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An ethnographic study of a comprehensive school\ud

By Robert G. Burgess


This thesis is an ethnographic study of a purpose built,\ud co-educational Roman Catholic comprehensive school that\ud was conducted between April 1973 and July 1974, when the\ud researcher took a part-time teacher role in the school.\ud The main methods of social investigation were: participant\ud observation, unstructured interviews and documentary\ud evidence. The study examines the operation of the school\ud from a teacher's point of view. Special attention is\ud given to the ways in which teachers and pupils define and\ud redefine situations within the school. An opening chapter\ud surveys the problems, theories and methods that were used\ud in the study.\ud Part one locates the school in a social context and\ud examines the extent to which its physical division into\ud Houses and Departments influenced the Headmaster's\ud conception of the school and the definitions and\ud redefinitions of the situation that were advanced by Heads\ud of Houses and Departmental staff. There are chapters on\ud the Headmaster's conception of the school, House staff\ud and Department staff, and an analysis of the social\ud processes involved in three social situations. Similar\ud themes are examined in part two in relation to Newsom\ud pupils and their teachers. There are chapters on Newsom\ud pupils and Newsom teachers and the definitions,\ud redefinitions and strategies that were used in classrooms\ud by teachers and pupils.\ud The thesis concludes that the physical division of\ud the school into Houses and Departments influenced staff\ud recruitment, school organization and the ways in which\ud teachers and pupils defined and redefined their activities.\ud The evidence in this study suggests that although\ud different pupils were brought together in a comprehensive\ud school on a single site, it is doubtful whether one\ud school was in operation as the label 'comprehensive'\ud appeared to cover a diverse set of activities. An\ud appendix examines the problems of conducting ethnographic\ud research in a comprehensive school

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