Investigating Educational Policy Through Ethnography

ISBN: 978-0-76231-018-0, eISBN: 978-1-84950-210-8

ISSN: 1529-210X

Publication date: 22 April 2003


Meadway School for Girls (not its real name) is a London comprehensive school for girls aged 11–16. I worked there for just under four years as a part-time learning support teacher, with students who had been identified as having ‘special educational needs’. Some of these students also participated in my ethnographic research into the micro/politics of ‘special educational needs’ (Benjamin, 2002). Meadway is, in current terms, a ‘successful school’: relatively high proportions of its students attain examination results at or above normative levels, and it has a low rate of student exclusions. Every year, when the local league tables of schools’ examination results are published, Meadway vies with another local girls’ comprehensive school for top place. This contest for league table precedence is played out on the battleground of percentages of sixteen-year-old leavers achieving at least five passes at grades A to C in the externally-administered General Certificate of Education (GCSE) examinations. These examinations, traditionally regarded as school leaving examinations, measure individuals’ performance on a scale from A (the top grade) to G (the lowest grade), though employers, further education institutions and the media commonly recognise only grades from A to C as passes. Schools’ overall results are collated, and local ‘league tables’ based on the percentages of students scoring five or more A to C grades are compiled and published. In the academic year ending in 2001, just over sixty percent of Meadway’s leavers attained this ‘benchmark’ of externally-recognised success: the school’s best ever score. Such a figure is above the national average, and is well ahead of the National Learning Target of 50% of sixteen-year-olds achieving such a standard by 2002 (DfEE, 1999). In the statutory documentation of school performance, Meadway itself scores an ‘A’ grade when compared with ‘other similar schools nationally’: that is, comprehensive girls’ schools in which over thirty percent of students are eligible for free school meals.


Benjamin, S. (2003), "EDUCATIONAL ‘SUCCESS’ AND THE STANDARDS AGENDA: HIERARCHICAL DISCOURSES IN ACTION", walford, G. (Ed.) Investigating Educational Policy Through Ethnography (Studies in Educational Ethnography, Vol. 8), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 17-45.

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