Issuu on Google+

Part II The Methodological evaluation and assessment of a research article A Critical Review of Dunne and Gazeley, Teachers, social class and underachievement, British Journal of Sociology of Education. Vol.29 No 5, September 2008, 451 – 463. Social class and achievement has been the topic of many government initiatives, Dunne and Gazeley claim that despite these initiatives, the underachievement of working class learners still has yet to be ‘effectively’ addressed. Dunne and Gazeley conducted a small-scale research study, focusing on how secondary school teachers both identified and addressed underachievement. The study reveals how teachers identified pupils’ underachievement overlapped with their unspoken understanding of social class position. Their findings showed that teachers’ expectations of pupils were affected by the pupils’ social class and that teachers assumptions and stereotyping needs to be addressed. Whilst this paper is by no means definitive, and has its limitations, it highlights an ongoing concern within education and goes some way to show the complexity of social class, educational policy and professional practice. The scope and scale of the paper can be brought into question. M. Dunne and L. Gazeley (2008) state that the paper reports on one aspect of a small-scale research project and to see a further article by the writers for a fuller discussion. They continue within the methodology section, to state that the findings within the paper are part of a larger project, taking into account the perspectives of teachers, pupils and teacher trainees. This paper draws mainly on the data from the teacher interviews. Twelve teacher trainees have collected the data from twenty-two teachers in nine secondary schools. The sample consists of 327 year nine pupils. Both the sample of teachers interviewed and pupils are limited and a greater cross section of participants would produce a more valid and credible result. The paper discusses achievement in a social class context; Dunne and Gazeley mention the already complex educational debate surrounding race, gender and disability, and the difficulties ‘delineating’ these social class characteristics. The findings of the study focus solely on social class. Chris Medwell MA Education, Innovation and Enterprise


Part II The Methodological evaluation and assessment of a research article

The article draws on a number of external research articles and literature; however, these are only referenced in the introduction and background to the research project. Dunne and Gazeley use no further articles to support their findings or back up the data collected. The article refers to the aforementioned larger project undertaken by Dunne and Gazeley when supporting the evidence presented. Having said this, the authors direct us to a number of research articles and policies published by the Department for Education. This sourcing supports the premise and focus of the paper. The article is presented well. It has a clear introduction, background to the study and gives a clear insight into the methodology used. Dunne and Gazeley then lead into a discussion into the three main themes that emerged from the study – Teachers and underachievement, Teachers and social Class and Teachers addressing underachievement. The data is mainly presented in the form of quotations from the interviews carried out. Supporting these are lists and paraphrased quotes with two tables showing the numerical data. Methodology Dunne and Gazeley have approached this research project from a qualitative viewpoint, basing their research methods on an interpretivist model. The use of interviews and focus groups give first hand empirical research, and ethnographical accounts of the relationship between social class and underachievement. They state in the background section “Macro-level quantitative indicators remain important…they remain only part of the social class story.” (Dunne and Gazeley 2008) and also that [quantitative methods] “have limited value for understanding how schools persistently produce working class underachievement.” (Dunne and Gazeley 2008). In undertaking this research Dunne and Gazeley have taking into consideration the facts and figures but plan to carry out research through a series of interviews and focus groups. Their aim was to find how teachers addressed underachievement, and how teachers’ constructions of social class affected this. Chris Medwell MA Education, Innovation and Enterprise


