In trying to clarify my thinking and whilst wondering how I would present my research plans to others I decided to write a power point and a short introduction to the work. Any comments gratefully received.
School Age Girls, Motherhood, Education and Transition
It is widely recognized that it is difficult for young people to express their opinions, needs and feelings verbally (Moss, 2007) This can be more challenging when the young people concerned are a vulnerable and stigmatized group who need a safe, secure and ethical context in which to express themselves and have their ‘voice’ heard. This, small scale, research project aims to allow young women, who became mothers whilst still attending school, to tell of their own lived experience.
There is a large body of literature on how adolescents shape their sense of identity, how they come to grips with their changing bodies, how their cognitive capacity develops, consolidates and how relationships with parents and peers change (Giddens, 1991, Goffman, 1990, Harter, 1990, Head, 1997)
Most strikingly this body of work examines how adolescents become aware of and unite their various selves. Definitions of identity are many, related but with slightly different emphases. Erikson (1950, 1959, 1964, 1968, 1974, 1985) who is best known for his theory of psychosocial development discussed the term as describing a person or social group’s sameness and differences. He states
“A sense of identity means being at one with oneself as one grows and develops: it also means, at the same time, a sense of affinity with a community’s sense of being at one with its future as well as its history or mythology “(1974)
These young women are also often stigmatised due to their educational status. Subsequent governments have seen the solution to the group of young people labeled ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training’ (NEET) as only situated in paid employment.(Percy- Smith, 2000) The fact that this group is not homogenous and in fact comes from very diverse situations has not stopped this ‘one size fits all’ approach. Teenage mothers are an example of one of the specific groups included within the NEET group and therefore can be doubly stigmatised, for having a child and being NEET, even though appropriate educational opportunity may not be available.
The constructions of teenage mothers by professionals, including those there to offer support are often negative, so much so that this support is often seen as coming with a substantial dose of stigma.(Aarvold and Buswell, 1999, Fessler, 2008)
Formby et al. (2010)considered whether motherhood was viewed as a catastrophe by the young women themselves and concluded that this is not the case, rather that it can make good sense for some young parents rather than the opposite as often viewed by policies.
The researchers commitment to this focus has come from eight years of part time working with these young women and taking an innovating role in extending the education offer of the Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) to include 17 and 18 year olds in ‘study programmes’. This provision has developed organically from the PRU’s Head’s recognition and provision for a perceived need. The 2014 policy to have all 17 and 18 year olds engaged in education or training (DFE, 2014) is now affecting this provision as funding for this group is ill defined . This leaves the young women with feelings of not ‘belonging’ in the education system as their needs are not catered for, but censured if they do not take part in an educational offer which rarely meets their needs. Their identity is seen by outside society as neither a fully- fledged mother, or a student, heightening the ambiguity of their position and their experience of stigma and othering.
The research project will explore the lived experiences of mothers who are still taking part in compulsory education and will examine how their lived experience impacts upon their educational experiences.
Ethnography provides a suitable methodological approach to allow the researcher to become closely connected to the group and to investigate the variety of truths which apply to this group’s education, examining this through the lens of their own experience and that of those who work with them.
As a research methodology ethnography is defined by its focus on a single setting, organisation or group. It shows concern with the full range of social behaviours in that setting, with the researcher spending a substantial amount of time in the field and becoming involved in the lives of the group, as Walford (2008), highlights “The predictable patterns of human life are the focus of the inquiry”.
The advantage of including the young women in the design of the research includes the fact that they have the most clear cut knowledge of their situation and needs. They will raise research questions that because of the researcher’s positionality she probably would never identify. It is essential to the research values that the ‘voice’ that is heard is theirs, however it will be necessary to recognize that these young women may not represent all School Girl Mothers (SGM) , that these finding may not be generalizable for this reason. However a wider reading of literature in this field (Arai, 2009, Caldeira et al., 2012, Cater and Coleman 2013, Duncan, 2010) may allow for what Bassey (1999:12) calls ‘fussy generalisations’, these can arise from a specific research project and have some use in a related context.
Encouraging the participants to work creatively is a method which hopes to allow access to different parts of the participant’s awareness, Prosser (2008). In communicating in this more holistic way, the researcher hopes to enhance empathic insight, and help us pay attention to reality in different ways, making the ‘ordinary become extraordinary’ Weber (2008)
A huge amount of the research on issues of teenage pregnancy has examined social exclusion, social support and educational outcomes (Arai, 2009, Caldeira et al., 2012, Cater and Coleman 2013, Duncan, 2010). There is little emphasis on the young woman’s own view of her identity, position in society and sense of belonging, in research from the United Kingdom. Some studies in the USA have explored these issues but often with an emphasis on racial identity (Levy, 2011, Musick, 1993, Sriyasak et al., 2013, Wilson and Huntington, 2006). The researcher hopes to explore the issues of belonging and identity especially in relation to the young women’s own educational expectations.
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