05 SES 03, Extending Schools
How to improve the educational outcomes and wider life chances of children living in disadvantaged areas is a major international policy concern (European Commission 2013). One response to this is seen in increasing efforts to involve schools in ‘extended’ and community-oriented strategies aimed at tackling disadvantages ‘beyond the school gates’, which arise out of children’s family and community contexts (Dyson 2011, Ecarius et al. 2013). These may, for instance, involve schools providing after-school learning and leisure opportunities, childcare, parenting support, access to specialist services, and community programmes (Cummings et al. 2011). Although there are many local and administrative variations (Schuepbach 2016), these efforts may nonetheless be considered, as Lawson and van Veen (2016, p1) propose, as a movement of: ‘ever-changing social experiments that represent progress towards new institutional designs for vulnerable young people, their families and the school communities that serve as their homes.’
This paper contends that the development of these ‘new institutional designs’ (henceforth referred to collectively as ‘extended schools’ [Dyson, 2011]), while undeniably important, have typically been limited by a tendency to cast disadvantaged communities in terms of ‘deficits’, which schools and other public services need to ‘fix’ (Kerr et al. 2016). Furthermore, an international review of literature in the field suggests professionals have often tended to exercise power unilaterally when developing extended schools – ‘doing to’ communities, rather than ‘doing with’ them (Kerr et al. 2016; Warren et al. 2009).
Such deficit-driven understandings are not, however, inevitable. Notably, recent years have seen a growing interest in ‘asset-based’ approaches. Rather than ‘problem fixing’, these seek to identify and build on community ‘assets’, understood broadly as the positive features, both tangible and intangible, which characterise residents’ lived experiences within their local community (see Foot and Hopkins 2010, Glickman and Scally 2008, Kretzmann and McKnight 1993).
This paper is concerned with how assets-based perspectives might inform extended school designs. It reports empirical findings from a three year case-study, centred on ‘Northern Academy’ – an inner-city secondary school with extensive extended provision, serving a highly disadvantaged neighbourhood in the UK. The study’s core research questions are:
- What assets do young people aged 11-16, living in a highly disadvantaged neighbourhood, identify, value and use in pursuit of positive educational outcomes and wider life chances?
- What implications might the understandings surfaced have for the development of extended education provision?
Underpinning its analysis, the paper advances a conceptual framework which addresses central limitations in the current literature on assets-based perspectives. It contends that commonly used ‘asset-mapping approaches’, which simply identify and categorise assets as static entities (Jasek-Rysdahl 2001), are insufficient to support extended school designs (see, for instance, Kretzmann and McKnight’s Assets-Based Community Development approach, which categorises assets as: individual capacities; local associations; and local institutions). Instead, the paper proposes a dynamic and relational understanding of assets, which sees these as inextricably linked to individuals’ lived experiences and local socio-ecologies. Extending assets-mapping processes, the paper considers how students actually value and use the assets that they identify, bringing to bear notions of capability (Nussbaum 2011, Robeyns 2005, Sen 1985, 2013) which explore what people can ‘do’ or ‘be’ rather than simply the commodities they possess, and how context may constrain or enable this.
By applying this conceptual framework to an illuminative case-study, the paper will begin to consider how extended school designs might: (i) strengthen local assets-bases to support students’ educational outcomes and wider life chances; and (ii) do so in ways which engage with students’ understandings of valuable assets in disadvantaged contexts.
Given the educational vulnerabilities associated with living in a disadvantaged neighbourhood context, the study concentrated on assets within Northern Academy’s local neighbourhood, lying beyond students’ immediate family or classroom contexts. A deliberate decision was made to train ten Northern Academy students as co-researchers to work alongside a university researcher. This was driven by two factors. Firstly, young people have privileged knowledge regarding how to tackle certain topics appropriately with their peers, and the co-researchers’ endogenous knowledge was brought to bear throughout the research. For instance, the co-researchers developed working definitions of assets, educational outcomes and wider life chances, which were both conceptually appropriate and easily understood by young people. Secondly, it served to democratize the research process (Freire 1970), giving the co-researchers co-ownership of the study. This was particularly important to counter any risk that professional perspectives about valuable assets might be (tacitly) imposed. The co-researchers designed and conducted seventeen 45 minute focus groups with their peers, utilizing visual mapping methods (Amsden and Van Wynsberghe 2005) as a stimulus for discussing assets within the local neighbourhood. Thematic discussion guides provided further structure, incorporating open-ended, spatial questions, e.g.: ‘Where do (you/young people) go in (your/their) spare time?’; scenario-based questions: ‘Where do (you/young people) go when (you/they) want support?’; and conditional questions relating to future thoughts and desires: ‘What would (you/young people) like to see change / develop within your community?’ Prompts were used as necessary to maintain a focus on achieving positive educational outcomes and wider life chances. In total, 230 students (c.20 per cent of Northern Academy’s population) participated, broadly reflecting Northern Academy’s student diversity. Discussions were transcribed and analysed with the visual maps created by each group, firstly through a process of grounded thematic analysis; secondly, through the application of Kretzmann and McKnight’s assets-mapping categories (individual capacities; local associations; and local institutions) – with many assets straddling these; and thirdly, by focusing on the outcomes anticipated by using assets, and whether these were current or future-oriented. This multi-stage process helped illuminate the complex nature of the assets identified, how/if these were valued and used, and differences and similarities across the participants’ engagement with particular assets. The volume of data meant that while some data were jointly analysed with co-researchers, the university researcher also worked independently, ‘member checking’ her analysis with the co-researchers.
