A sociological study of school transfer and the learning of mathematics

Noyes, Andrew (2004) A sociological study of school transfer and the learning of mathematics. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Abstract

This research explores the complexities of children's everyday experience, examining the common threads and distinctive textures of the lives of four children on their educational journeys from primary to secondary school. Whilst the classroom focus of the empirical work has remained with the teaching and learning of mathematics, I have retained a wider view on the overlapping social spaces in which these children are located. Hence this thesis is less to do with mathematics per se than it is concerned with the lives of children and their families, friends and teachers. This research was conducted, and this thesis constructed, in parallel to my transition into academia and so what follows narrates part of my own story of transfer and socialisation. The notion of reflexivity, of understanding my position within the research, is central to the methodological and theoretical work of the thesis and so I will begin with an account of how I have come to be doing this research, at this time, in this place.

Following that personal preface I proceed to review the literature concerning the transfer from primary to secondary school. This is organised chronologically with the aim of tracing the development of the main themes during the last forty years, as well as identifying what is missing in the literature. This lays the foundations for an exploration of the stubbornly resistant, reproductive mechanisms that work to structure the social and educational experiences of children at transfer. This social structuring is part of what I have termed the learning landscape.

Metaphor is a conceptual tool by which we come to understand our world and through the development of a learning landscape metaphor I will theorise the various influences upon the learner of mathematics. This will include a consideration of how government policy, school cultures, family attitudes and so on, affect the learning of mathematics in the classroom. The motivation for such theorisation arises firstly from the supposed failure of educators to ameliorate the problematic aspects of school transfer. Such accusations of teacher failure are made possible by oversimplified, decontextualised theories of the highly complex influences at this educational branching point. The literature reveals that despite decades of research there is still a relative disadvantaging at transfer of those children who come from families with lower capital resources. The second motivation for this research is my deeply held personal concern about poor attitudes to the study and use of mathematics in the UK. The learning landscape metaphor provides some insights into the culturally embedded nature of this problem.

I have adopted a collective case study approach and made considerable use of the theory of practice developed by the French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu. Using Bourdieu's tools of habitus, field and capital I have moved to and from the macrosociological 'landscape' to a study of individual and interrelated lives. At the heart of the thesis the theoretical framework sits together with the empirical case studies and although they will be read sequentially they can only be understood together. Following Bourdieu, the theoretical and empirical cannot be separated without the risk of the practice of theorising becoming more central than the theorising of practice.

Following the analytic case reports, I develop a model that describes four 'aspects' that describe the critical role played by teachers in children's experience of moving between the two schools. These aspects are teachers' subjective views of children's based upon historical, mathematical attitudinal and capital data. These aspects are used, together with the case reports, to explain the mechanisms whereby social inequality is reinforced and how those children endowed with greater capital are relatively advantaged in the transfer.

Finally, I conclude with a discussion of the current state of the mathematics learning landscape and a reconsideration of whether or not school transfer could ever be described as a "fresh start". In addition, I will discuss how my theoretical perspective explains systemic and individual contributions to processes of resistance and reproduction.

NB. This ethesis has been created by scanning the typescript original and may contain inaccuracies. In case of difficulty, please refer to the original text.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Supervisors:Coyle, D.
Faculties/Schools:UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Education
ID Code:376
Deposited By:Business Library
Deposited On:05 Nov 2007
Last Modified:15 Apr 2009 15:10

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