In order to produce an effective research proposal it is necessary to begin with an exploration of the issues that surround the topic that will provide the basis for the investigation. What does the word "disaffected" mean? In a general sense, it means dissatisfied or discontented. Clearly there is an underlying theme of negativity. Young people can be dissatisfied with a few or many aspects of their lives. This can extend across a number of areas - growing up, relationships, school work, friendships, parents, home environment and so on.
Dissatisfied Versus Disaffected
There is an implicit timescale difference between someone being dissatisfied and becoming disaffected. We can all be dissatisfied with some aspect of our lives at some point. On most occasions we are likely to either develop coping strategies or find solutions to deal with or cure the cause of our dissatisfaction. This implies that we are dealing with a short time period. The actual specification of time depends upon each individual and the nature of the problem that confronts them.
Until we have dealt with our area of negativity - our discontent will be manifested in our emotional state. For example, we may be lethargic, difficult to deal with, have a tendency to over react to everyday situations and so on. Failure to deal with the source of our dissatisfaction is likely to have a more pronounced effect on our behaviour, outlook and emotional state.
Impact On Behaviour
Short term dissatisfaction can descend into long term disaffection. Disaffection implies alienation i.e. a radical displacement of our perceived normal behaviour. Thus for someone who is disaffected with their employment we would expect a lax approach towards completing everyday routine tasks, a rise in arriving late for work, increased absenteeism and periods of sickness.
In such circumstances it is likely that the person in question would ultimately be disciplined and in extreme circumstances would be dismissed. If we can now switch attention to school pupils we can apply the same logic. Thus we would witness an increase in unacceptable behaviour in the classroom, a higher rate of absenteeism, a rise in the use of stiffer disciplinary sanctions (e.g. expulsions) and so on. It is important to recognise that the actions of disaffected students will not be limited to their behaviour within school.
Drug and alcohol abuse, anti-social behaviour, criminal activities etc also play a part in the lives of the most disaffected school pupils. Failure to identify and address the underlying issues which cause dissatisfaction and in the longer term, disaffection and alienation, in the lives in young people is a recipe for disaster. As they will not become law abiding and morally responsible adults.
Beyond The School Gates
All of the factors outlined above have a direct impact on the proposed area of research. Whilst the investigation will concentrate on the reasons why pupils become disaffected at school, it is important to fully understand the interrelationship between this area and other aspects of their lives. Academic research must have a specific problem to explore and must aim to establish a base of greater understanding and knowledge. With the long-term view of providing educational practitioners with strategies that will reduce the numbers of young people who become disaffected with school.
To be effective academic research must influence practice. That is, it must initiate substantive change and in the longer term generate benefits. For this to happen - it is important to recognise the influence and role of all the stakeholders in the research process. If we are talking about disaffected school pupils - then obviously, as they will the focus of our investigation, they are the most important group of stakeholders. Other groupings are as follows: parents, legal guardians and teachers. Other groupings may also be involved. For example, social services, the police, local education authorities and the probation services.
Published Research Equals Improved Practice?
In an article that was published in the Guardian newspaper in September 2003, it was highlighted that too much educational research was being wasted. There was growing concern that the politicians and the policy makers were simply ignoring the conclusions and recommendations of academic research covering a wide range of educational issues. In the business world, it would be a commercial disaster for a major company to launch a new product or service, which had been inadequately researched and tested.
No Room For Failure In The Business World
However, the history of education is littered with policy failures, re-thinks and a never ending list of initiatives based on a lack of analysis and a knee-jerk reaction. How often for example, has the Ford Motor Company re-called a recently launched new car? The answer is hardly ever. This is because the company may start with over 1,000 new product ideas and gradually filter the weaker ideas out, until they have one prototype design. Over the course of time this design will be modified and re-worked.
