Supporting disaffected pupils: perspectives from the pupils, their parents and their teachers

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Hong Kong Libraries]On: 11 October 2014, At: 17:55Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: MortimerHouse, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Educational ResearchPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rere20

    Supporting disaffected pupils: perspectives from thepupils, their parents and their teachersGraham Vulliamy & Rosemary Webba Department of Educational Studies, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DDPublished online: 04 Jun 2010.

    To cite this article: Graham Vulliamy & Rosemary Webb (2003) Supporting disaffected pupils: perspectives from thepupils, their parents and their teachers, Educational Research, 45:3, 275-286, DOI: 10.1080/0013188032000137265

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0013188032000137265

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  • Educational Research Vol. 45 No. 3 Winter 2003 275286

    Educational Research ISSN 0013-1881/print/ISSN 1469-5847 online @ 2003 NFERhttp://www.tandf.co.uk/journals

    DOI: 10.1080/0013188032000137265

    Supporting disaffected pupils: perspectives from the pupils, their parents and their teachersGraham Vulliamy and Rosemary Webb, Department of Educational Studies, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD

    Summary

    This paper is based on an evaluation of a three-year Home Office funded projectthat involved placing social work trained homeschool support workers insecondary schools, which were experiencing relatively high rates of pupil disaffec-tion and exclusions. It focuses on process, rather than outcome, data and, inparticular, on key issues arising from an analysis of teachers, parents/carers andpupils perspectives derived mainly from semi-structured interviews. Threethemes are addressed: the school-based casework conducted by the supportworkers; working with families; and homeschool liaison. Support workers wereuniformly valued for their independence, accessibility and availability; skill indeveloping trusting relationships; and sympathetic constructive advice on prob-lems. They were responsible for facilitating, often for the first time, joint parentteacher interaction in the discussion of pupil problems. Senior management andpastoral staff found that support workers saved them much time undertakingtasks especially pupil counselling and homeschool liaison that they wouldotherwise have had to do themselves. Key factors responsible for the success ofthe support workers included their social work, rather than education, back-ground and their location in schools as part of the school staff. The findings arerelated to national policy in England on the potential role of a variety of supportstaff, key workers and personal mentors in schools to combat social and educa-tional exclusion.

    Keywords: pupil support, social work, homeschool liaison, disaffection,exclusions

    Acknowledgements: We would like to thank the Home Office for funding our evaluationof the project Meeting Need and Challenging Crime in Partnership with Schools. Theviews and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent those ofthe Home Office.Address for correspondence: Professor Graham Vulliamy, Department of EducationalStudies, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD, UK: E-mail: jgv2@york.ac.uk

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  • 276 Educational Research Volume 45 Number 3 Winter 2003

    This paper is derived from an evaluation of a three-year Home Office fundedproject Meeting Need and Challenging Crime in Partnership with Schools(19969). The project involved placing social work trained homeschool supportworkers in seven comprehensive schools, in two local education authorities innorth-east England, which were experiencing relatively high rates of pupildisaffection and exclusions. The project had two main aims: to reduce schoolexclusions and to promote a cohesive local authority response to children inneed. Findings specifically related to the outcomes of each of these aims havebeen addressed elsewhere. The project was very successful in reducing fixed-termand permanent exclusions (Vulliamy and Webb, 2003, but less so in its aspira-tions for promoting joined-up interagency collaboration, where the analysisrevealed an important distinction between teachers relationships with school-focused agencies and those agencies external to the school (Webb and Vulliamy,2001). This paper focuses on our process, rather than outcome, data and, inparticular, on key issues arising from an analysis of teachers, parents/carers andpupils perspectives on the role of the support worker. Such an emphasis uponthe subjective experiences of key participants is warranted in order to countercriticisms, such as that made by Coles (2000), that the evaluations of manyprojects addressing social exclusion are only concerned with measurableoutcomes and fail to document the views and changing attitudes of thoseinvolved which are vital to eventual and sustainable success. Moreover, as arguedby Lupton and Sheppard (1999), the complex nature of assessing the outcomesof social interventions is such that analysis of outcome qua process is a helpfulway to enable the separation of perceived immediate gains (particularly as aresult of the process) from more substantive changes and the achievement ofmedium and longer-term goals (p. 25).

    Following the recommendations of the Seebohm Report (1968), whichsuggested that schools would be good sites for preventative social work, therewere a number of ensuing innovations in the early 1970s placing social workersin primary schools (see e.g. Lyons, 1973) and in secondary schools (see e.g. Roseand Marshall, 1974; Johnston, 1975). However, political and economic supportfor such schemes declined markedly in the 1980s. A resurgence of interest in theirpotential from the mid-1990s was fuelled from two sources: first, multi-agencyattempts to combat rising rates of truancy and exclusions (SEU, 1998), andsecondly, evidence of the effectiveness of multifaceted early interventionprogrammes, such as the American FAST Track (Families and Schools Together)Program (CPPRG, 1992). While there have been some broad surveys of suchrecent initiatives in English schools (see e.g. Hallam and Castle, 1999; Lear-month, 1995), published in-depth evaluations of such projects have concentratedon community-based schemes with support staff shared between primary schoolsand a secondary school in a locality (Lupton and Sheppard, 1999; Pritchard,2001). Complementing such studies with one based on the use of social-worktrained support staff in secondary schools has a special relevance in a climatewhere policy-makers are increasingly looking to the potential role of a variety ofsupport staff, key workers and personal mentors both in secondary schools andin the Connexions Service to combat social and educational exclusion (Carvel,1999: DfEE, 2000).

