Journal of Student Engagement: Education Matters


This qualitative study sought the voice of eight adolescents attending two academically selective high schools in New South Wales to better understand how peer groups influence the social and emotional wellbeing of ability grouped students. The 21-item Depression, Anxiety, Stress Scale (DASS-21; Lovibond & Lovibond, 1995) was used to measure participants’ self-reported psychological wellbeing. Individual semi-structured interviews explored the factors that contributed to the formation and maintenance of secure peer relationships, and a school’s role in this. Transcripts were interrogated utilising iterative principles of interpretive phenomenological analysis (Smith, 1995). The findings from this study suggest that secure peer groups have a positive influence on the social and emotional outcomes of students who attend academically selective high schools. The formation and maintenance of school-based friendship groups, however, is hindered by several logistical constraints outside the control of the individual students.