When a School Offers Hope: An Initial Report of Research in a Special School for Behaviour Disordered Students

Year: 2010

Author: Vallance, Roger J

Type of paper: Refereed paper

This paper reports the first findings of an ethnographic research and evaluation project undertaken over two years in a school for behaviour disordered students in Sydney.  These students are at-risk of school exclusion, and have frequently experienced short-term exclusion from more than one school. The John Berne School is the only such school within the Catholic system, and it is privately run by a Catholic Religious Order. This paper reports the experiences and cognitions of a graduating class of students, Yr 10 2009. In 2009 there were 12 students, all but one agreeing to be involved in this research.  This project explores their understandings of their recent history and educational prospects, as well as their reflections on their own personal growth, using pen-and-paper survey and an individual interview. Additionally, this paper includes the reflections of a small group of parents who chose to be part of the research data collection by participating in a face-to-face interview. The interview data were analysed using NVivo 8.  Results from the project indicate that the students marked their development as individuals as well as the achievement of the School Certificate, and expressed high regard for employment or further study. A number of students were able to reflect on significant behaviour changes in the previous couple of years while at this special school. Students identify the central roles of good relationships with staff and a diversified curriculum in helping them towards achievement at school. This research is significant because it focuses on a much under-researched group, Special Schools. Special Schools within the Catholic education system are seldom researched, this study being the first such conducted in New South Wales. This Special School is focused on addressing the educational disadvantage of a marginalised group; students with learning disabilities, behaviour disorders and contingent personal, family and social issues.