‘It was just constant mayhem’: Setting by behaviour in an English secondary school

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Paperpeer-review


With the relentless increase in the number of new kinds of schools, the already fragmented English secondary school system is fracturing further. Since branching points, partitions and choice are all known to contribute to inequalities, there is a pressing need to fully understand the roots of marginalisation. This ethnography addresses the experience of marginalisation of a small group of secondary school students, giving them a voice as a way of understanding the triggers and effects of disengagement from mainstream education. These participants have all spent some time in a withdrawal-unit, most commonly following a period of sustained low-level disruption. The research is primarily based on semi-structured interviews, with some participant observation and small group teaching undertaken by the researcher within this unit. The data is analysed using grounded theory techniques and the emergent categories indicate a range of factors that students perceive as fuelling marginalisation within the secondary education system. Some emergent themes touch on in-school structures, which divide or group students. The focus here is on one such factor - setting by behaviour - which students cite as the reason for their allocation to and movement between sets. While close monitoring of setting policy in practice may alleviate this source of marginalisation, to really take the students’ experience seriously, entails moving beyond reforms and adaptations, to think about education differently. What is needed to tackle this marginalisation is to eliminate setting, as part of a wider shift to a radically comprehensive education system structure.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 24 Apr 2019
EventBSA Annual Conference 2019: Challenging Social Hierarchies and Inequalities -
Duration: 24 Apr 201926 Apr 2019


ConferenceBSA Annual Conference 2019


Dive into the research topics of '‘It was just constant mayhem’: Setting by behaviour in an English secondary school'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this