Educational problems have for many years been identified as an important component for young people brought before youth courts. One important effect of delinquent behaviour is the impact of social influences and educational settings are key places for adolescent peer relationships to develop.
A large body of research has focused on identifying reasons for this association (Elliot and Menard, 1996 , Lotz and Lee, 1999, Megens and Weerman, 2010), however there has been a need for rich information to be obtained in this area in order to ascertain reasons and provide further information with regard to the relationship; what comes first, association with delinquent peers or delinquent behaviour? This research fulfils the need to explore youth offenders‟ perceptions of their educational experience and in particular, to explore whether they refer to social factors when describing the influences upon their behaviour. Social Identity Theory (SIT), Tajfel and Turner, 1979 was drawn upon when discussing the results.
Seven youth offenders (aged 14 – 18) participated in the research and all of the participants were subject to court orders. The youth offenders were interviewed individually using semi-structured interviews. Data was analysed by using inductive Thematic Analysis and the main research question was explored by using a model of generative causation.
A distinction was found in terms of how far social factors impacted upon perceptions of education, as opposed to how far social factors impacted upon delinquent behaviour. All of the youth offenders perceived social factors as important when determining reasons for delinquent behaviour at school, males more so than females. However negative perceptions of education (in terms of academic success and relationships with teachers) already existed prior to joining delinquent peer groups and so these groups served to influence behaviour only. Support for Social Identity Theory (SIT), (Tajfel and Turner, 1979) was found as the youth offenders seemed to choose friendship groups based on peers who held similar views of education in terms of its importance, and in this sense, the peer group served to strengthen pre-existing perceptions, rather than create them. Friendship groups were also chosen in order to avoid engaging in challenging educational tasks. Situational factors for these observations were identified and some of these factors provided support for SIT, others, such as perception of unmet educational needs, did not.
Implications of these findings were discussed in terms of practice within schools and for Educational Psychologists.