Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Education


This enquiry examines the phenomena of powerlessness, meaninglessness and estrangement as these figure in students' perceptions of their experiences of senior schooling in four NSW public schools. The early 1990s were times characterised by high levels of youth unemployment in Australia. They were also times when the Commonwealth Government actively encouraged young people to stay on at school beyond the compulsory years of schooling. A new clientele was now participating in postcompulsory schooling. A large number of senior students had no intention of entering tertiary institutions after fmishing school. In his classic discussion of the term 'alienation', Seeman (1959) has identified five main 'meanings' attributed to the term 'alienation' in the literature: powerlessness, meaninglessness, normlessness, isolation and self-estrangement. It was from these 'meanings' that the three focal phenomena of powerlessness, meaninglessness and estrangement were developed for the present investigation. It appeared to the author of this thesis that, for some senior students in Illawarra schools m the early 1990s, their senior schooling might include experiences of alienation such as those identified by Seeman. If this were so, it seemed possible that the educational environment itself might be a factor in the psychological and social alienation of senior students. The investigation reported in this thesis sets these questions into the context of such theoretical areas as youth theory, developmental psychology, motivation, picoeconomics, coping, and locus-of-control. It consists of two parts - a quantitative section and a qualitative section. For the first of these, a new questionnaire was developed - the Senior-School Alienation Scale. This instrument was designed to measure levels of student powerlessness, meaninglessness and estrangement in the specific context of the senior school. It was used to generate data from 156 Year 11 students from four southem-Illawarra public high schools. The results of this survey indicated significant levels of powerlessness, meanmglessness and estrangement amongst senior students in the schools participating in the study. These significant levels were shown to be related to a variety of independent variables. Thirty one of the 156 Ss volunteered to participate in interviews. These unstructured interviews, each conducted by the author, yielded data which supported the notion that the educational environment is a factor in the psychological alienation of senior students. The case studies include some Ss' suggestions for changes that, in their opinions, might provide a better 'fit' between senior students and the senior-school environment. The thesis begins and ends with a concept studied by Toumier (1968) and Maslow (1970). This is the individual's need to 'belong' somewhere. The evidence of this investigation leads the author to suggest that, for many 'stayerson', the senior-school environment is not one where this need is likely to be satisfied. It is claimed that changes are necessary in senior schools, if they are to become places where all students can feel that policy decisions demonstrate an understanding of their 'belongingness needs'. Changes are necessary if senior schools in the 1990s are to become places where those needs are likely to fmd fulfilment.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.