Secondary schools in disadvantaged areas : the impact of context on school processes and quality
This thesis explores how a disadvantaged context impacts on secondary school organisation and processes, and how this affects quality, as measured by OFSTED inspection. OFSTED data indicates a school quality problem in disadvantaged areas. This is often interpreted as arising from factors internal to the school. Policy interventions have concentrated on generic school improvement measures. However, it may be argued that if poor quality arises from context as well as from internal factors, policy responses should also be contextualised. Earlier work (Gewirtz 1998; Thrupp 1999) has begun to reveal process effects of disadvantaged contexts. This thesis builds on that work by exploring differences between disadvantaged areas, making an explicit link to quality measures, and using wider literatures from the fields of neighbourhood studies and organisation theory to develop an understanding of schools as contextualised organisations. The thesis begins with a quantitative analysis of context/quality relationships, but is principally based on four qualitative case studies. These consider context objectively, analysing socio-economic, market and institutional factors, and also explore staff’s subjective interpretations. Process implications for schools are examined, as are the schools’ responses, in terms of the design and delivery of schooling. These findings are discussed in relation to OFSTED quality measures. The research reveals that the quality problem in poor areas is partly an artefact of the inspection system but also reflects contextual effects. It also finds that there are significant differences between the contexts of schools in disadvantaged areas, and that these are not captured by typical context measures. The study concludes that changes are needed in school funding and inspection to recognise contextual effects, and that specific practices need to be developed to enable school improvement in poor areas. Relying on schools to apply generic ‘good practice’ within existing constraints will not be sufficient to eliminate the quality problem.