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Title: Exploring the concept of ability :a social constructionist approach
Authors: Greig, Chloe
Issue Date: 2016
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: The systematic review and empirical research presented in this thesis, as part of the required work for the Doctorate in Applied Educational Psychology, explored the concept of ability and how the use of ability grouping methods influences the construction of the pupil. Additionally, the acceptance of ability as a ‘true’ and testable concept is also explored. The systematic review examined research focusing on the experiences, attitudes and beliefs in relation to ability grouping from the perspective of teachers and children. A meta-ethnography was used to offer a new interpretation of such research; to explore how ability grouping influenced the construction of the pupil. Five key themes from the meta-ethnography arose as influencing the construction of the pupil; teachers assumptions and expectations; equal opportunities; self-esteem, inclusion, feeling listened too; justification of ability grouping; and perception of differences – labelling and comparing. The empirical research reports the findings of a small-scale qualitative study that explored parental perceptions of ability and ability grouping. Constructivist grounded theory was used to analyse the transcripts of semi-structured interviews with six parents in the North of England. The emergent theory tells us that parents of children in high sets (re)produced particular discourses and attributions around ability that are similar to the discourses and attributions produced by many teachers, and in a wider sense, by the education system and Government. Conversely, low set parents challenged the current educational system as putting too much emphasis on academic ability, and raised questions around the self-efficacy of teachers in being able to meet the needs of all children. Factors that contributed to the concept and perception of ability were a sense of a hierarchy and pecking order in schools, and parental competition and pride. In exploring the concept of ability, factors that emerged as important to parents were the beliefs that there is dissonance between the education system and current society, and parents feeling isolated. Findings from both the systematic review and the empirical research elucidate the notion that the dominant functionalist view present in education can lead to children being characterised by their perceived ability. Consequently, it highlights the potential role of educational psychologists in challenging assumptions around ability 6 and ability grouping, through acting as a ‘critical friend’, and by engaging with and advancing a socially critical account of education as opposed to the dominant functionalist one. The pieces are linked through a bridging document questioning the nature and acceptance of truth, and an exploration of the concept of ability through changing discourse.
Description: DAppEdPsy Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences

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