Research Project On Deeper Understanding Of Truancy
The purpose of this research project is to gain a deeper understanding of truancy. To investigate what makes children reluctant to attend school and what ideas they have that would make them participate in education willingly. The sample would consist of sixteen participants, age eleven to sixteen, chosen from eighteen state funded secondary schools in Manchester. This city has been chosen as, according to government figures, it has a higher rate of children missing school than anywhere else in the country (Teaching Times, 2018). Although it is acknowledged that truancy does occur in primary school, secondary schools were chosen to locate participants because, as Attwood and Croll (2006) note, truancy increases as students become older and is more prevalent in secondary schools.
To gain a cross-section of participants and eliminate any factors that could be associated with one specific school, multiple schools of mixed gender, race, background, faith and religious beliefs will be approached. A significant number of schools have been identified to approach in anticipation of any issues surrounding the problem of non-response (Hammersley,2014 p.114).
Realistic sample size for this proposal would be sixteen participants. This would be large enough to allow the researcher to gain in depth information and answers from the children without reaching a point of saturation where answers could become repetitive (Flewitt,2014 p.149).
Gaining access to the participants would involve contacting the gatekeepers of the schools (headteachers), introducing the researcher and informing them of the research proposal and assessing their willingness to participate. They would be asked to identify pupils at their school who have had attendance issues, specifically truancy which has either been resolved or is ongoing and have had unauthorized absence for eight or more days in a school year.
Of those pupils who match the criteria, a short information sheet would be handed out confidentially by the school staff with brief details of the proposed research and requesting their contact details. Interested applicants’ forms would then be collected from the schools and their eligibility would be assessed by the researcher. To ensure a cross section of schoolchildren consideration would be given to gender, age and ethnicity.
Chosen participants and their parents would then be contacted and sent an information booklet outlining the research procedure: main goals, how it will be disseminated, summary of the times and lengths of the interviews, how it will be recorded and the types of questions that the child will be asked. Contact details for the researcher will be given along with venue details, refreshments provided, and travel expenses reimbursed. A confidentiality agreement would also be included along with a parental consent form which would need to be returned in the pre-paid envelope before the research procedure begins.
The location, a community centre, was chosen as a place of neutrality that would not favour or intimidate any participant. Considerations were made for the interviews to be carried out in a school setting, as Alderson (2014 p.97) states that “children are usually far more competent in their real everyday lives”. However, due to the nature of the research and the background of the children involved it was considered that a school setting would be deemed too formal. As they all have an affiliation with truancy a dislike of school premises was deemed highly feasible. It is imperative that the children feel relaxed and comfortable in the environment in order to fully participate in the interview process. A central, easily accessible venue was also deemed important in ensuring that the children could attend the interview.
This qualitative research approach will be conducted with a specific aim in mind, namely to discover truants reasoning for missing school and seeking their opinions on preventative methods. This would culminate in addressing the question: What are the reasons that secondary school children in England truant and what preventative measures can be made to stop this occurring? Therefore, it is important to collect data in a way that will provide in depth knowledge of the perspectives of participants. To achieve this a series of one to one semi-structured interviews will be undertaken. This method will be particularly effective in discovering any complicated and sensitive issues surrounding not attendance of school, enabling the interviewer to probe for information and clarification without being too intrusive.
The interviews will be guided by a small number of open-ended, explanatory questions relating to school experience, relationships with parents, teachers and truancy, focusing on reasons, experiences and recommendations for ways of improving school attendance. As the interviews are semi-structured the researcher will be able to introduce fluidity into the questioning for each individual response which will help to gain a deeper understanding of the issues.
Interviews will be conducted in a private room within a community centre in agreement with the schools, parents and participants involved. The first will last twenty minutes with the main purpose to build rapport between the researcher and the participant, ensuring they feel comfortable enough to provide responsive answers. It will also be used to establish “interviewee’s context” (Flewitt, 2014, p.150) where the children will have the opportunity to talk about themselves and anything they would like to discuss during the interview. This will be followed up a week later by a more in-depth interview lasting approximately thirty minutes. All interviews will be audio recorded with the researcher also taking occasional notes. The participant will also be provided with notepaper and pen. The researcher will inform them that if they prefer they can write down their answer confidentially and post it in a ballot style box situated in the room. On conclusion of the interview, the researcher will leave the room allowing the participant ten minutes of alone time to write down any further information they were reluctant, or forgot, to share and place in the confidentiality box. The box will only be opened once the researcher has fully completed the interviews with all participants.
The inclusion of this ‘practical’ strategy (Bucknall, 2014, p.75) is to appease any concerns that the interview may not be successful in engaging the participant in providing answers. The child may be reluctant to talk or struggle to explain their answer through conversation, they could be disinterested or monosyllabic in articulating their opinions. It is important to acknowledge that this research ensures that children’s voices are heard but equally important, as Clarke (2011) cited in Flewitt (2014, p.145) notes, is the necessity to include voices that are missing that may have been otherwise silenced.
