Friday, 3 January 2014

The voices of high achieving Turkish-speaking (EAL) students in a British Secondary School

This assignment presents a small scale case study of the education experiences of Turkish speaking high ability students with English as an additional language (EAL) in a school in London together with my own reflections of carrying out the research as a beginning researcher.
When Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2011:105) wrote about what gives a rise to a research project, they stated  that some research projects may begin with an area of interest or personal experience that researchers may have been wanting to investigate.’   
Edwards and Talbot (1999:3) in Blaxter, Hughes and Tight (2010:22) recommended that researchers should be selfish and focus on what interests them.
I wanted to investigate the experiences of high achieving Turkish speaking students in British Secondary Schools because as a Turkish speaking- EAL co-ordinator in a secondary state school in London, I have read many reports about underachieving Turkish speaking students, but no reports about high achievers. I believed that to investigate the factors contributing high achievement may be more useful for education practitioners, schools and parents enabling them to raise the attainment and achievement of EAL students.
Two key studies informed my investigation:
Assessing Maths National Curriculum Education through a Bilingual Environment (AMEBE) which is the first socio-linguistic investigation of language use in a bilingual Turkish/ English Maths lesson in secondary schools in the UK (state the Author, 2010). It aimed to improve the achievement and attainment of Turkish speaking students in Maths lessons.
The more recent report by Issa, Allen and Ross (2008) was called ‘Young people’s educational attainment in London’s Turkish, Turkish Kurdish and Turkish Cypriot Communities’.

 I thought being Turkish and speaking the language might give me a better access to the target group of students and their families and I decided to choose a school in North London because many Turkish speaking students attend schools in the area. I chose focus group interviews because I enjoy talking to people.  I contacted the school’s Turkish speaking parents-school liaison officer and was given the approval of the school management through her. I have looked at different research methods and decided to do my research through a focus group. I asked the school to identify successful Turkish speaking students for me from year 9 to 11 and six students agreed to take part in two focus groups to help me to answer the question:
What are the experiences of high achieving Turkish speaking students in British Secondary Schools?

Choosing the research method
According to Arbnor and Bjerke (1997:5) in Blaxter, Hughes & Tight (2010:58)
we can never empirically determine the best approach. This can only be done reflectively by considering a situation to be studied and your own opinion of life. This also means that even if you believe that one approach is more interesting or rewarding than another, we cannot on any general ground. The only thing we can do is to try to make explicit the special characteristics on which the various approaches are based.    
What I would like happening as a result of this research from the point of schools is to change the way teachers look at the Turkish speaking students in the UK secondary schools; to understand how to raise the expectations, how to recommend parents & students constructively also to understand the parents’ and students’ expectations from schools. On the other hand, I would like Turkish speaking parents to realize how to support their children’s learning and how to build constructive relationship with schools to supervise their children in their study life. In addition, the Turkish students should have a handle on how much commitment and effort it takes to achieve and attain in the schools. 
There are advantages of focus group interviews;
Watts and Ebbutt (1987) in Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2011: 432) explain that,
‘such interviews are useful’ where a group of people working together for some time or everyone concerned is aware of what others in the group are saying. The group interview can generate a wider range of responses than in individual interviews.
Bogdan and Biklen (1992:100) in Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2011: 432) add that group interviews might be useful for gaining an insight into what might be pursued in subsequent individual interviews. Arksey and Knight (1999:76) in Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2011:432) suggest that having more than one interviewee present can provide two versions of events – a cross-check – and one can complement the other with additional points, leading to a more complete and reliable record.
There are also disadvantages: Arksey and Knight (1999:76) in Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2011: 432) note that the respondent may dominate the interview. They also suggest that antagonisms may be stirred up at the interview, individuals may be reticent in front of others, particularly if they are colleagues or if the matter is sensitive.    Watts and Ebbutt (1987) in Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2011: 432) add that group interviews may produce ‘group think’, discouraging individuals who hold a different view from speaking out in front of the other group members.  
During the interviews I had quite a limited time of one and a half hour with all the participants and the interviews took place from 9 am to 10 am then from 11am to 11:30am. However the questions that I prepared enabled me to ask the same questions to all the participants without an exception, and so I was able to have the answers from all of them. The way I dealt with when one of the students wanted to dominate the conversation was to remind him/her that I had a very short time with them and in order to give everyone an equal chance, I needed to get the answers within a time limit. 

