Multilevel aspects of social cohesion of secondary schools and pupils’ feelings of safety

Ed Smeets, Wouter De Wit, A.J. Mooij*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Background. School safety and corresponding feelings of both pupils and school staff are beginning to receive more and more attention. The social cohesion characteristics of a school may be useful in promoting feelings of safety, particularly in pupils. Aims. To conceptualise theoretically, and check empirically a two-level model of social cohesion between- and within schools, in order to explain a pupil’s feelings of safety at school. Samples. Data was collected aided by a national Dutch survey in secondary education carried out via the Internet. In 2008, digital questionnaires were completed by about 78,800 pupils, 6,200 teachers and educational support staff, and 600 school managers. Methods. Data was checked for reliability and representativity. Social cohesion was indicated by self-reported measures of individual pupils and by aggregating scale and item scores of school managers, teachers, and other support staff within schools. Multilevel analysis using individual pupil data and school-level data was performed using MLwin. Results. A pupil’s age, educational attainment level, experience of mild physical violence, pro-social rules of conduct and joint control of these rules, and school measures against playing truant, show positive influences on a pupil’s feelings of safety at school. Negative influences are exerted by not feeling most at home in the Netherlands, peers taking drugs and weapons into school, and by experiencing social violence, severe physical violence, and sexual violence. Negative school effects exist simultaneously in severe physical violence experienced by teachers and other staff, and in curriculum differentiation applied by teachers and other staff; a positive school effect is school size. Some interaction effects between pupil and school level variables were explored. Conclusions. The variance at school level is relatively low compared with the variance at pupil level. However, a much higher percentage of variance at school level than at pupil level is explained with respect to the pupils’ feelings of safety at school. The resulting two-level model also reflects the streaming of pupils in Dutch secondary schools. To improve school safety, the national results emphasise the need to enhance pro-social behaviour rules and to enhance the shared control of these rules between teachers and pupils. They also emphasise the need for the school to take measures that prevent truancy and redefine curriculum differentiation procedures. National educational policy and research can combine efforts to assist schools in developing reliable and valid procedures to increase effectively safety in and around schools.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)369-390
    Number of pages22
    JournalBritish Journal of Educational Psychology
    Issue number3
    Early online date7 Mar 2011
    Publication statusPublished - Sep 2011


    • school safety
    • school social cohesion
    • feelings of safety at school
    • secondary pupils
    • secondary schools
    • pro-social and antisocial behaviour
    • Internet-based survey
    • multilevel research
    • school improvement


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