There are counter-narratives of youth as at risk and as buoyant and agentive. The article maps the conceptual terrain concerning resilience, well-being, buoyancy, enjoyment and happiness and selects factors related to the successful navigation of schooling. It analyses data from a subset of a national data set, from 65 young people considered to be disaffected or disengaged by their school or college. It explores the perceptions of young people that the difficulties they encounter are in part a result of their own behaviour and in part a product of the system. Hirschman's theory of exit, voice, loyalty is used to explore their choices. The article concludes that schools act to maintain homeostasis and that a substantial minority of young people are at long-term risk due to organisational and national unwillingness to decouple economic benefit from maintenance of the existing system.