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Beyond the School Gates

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk

Dr Simon Edwards (Invited speaker), 20 Jan 2018

This paper presents the methodology for an ethnographic study that explored the social worlds of 14 excluded students and 300 of their peers attending a youth centre based on a secondary school site in a small town in Sussex, UK. The study responded to issues encountered when the 14 students attempted a GCSE teamwork assessment in an alternative curriculum programme. Teamwork, understood within school curricula as a process of sequentially related tasks consisting of individual roles, was rather conceptualised as managing relationships in order to complete a task together. The study, carried out in two parts, explored how the students conceptualised language and signified behaviours in their wider social relationships.
The first part, a dialogic intervention, involved 1-2-1 discussions with the 14 students attending the alternative curriculum programme in order to explore the linguistic and behavioural dimensions of their social practices. The second part and the focus of this paper, involved me and ten junior-leader co-researchers observing the linguistic and behavioural dimensions of these fourteen students’ and 300 peers’ relationship building practices. Particular attention was given to the use of language to signify and conceptualise teamwork within their relationships. The findings provided an interpretative framework to help students translate their conceptual understanding of teamwork into curricular conceptual language in order to complete the GCSE assessment.
Contextualised within theoretical perspectives of high modernity characterised by notions of self-responsible freedom, individualisation, consumerism, constant change and ontological insecurity, the methodological approach assumed the maintenance of individual identity, once fixed and given, has become a daily task (Bauman 2000) managed within the contours of highly reflexive relationships (Giddens 1991). Thus raising the possibility that these social conditions may have contributed to the conflict encountered between the students’ concept of teamwork (managing relationships in order to complete a task together) and the school curricula concept of teamwork (a process of sequentially related tasks consisting of individual roles). Consequently the students may not have had a conceptual lens and subsequent language framework through which to view the school curricula concept of teamwork in order to complete the assessment.
Specifically this paper discusses the appointment and ethical considerations related to co-opting ten junior youth leaders as co-researchers who helped me carry out observations of their peers’ social practices across a range of youth centre sessions. The rationale draws on Freire (2005) and his epistemological position that claims humans are relational beings and that knowledge is co-constructed within a relational contexts. The approach and rationale also underpinned much youth work practice at the time recognising the student co-researchers’ involvement was essential in both the planning and carrying out of the research. They were not only embedded in their own culture and social practices but also within the organisational culture and language I used in our relationships. Thus providing a relational context within which we could co-construct an interpretative framework of their peers’ social practices and language codes.
The co-researchers’ analysis of the observations identified correlations between activities, actions and language locating them in six behaviours (building, maintaining, supporting, welcoming, exploring, protecting) that supported their broader relationship building strategies, of which the primary behaviours were building and maintaining. Drawing on Bernstein (1971) I then analysed students’ language within each behaviour category within a range of observed activities. This process extended to analyse the discussion intervention transcripts. The findings showed that language was no longer located within class-based affinities or organisational discourses. Rather, language signified transitions between behaviours within wider relationship building strategies. Language, I claim, signified intent within carefully negotiated relationship building strategies for which the primary motivation was to build and maintain a self-narrative.
Subsequently, I relocated discussions related to the GCSE assessment into activities that facilitated the building and maintaining of relationships. These activities were between carried out in the school, youth centre sites and beyond the school gates into students’ social and family contexts. These relational sites became contexts within which knowledge related to GCSE assessments was co-created. Thus making curricular knowledge development meaningful to students’ wider narratives. Significantly increased attainment was noted following this process and has since been developed across a range of subjects (English, Maths) and formal (Special EBD and Alternative provision) and informal (youth centre and LA) settings with excluded students.
Bauman, Z. (2000). Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Bernstein, B. (1971). Class, Codes and Control Volume 1. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Freire, P. (2005). Education for Critical Consciousness. London and New York: Continuum.
Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and Self-Identity. Cambridge: Polity Press.

20 Jan 2018

Event (Conference)

TitleAnnual Winter Teacher Training Conference
Degree of recognitionNational event

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