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A-level engagement and achievement in inner London

Littlejohn, Naomi Maya (2022) A-level engagement and achievement in inner London. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004441


Using ethnographic methods, my research investigates the “problem” of A-level underachievement in inner-city London, motivated by professional and personal concern about the consequences of underachievement. Whilst there is a long history and rich field of sociological research considering issues of educational engagement and achievement in relation to class, ethnicity, and gender (e.g. Willis, 2000; Gillborn and Youdell, 2000; Reay, 2006; Archer and Francis, 2007), very little research is focused on A-level students. At the time of starting my research, Inner London had seen dramatic improvements in its GCSE achievement and was the second-best-performing region in the country (out-performed only by Outer London). However, by several measures, it was the worst-performing region in terms of A-level achievement. This chimed with my professional experience in an inner-city London school achieving well above the national average in terms of GCSE results and far below the national average in terms of A-level outcomes. I carried out fieldwork in a school and a sixth form college, each in socio-economically deprived and ethnically diverse areas of inner-city London, and conducted in-depth interviews with 24 A-level students who had previously underachieved or were anticipated to underachieve. I draw on a range of sociological literature to understand my data, including using Bourdieu’s (1986) theoretical framework, whilst also drawing on wider educational literature. I consider a wide range of issues but argue that students’ learning careers and cultural capital are central to understanding their A-level engagement and achievement. My research makes a contribution to the sociological literature on education, drawing attention to the neglected and distinct educational phase of sixth-form.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2022 Naomi Maya Littlejohn
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB1603 Secondary Education. High schools
Sets: Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: Ali, Suki and Savage, Mike

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