The mixed-methods research design
The project is employing a sequential mixed-methods approach to its investigation of the research questions. Within this research design, qualitative and quantitative data collection alternate and culminate in an integrative phase.
The SQTE project consists of three parts, across which a total of five phases are planned:
- Exploratory study
- Phase 1 – qual
- Phase 2 – quan
- Principal study
- Phase 3 – QUAL
- Phase 4 – QUAN
- Phase 5 – integration
Phase 1 and Phase 2
The exploratory study’s first phase employed qualitative methods to the end of identifying the perceptions of various stakeholders as to the central issues relating to school quality in Austria’s education system. It included interviews with school inspectors, headteachers and other individuals with professional responsibility for school quality, and a group discussion with key stakeholders involved in theoretical and practical areas of school quality and teacher training in Austria.
The aim of the exploratory interviews was to determine how the SQTE project might provide maximum benefit to the Austrian school system how best to help headteachers, school inspectors and other stakeholders responsible for quality development incorporate insights from the project into their professional practices. Four interviews took place: the interviewees were an inspector of schools, a headteacher from a ‘new middle school’ (Neue Mittelschule, covering school years 5 to 8), a ministry employee whose remit includes school quality development, and a teacher working as a Teach for Austria Fellow (Teach for Austria is a programme bringing recent graduates into schools with disadvantaged pupil populations, along the lines of the Teach First and Teach for America schemes). Further, this phase included six exploratory interviews conducted in England with the purpose of identifying the issues and topics raised by headteachers when they are asked to talk about school quality. The interviewees were headteachers and members of SLT from two highly effective schools in Oxfordshire. This phase of the exploratory study led to the creation of an interview guide for the expert interviews to take place in the principal study.
It became apparent during this phase of the project that the development of quality in schools located in deprived areas and raising learning outcomes for disadvantaged pupils were central issues for the Austrian context. On this basis, and on that of the literature review additionally conducted in this phase, we decided to place the main emphasis of the SQTE study on quality development in ‘Turnaround Schools’ in London and in England’s designated ‘Opportunity Areas’.
The quantitative part of the exploratory study (phase 2) entailed analysis of school inspection reports and of school performance and improvement data (Progress 8 Score), for the purpose of identifying highly effective and improving schools and therefore forming a basis for the sample on which the qualitative part of the principal study will rest. This link takes you to the collected school performance data of a school in Bradford at which we interviewed several senior leadership team (SLT) members.
Phase 3 and Phase 4
The principal study likewise consists of a qualitative and a quantitative part. The qualitative strand (Phase 3) encompasses interviews with 43 headteachers from highly effective schools in various regions of England. The sample has an emphasis on schools with a high proportion of pupils from disadvantaged home backgrounds, and on effective schools in London and the Social Mobility and Opportunity Areas.
We contact prospective interviewees by email (here is a link to the official participant information sheet sent to the headteachers). All interviewees sign a consent form (see link) prior to the interview. Interviewees decide whether or not to grant us permission to name their school in publications. Interviews take place in the participants’ schools. Thus far, we have visited 17 schools in eight different towns and cities (London, Birmingham, Bradford, Winchester, Tunbridge Wells, Norwich, Oxford and Didcot). As of February 2020, all interviews conducted thus far have been completely transcribed following Drehsing and Pehl (2011) and are currently undergoing analysis.
In line with the mixed-methods research design, analysis of these interviews serves as a basis for forming categories and hypotheses for the construction of a questionnaire which will be sent to a large sample of headteachers across England for the quantitative strand of the principal study (phase 4). This process promises to generate comprehensive qualitative and quantitative findings on the experience of headteachers in highly effective schools and their beliefs about what really works in school quality development. This combination of qualitative and quantitative methods enables the researchers to identify the extent to which a quantitative sample can reflect the dimensions of quality pinpointed in the interviews.
This phase (Phase 5) will commence with reflection and the sharing of ideas with Austrian collaborators and a team of “critical friends” (headteachers, representatives from various sectors of the Austrian education system) as to how practices of school quality development and (head) teacher and SLT training in Austria might benefit from the project’s findings. This process is intended to generate proposals of relevance to school quality development and teacher training practices at various levels of the Austrian education system.
Alongside this specific dissemination phase, we have been sharing insights from the project since its inception, presenting its research design and initial findings from the qualitative study in a range of settings and issuing relatively brief publications aimed partly at practitioners in schools. The publication series ‘School Quality and Teacher Education Snapshots’ has the purpose of making academic findings from school effectiveness and improvement research accessible to school leaders and teachers. The Snapshots appear on the homepage of the SQTE project .