Qualitative Longitudinal Research: A case study of an English school that became an academy.

Year: 2017

Author: Overden- Hopev, Tanya, Passy, Rowena

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Qualitative longitudinal research (QLR) in education is associated with exploring social change over time and is open-ended, taking any length of time from months to decades. It can use different types of methods, changing on 'research by research' to accommodate issues that arise during the data collection phase. Thomson and Macleod (2015, p.244) challenged QLR as a definite method, suggesting that it is 'increasingly understood as a sensibility and orientation rather than a specific research design'. The open-ended nature of the research results in QLR predominantly being developed on a case-by-case basis. The length of time involved in QLR result in strengths and weaknesses for this method.
This paper presents educational QLR that explored cultural and structural change in an English secondary school over seven years from 2010 to 2017. The schools' consistent underperformance led to its conversion to 'academy' status in 2010 as part of a development under the Labour administration of 1997-2010. The Labour policy for academisation was designed first, to challenge the culture of underachievement in areas of high deprivation and secondly, to encourage schools to play a part in local community regeneration. The research began at the point of conversion to academy status, and the researchers subsequently visited the school each year to conduct semi-structured interviews with senior leadership, teaching staff and a sample of pupils to investigate their views on continuity and change within the institution and the impact on their own roles. Wider context for the research was provided by annual publicly-available performance data and academy documentation.
This paper considers the QLR research design and some methodological issues that were encountered during the data collection. The researchers consider how results from the QLR can be presented like a 'photograph album', establishing narrative 'snapshots' from the findings to tell the story of this institution's life at particular moments over time. They will show that developing a relationship based on trust is a particularly important ingredient between researchers and participants in QLR if the project is to yield rich and interesting data; and will examine the strengths and weaknesses of this approach for educational research. This paper is relevant to all educational researchers regardless of country or specialism.