This paper is a critique of F Demie’s ‘Achievement of Black Caribbean pupils: good practice in Lambeth schools’, which is an interpretive study by Feyisa Demie Jan McKenley, Chris Power, and Louise Ishani. The LEA provided the funding for this research project. The aim of the research according to Demie was to “Identify a number of significant common themes for success in raising the achievement of Caribbean heritage pupils”. In order to analyse these achievement rates, Researchers looked at good practise in Lambeth schools. Demie does not provide the reader with any clues in regard to the researchers’ backgrounds and qualifications. One cannot learn from the report under analysis whether Demie et al were LEA employees with a task to prepare a ground for future policy making.
Demie et al hose to study 10 primary and 3 secondary schools in the Lambeth region, where the rates of Black Caribbean performance were reported to be above national and LEA (Local Education Authority) averages. The aim of the investigation was to identify the factors enabling pupils of Black Caribbean origin to achieve high standards in British schools, and to track “significant common themes for success in raising the achievement” (Demie, 2005) of Black Caribbean pupils.
Researchers used a subjectivist and interpretive viewpoint throughout the study. Crotty (1989, p. 83) states that a modern interpretive researcher examines “experience from ‘the point of view’ or ‘perspective’ of the subject”, “experience as people understand it in everyday terms”. Cohen et al. (2000, p. 181) also emphasise that the interpretive subjectivist paradigm attempts “to understand and interpret the world in terms of its actors”.
Demie looked at thirteen case studies, which dealt with a phenomenon of Black Caribbean achievement levels. Examination of the case studies were conducted via a range of data collection techniques including a detailed examination of school and LEA data, documentation, non-participant observation with colleagues from the schools, interviews and discussions with staff, parents, pupils and governors. When utilising these research techniques, researchers applied methods of subjectivist epistemology, which “asserts that an inquirer and the inquired-into are interlocked in such a way that the findings of an investigation are the literal creation of the inquiry process” (Guba & Lincoln, 1991, p. 159).
As Pring (2000, p. 40) states, any case study is based on the premise that “any unit of investigation in which persons were involved could only be understood if the perspectives of those involved (and the interaction of those perspectives) were taken into account”.
The interaction of the various perspectives within the case study framework helped to reveal several key factors that contributed to “the success in the case study schools for raising the achievement of Black Caribbean” (Demie, 2005). As Demie underlines, the case study collection was designed “for all concerned with school improvement”.
Demie (2005) clearly states that the critical investigation tackles upon the concepts of achievement, colour/ethnicity, and the National Curriculum. The conceptual framework of achievement is enriched by the assessment criteria of “language fluency”, “eligibility for free school meals”, “English as an additional language” “special educational needs (SEN) stage”, “mobility rate”, “years in school”, “attendance rate”, and “types of support” (Demie, 2005). The researcher then goes on to link the concept of attainment/achievement to the concept of colour/ethnicity. Colour or ethnicity is conceptualised as a complex state comprising of “heritage, culture and experience”, of “participation in British life”, and of “the influences of location, family links and other factors in developing personal identity” (Demie). Demie (2005) hypothesises that the National Curriculum negatively affects Black Caribbean achievement. She suggests that this is due to a system of teaching, learning styles, standards, curriculum and assessment tools.
Demies research was designed following a ‘tight deductively oriented model’. Huberman & Miles (1998, p. 185) call a design ‘tight’, if “the researcher has good prior acquaintance with the setting, has a good bank of applicable, well-delineated concepts, and takes a more explanatory and/or confirmatory stance involving multiple, comparable cases”. In regard to the research setting, (twenty- two ‘successful’ schools in the Lambeth LEA) successful schools had been identified “from LEA research and statistics data on the basis of academically above average or improving schools with a minimum of 15% Caribbean heritage pupils” (Demie, 2005) before the research team entered the field of the study.
It seems that the original research, which Demie (2005) reports of, sought to cast light upon the following complex issues: indicators, by which it was possible to assess the achievement of school-age children with Black Caribbean ancestry, and elements of the educational environment, which contributed to the achievement of high learning standards in regard to the group selected. It seems that the research questions were defined causally in order to share the elements of “good practice” between all British schools as part of the educational policy.
Demie makes much use of case studies in the research. Stake (2003, p. 86) emphasises that a case study “is not a methodological choice, but a choice of object to be studied”. Demie (2005) specifies that the aim of the research was to identify how various actors of the learning process (the Lambeth LEA authorities, school staff members, pupils, and parents) conceptualised the strategies, which would lead to an improvement in Black Caribbean achievement. However, Demie is not specific in defining the context of the case studies. It is left unclear how the schools might vary in their socio-economic characteristics (size, type of community, funding, and etc.). It is possible that Demie (2005) fails to elaborate on the case studies due to the nature of the research. As Demie (2005) stresses, “The members of the research team acknowledge that the strategies to remove the barriers to achievement for Black Caribbean pupils are designed to combat or counter the impact of poverty, racism, social and economic disadvantage on all pupils in Lambeth”. The final goal of designing a common educational policy, which would combat racial blindness towards educational issues, was more important for the research team than the goal of describing specific case settings.
