14 SES 05.5 PS, General Poster Session
General Poster Session
The research project “Piccole Scuole”, promoted by INDIRE in the context of innovation and improvement actions in isolated school settings, is supported by the Italian Ministry of Education and has been financed since 2016 as a part of the Programma Operativo Nazionale plurifondo (2014IT05M2OP001) “For school – Competences and environments for learning” 2014-2020, under Axis I – “Investing in lifelong skills, education, and learning”. The assumption that a modern country must guarantee quality education in every part of its territory becomes a challenge for that research aiming to support a good level of educational equality, especially in isolated and boundary territories, where small schools are educational and democracy points of reference. One of the tasks of the research is to offer policy makers scenarios and tools to help them understand the complexity of the different contexts(Page, 2006, Comber, Reid & Nixon, 2007).
In Italy, there is neither specific regulation nor a database that defines or identifies small schools. The norms, based mainly on geographical criteria, refer to “mountain schools”, “small islands schools”, and “schools of low-density population territories”. Even the reference literature at a national level dates back to the 60s and focuses mainly on the role that small schools play in the territory and on “qualitative” elements, such as marginality or isolation.
On the other hand, at international level, the identification of small schools relies on stable constructs, considering the number of students enrolled as the main criterion for identifying the educational phenomenon. Harber (1996) reports that small primary schools have less than 70 students and secondary schools (for students aged 11 to 16) have less than 400 students. Spielhofer, O’Donnell, Benton, Shagen & Shagen (2002) identify as “obviously small” a school that has 20 students and “obviously large” a school with 200 students. Arnold (1994) identifies in 90 students the maximum number for a primary small school and 200 for secondary schools. Hargreaves (2009) agrees with Carter (2003) in defining as small primary schools (5-11 years old students) those with up to 100 students and as secondary schools those with 600 to 900 students (Harber, 1995).
In accordance with this approach and taking into account the national legislation on class sizing (DPR 81/2009), the present survey aims to:
- identify, through a quantitative approach, the reference population, in order to build a framework that can help identify specific actions to support schools which are small and distributed in geographically disadvantaged areas;
- Identify the characteristics of the territories where small-sized schools are located, in order to promptly detect the actions, which can effectively support their presence in the territory.
Starting from the data annually collected by the Italian Ministry of Education, the research identified the number of students of individual school buildings as the fundamental criterion for reconstructing the population of small schools. The presence of multigrades, a typical characteristic of many small schools, has pushed the research to investigate the type of correlation between this variable and those related to the territory and sizing of building.
Based on early results and questions, supported by a continuous hermeneutical and investigative process able to integrate the geographic and socio-economic data with school data, it will be possible to draw a more precise picture of the small-schools phenomenon. Such an effort can support teachers in their path of development and professional enhancement, foster the school-territory relationship and improve the inclusion of small schools in a network context. The latter aspect can promote peer-visiting situations, modeling strategies and experiences, twinning and environments of extended learning to improve teaching and to experiment with new configurations of the class space.
The survey uses the standard research methodology (Nisbet, 2008) of quantitative tradition, aimed at dimensioning a specific educational reality starting from the MIUR database. The identification of the small-schools phenomenon and of the sample population comes from the Italian regulation, stating that in primary school a complete education cycle should include 125 pupils ± 10% (i.e. approx. 25 pupils for each of the 5 grades), whereas in the 1st grade secondary school a complete cycle should include approx. 75 students ± 10% (i.e. approx. 25 pupils for each of the 3 classes). These assumptions led the research group to identify as “small schools” those containing a number of pupils per school building within given ranges below which the probability of multigrades can increase and school building can merge: • primary school < 125 pupils • 1st grade secondary school < 75 pupils After identifying the sample, a data matrix has been constructed (Trinchero, 2004), composed of as many lines as the referents under exam (the small schools), and as many columns as the factors taken into consideration for each referent. In particular, in addition to the identification data of the small school, the matrix shows: the number of students, the number of students with disabilities, the number of students in multi-classes, the number of classes, the number of multi-classes, and the geographic location (mountain, island, other). Each row corresponds to a “case” and each column corresponds to a “variable”. The matrix allows the construction of a profile and the picture of the vision of the small schools in quantitative terms. Subsequently, to move from a descriptive phase to an interpretative one aimed at explaining the states assumed by a given factor of the matrix based on those assumed by other factors deriving from the characteristics of the territories they belong to, the working methodology makes use of structured detection techniques with qualitative insights (Brannen, 2017). The semi-structured interview (Trinchero, 2004) aimed at small-town operators and managers of small schools becomes essential to provide an answer to the following questions: What are the characteristics of the territories in which the small schools are located? What are the conditions that foster an effective and sustainable operation? What actions can be implemented? Answering these questions allows to define the identity of the school within the territorial system (EC, 2018), and to deepen relationships between variables and improvement actions for the specific educational reality (OECD, 2017).