Customer reaction to the new car will be collected through extensive consumer research and focus groups. At each stage of its development, feedback from consumer research will be analysed to ensure that every aspect of the new design meets with the approval of customers from its target market. Thus it could take between three and five years for a new design to reach the car showrooms. Clearly this extensive filtering and evaluation of new design ideas, does not happen with a fair proportion of educational policies that have to be implemented in the classroom.
A New Strategy To Convert Research Findings Into Practice
All too often a project commissioned by the government, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) or another agency, and paid for out of the public purse, ends up gathering dust. In 2003 a new initiative to counteract this problem was launched. The Learning and Skills Research Centre (LRSC) - an offshoot of the further education thinktank - the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA) - was charged with the responsibility of resolving this issue.
The project identified 27 tactics pursued with varying degrees of success to beef up the impact that a research project can have on its target audience. The tactics range from simply issuing guidelines that have emerged from the research, with or without a full report - to providing financial incentives for adopting the recommendations. In between lies, a range of other techniques - i.e. holding seminars and presentations for target groups, lobbying the 10 most influential people in the relevant field.
As already discussed in section 1, unless research improves practice, there is little point in undertaking the investigation in the first place. Therefore, a key feature of the proposed research project will be to provide the key stakeholders (i.e. teachers) with strategies that can be utilised to combat the problems caused by disaffected young people.
Section 2.1 analyses the poor conversion rate of transforming research conclusions and recommendations into practical policies which can be applied by educational institutions and practitioners. In 2003 the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA) was charged with the responsibility of generating a higher conversion rate. However, the root cause of this problem lies potentially in the research model that is selected to form the basis of any investigation.
Teachers Under Pressure
It is possible to draw a parallel between disaffected teachers and disaffected pupils. Teachers complain about having too much paperwork to complete. Not only there is too much of it but there is an argument to suggest that most of it is irrelevant to the job that teachers actually do. Quality assurance measures in the public sector often means having even more new policies to comply with and more boxes to tick. Ever increasingly amounts of forms to complete, makes teachers dissatisfied in the short term.
However, for a sizeable proportion long-term disaffection and alienation has become norm. The message they perceive from the educational authorities that is ticking the right boxes is now more important than what happens in the classroom. The introduction of SATS in the mid-1990s and the never ending demands to attain higher GCSE pass rates means that too much emphasis is placed on getting pupils to perform better when taking tests and exams.
Perception Becomes Reality
Whilst this is important, it means that now too much focus is now placed on a very narrow definition of what being a successful teacher is all about. That is, getting pupils to pass exams. Whilst those in authority would maintain that this is not the case, it is perception of teachers. Perception becomes a reality and ultimately becomes a mindset. Teachers are under pressure and are highly stressed.
When people are stressed they filter out information and concentrate on getting through the day. Therefore, this could be the main reason why very little educational research findings are converted into every day practice. That is, educational institutions and teachers struggling with information overload will block out and will pay lip service whenever possible, when confronted new research findings and policy measures. Whilst this may be a gross oversimplification of the educational world, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that this view will find resonance within the teaching fraternity.
Exam Pressures Alienate School Pupils
The pressure on teachers to achieve higher academic standards has an impact on what happens in the classroom. There are strong arguments from some quarters that the National Curriculum has too much of an academic focus. For those pupils who already suffer from a lack of self-confidence regarding their ability to cope with academic work, the demand to deliver a better performance will increase the pressure they feel. Pressure often induces a feeling of inadequacy. In the longer term this causes disaffection with the whole learning process. Ultimately some pupils will become like their teachers i.e. alienated and resentful.
Selecting The Most Appropriate Research Model
Therefore, if a policy maker wishes to gain kudos - they must commission researchers that will actively involve the key stakeholders in the investigation they wish to conduct. Classroom practitioners will respond positively to a researcher who actively seeks their views and who is prepared to learn and act upon their experiences of dealing with the reality of everyday teaching. In a similar way, pupils will respond much more positively when they consider that the learning process is focused upon addressing their needs and interests.