The school context
The names of the school and the students who took part in my research will not be given in order to maintain their anonymity. The information presented here is taken from the latest OfSTED inspection report which was in November 2011.
The school is a comprehensive and community secondary school. The age range of pupils is 11-19. It’s a mixed school. There are 1385 pupils on the school roll. In addition, there are 192 students in the 6th form. The governing body is the appropriate authority.
The school is a larger than average school, with specialist Arts College status. Just over 50% of students come from a wide range of minority ethnic groups and there are more boys than girls on roll. The students eligible for free school meals are well above the national average. A larger than average proportion of students with special educational needs and/or disabilities attend school. However, proportion of students with statements is below national average.  The proportion of students of who speak English as an additional language is above the national average.
Inspection judgement:
Overall effectiveness: 2 (good)
The school’s capacity for sustained improvement: 2 (good)
Students who speak English as an additional language perform particularly well. Girls perform slightly better than boys but any gap in the rate of progress is narrowing.
The school has a positive relationship with parents and carers. Initiatives including the appointment of a Turkish home liaison officer, and an effective parent staff association, demonstrate the school’s commitment to engaging parents and carers in parents and carers is high.      
The school holds the international School award. It also has Healthy School status as well as the Leading Parent Partnership Award.    
Students’ prior attainment on entry to the school is variable but is broadly in line with the national average. Attainment in 2011 showed a sharp increase, compare with the previous two years, with 68% of students gaining five or more good grades at GCSE level including English and Maths. This represents an increase of 22% compared with 2010.
Choosing this school for my research gave me the opportunity to investigate Turkish speaking boys and girls equally.
Ethical considerations
Blaxter, Hughes and Tight (2010:156) state that there are two key issues are likely to confront the researcher as soon as s/he begins to consider collecting data for the project; access and ethics. Access is about the reliance on adult gatekeepers. If there is a good research relationship with the teacher, it may ensure access. In addition, the setting and the autonomy of children are quite important in order to get the best result;
A researcher should perform or negotiate two identities which balance out the researcher’s own theoretical perspective, the interest of the teachers and of the children (Davies 2008:4.15 in Blaxter, Hughes and Tight (2010:156).
In my research the main gatekeeper was the Turkish speaking parents-school liaison officer and the head teacher but I also had to get permission from the participants’ subject teachers to allow them to attend the interviews and for me to observe some of the lessons.
Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel in A handbook for Teacher Research: from design to implementation state that
‘Ethics is concerned with ensuring that the interests and well-being of people are not harmed as a result of the research being done’ (Location 1470:5296).
Considering the factors above, I asked the school’s Turkish speaking parent-school liaison officer about the ethical codes of the school and she told me to send her an email about my request to get permission from the school management. I emailed her about my research, and she organized the first visit to get together to plan the next steps. The fact that I intended to carry out research about successful students made it easier to get an access to the school. It also made the parents pleased that their children were selected because of their high attainment and achievement. 
Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2011:77) note that
The principle of informed consent arises from the subject’s right to freedom and self-determination. Being free is a condition of living in a democracy, and when restrictions and limitations are placed on that freedom they must be justified and consented to, as in research.’   
Blaxter, Hughes and Tight (2010: 157) also suggest strategies to increase the chances of gaining access such as; asking for advice on the most appropriate to negotiate access, being modest in the requests, making effective use of existing contacts, and those of the supervisor, manager and colleagues, basing the research within the institution to which you need access, offering something back to the research subjects, asking the right time and being as clear as possible about what you are asking for.      

I wrote parent permission letters in Turkish in which I clearly stated that the real names of the school and the students would not be mentioned in the research. In the same letter, I requested permission for recording the interviews.  

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