The participant will have been informed prior to the interview that recording will take place and will be carried out discretely. This would allay any concerns that the use of recording equipment could prove distracting for the child. The use of audio equipment during the interviews will allow the researcher to fully engage with the participant throughout the interview. Note taking was disregarded as it could interfere with the natural, conversation style of the interview with details being missed and possibly distorted by the interviewer’s perspective. Providing the participant with the notepaper and the researcher without is also useful in relation to overcoming concerns over power dynamics and recognition of children’s agency. As Kellett (2014, p.24) states “the prospect of children sharing power as co-creators of knowledge becomes more real”.
Incorporating participant observation as part of the interviewing process was considered as an alternative or complimentary approach to the one to one case studies. This ethnographic approach as Punch (The Open University, 2014) discovered with her study of Bolivian children’s lifestyles would provide the opportunity to become involved in the day to day living of the children over a sustained period of time. This ‘deep hanging out’ (Geertz, 1998) would prove insightful in uncovering what truants do when they should be at school and gain a deeper understanding of their beliefs. However, there would be issues surrounding the confidentiality of current truants along with ethical considerations to report truant behaviour to the authorities and parents alike. This approach would also prove very time-consuming and therefore an unrealistic proposition for this proposal.
The audio recordings will be transcribed verbatim and the participant notes retrieved from the confidentiality box will be added with the data input into PC using NVivo software. The researcher will proceed to combine and analyze both sets of data and identify emerging themes by coded words and phrases (e.g. parents, teachers, friends, boring, don’t care.) Similar to the grounded theory approach as used by Smith (2014, p196) during her study of parental involvement in pre-school education categories can be identified that are relevant to answering the research question. This could also be divided into internal and external factors for missing school along with suggestions for stopping truant behaviour. Further examination of the data through discourse analysis will, as Cohen et.al., (2011) suggests, “discover intentions, functions and consequences of the discourse.”
As the data is uncovered it will be continually compared and contrasted with themes that emerged from the previous literary review. When enough data is produced to provide key influences and recommendations to give a new understanding of truancy the results can be collated and disseminated to potential audiences.
From the initial planning stage through to the production of the final study paper completion should be reached within eight months.
The interview questions will be worked and re-written and reconsidered through the course of the project, with the initial formula and structure of the interviews pre-planned one month before any contact is made with schools.
Once the framework for the research has been completed, two weeks will be spent conducting online research to identify suitable schools with subsequent letters sent out to headteachers outlining the proposal.
Three weeks will be given to await response from the schools and to allow for the initial letters to be distributed to suitable pupils. During this time a location will be sourced for the interviews to take place along with compiling the information booklet including consent form that will be sent to the eventual participants. Collection of completed letters from interested pupils will be obtained from all schools and from those returned letters twenty-four possible participants will be identified and the information booklet posted. Waiting for the return of the consent form will be two weeks.
The researcher will then spend the next week making telephone calls to all the interested participants and their parents to introduce themselves, reiterate details that are in the information booklet and ensure their willingness to participate. At this stage, sixteen schoolchildren will be chosen with the remaining placed on standby.
All interviews will be conducted during the weekends over a two-week period. The week between first and second phase of interviews will be dedicated to the start of transcription along with identifying and resolving any problematic areas that may have occurred during the first interviews.
On completion of the interviews, the following two months will consist of full transcription of audio recordings and the ‘confidential’ notes will be undertaken. A full write up of research findings and production of study paper ready for dissemination will take up the final three months.
Before the project begins a formal review and approval by the Research Ethics Committee will be sought. Although often considered over-dominant and bureaucratic (Alderson, 2014, p.91) the sensitive subject matter of this proposal and the children’s involvement deems it imperative in addressing any particular ethical concerns.
This proposal will seek parental consent from the early stages of the selection process with the information booklet detailing the purpose of the study, confidentiality and disclosure and how the results will be shared. This will provide the opportunity to make an informed decision about their level of participation (Conroy and Harcourt, 2009).
Throughout the process, progress reports will be sent to the participants and their parents keeping them updated on the research. The ongoing findings will allow the child to add further comment to their statements should they consider it necessary. The opportunity to speak to a counsellor will also be made available, ensuring any children who experience difficulties throughout the process have support in place.
Anonymity and confidentiality will be adhered to continuously. Fictitious names will be given to all participants in order to protect their privacy as well as assurances made that all audio recordings and transcriptions will be destroyed on completion of the research. A duty of care will be continued once the findings are made public. Ongoing contact will be maintained after the interview, with the researcher providing a telephone and email address encouraging the participant to stay in contact. There will also be provisions made to provide the child with contact details of support services available.