Paradigms and Methodology in Educational Research
What steps can be taken to ensure that the most appropriate model is selected to successfully undertake a research project? At the European Conference on Educational Research, held in Lille in September 2001, Katrin Niglas presented a paper which attempted to summarise the relationships between different paradigms and methodological traditions. Thus creating a coherent framework within which academics could make a more informed choice about which model would be the most appropriate to facilitate the successful completion of their research project.
Her paper drew heavily upon the work completed by Renata Tesch, which classifies qualitative methodological traditions into four main groups. These are as follows:
The characteristics of language
The discovery of regularities
The comprehension of the meaning of text or action
Listed below is the most appropriate form of research models for each methodology.
The characteristics of language:
Ethnography of communication
The discovery of regularities:
Ethnographic content analysis
Event structure analysis
Emancipatory / critical research
The comprehension of the meaning of text or action:
What do these groupings mean? Starting from the top (i.e. The characteristics of language) - we have very structured research models, which are very close to natural science research. At the bottom of the list we have Reflection - which encompasses unstructured research models, which are most commonly used in the arts. Educational research falls somewhere in between these two approaches.
What is the most appropriate method to use? Well it depends upon what you wish to achieve. So far we have identified that we wish to ensure that research findings have a greater impact on classroom practice, we need to involve the key stakeholders in the investigation. It is possible to use more than one model to investigate a given area of research focus.
In order to remain abreast of educational change and innovation, teaching professionals need to be engaged in continuous professional development. This can be achieved in a variety of different ways e.g. attending training courses, seminars, completing an MA in Education etc. It can also be achieved by the successful completion of action research. This is a term which refers to a practical way of looking at your own work to check that it is done as you would it to be. Because action research is done, by you, the practitioner, it is often referred to as practitioner based research.
Self-Analysis - The Starting Point To Achieve An Improved Performance
It can also be called self-reflective practice. When you produce your research report, it shows how you have carried out a systematic investigation into your own behaviour, and the reasons for that behaviour. The report shows the process you have gone through in order to achieve a better understanding of yourself, so that you can continue developing yourself and your work. Action research is today prominent not only in teacher professional education, but also in management education and organisation studies, social and health care work, and other professional contexts.
Action research could be applied to help a teacher improve her classroom performance in terms of creating and developing a rapport with the pupils, and encouraging them to become fully engaged with the learning process. This could be useful for new teaching professionals. How? The vast majority of people when starting a new job lack self-confidence in some aspect of their ability to perform. As a new teacher gains classroom experience, they begin to master the learning curve and gain confidence and belief in their own ability.
Action Research To Learn From Experiences And Develop Self Belief
However, if a new teacher is faced with the problem of dealing with a class, which contains a number of disaffected pupils, his / her ability to cope with such a situation would be severely tested. It could simply become a case of "crowd control" with the teacher struggling to retain order and discipline, every time the class takes place. Under such circumstances the newly qualified teacher could feel overwhelmed and could suffer from a severe loss of confidence in their ability to cope and make progress with the class.
Action research could provide the teacher with a solution to his / her problem. The basic steps of a research process constitute an action plan:
We review our current practice
Identify an aspect that we want to investigate
Imagine a way forward
Try it out and take stock of what happens
We modify what we are doing in the light of what we have found, and continue working in the new way (try another option if the new way of working is not right)
Monitor what we do
Review and evaluate the modified action
And so onâ€¦.
Two processes are at work: your systematic actions as you work your way through these steps, and your learning. Your actions embody your learning, and your learning is informed by your reflections on your actions. Therefore, when you come to write your report or make your research public in other ways, you should aim to show not only the actions of your research, but also the learning involved.
