03 October 2018
Author: Verity Alexis, Tavistock and Portman NHS trust educational psychology training course
The media and current literature portray white working class boys as educational failures with restricted life chances. To date, no mixed methods research has been conducted to explore these commonly held views.
This study serves as a starting point, taking what we know about achievement and exploring this from the perspective of WWCBs.
A two-phase sequential mixed methods exploratory design was used with purposive sampling. All participants were in key stage 3, recorded as white British, in receipt of free school meals and attending a comprehensive secondary school. Participants were categorised as low or high/average attaining, based on their current attainment levels.
In phase 1, the School Attitude Assessment Survey-Revised (McCoach, 2002) was used to measure participants’ attitudes on five factors known to be associated with achievement. This data was then analysed using an independent samples T-test. Phase 2 included low attaining pupils only and, using semi-structured interviews, explored the boy’s views and beliefs about schooling.
In phase 1, the low and high/average groups did not significantly differ in their academic self-perceptions, attitudes towards school, attitudes towards teachers, goal valuation or self-regulation and motivation. Phase 2 used thematic analysis to explore the interview data of six year 9 boys and identified four over-arching themes: feeling valued in the learning relationship, academic self-perceptions, choosing one’s own path and misalignment.
The quantitative phase results indicated that the academic attainment of the participating white working class boys (WWCBs) was not significantly mediated by factors measured by the SAAS-R, and commonly believed to affect achievement. The findings from the qualitative phase supported these findings and generated alternative factors that highlighted the importance of considering the reciprocal nature of education and the effect of relationships on learning.
The data suggests a unilateral within child view may not be sufficient in understanding why working class boys underachieve.