Researching Education

We can identify 5 characterists of education as an area for research - Pupils, Teachers, Parents, Classrooms and Schools.

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Researching Pupils - Power and Status (P+S)

Children and young people have less P+S than adults, making it more difficult for them to state their views openly, especially if they are challenging the adult's views. This is further reinforced by the nature of schools as hierarchical institutions, which gives teachers S+P over pupuls.

Researchers therefore have to consider ways in which they can overcome the power differences between adult researchers and young participants. Goup interviews instead of formal 1-1 would be better.

However, some P+S differences between researchers will remain, regardless of which method used.

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Researching Pupils - Ability

Pupils' vocab, powers of self-expression, thinking skills and confidence are likely to be more limited than those of adults - especially when trying to express abstract ideas. This poses a problem for researchers as abstract concepts are central in investigations. 

Sociologist will need to take great care in how they word their questions to make sure they are understood clearly.

Limitations in pupils' understanding makes it more difficult to gain their informed consent. Sociologists might not be able to explain he nature of the research in words that they can clearly understand.

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Researching Pupils - Vulnerability and Ethical iss

  • Young people are more vulnerable to physical and psychological harm than adults, raising ethical issues.                                             
  • Most research guidelines emphasise that the young person too should be aware of what the research entails. May be difficult to explain to a child, and might not be mature enough yet to make the moral choice to participate.
  • Child protection issues are very important. Personal data should be be kept unless vital to the research.
  • Researcher should consider the form that participation will take and any stress that may result. Questioning young children for long periods of time would be considered inappropriate.
  • Researcher must consider if participation of young people in the research is actually necessary and if they can benefit from it.
  • Organisations (UNICEF, Barnardo's and National Children's Bureau) have developed special codes of practice for researching young people. Take BSA guidelines even further to ensure protection.
  • Also pratical issues involved. Likely to require more time to understand questions. Given greater vulnerability, crucial to establish rapport and and gain trust. Also might be important to match gender and ethnicity.
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Researching Teachers

Teachers have more power and status because of age, experience and responsibility within the school, which include a duty of care towards young people they teach.

The nature of the classroom reinforces the power of the teacher as they often see it as 'my classroom', in which the researcher could be seen as a trespasser. However, they aren't fully independent as Heads, governers, parents and pupils all constrain what they might do.

Teachers often over-worked and less than fully cooperative, even if they want to be helpful. This means interviews and questionnaires should be kept short and therefore, restrict the amount of datat to be gathered,

Used to being inspected and scrutinised and are experienced enough to be able to 'put on a show' for the researcher to create the bes possible impression.

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Researching Classrooms

Unusual in being a closed, highly controlled social setting. It has clear boundaires, and restrictions on access and behaviour. The classroom is less open than most settings such as leisure centres of shops. Teachers and school control time, behaviour, noise, dress, language and layout of the classroom. Young people rarely experience this level of control in other areas of their lives.

Teachers and pupils are very experienced in disguising their real thoughts and feelings from others; they may conceal these from the researcher too.

Young people in school-based groups such as classes and friendship groups may be more sensitive to peer pressure and the need to conform, and this may affect the way they respond to being researched. Therefore be important to supervise pupils when they are filling in questionnaires, especially if this is done in class.

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Reseaching Schools.

  • Students may see researchers as teachers, while teachers see them as inspectors and even might be seen as 'the enemy'.
  • Heads can refuse of access if research interferes with work ethic. Meighan found heads can view research negatively. Their reactions to a research project he wanted to carry on consulting pupils about teaching: "Dangerous for pupils to comment on their teachers", "Bad classroom relationships", "Not competent to judge teachers".
  • The information schools collect on attendence, achievements etc can be useful. However, might mean restricted access.
  • Beynon and Atkinson gatekeepers such as heads often steer reseachers away from sensitive situations such as when teacher with bad classroom control.
  • Sociologists can use all the secondary sources in their research.
  • Many schools are single sex. Difficult if researcher is the opposite sex.
  • Operate on daily and yearly timetable. Affect when and how researcher is done.
  • Young people have to be educated. Having a 'captive population' to study can be good and bad.
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Researching Parents

Parent's may influence what goes on in education, both by the way they bring up their children and involvement with school. Marketisation policies also encourage parents to see themselves as consumers.

Parents are unusual i they they are for the most part physically outside the school. Might make them more difficult to contact and research. Teacher and pupil interactions can be observed easily. Few opportunities to observe whether parents help their children with their homeworl.

Social class and ethnicity of parents play important role in schooling. Class and ethnic differences between researcher and parents can create a barrier.

Some parents might be more willing to participate inresearch.  Middle class parents, more pro-school, might be more likely than w/c parents to return questionnaires about their children's education and this then makes the findings unrepresentable.

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