HIGHTOWN GRAMMAR Colin Lacey (1970)
The study deals with many aspects of the school:
its changing function over the last fifty years
its position within the present educational structure
the way in which selection and anticipatory socialisation affect the pupils
the process of sub-culture formation within the student body
staff and staff-pupil relationships
Though the case study is of one school, its significance is not confined to the particularistic concerns of one school. It extends to general problems in sociology and education.
The study was based on Lacey's belief that the particularistic (study of a single case) can illuminate the universalistic (other similar situations). That is, case studies are generalisable. (This view is not held by everyone.)
In the study, the school was viewed as a social system which was nevertheless embedded in a wider society. In the case study, Lacey lays bare the social mechanisms within the school in an attempt to explain the disappointing performance of working-class boys in grammar schools.
The following sections deal with some of the practicalities and issues that needed consideration during the period of the study...
Access: gained permission from the Chief Education Officer and the head teacher. (NOTE: At this period in history, it was not considered necessary to consult the staff!)
Mutual benefit: agreed to 'repay' the favour by including some teaching as an essential part of the field work.
Familiarization: spent two months getting to know the way around, meeting and talking to staff and pupils and explaining his purpose and presence in the school.
observed teachers giving lessons (at least one by every member of staff) to gain a clearer picture of what was happening in the school
spent twelve weeks sessions per week teaching and twelve observing teachers at work which continued over eighteen months
engaged staff and pupils in informal conversations
during the first term, Lacey sent out two questionnaires to 1st years (Year 7) and 5th years (Year 11) after their exams asking details about values, career aspirations, family background and peer group affiliation
material from school records and the local education offices were also used
Lacey also discloses other relevant information
he immersed himself in school life
he ran the cricket team
he went on a number of school trips
his own home was very close to the school
Lacey wrestled with a difficult ethical issue during the study
He was aware that certain teachers who struggled to keep control preferred to hold their own private detention classes instead of using the official register book which would have betrayed their difficulties to colleagues. A senior teacher told Lacey that he was sure that some staff were using private detentions but uncertain who it was or how widespread. Lacey decided to remain silent.
A case study within a case study
Within this case study of the school, Lacey includes a number of representative case studies to illustrate the nature of the relationship between a number of a major social factors:
the existence of tremendous energy and drive towards academic achievement
the demoralisation of academically less successful pupils
the school structure over-emphasised competition to the detriment of low achievers
a sub-culture of low achievers absorbed too much staff time and energy
low income families were more likely to be represented in the low achievement groups
In his summary, Lacey confirms that his findings agree with certain previously held positions and conflicts with other authors' claims. That is, he sets his own findings within the existing body of knowledge.
a system of cross-ability grouping should be adopted rather than streaming
sets (differentiation) should be used as a teaching approach within each group
some staff should be released from a full teaching load and trained to give support and counsel to under-achievers
Note the thoroughness with which Lacey approached this study. Your study is unlikely to be in the same depth as Hightown Grammar but requires the same degree of careful thought, planning and execution.
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