A number of models are available in the literature. Most of them regard practice as non-linear, appreciating that people are unpredictable, and their actions often do not follow a straightforward trajectory. The action plan above shows action reflection as a cycle of:
Identify an area of practice to be investigated
Imagine a solution
Implement the solution
Change practice in light of the evaluation
This action research cycle can now turn into new action research cycles, as new areas of investigation emerge. It is possible to imagine a series of cycles to show the processes of developing practices. The processes can be shown as a spiral of cycles, where one issue forms the basis of another and, as one question is addressed, the answer to it generates new questions. Remember that things do not often proceed in a neat linear fashion. Most people experience research as a zig-zag process of continual review and re-adjustment. Research reports should communicate the apparent incoherence in a coherent way.
A Background To Youth Disaffection - A Review Of Literature From Evaluation Findings From With Young People
The problem of "youth disaffection" is increasingly occupying the minds of policy makers. All the signs are that there is a genuine and worrying problem. There is plenty of evidence pointing to the existence of significant numbers of young people living at the margin of society, unable or unwilling to participate in the mainstream of education, training or employment. Each year 1 in 16 pupils leave with no qualifications. Over 20 years ago nearly half of all school leavers went directly into employment. Now there are jobs for fewer than 10% of school leavers. This section provides a succinct examination of what lies behind such statistics.
What Is "Disaffection"?
This is a multi-faceted term, referring to a cluster of behaviours, attitudes and experiences. The following are elements of disaffection:
Lacking a sense of identity; having a sense of failure
"Disturbed", "depressed", "difficult" young people, with social and emotional problems
Behaviour - crime, misbehaviour, drugs, lack of social skills, harming (or potentially harming) self and / or others.
Not exercising civil / democratic rights (uninterested, uninvolved and unregistered) or social / economic rights (poor knowledge of, and access to, services)
Experience discrimination through age alone or combined with other factors (race, disability, single parenthood, homelessness, young carers)
Being failed by the system (especially education and employment / training)
"Status Zer0" - not in education, employment or training
The variety of ways which disaffection can be expressed suggests what has been borne out by research into the issue; namely that disaffection is the outcome of a multiplicity of causes, often interrelated, but differing from case to case. Despite being given a common label, it is important to remember therefore that disaffected young people are not at all a homogeneous group. The age of the young person, to take just one aspect of difference, has important implications for the ways in which disaffection will be experienced and expressed. Gender, ethnicity and disability are the other important factors differentiating disaffected young people.
The Costs Of Disaffection And Non-Participation
The UK lags behind most other Western nations in terms of the proportion of its young people staying on in post-compulsory education. Among the 29 OCED countries, the UK is one of only four in which 20% or more of young people drop out of education within a year at the end of compulsory education. Behind the figure for educational underachievement lie considerable costs to individuals and society as a whole. According to the figure from the Social Exclusion Unit, non-participation in education, employment or training between the ages of 16 - 18 is a major predictor of subsequent unemployment and teenage parenthood.
Recent Trends And The Social Exclusion Of Young People
Several inter-linked trends have had an important impact upon the social exclusion of young people over the last 20 years. It has been argued that the decline of many manufacturing industries, together with changes in gender roles and the associated transformations in patterns of family life, have combined to make the transition from childhood to adult independence ever more protracted, uncertain and difficult. The possibility of a single linear transition from childhood dependence to full dependence as an adult has become more elusive than at any time in the recent past, with the result that inconsistent role expectations can place a considerable strain on young people.
Whereas twenty years ago nearly half of all school leavers went straight into employment, today that figure stands at less than one in ten. Developments within the education system, in particular its "marketisation" through reforms introduced by the Conservative government in the late 1980s, have also had a negative impact upon the prospects of the most disadvantaged young people. These new market conditions have led to the displacement of children / young people with the most compelling educational and social needs as they are unattractive "business propositions" for schools concerned with their league table position.