Part II The Methodological evaluation and assessment of a research article

As stated previously, the findings of the paper are drawn from a larger study. The research team is stated within the methodology but is vague and the reader isn’t made fully aware of who actually undertook the research. It is said that the research team included a group of 12 teacher trainees, it is never actually made clear whether Dunne and Gazeley themselves have been involved in this collection of data. This could be made clearer in the paper. The findings are derived from the data collected from 22 teachers in nine secondary schools in England. We are not made aware any locations of the schools in England, this could have a major impact on the data generated, the schools could be in the same county, town or village. There could be a number of schools from the same area then one from a totally different socioeconomic location. The sample is relatively small; the researchers could have conducted a wider project and given us more information as to the location of the schools that participated. Dunne and Gazeley do acknowledge the importance of broader, macro-social approaches to education research and in particular, focusing on social class and underachievement, ergo, Dunne and Gazeley have classed this as a small-scale research project. The size of the sample also begs the question of whether this research study represents the whole of England or the UK, as we are unaware of the exact location of the schools. Dunne and Gazeley make a point in their conclusion saying that tackling working class underachievement has yet to be implemented at “institutional level�. Due to the small scale nature of this paper, this can be classed as generalistion and further reaerch should be undertaken to strengthen this claim. The research teams drew upon data from Cognitive Ability Tests and National Curriculum tests to support the qualitative data generated through interviews and focus groups. The researchers consistently triangulated their sources, using a main dataset from teacher interviews then drawing upon quantitative data from the CAT results and qualitative data through focus groups with Chris Medwell MA Education, Innovation and Enterprise


Part II The Methodological evaluation and assessment of a research article pupils and finally heads of year were interviewed. Though the sample (initially only 327 year 9 pupils) was relatively small, the triangulation of data can be seen as a strength of the paper, having said this, Dunne and Gazeley fail to make use of other research and literature to further strengthen their findings. Of the 327 pupils in the sample, 88 were identified as underachieving. This was further broken down in stage two of the research where teachers selected 51 pupils to carry out a more in-depth discussion. Dunne and Gazeley found three key themes that emerged from the analysis of the data: Teachers and Underachievement Dunne and Gazeley argue that teachers have varying judgements about what teachers class as underachievement, with no consistent criteria adhered to. Within this section of the findings, Dunne and Gazeley freely admit that there was

no

“tightly

defined

criteria”

in

teachers’

identification

of

underachievement. The results lack clarity; some teachers cited literacy as a defining factor, however results proceed to show that only 29% of the pupils that were identified as underachieving had recorded reading ages. The researchers could have provided a criteria for teachers’ to base their identification of underachievement on, as it stands, teachers use simply their own judgement and interpretations of underachievement. The fact that the data has been made by teacher judgement also begs the question of reliability. The findings showed that five cases in the sample were conflicting;

the

year

head

disputed

the

teachers’

identification

of

underachievement. The judgement or representation of one individual may be in stark contrast to that of another, there may be underlying factors that the reader isn’t made aware of, for example, the teacher/pupil relationship. The lack of data to back up claims made is concerning, Dunne and Gazeley only include the data from four pupils within this section (pupils 4, 19, 11 and Chris Medwell MA Education, Innovation and Enterprise


Part II The Methodological evaluation and assessment of a research article 12). Some claims made do not have any quotations or comments from the interviews carried out, for example. “Across the interviews, the lower attainment of working class pupils tended to be normalized and did not seem to raise any particular cause for concern.” (Dunne and Gazeley 2008, pg 456) This is one of the main themes that Dunne and Gazeley have identified, the fact that low attainment and the pupil coming from a working class background, raises little concern for teachers. To make this claim, the researchers could have included a direct quotation from a teacher interview. The reliability of the interviews throughout the paper can be brought into question. This will be looked at in greater detail within the next key finding Teachers and social class. It is however prevalent within this section also. One particular comment, quoted verbatim in the paper claims “He knows he is a spanner and he can’t do much and he’s correct”. The use of the term “spanner” from a teacher could bring the whole term “professionalism” into question. The researchers themselves could have quoted this comment purely for effect, to fuel their theory about teachers’ stereotyping working class pupils. The subject of this quote, pupil four, had a statement of Special Educational Needs. Dunne and Gazeley have proven the point that teachers’ couldn’t make a distinction between SEN and underachievement. Dunne and Gazeley argue that teachers “evident inconsistencies” in identifying underachievement had “important implications” in how teachers dealt with it. The use of two tables in the paper strengthens their claims, however, the tables do have limitations, as the data from only two pupils is included. The tables give us an insight into how a working class pupil is entered for an easier paper, while a less able middle class pupil is given extension work to reach their “potential to achieve a higher level”

