ERG SES C 12, Research in Education
Malta, the EU smallest member state was ranking very high in the early school leaving statistics in 2013. Almost a quarter of its sixteen year olds were early school leavers. Spurred by these Eurostat statistics, the Maltese government sprung into action.The publication of the National Early School Leaving Strategy in 2014 (p. 40) by the Maltese Eucation Department advocated the setting up of an offsite school, which would cater for those students who are disenchanted with mainstream education. http://education.gov.mt/ESL/Documents/School%20Leaving%20in%20Malta.pdf
The ALP (Alternative Learning Programme), opened in that same year, is this school. This is an ambitious programme targeting pupils with a low academic performance, students who are interested in pursuing a vocational pathway, since it is not offered in mainstream colleges, those at risk of early school leaving and students with a high incidence of absenteeism. This research will focus on the last two categories. According to the Early School Leaving Strategy (2014), habitual absenteeism is an indication that could lead to students to disengage from the educational system and thus become early school leavers.
This school is open to both boys and girls who come to do their last year of formal schooling (form 5) at this school. After the one-year course, they can either pursue another year of education at the Alternative Learning Programme to continue honing their skills in vocational education, move on to post-secondary education or start working.
I am interested in this study because I currently work in this newly set up ALP school. Prior to working in this school, I used to teach in an area secondary school, where the intake came from socially deprived areas, many of whom, even in year 7 were already disenchanted with education. My daily experiences with disenchanted students in these past twenty years have made me ask what can be done for such students. This study is a fulfilment of my wish to provide a better education for such students. As far as I know, nobody has ever asked the education professionals, working in close proximity with the students, about their opinions on what is the best type of alternative education for the students.
Educational professionals’ perceptions of the mainstream and the alternative setting
Research is rather scant on educational professionals and their perceptions between the mainstream and alternative setting. A survey on this topic was undertaken by the National Education Association (online). This is the United States’ largest professional employee organisation and it is committed to the advancement of public education. Teachers who replied to this survey were very enthusiastic about alternative schools. These included replies such as, “As a teacher, if I touch one life, help one kid find their way to become a successful adult, then I have done my job.” Others stated that alternative schools need to be better funded and that they should be given an equal status in the school community. According to several teachers, alternative schools are filling a niche for those who are not able to learn in a ‘mainstream’ setting. All maintain that since starting to work in an alternative school, they have becomemorecreative, adaptive in the curriculum and caring for the students they are in charge of.
This paper aims to answer the major research question of :
How do educational professionals perceive the alternative education provided to students who are on the verge of early school leaving, and who have a track record of absenteeism?
This research will seek to find out the perceptions of educational professionals within this off-site school which is in its fourth year since its inception. All this is to be framed within the local context, in that there was no formal alternative pathway for those secondary students who felt disenchanted with the Maltese educational system prior to 2014, with the consequence that they became early school leavers. Will Gibson (2013, p.60) recommends that after one has formulated the research question, it is important to ‘reflect on the various types of data that each available method may produce...’. I have thought deeply about my research design and in order to answer my research question, I have chosen a qualitative approach. This is because I would like to explore and explain new theoretical insights (Hammond and Wellington, 2013) and generate new theoretical models after an in-depth study of the data resulting from how people experience a given research issue. The number of interview samples hinges on a variety of methodological and epistemological issues. These include reliability, replicability, generalization, validity and saturation. Mason (2010) goes in depth into the concept of data saturation. He quotes Glaser and Strauss (1967) and argues that when the collection of new data does not shed any further light on the issue under investigation, it should stop. For this small scale research, I opted to interview a sample of ten persons, coming from different categories of the education system. The interviews with the educational professionals within the school were held between October 2017 and January 2018. The persons involved included: two members of the Senior Management Team, four teachers and four learning support assistants. This was done as it is important to get a different perspective and see how different people view the situation at ALP school. The perceptions of these practitioners are included so as to have a more top-down approach. This will aid the educational professionals to reflect about their practices and enhance their awareness of the importance of reflection in what they are doing. Understanding their perceptions is important as these are the ones who help to structure and implement what the students receive.