Policies To Combat Disaffection
The present government's response to the problems of educational underachievement, disaffection and non-participation has been led by the DfEE and the Social Exclusion Unit. In 1998 the Unit published a national strategy for neighbourhood renewal (Bringing Britain Together), which had as its goals bridging the gap between the most deprived neighbourhoods and the rest of England and reducing long-term unemployment, health problems and educational underachievement in the poorest areas. To end this, 18 cross-cutting Policy Action Teams (PATs) were established to develop policies on different aspects of neighbourhood renewal.
The PAT on Young People has focussed directly on the problem of youth disaffection. Its review of the different services for young people found:
A lack of coordination between these
Gaps in the provision of particular services
A failure to target resources effectively
An emphasis on crisis intervention than prevention
Insufficient involvement of young people themselves in the design and delivery of services for them
Key recommendations include:
That the government should set youth inclusion objectives for new policies, and ensure that these are incorporated into departmental policies
That two or more Ministers should be made responsible for coordinating policies for young people across government, supported by a new Youth Unit
More effective coordination of policies for young people at the local level
Better targeting of resources
Giving young people a greater say in the development of policy and the way services are delivered
Disaffected Young People - The Manchester Experience
Section 3.1 provided an overall view of the underlying reasons why young people become disaffected with school and life in general. Moving from this broad perspective we need to narrow our perspective on concentrate on the Manchester experience. This is because the intended research project will investigate the extent of the problem within the 14 - 16 age group entering further education within the boundaries of the Manchester LEA. Examining the nature of the problem will develop our knowledge and understanding of the complexities involved and will help to define the aims and objectives of the proposed research project.
Ducie High School, Manchester
In October 1999 the school underwent an Ofsted inspection. The Ofsted report that was produced provides a microcosm of the many problems faced by similar type school that exist in areas of high social and economic exclusion. In the main findings of the report it states, "â€¦.The management and staffâ€¦.face a major and daily challenge in meeting the needs of the pupils, who come from neighbourhoods which suffer from considerable disadvantageâ€¦" - (Page 2, Ducie High School, Ofsted Report, October 1999).
The report proceeds to highlight a number of key findings, which are of direct relevance to this study. At the school relationships among pupils and between adults and pupils are good. The teachers are aware of tensions between pupils outside of the school, which can lead to volatile behaviour, and provide strong pastoral support. The level of exclusion, especially fixed-term exclusion is very high. With the vast majority of exclusions are for acts of violence, mostly by boys. Pupils of African-Caribbean heritage are disproportionately represented among those excluded for fixed terms.
The school's most substantial achievement is the creation of an integrated community, in which pupils from diverse backgrounds and a wide range of experiences can feel safe and secure. In spite of its success, there remains an undercurrent of unrest which is mainly the result of outside factors and which can occasionally erupt into anti-social behaviour and violent incidents. The school generally defuses these situations, calms pupils and provides and antidote to the external pressures.
The information drawn from the Ofsted report provides a revealing picture about daily life at Ducie School. Clearly the staff are a cohort of hard working and dedicated professionals. However, much of the tensions that occur within the school are generated from outside the school gates. This reinforces the notion that disaffection among school pupils is a complex and multi-faceted issue.
Clearly there will be situations in which the cause of the disaffection is generated within the school environment due to the poor quality of teaching, the perceived irrelevance of the curriculum to the pupils and so on. As with all educational issues, it is not possible to adopt a prescriptive approach and apply a simple solution. Each type of disaffection must be examined. This is necessary in order to strengthen our knowledge and understanding of the underlying factors, which ignite discontent and generate inappropriate behaviour amongst young people.