The research team tracked twenty-two successful schools (in terms of Black Caribbean attainment) in Lambeth on the basis of the 2001 census. The participants of the study were selected on the basis of children academic achievement, acknowledged the LEA as either ‘successful’ or ‘improving’. The most important index for including a school into the pool was the rate of Black Caribbean pupils (a minimum of 15 percent). The initial pool was reduced to 10 primary and 3 secondary schools. It could be argued that 13 schools were too many for this type of investigation. Creswell (1998, p. 63) states that four cases are enough for conducting a multiple case study. He does however indicate that using more than four objects of analysis could be acceptable on the basis that “What motivates the researcher to consider a large number of cases is the idea of generalisability
The pool of 13 case study schools seemed to be the case of ‘critical sampling’ (Wellington, 2000) which “involves selecting carefully chosen cases with certain special characteristics”, e.g. schools deemed to be particularly ‘effective’, or a college reputedly offering ‘good practice’ in a certain area. Researchers used triangulation in relating to their attempts of “seeking multiple sources and multiple methods” (Hays, 2004, p. 228). When the research team examined the census-type data (reports, catalogues, profiles, and statistical reports on tests), they acquired insights for communicative sessions with the participants of the school. Investigators used a chance “to collaborate or elaborate” (Hays, 2004, p. 228) information that was drawn from the structured interviews and discussions on the basis of the census-type data.
Cohen et al. (2000, p. 182) state that a case study “blends a description of events with the analysis of them”. Demie (2005) seems to conceal the ‘nitty-gritty’ of the research at the stages of data analysis. To begin with, the data on the attainment of Black Caribbean pupils across all subjects at KS2, KS3 and General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) levels were collected at the national, LEA and school levels. However, Demie (2005) never specifies what analytic instruments were used in regard to the census data. Demie gives the final analysis of this under the heading “Effective use of data for target setting and school self-evaluation” (Demie, 2005), but it is not clarified how the researchers arrived at this conclusion. Research was also gathered using interviewing and non-participant observation, though Demie does not discuss how these were conducted. Adler & Adler (1998, p. 80) state that observation means “gathering impressions of the surrounding world through all relevant human faculties”. Demie does not explain what these faculties were. The researchers were free to choose among tape-recording, photographing, videotaping, and so on. Demie (2005) leaves the issue of the observational and interviewing techniques unclear at the stages of both data collection and data analysis.
Details of the interpretive process were also left unclear; it is difficult to gain any understanding from the chronological log of data collection and analysis in Demie’s article. Demie’s conclusions (2005) seem to match the implications, which are traced throughout the article in relating to the main findings of the research, except for one point. Demie (2005) writes, “The reasons for bucking the national trends are all to do with education provided in the LEA and schools”. In other words, the researcher confirms the cause-effect relationship between the quality of education that is delivered to pupils in the Lambeth LEA and the outstanding attainment of Black Caribbean pupils. Huberman & Miles (1998, p. 191) state that qualitative research studies are “especially well suited to finding causal relationships” because “they can look directly and longitudinally at the local processes underlying a temporal series of events and states, showing how these led to specific outcomes, and ruling out rival hypotheses”. However, there is no evidence of the study under analysis being longitudinal enough to prove a clear cause-effect relationship between the variables.
Demie (2005) slightly contradicts herself when she declares the existence of cause-effect relationship between the variables of Black Caribbean attainment of ‘good’ practices comprised of seven factors, as she then states that the research on the school policies positively affecting Black Caribbean achievement was incomplete. It appears that it needs yet to address “some clearer areas” (Demie, 2005) in regard to existing policies improving Black Caribbean achievement in British schools. It becomes evident from the “Policy implications” section (Demie, 2005) that the research team had heard criticisms in relating to “the current colour-blind national priorities such as Excellence in Cities and numeracy and literacy strategies and the Ethnic Minorities Achievement programme (EMAG)”. These criticisms were excluded from the “Main findings” section. Also, because it is difficult to discern whom the researchers were working for, it is difficult to say whether they were potentially LEA employees with a task to prepare a ground for future policy making.
Therefore, it could appear that the researchers were unaware of “judicious use of self-disclosure” (Harrison, MacGibbon & Morton, 2001, p. 323) the issue of self- disclosure, or confidentiality, in regard to participants of the research was treated rather flexibly. Demie (2005) reports that “the confidentiality of individual pupils had to be respected, but it is often only when members of a school staff were asked to put a ‘face’ to the strategies, that the dialogue really came to life”. Does this mean that the maintenance of confidentiality in regard to the respondents excludes the possibility of a successful interview? In these terms, what guarantee was there that the dialogue would be honest and reciprocal? Demie et al do not answer these questions, as there is no information how the researchers entered the research field, or how they positioned themselves within of each of the case studies.
Demie (2005) invites the reader to treat McKenley et al.’s research as one being constructed within an interpretive tradition. Denzin (1998, p. 318) states that this paradigm “would emphasize socially constructed realities, local generalizations, interpretive resources, stocks of knowledge, intersubjectivity, practical reasoning, and ordinary talk”. Demie (2005) clearly states that McKenley et al. (2003) conducted their research as a collaborative critical effort, where there was room for subjective conceptualisations, opinions and perspectives. It seems that epistemology of the research under investigation would have been reinforced by the inclusion of notes (e.g., observation, methodological, theoretical and personal) into the analytic framework. Judging by Demie’s article, although the researchers declared their study to be a collaborative effort, they imposed their own system of themes, categories and concepts onto the participants of the study.
In regard to the research design, it is clear that the case study format made the researchers’ quest for the innovative and effective school practices in regard to improving Black Caribbean achievement more targeted and intensive. Demie et al. (2003) collected data by a range of methods, which were appropriate for both explanatory (tests, forecasts, etc.) and explorative (interviews and discussions) goals. Demie (2005) stresses that the rationale for the selection of data was their relevance to the issues of ethnicity (Black Caribbean), achievement and school learning styles and policies In regard to ethics, Demie (2005) clearly articulates that pupils enjoyed confidentiality during interviews and discussions, whereas teachers and administrators agreed to name themselves to make their reflections more trustworthy. Altogether, the process of analysing Demie’s paper has influenced my future practice as a researcher in many ways.
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