    The project was located in four urban areas within a large, predominantly ruralcounty and in a city in the North East of England. Five full-time, school-basedhomeschool support workers began work in seven schools during the autumnterm 1996. Two of the support workers were each based in one secondary school,

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  • Supporting disaffected pupils 277

    two serviced two schools each and one was based in a 1114 middle school. Theproject schools were selected for inclusion in the project according to indicators,including pupils eligibility for free school meals, the numbers of permanentexclusions and numbers of pupils referred to the Youth Liaison Panel havingcommitted an offence. The situation of the schools was also a criterion forselection for example, two schools admitted a high proportion of their pupilsfrom socially deprived areas and as they were undersubscribed received excludedpupils from elsewhere.

    The job description for the support workers covered the following primarytasks:

    carry out casework with young people (up to a maximum of 10 pupils at anyone time);

    support younger siblings and families of caseload pupils; provide an immediate response to within-school crises that could lead to

    exclusion; help in establishing whole-school policies on behaviour; instigate development work; build effective links with social services, Health and other agencies.

    Over the duration of the project, 208 pupils at risk of exclusion (of which 62per cent were male and 38 per cent female) were in the support workerscaseloads for periods of between one term and three years. Pupils were allocatedto the support workers caseloads by senior management after consultation withpastoral staff predominantly because of their challenging behaviour. This gener-ally included aggression and verbal abuse towards staff and other pupils andinstances of violent behaviour. Three-quarters of them also caused severe disrup-tion in class. Half of them had offended and others were viewed as at risk ofoffending. The other main factors determining caseload allocation were if young-sters had been victims of abuse and if they were perceived as adversely influ-encing younger siblings. The schools differed in relation to whether caseloadpupils were the most difficult and demanding youngsters on roll or pupils withless long-standing and seemingly intractable problems with whom the supportworkers were more likely to be successful.

    Methodology

    A variety of qualitative and quantitative data collection techniques was employedfor the evaluation. These included extended periods of fieldwork observation inschools and classrooms, semi-structured interviews, questionnaires and thecollation and analysis of statistical data from schools, LEAs and the police (fordetails, together with a discussion of theoretical and methodological issuesarising from the evaluation, see Vulliamy and Webb, 2001). Here we will brieflyreport on and assess those data sources that are principally drawn upon in theanalysis reported in this paper.

    Data on teacher perspectives are derived mainly from the 120 interviews whichwere conducted with 86 teachers in the seven schools. Key members of seniormanagement and pastoral staff were interviewed two or more times over the threeyears of the project. These interviews, which were semi-structured and focusedon the project expectations, experiences and interactions with the support

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  • 278 Educational Research Volume 45 Number 3 Winter 2003

    workers, were tape recorded and transcribed. A teacher questionnaire (N = 266)was also administered in the seven schools after the project had been running fora year.

    In the first two years of the project two pupils from each support workerscaseload were selected on entry to the caseload for more in-depth study throughthe duration of the project. The ten pupils were chosen from different schools,year groups and home backgrounds to ensure that a variety of emotional andbehavioural problems, and issues arising from these, were represented. Data forthese in-depth portrayals of caseload pupils incorporated interviews with thepupils and their parents/carers, observation of the pupils in classrooms and inextracurricular activities, focused interviews with the support workers on theirrelationships with such pupils and the collection of relevant documentation onthem. In the second and third years of the project, interviews were conductedwith additional caseload pupils and their parents again, chosen to reflect avariety of pupil characteristics in order to widen the data base on pupil andparent perspectives. Pupils and parents/carers would have been unlikely to haveagreed to the interviews taking place if they had been antagonistic towards theproject. However, willingness on behalf of referred pupils to accept supportworker help was regarded as necessary for progress to be made in addressing theirdifficulties and in the tiny minority of cases where help was rejected, pupils werereluctantly withdrawn from the caseload. While the choice of the sample maytherefore reflect a positive bias towards the work of the support workers, parentalattitudes towards the school varied along a continuum from regarding at leastsome of the teachers as generally supportive to being extremely antagonistictowards the schools concerned. For example, one of the mothers had beenremoved from the school by the police on one occasion for threatening behaviourtowards a teacher and during the period of the interview was refusing to send herdaughter to school.

    The focus of the 22 interviews with the parents/carers of caseload pupils was todiscover whether and in what ways they considered that it was helpful to have thesupport worker working with their child. The interviews took place in theirhomes. In three cases both parents were interviewed together whereas, with theexception of a grandmother with whom one of the caseload pupils lived, all theother interviews were with mothers who were separated from the fathers of thecaseload pupils. The interviews were lengthy, varying from three-quarters...

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