ERG SES G 01, Inclusive Education
Malta, the smallest country in the European Union has one of the highest rates of early school leaving. In fact, in 2013, Malta’s rate of early school leavers was the second highest in the EU (Early School Leaving Strategy, 2014). Almost a quarter of Maltese sixteen year olds were early school leavers. Spurred by these findings, the Maltese government sprung into action. The publication of the National Early School Leaving Strategy in 2014 (p. 40) by the Maltese Education Department advocated the setting up of an offsite school, which would cater for those students who are disenchanted with mainstream education. It seeks to target students who are interested in pursuing a vocational pathway, and those who were at risk of early school leaving and 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 study is part of my Ph.D research and delves into students’ perceptions of the differences between the education that they got in the mainstream and also in an alternative education provision centre, where the research took place. 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.
At the time when the interviews took place, between October 2017 and July 2018, I was a teacher at this alternative provision centre. My aim was to find out what the students want with regards to their education, and to thus provide an insight into what can be done to decrease the early school leaving rate in the Maltese Islands.
I am interested in this area of study as I have spent more than twenty years teaching disaffected students. Now as assistant head of a secondary school in the southern part of the island, where the catchment area is of students who live in depressed areas, I am more than ever intrigued. This is as I am now in charge of a form group and I come in close contact with my students on a daily basis. I would like to help those students who feel that the Maltese educational system is not catering for their expectations.
This study is one small step to fulfil my wish of providing a better education to such types of students. As far as I know, never did an education professional, working with these types of students, try to carry a preliminary survey on what is the best type of alternative education for the students. What has been carried till now is an external review, by professionals who are unfortunately, distinct, distracted and distant from these students. My approach can have its disadvantages but it has the advantage that besides the preliminary information that I gathered from interviews, I was also a participatory observer. What I can state from this preliminary search is that due to my continuous contact with students, confidence was built up and the students were more than ready to speak the truth in an interview than one interviewed by an external who is detached from their personal realities.
Thus, this research aims to answer the following research question:
How do students who are on the verge of early school leaving, and who have a track record of absenteeism perceive the alternative education provided to them and what are the differences from the mainstream?
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 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 research, I opted to interview a sample of twenty students, using random sampling. At face value, this sample may appear small. But this is a centre with an in-take of 200 students. Therefore, this sample represents 2.5 per cent of the school population, which is normally above the required average for the production of a reliable scientific survey. The interviews with the students within the school were held between October 2017 and July 2018. The persons involved included ten boys and ten girls. Understanding the students’ perceptions is important as these are the ones who can guide the educational policy makers help to structure and implement what the students need to learn to have a better preparation for life (Jahnukainen, and Helander, 2007, Online) . The students come from different parts of Malta and thus, they pursued their mainstream education in the different colleges found on the island. The students were informed about the purpose of the study, and that any information they give was going to remain confidential and anonymous. They all agreed and gave their informed consent. These one-to- one semi-structured interviews were held in an empty classroom at the convenience of the interviewee. The interviews were digitally recorded and were then fully transcribed and analysed for the emergence of topics.
Students feel more comfortable in an alternative provision setting due to nurturing relationships. This fact has been mentioned by Allen-Hardy (2009). In her thesis, she sought to examine the students’ perceptions of an alternative intervention programme (AIP) in Virginia, USA. She also studied the students’ perceptions of the differences and/or similarities between the AIP and other educational settings. She found that none of the students spoke of a nurturing relationship where their needs were a priority and they cited problems at home, in the school and community that led to their disengagement with mainstream education. Another study was that carried by Harper in 2011 in Norway, where respect towards the students in an alternative centre was also mentioned. My research has found that boys are more prone to end in alternative provision due to low income and lack of encouragement at home. This was confirmed by Harper 2011 and also Russell and Thomson, 2011, among others. I have also found that the students appreciate more the smaller classes, as they can get individual attention. The fact that they can have personalised teaching and that the teacher has time to repeat was also widely commended. Students were more engaged with their learning in the alternative centre, in that they were able to choose the options that they wanted to learn. Students’ social background plays an important part in the educational achievement of pupils. This is confirmed by McCluskey et al. In their study done in Wales, they found that 70% of (A)lternative (E)ducation (P)rovision students who participated in a study in Wales are entitled to free school meals which is a clear indication that these students come from low income families. Such students are more prone to absenteeism or early school leaving (McCluskey et al., 2015).
Allen-Hardy, B.B. (2009) A study of the impact of an alternative intervention program on improving student achievement, attendance, and discipline, Richmond, VA: Virginia Commonwealth University. 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]. 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. Harper, A., Heron, M., Houghton E., O'Donnell, S. & Sargent, C. (2011) International Evidence on Alternative Provision (INCA Thematic Probe). (online) Available from academia/International_evidence_on_alternative_pr.pdf [Accessed on 10th December, 2016]. Jahnukainen, M. & Helander, J.(2007) Alternative vocational schooling for the dropped out: students’ perceptions of the activity school of east Finland (online) Available from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233085616_Alternative_vocational_schooling_for_the_dropped-out_Students%27_perceptions_of_the_Activity_School_of_East_Finland [Accessed on 23rd May, 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. 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]. 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 (2014) Early School Leaving Strategy. (online) Available from education.gov.mt/esl/Documents/School%20Leaving%20in%20Malta.pdf [Accessed on 21st November, 2016]. Robinson, O.C. (2013) Sampling in Interview-Based Qualitative Research: A Theoretical and Practical Guide. (online) Available from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14780887.2013.801543?needAccess=true&instName=University+of+Warwick [Accessed on 17th September, 2017]. Russell, L. & Thomson, P. (2011) Girls and gender in alternative education provision in Ethnography and Education, 6 (3), pp.293- 308.
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