My study has put to the fore that the different categories of education professionals are very happy to be working at the Alternative Learning Programme. Like McCluskey et al.(2015), they mentioned the caring environment and the pastoral care that they have for the students. The fact that this off-site school has a school population of around 200 students, and that the students are grouped in small groups of not more than 10 was also highly commended. The students can get individual attention and this lowers the chance of a student playing up. Moreover, the fact that teachers are not pressured by a syllabus which is centralised by the Education Department, was also seen as an onus. In fact, the teachers that I interviewed had drawn up the syllabus of their respective subject themselves. The Education Professionals also mentioned the negative points. These included the fact that as it is not an area college, there are students from all the different colleges in Malta. Some of the students have challenging behaviour, others have mental health problems. Lack of appropriate teaching resources was also mentioned, while the physical building in itself needs renovation to bring it up to scratch. All in all, while the education professionals think that the education that the students are receiving at the alternative learning programme is better than in the mainstream, there is still room for improvement. It is now an integral part of the Maltese Education system and the demand for it is greater than the amount of students that it can cater for. As education systems vary from one country to another in the European Union, I hope that this study gives an insight into what these education professionals think is the best way forward for alternative education in Malta, the EU’s smallest state member.
Baker,S.E. & Edwards, R. (2012) How many qualitative interviews is enough? Expert voices and early career reflections on sampling and cases in qualitative research (online) Available from http://eprints.ncrm.ac.uk/2273/4/how_many_interviews.pdf [Accessed on 6th August 2017]. Chalker, C.S. & Stelsel, K. (2009) A fresh approach to alternative education: using malls to reach at-risk youth in Kappa Delta Pi Record, 45, 2, 74–77 (online) Available from http://www.kdp.org/publications/archives/recordw09.php [Accessed on 28th November, 2016]. Cohen, L., Manion, L., Morrison, K. (2011) Research Methods in Education, London and New York: Routledge. Earl, L. & Katz, S. (2006) How Networked Learning Comunities Work. Seminar Series Paper. No.155. Centre for Strategic Education. Eurostat (2015) The EU is moving closer to its Europe 2020 goals on education. (online) Available from http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/documents/2995521/6787423/3-20042015-BP EN.pdf/b2f295ba-2e15-409c-bec9-91c4e49c5d32 [Accessed on 15th March, 2017]. Gibson, W. (2013) Qualitative Research as a Method of Inquiry in Education in Hartas, D. (ed.) (2013) Educational Research and Inquiry Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches, Great Britain: Bloomsbury. Ch.3. Hammond, M. & Wellington, J. (2013) Research Methods The Key Concepts, London and New York:Routledge. Hobbs, C. & Power, J. (2013) Engaging Disadvantaged Young People In The Course Of Their Lives: The Importance Of Staff/Student Relationships In Alternative Education (online) Available from academia/Engaging_Disadvantaged_Young_People_in_t.pdf[Accessed on 10th December, 2016]. Mason, M. (2010) Qualitative Social Research Forum (online) Available from http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1428/3027 [Accessed on 5th August, 2017]. McCluskey, G., Riddell, S. and Weedon, E. (2015) Children’s rights, school exclusion and alternative educational provision in International Journal of Inclusive Education, 19(6), pp. 595–607. McGregor, G. & Mills, M. (2012) Alternative education sites and marginalised young people: ‘I wish there were more schools like this one’, (online) Available from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13603116.2010.529467[Accessed on 27th December, 2016]. Ministry of Education and Employment (2012) A National Curriculum framework for All 2012. Malta. Available from https://curriculum.gov.mt/en/resources/Resources/the-NCF/Pages/default.aspx [Accessed on 15th February, 2017]. Ministry of Education and Employment (2014) Early School Leaving Strategy. (online) Available from education.gov.mt/esl/Documents/School%20Leaving%20in%20Malta.pdf [Accessed on 21st November, 2016]. National Education Association (2017) The views of education professionals about alternative schools. (online) Available from http://www.nea.org/home/15016.htm [Accessed on 7th September, 2017]. Robson, C. (2011) Real World Research, Great Britain: Wiley. Spiteri, A. (2016) Communication and Power in the Colleges, Malta: Malta University Publishing.
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