During the last months of the project, all participating countries in GOETE have been busy with various activities: first, thematic and comparative analyses were conducted and publications for the dissemination findings were prepared for both the scientific community and for policy and practice circles concerned with children’s and young people’s educational trajectories inside and outside school, at the local, regional, national and European level. One important event in the conclusion of the project was held in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, that took place on March 21st, 2013
The international conference ‚Youth and Educational Disadvantage: Governance of Access, Coping, and Relevance of Education in Europe’
During the conference research results of the GOETE project were presented and discussed with representatives from research, practice and policy from more than a dozen countries around Europe. The conference was organised around the five thematic axes of GOETE – Access, Coping, Relevance, Life Course and Governance.
In the different sessions of the conference members of the GOETE Consortium presented selected findings and discussed their relevance and implications with representatives from the research, policy and practices communities. In what follows, the topics discussed during the conference are briefly introduced.
After a short introduction into the project, its objectives and research design by Andreas Walther, Marcelo Parreira do Amaral and John Litau, University of Frankfurt am Main, Germany, a presentation on ‘Education and the Life Course: decision-making at transition points’ was given by Morena Cuconato from the University of Bologna, Italy. In her presentation, individual educational processes and life course trajectories were discussed in terms of a dynamic and dialectic relationship between structure and agency, that is to say, between institutionalised life course and subjective biography. This interplay becomes evident especially during educational transitions, which represent key life stages for students as they imply a decision-making process that could bring them to the right or the wrong further educational step, influencing their entire educational trajectory and consequently their future social integration and life course. The presentation aimed at showing how structure and agency interrelate in young people’s educational trajectories. The focus was placed on how processes of decision-making regarding progression after lower secondary education evolve differently. According to the dual focus of the GOETE project on educational trajectories and disadvantage, first five different patterns of educational trajectories were presented which emerged from data collected through individual in-depth interviews with students attending the last year of (lower secondary) school located in disadvantaged urban area. Data on students’ educational trajectories and transitions have been analysed according to the criteria of ruptures in their progression from primary to lower secondary school, the destinations taken after lower secondary school and the degree of choice young people feel they have. Second, four constellations of micro-processes of decision-making emerging from the interviews with students after their transition to upper secondary education were outlined. Students’ decision-making is – according to our insights – neither as a merely intra-individual experience nor an automatism translating structural constraint into individual action, but has to be seen as a processual phenomenon which develops in relationships, communication and negotiation and therefore relates to past experiences and aspiration/desires regarding the future, which are structured by different/unequal possibilities and barriers.
Torben Bechmann Jensen, professor at the Department of Psychology, University of Copenhagen, and member of the Advisory Board in the GOETE project, commented and discussed these insights from the perspective of research. This perspective was complemented by Philipp Boetzelen’s feedback that added a policy/practice viewpoint. Philipp Boetzelen coordinates the European Knowledge Centre for Youth Policy within the Partnership on Youth between the Council of Europe and the European Commission.
In a parallel session on ‘Access and Accessibility of Education’, Eduardo Barberis from the University of Urbino, Italy, provided an overview of access-related issues coming from case studies, showing in particular how teachers and other educational professionals – seen as “street-level bureaucrats” – can expedite or frustrate aspirations and transitions through discretionary practices that are a very core part of their work. The use of discretion is a constituent part of street-level bureaucracy, including educational professions. However, different types of discretion can be used, with more or less legitimacy: the balance depends on institutional factors (rule of the law, priority of policy problems, existence and clearness of rules), but also on value hierarchies, interest concerns and degrees of control over policy processes by educational professionals themselves, that can lead to a defensive or proactive use of discretion – the first usually closing down access doors, the second usually opening them up.
The first discussant in this session was Pepka Boyadjieva, professor at the Institute for the Study of Societies and Knowledge and member of the General Assembly of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and member of the GOETE Advisory Board, who highlighted the relevance and implications of GOETE findings for research on access to education. Her comments were sided by the remarks by Roger-François Gauthier – who is General inspector of administration of the National Education and Research in the French Education Ministry and consultant for UNESCO as well as for the Council of boards of secondary education in France.
Veronica Salovaara – University of Helsinki, Finland – concentrated on the perspectives of students, parents, teachers and experts in her presentation during the session on ‘Relevance of Education in the View of Different Actors.’ The presentation addressed the question whether education is relevant in contemporary society, and how different actors find education relevant; it also showed how the different educational contexts, i.e., comprehensive and differentiated education systems, affect the perceptions on how education is relevant in society. As pointed out during the conference, education is extremely important in contemporary society, but for the individual not any kind of education is relevant. In countries with a selective system (Germany and the Netherlands), students and parents are aware of the risks with ending up in a certain educational trajectory which decreases the students’ future opportunities. On the other hand, in these education systems, students have the opportunity to enter the labour market. In some countries, full time education is considered as the only feasible option (e.g., Finland and Slovenia). In some differentiated education systems with early selection, a student cannot easily change his or her educational trajectory. Comprehensive education systems seem to provide students with more opportunities to change an already started educational trajectory. In countries with well-developed apprenticeship or work placement training (e.g., Germany and the Netherlands), students may choose to enrol in full time education or enter the labour market after compulsory education. In contemporary societies students with ‘high’ cultural, social, economic and symbolic capital are privileged in schooling and motivation of students is influenced by parental socio-economic class.