Issues For Consideration For The 14-16 Age Group
In April - May 2002, Ofsted and the Adult Learning Inspectorate, completed an Area Wide Inspection Report for Manchester. Of relevance to our study is the section of the report concerned with retention, as many young people drop out of education altogether after they complete school at 16. Again this raises the issue of disaffection amongst young people. Here are some of the challenges that the report highlighted:
Develop innovative measures to deal with irregular attendees and young people who are excluded; from\these identify and implement best practice
Address social exclusion by meeting the needs of groups such as young offenders who are vulnerable and less likely to participate in post 16 learning
Approaches must be tailored to the interests and inclinations of the young person and could include citizenship training and employer focused learning
The impact of helping these groups extends beyond the young person and benefits families and communities
Section 1 provided an overview of the proposed research topic. A number of issues were raised and examined. Disaffection is a multi-faceted concept and the causes of it can be sourced both in the school environment and outside in the family home and the local neighbourhood.
Section 2 raised the issue of how a great deal of educational research fails to be actioned. That is, many of the recommendations produced by a wide range of projects fail to have any impact on improving the performance of teachers and pupils in the classroom.
Section 2 also provided a review of methodologies and concluded that research will have a much better chance of gaining improvements in the classroom and combating the problems caused by disaffection, if the key stakeholders are involved in the investigation process.
Section 3 provided a literature review. The causes of and problems caused by disaffection are well documented. Government agencies and policy makers have initiated a wide range of measures to combat the wasteful effects of disaffection among a wide cross section of young people in the UK.
It is recommended that the research should concentrate on investigating the causes of disaffection among 14 to 16 year olds in a school in the Tameside area of Manchester.
The objectives of the project would be as follows:
To identify and understand the reasons why pupils (aged 14 to 16) are disaffected.
Review the school's policies and procedures to combat disaffection and critically evaluate their success to-date with regard to resolving this issue.
Formulate an action plan which will equip the teaching staff to recognise and deal more effectively with the problems caused by disaffection.
Provide those pupils who are recognised as being disaffected with new opportunities to become more actively involved and owners of their learning process.
In order for the intended research project to be successful, the above objectives must meet the requirements of the SMART criteria.
S = Specific - This defines the scope of the project. Simply to say that the project will investigate the causes of disaffection amongst school pupils is far too broad. The project will be limited to one school and is concerned with those pupils aged 14 to 16.
M = Measurable - As we have already discussed, disaffection can mean a variety of things in different circumstances. In order to evaluate the success of the project, we need a definition of disaffection, which can be quantified. This could be achieved by analysing the disciplinary record of each pupil in the 14 to 16 age range. The pupils with the worst disciplinary (i.e. measured in terms of exclusions, detentions, verbal and written warnings etc.) records could be classified as being disaffected.
Admittedly this is a rough and ready measure - but it is a good starting point. Each pupil would be invited to take part in the project. Those who were willing to participate would be interviewed to identify the reasons why they were disaffected. Working with their teachers, each pupil would become actively involved in designing their own personal learning action plan. The purpose of the action plan would be to devise new ways of learning in order to encourage the pupils to work harder and achieve better results.
A = Achievable - It is pointless setting objectives, which are unrealistic. As stated, research only delivers the desired outcomes, when all of the relevant stakeholders are involved in the design and delivery of the project. Thus key members of the school's teaching staff would also need to be interviewed in order to find out about their views on disaffected pupils and to gain their participation in helping the pupils devise their personal learning action plans.
The project could possibly also cover encouraging the teachers to carry out their own action research with regard to monitoring the effectiveness of their teaching strategies and learning resources. The results could be recorded in a diary and could form part of their continuous professional development.
R = Resourced - The school would have to be prepared to commit additional money to cover the cost of resourcing the project.
T = Time Bound - The project would have to run for at least one academic year in order to provide sufficient time to measure the improvements (e.g. an improved disciplinary record, homework completed on time etc) delivered by the project.
The following sources would provide useful secondary data for the project:
http://www.lsc.gov.uk/grmanchester/Corporate/default.htm - Learning Skills Council - Greater Manchester
www.ali.gov.uk - Adult Learning Inspectorate
www.qca.org.uk - Qualifications and Curriculum Authority
All of these bodies provide information about disaffected school pupils, the causes of their dissatisfaction and the policy measures that have been produced to combat the problem.