Gatekeepers, occupiers and ‘homelessness': making visible the invisible walls in school yards

Year: 2013

Author: Sharplin, Erica

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


The seemingly less regulated external spaces in high schools are in fact sites of complex student behaviour and rigorously enforced spatial ‘rules'. Far from being neutral, these spaces are highly classified, with those of value or high-status partitioned, with consequences for access to resources and the developing adolescent identity. Spatial behaviour establishes and maintains hierarchies. The relationship between the status of a space and the students who control it is reflexive, and influenced by cultural and gender norms. Desired recreational spaces aren't always accessible, with access impacted by a range of factors, including social status, overcrowding, adult gatekeepers, and state of repair.  The complexity of the socio-spatial landscape takes time and skill to navigate successfully, adding to the work of new students. This qualitative research takes a middle school focus and a lower socio-economic context, when and where disaffection with school is high. The participants are twenty one year 8 and 9 students in two socio-economically disadvantaged secondary schools in Adelaide. An interpretivist paradigm is used, which assumes a subjective epistemological position and a reality that is very much about perception. The student participants are positioned as active, resourceful people who have the right and capacity to participate in the construction of the narratives of their own lives.  Each participant constructed a photo-narrative about their school's external spaces in response to a researcher-generated set of questions. Each participant then took part in a semi-structured interview to discuss their photo-narrative. Photographs and transcripts of interview were coded according to emergent themes. Coding was also informed by contemporary spatial theories. The findings of this research support recent studies suggesting a relationship between the way students perceive their physical spaces at school and student engagement and connectedness. This research aims to contribute to our understanding of how young people experience school spaces and may inform change to re-engage disaffected middle school students in lower socio-economic contexts.