Important is also how education is relevant: Education and school has not only an important role in preparing young people for the labour market; there is also crucial socializing aspect and schools are seen to have an important role in decreasing social inequalities. The teachers’ role in influencing students’ perceptions regarding relevance of education is very important in particular for socially disadvantaged students. Because we can find evidence that socially disadvantaged parents have different perceptions on the relevance of education, we need to ask: What is the school’s /teachers’ role if parents do not communicate the relevance of education to their children?
After the presentation, discussants Xavier Bonal i Sarró – who is Professor in Sociology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and member of the GOETE Advisory Board – and Maureen McKenna – who is Executive Director of Education Glasgow city council education services – commented and feedbacked on the findings and recommendations.
The thematic session on ‘Coping with Education’ brought a presentation titled ‘”The blaming game”. When coping strategies encounter problems in the cooperation of schools and parents’ by Silvia Demozzi, University of Bologna, Italy. In her presentation, findings concerning parental cooperation with schools in GOETE case studies were presented: these coping mechanisms involve efforts to cooperate with teachers and other professional staff at school and seek their support in order to overcome educational challenges of children. Further emphasis was placed on educational disadvantaged contexts and cooperation of schools and migrant parents. As discussed in the conference, it was evidenced in our research that, in all the case studies, teachers and parents tend to blame each other for being responsible for students’ achievements in school, especially if their educational performance is low or if they encounter great difficulties in transition processes. Thus the importance of examining the expectations of both sides and why and how they ‘blame’ the other party. Because our study exposes special challenges for the cooperation between schools and parents with a migrant background, the presentation focused a bit more on describing those special cases and offered some recommendations to improve the cooperation between schools and parents.
The discussants in this session were Sally Power – who is a Professorial Fellow at the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University Wales – and Susanne Zander – who works as a research consultant at the Swedish National Board for Youth Affairs and is also a member of the GOETE Advisory Board. Susanne Zander is the coordinator for the cooperation between 6 national agencies and one NGO dealing with young people’s transition to the labour market.
The session on the ‘Governance of Educational Trajectories’ shifted the focus of attention to two different levels: The first level, the high-level governance, was discussed in Yuri Kazepov’s presentation. Professor Kazepov – University of Urbino, Italy – pointed out that over the last 20 years, the concept of governance has been used as a concept to analyse complex interactions and coordinated processes. GOETE has drawn from this analytical toolkit in order to analyse the governance of educational trajectories at multiple scales and taking account of multiple actors and structures.
The presentation focused on two main dimensions characterizing the governance of educational trajectories: multiple scales and multiple actors. In particular, the presentation addressed the role of different scalar arrangements and how the European, the national (or regional) and the local levels interact in an increasingly complex web of relations. Despite the persisting prominence of the national dimension, in fact, an increasing vertical fragmentation takes place with far reaching consequences. This territorial vertical dimension was related to the multiple actors involved at a more horizontal level in an attempt to grasp the different configurations emerging in the different countries involved in the GOETE project. These general trends were contextualized with examples from the eight countries involved in the project and related to: a) access to education, b) the way disadvantaged actors are coping with transitional problems, c) the changing relevance of education and the shifting priorities and, finally, d) the blurring synchronization of education and life course.
In a second presentation, the local level of governance was emphasized in the presentation by Ilse Julkunen (University of Helsinki, Finland) and Patricia Loncle (University of Rennes, France), titled ‘Lessons from Disseminating GOETE findings in local Contexts’. The presentation discussed the dialogic process chosen as part of the dissemination strategy of GOETE and focused on policy makers and practitioners concerned with children’s and young people’s educational trajectories inside and outside school, on the local, regional, national and European level. In the dialogic process, the national teams encountered various groups of people, under various forms and presented GOETE national and or comparative data. The aim was to communicate findings but also to gather these people’s reactions – in total, nearly 2000 people from the different groups were included in the process. The presentation gave an idea of what was done in the framework of the dialogic process (types of meetings, of actors, kinds of discussion, etc.) and also tried to point out some key observations and suggestions of evolution of public action made by the people met during the process.
Frank-Olaf Radtke – University of Frankfurt, Germany, professor of Education and expert in education policy and research-policy knowledge transfer– served as discussant in the session and commented on the findings and recommendations of this thematic axis.
The conference was closed with a Panel Discussion with representatives from policy, practice and research as well as with representatives of stakeholders.
The discussion centred on questions related to countries’ struggle with the issue of educational justice with regards to disadvantaged students; the reform measures considered the most urgent; a radical individualization of teaching as an answer to the difficulties countries face in their struggle for combating educational inequality; related to this last point, the need for an encompassing support system; and not least the visions of the panelists for schooling in 2030. The panelists discussed and feedbacked on GOETE findings and the conditions of the recommendations offered by the research consortium during the session chaired by Andreas Walther (Goethe University, Germany); among the discussants were Philipp Boetzelen (Council of Europe, Brussels), Chris Harrison (European School Heads Association), Paul Hoop (Eurocities, Rotterdam), Sabine Keitel (Hessian Ministry of Education Germany), Daniele Di Mitri (Organising Bureau of European School Students Unions (OBESSU)) and Sally Power (Cardiff University Wales).
After the conference, the GOETE Consortium met to discuss and plan the next steps in concluding the project. Among the most important things to discuss was the preparation for publication of the findings which will address different audiences.