Chris Medwell MA Education, Innovation and Enterprise


Part II The Methodological evaluation and assessment of a research article The research has found that teachers’ expectations of pupils differ due to social class. They state that social class influences teachers’ judgements, even though the teachers did not explicitly say so. Teachers and Social Class Dunne and Gazeley ague that teachers used “extensive” implicit stereotyping and references to social class. Their references to working class pupils, and their families are negative throughout, while teachers’ look on middle class families as being more supportive, therefore expectations are raised with middle class pupils. This is backed up by a list of social characteristics that a researcher compiled based on his interview with a teacher participant. The list has gross representation and stereotyping of working class families. The researcher only includes two factors of a middle class family, while working class has ten. There is no further evidence or statements to back this list up. The reliability of interviews is questioned within the first two lines of this section. “…given that many teachers did not feel comfortable talking about the social class of pupils.” (Dunne and Gazeley 2008 pg 457). There can be a conflict of whether a statement a teacher makes is actually valid, do these teachers do exactly what they say, or are they making these statements because they feel that it is what the researcher wants to hear? Furthermore, Dunne and Gazeley have compiled this paper, from the research of teacher trainees, whose interpretations of the data are we actually reading? Dunne and Gazeley could be being subjective in their writing style as they are trying to push an agenda, and being evangelical in their writing style.

Chris Medwell MA Education, Innovation and Enterprise


Part II The Methodological evaluation and assessment of a research article Dunne and Gazeley state that teachers “consistently articulated low aspirations for working class people” going on to mention pregnancy, unemployment and crime. No data is actually provided to strengthen this claim, the quote used just mentions the possibility of work as an ‘unskilled labourer’. Teachers Addressing Underachievement The final section looks at how pupils are placed within educational hierarchies, mainly down to teachers’ construction of social class. The researchers use comments made by pupils which show a different side to underachievement. Pupils state that their underachievement can be contributed to teachers shouting and pupils being scared to ask questions and falling behind. The teacher trainees carrying out the research saw the importance of reflexive practice in that the teacher/pupil relationship can be paramount to addressing underachievement. The use of two extensive quotations in this section do strengthen the claims made and the reader can get an insight into how two different teachers addressed underachievement. The researchers argue that teachers actively address underachievement in middle class pupils, setting strategies to improve achievement. Teacher L adopts a personal approach with the middle class pupil and talks of implicit trust whereas Teacher B talks of a poor home with no encouragement from family. A problem with this however is we don’t know any hard facts about the respective pupils, any prior achievement data or whether they can be comparable, we are only made aware of their social class. Conclusion Dunne and Gazeley arrive at the conclusion that underachievement is linked to a low social class, that the social class of pupils informed teachers judgements, to the point that it affected the level of exam the pupils were Chris Medwell MA Education, Innovation and Enterprise


Part II The Methodological evaluation and assessment of a research article entered for. They point out that teachers adopt differing strategies to address the underachievement of middle class pupils to those of working class pupils. The conclusions drawn can be justified to an extent, the interviews underline how teachers use stereotyping even though they were reluctant to explicitly mention a pupils social class. However the data generated could’ve been more in depth to further justify their conclusions. The fact that Dunne and Gazeley don’t factor gender or race into their data is limiting. They mention both sociocultural issues within the background to the study but never carry this out through the data or analysis of results. Table 1 shows two pupils, one female, one male learner. They never then go on to mention gender through the rest of the paper. The abstract to the paper states that little has been done in the classroom to effectively address working class underachievement. The evidence gained from the data does back up the claims made, however some of the evidence lacks clarity and is vague, some reliability and validity is lost due to the fact that the interpretation of the data is possibly third hand, the paper needs to be clearer about where the data has been generated from and who by. The paper is presented in a neat, straightforward manner and the key findings were spilt into three sections that made the paper easy to read. This study is far from definitive; a larger sample must be used to gain a representation of how teachers judge social class and how they address underachievement nationwide. More quantitative data could be used to further strengthen claims made and give a greater understanding of the pupils and teachers involved in this research. Despite this, Dunne and Gazeley have identified an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed if working class underachievement is to be effectively dealt with and the social class gap in terms of attainment is to be narrowed and provided some useful insights into how teachers construct social class and deal with underachievement.

Chris Medwell MA Education, Innovation and Enterprise


MAC04 Part 2