The first analysis linked to the profile of Italian small schools allowed to review the extent of the phenomenon. For the first time, the consistency of the diffused presence of small schools in Italy was highlighted. The numbers involved remark a widespread phenomenon, which affects different unidentified and unmonitored contexts. There are more than 3,900 institutions and approx. 12,000 small school buildings throughout Italy, with over 1,600 multi-classes. Over 1,000,000 students are involved, about 26% of all Italian students in the 6-11 and 12-15 age groups. The study suggests to pay attention to those schools that little exceed the considered range, since they could denote situations at risk of a further drop in enrollments. The completion of the analysis will have to identify more precisely the features of the territories involved, in order to suggest specific actions for the connection in territories. The impact that research and experimentation may have or will have is much larger than expected in consideration of the number of stakeholders (students, teachers, families, etc.) involved and the economic and social effects that school quality produces. The context analysis also suggests that, in absence of training and support actions, there is the risk of viewing small schools as a “secondary chance”, not able to ensure a correct educational process for a substantial part of the population.
Scientific References Arnold, R., 1994, Small primary schools today, Slough, NfER. Brannen, J. (2017). Mixing methods: Qualitative and quantitative research. Routledge. Carter, M., 2003, What do we know about small schools?, in National College for School Leadership, Nottingham University. Comber, B., Reid, J., & Nixon, H. (2007). Environmental communications: Pedagogies of responsibility and place. In B. Comber, H. Nixon & J. A. Reid (Eds.), Literacies in place: Teaching environmental communications (pp. 11-23). Newtown, NSW: PETA. European Commission (2018), Final report Study on Supporting School Innovation Across Europe, https://www.schooleducationgateway.eu/downloads/innovation/Innovation%20Study.pdf Harber, C., 1996, Small schools and democratic practice, Educational Heretics Press, Nottingham. Hargreaves, L. M., 2009, Respect and responsibility: Review of research on small rural schools in England, in International Journal of Educational Research, n. 48: 117-128. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/248534821_Respect_and_responsibility_Review_of_research_on_small_rural_schools_in_England Nisbet, J. (2008). What is educational research?. An Introduction to the Study of Education, 319. Spielhofer, T., O’Donnell, L., Benton, T., Shagen S., & Shagen, I., 2002, The impact of school size and single-sex education on performance. Slough: NfER. OECD (2017) Schools at the crossroads of innovation in cities and regions, Paris: OECD Publishing, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264282766 Page, J. (2006). Teaching in rural and remote schools: Implications for pre-service teacher preparation , pedagogies of place, and their implication for preservice teacher preparation. Education in Rural Australia, 16(1), 47-63 Smit, R., Hyry-Beihammer, E. K., & Raggl, A. (2015). Teaching and learning in small, rural schools in four European countries: Introduction and synthesis of mixed-/multi-age approaches. International Journal of Educational Research, 74, 97-103. Trinchero , R (2004) Manuale di Ricerca educativa, Milano: FrancoAngeli Legislatives references Legge del 1 marzo 1957, n. 90. Provvedimenti a favore della scuola elementare in montagna Decreto Presidente della Repubblica 20 marzo 2009, n. 81 Legge 28 dicembre 2001, n. 448, allegato A Decreto interministeriale Organici 2015/16, art. 3
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