Rather than focusing on assets in a simply tangible sense – for instance, by identifying associations and institutions like after-school activities – students were often centrally concerned with the social relationships and identities enacted through the process of engaging with different assets. While the students identified a wide range of local associations and institutions as assets, and could explain how these might support education and wider life chances, they rarely engaged with these. Their decisions were determined, at least partly, by whether engaging with a particular asset would be damaging to their sense of identity. For example, students identified Northern Academy’s after-school activities as valuable assets, but saw these as intended only for the most vulnerable students. Students often felt utilizing these assets would be to self-identify themselves as ’vulnerable’ – which would negatively impact on their sense of self and how others viewed them. Students also reported feeling disconnected from professionally-led associations because they had not been involved in their design or operationalization. Instead, students most valued and utilised assets which allowed them to strengthen relationships with friends and wider family. Notably, digital technologies were particularly valued in enabling students to build new relationships with young people outside their neighbourhood. Through these relationships, students accessed information about new places, cultures, cultural opportunities, and career possibilities. These insights suggest that, as evolving institutional designs, extended schools may need to focus on developing these intangible ‘relational’ assets – doing more to support young people’s social networks within their neighbourhoods and online, rather than expanding professionally-developed and -led after-school activities. Moreover, if schools are to strengthen community assets-bases in ways that students will willingly utilize, they must involve students in the design of extended school provision. Simply, in line with ECER’s 2018 theme, students’ voices must be ‘included’.
Amsden, J. and Van Wynsberghe, R. (2005) Community mapping as a research tool with youth. Action Research, Vol. 3(4): 357–381 Cummings, C., Dyson, A. and Todd, L. (2011) Beyond the School Gates: can full service and extended schools overcome disadvantage?, London: Routledge Dyson, A. (2011) Full service and extended schools, disadvantage, and social justice, Cambridge Journal of Education, 41:2, 177-193 Ecarius, J., Klieme, E., Stecher, L. and Woods, J. (Eds) (2013) Extended Education: An International Perspective. Opladen: Barbara Budrich Publishers European Commission (2013) Reducing early school leaving: Key messages and policy support. Final Report of the Thematic Working Group on Early School Leaving. Brussels: European Commission Foot, J. and Hopkins, T.A. (2010) A Glass Half Full: How an Asset Approach Can Improve Community Health and Wellbeing. London: IdeA. Available at http://www.gloucesterpartnership.org.uk/Docs/Glass%20Half%20Full.pdf (Accessed 22nd July 2017) Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. NY: Herder and Herder. Glickman, N. and Scally, C. (2008) Can Community and Education Organizing improve inner-city schools?, Journal of Urban Affairs, 30(5),557–577. Jasek-Rysdahl, K. (2001) Applying Sen's Capabilities Framework to Neighborhoods: Using Local Asset Maps to Deepen Our Understanding of Well-being, Review of Social Economy, 59 (3), 313-329, Kerr, K., Dyson, A., and Gallannaugh, F. (2016) Conceptualising school-community relations in disadvantaged neighbourhoods: mapping the literature, Educational Research 58(3): 265-282 Kretzmann, J. and McKnight, J. (1993) Building Communities from the Inside Out. Chicago: ACTA Publications. Lawson, H. and van Veen, D. (eds.), Developing community schools, community learning centers, multi-service schools and extended-service schools: International exemplars for practice, policy and research. The Hague: Springer International. Nussbaum, M. (2011) Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press Robeyns, I. (2005) The Capability Approach: A Theoretical Survey. Journal of Human Development, 6(1), 93-117. Schuepbach, M. (2016) Extended Education : Professionalization and Professionalism of Staff. International Journal of Extended Education, 4(1), 5-8. Sen , A. ( 1985 ) Commodities and Capabilities. Amsterdam, North-Holland . Sen, A. (2013) The Ends and Means of Sustainability. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities: A Multi-Disciplinary Journal for People-Centered Development, 14(1),6-20 Warren, M.R., Hong, S., Leung, C., Phitsamay, R. & Uy, S. (2009) Beyond the Bake Sale: A Community Based Relational Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools. Teachers College Record, 111(9), 2209–2254
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