25 SES 13 JS, Citizenship Education and the Child's Best Interest
Joint Paper Session NW 10 and NW 25
A first objective of this paper is to map the areas in which juridification of the educational space is identified by educator subgroups as disturbing the pedagogical relationship between learner and teacher most. This research aims to investigate which juridified (sub)areas of the educational space are identified as generating administrative workload, stress, uncertainty in the decision making process and other unwanted negative effects, and which are deemed to endanger the functioning of the pedagogical relationship.
The second objective of the research is to map the legal literacy of teachers and school leaders in Flemish secondary schools in the aforementioned identified juridified areas. This project will also examine the origins of the (lack of) legal literacy of Flemish teachers in relationship to their initial or in-service teacher training.
This research draws from similar research done in the United States in 2013 by Mirabile, who did a thorough survey of empirical studies done in the USA in this regard (Mirabile, 2013). Mirabile says that "Teachers should understand educational law so that they can both protect the rights and ensure the safety of young people” (Mirabile, 2013: 2). Those who have limited understanding of education law may fail to respond appropriately in critical situations. For example, teachers may hesitate to restrain students who are fighting to avoid personal liability (Schimmel and Militello, 2007). Schimmel and Militello also found that teachers responded correctly to questions regarding students’ rights and teachers’ rights with only 50% accuracy (Schimmel and Militello, 2007). Militello, Schimmel and Eberwein did research similar to Mirabile's but focused on principals' legal literacy (Militello, Schimmel and Eberwein, 2009). Decker, Umpstead and Brady refer to the results of a recent study indicating that "a growing number of educators are either uninformed or misinformed regarding legal compliance issues in today’s schools” (Decker, Umpstead and Brady, 2013). They point out that this is problematic "because school districts that employ individuals who are misinformed or uninformed about legal issues can face serious and expensive consequences such as lawsuits, injuries to students and wasted administrative time. Lawsuits can be costly" (Decker, Umpstead and Brady, 2013). They also comment that furthermore, and aside "from litigation, legal issues often have serious implications for teachers, professors, administrators and students" (Decker, Umpstead and Brady, 2013). Studies with similar findings were conducted in other countries including studies examining the level of school administrators’ knowledge of school law in Canada (Findlay, 2007), Australia (Stewart, 1998). and Malaysia (Fatt Hee Tie, 2014).
Similar research in Flanders has yet to take place, in particular with regards to the legal content of initial teacher training. Despite the fact that the educational field has become heavily juridified and that teachers and school leaders indicate that the legal aspects of their job are time consuming, stressful and are sometimes contrary to their pedagogical reflexes (Verstegen 2012; Vlaamse Onderwijsraad, 2010), empirical research is lacking as to which legal knowledge and which legal skills would be helpful to avert the perceived negative effects of juridification. Nor does empirical evidence exist as to which of those legal skills and knowledge is sufficiently transferred through in-service training.
Methodology This paper employs a mixed methods approach, combining quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis. A first part of the research project consists of a survey conducted in selected schools. This analysis is completed with qualitative data obtained from subsequent focus groups with selected participants. The main research instrument is an online survey that will map both the juridified areas of educational practice and the origins of the (lack of) legal literacy of teachers and school leaders in those areas. The survey includes both closed and open-ended questions. Schools from a diverse nature are selected (public, private, special methods,…) located in the five provinces in Flanders (aim: n=30). Teachers and leaders are selected within the participating schools to reflect the various tracks of initial teacher training offered in Flanders. The survey also includes data on in-service training received by the teachers or leaders, so that the results can be diversified, taking into account the training received by the teacher of leader. The data obtained through the above process is complemented by qualitative data obtained by organising focus groups with samples of the participants (n= 10 with 5 participants, half of them dedicated to teachers, half to leaders, bringing together teachers or leaders who have received similar training in each focus group). Participants will be selected based on (i) their answers to the open-ended questions in the survey, (ii) their willingness to be interviewed, (iii) their initial teacher training program; (iv) the in-service training they received.
Expected outcome This research acknowledges that knowledge of the law will empower teachers and leaders to give the pedagogical sphere its proper place in schools, rather than allow the juridified sphere to take over schools. The above examples of empirical studies suggest that the need for research-based knowledge of teachers' and leaders’ (lack of) legal literacy is clear with a view to teacher training, as well as (on a larger scale) to policy and law drafting, and countering the negative effects of teachers and leaders being un- or misinformed. It can be expected that unnecessary anxiety and paperwork, illegal behavior and litigation may be prevented if school employees are better educated about the law (Decker, Umpstead and Brady, 2013). Teachers should know and be able to apply the legal rules that govern their relationships and activities in such a way that they will create an atmosphere conducive to education and meet the legal and fair expectations of learners. Such teachers and leaders will be empowered and experience a greater sense of security in their professional service rendering. Although data is gathered from a Flemish perspective, the results of this study are relevant on an international level as well. Juridification of the educational landscape is an international phenomenon. The feeling of insecurity of administrative burden that comes with it, as well. Finding ways to improve our teacher training programs in order to deal with this changed reality, is a cross-border concern.
Blichner, L. Chr and Molander, A. (2005). “What is juridification”? Working paper no 14, March 2005. Centre for European Studies, University of Oslo.. Decker, J, Umpstead, G. and Brady, K. (2013). (2013: 2) A Call for Intra- and Inter-Constituency Collaboration to Reduce Legal Illiteracy. Paper read at the Education Law Association Conference held in Denver, CO, 13 - 16 November 2013. Fatt Hee Tie. (2014). A Study on the Legal Literacy of Urban Public School Administrators, Education and Urban Society 46 (2). Findlay, N. M. (2007). Administrators’ knowledge of education law. Education Law Journal, 17; Walsh, M. (2001). School leaders tested on legal knowledge. Education Week, 21. Militello, M., Schimmel, D. and Eberwein, H. (2009). If They Knew, They Would Change: How Legal Knowledge Impacts Principals' Practice. NASSP Bulletin 2009, 93: 27-29. Mirabile, C. (2013). A comparison of legal literacy among teacher subgroups. Doctor of Philosophy dissertation submitted at Virginia Commonwealth University. Ornelis, F. (2001). Juridisering in cijfers. Over examens en de rechter. Tijdschrift voor nderwijsrecht en beleid 4: 345-351. Schimmel, D. & Militello, M. (2007). “Legal literacy for teachers: A neglected responsibility”. Harvard Educational Review, 77(3), 257-284. Van Crombrugge, H. (2012). Pedagogische consequenties van de juridisering van Onderwijs. Impuls 43 (1): 12-19. Verbeeck, B. (2008). Judicalisering van het Onderwijs: Kijkt de rechter voortaan mee over de schouders van de leerkracht? Tijdschrift voor onderwijsrecht en –beleid 2-3: 213-224. Vlaamse onderwijsraad (2010). Meester of meester? Een probleemverkenning over juridisering en onderwijs? Leuven: Acco. Zirkel, P. A. (2006). The effect of law on education: The common ungoodness of paralyzing fear? Journal of Law and Education. 35(4).
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