What to expect when (you don't know what) you're expecting: Grounding research in authentic contexts through exploratory case-study research methodology

Year: 2012

Author: Granite, Elizabeth, Graham, Linda

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


In the New South Wales government school sector, students 'whose behaviour can no longer be supported in their home schools' (DEC, 2011, p.1) are referred to schools specialising in intensive behaviour support for an intended maximum of 12 months.  However, a recent government review of behaviour schools and tutorial centres in NSW found that enrolments of up to 4 years in duration were not uncommon and that less than half of the students referred to these settings return to their home schools (Inca Consulting, 2009). While the review recommended a coordinated cross agency approach to youth at risk of disengaging, it provided no suggestions as to how we might unclog the current system and improve the prospects of students already enrolled in behaviour schools. To engage with this critical gap in the research knowledge, this doctoral project aims to examine the programming, pedagogy, practices and perspectives of staff within separate special educational settings for disaffected and disruptive young people (Granite & Graham, 2012). Attention will also be directed to the experiences of students reintegrating to mainstream to understand what pedagogical strategies are used in these students' home schools, what supports are provided to enhance their learning and transition, what views are held by principals and teachers in the receiving school and what, if any, differences exist between settings. This type of investigation demands a flexible yet robust research design that is capable of capturing the diversity of perspectives involved within research contexts characterised by high absenteeism and disengaged young people. Accordingly, this paper  outlines an exploratory multi-case case study research design (Yin, 2003), which is informed by initial findings from an exploratory pilot phase employing case-study school observations and in-depth semi-structured interviews with principals from participating behaviour schools.  The resulting research will lead to better understanding of the differences and nature of transitions between settings providing valuable insight into how each system works, how students who return to their home schools might be better supported, and what can be done to facilitate greater success for those students who remain outside of their home schools.