawing from school. Review of Educational Research, 59, 117-142.

Furrer, C., & Skinner, E. (2003). Sense of relatedness as a factor in children’s academic engagement and performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(1), 148-162.

Goodenow, C. (1993a). The psychological sense of school membership among adolescents: Scale development and educational correlates. Psychology in the Schools, 30, 70-90.

Goodenow, C. (1993b). Classroom belonging among early adolescent students: Relationships to motivation and achievement. Journal of Early Adolescence, 13, 21-43.

Osterman, K. F. (2000). Students’ need for belonging in the school community. Review of Educational Research, 70, 323-367.

Willms, J. D. (2003). Student engagement at school: A sense of belonging and participation. Paris: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.