The York Group, established in 1989, has focused upon action research. A range of topics, particularly the personal and social development of young people and children, has been addressed with the help of staff and young people in their particular residential setting.
The researchers work with the young people and staff to generate data. The potential benefits for the staff include learning about research methods and data handling and having an opportunity to pursue a higher qualification. For the young people, there is an opportunity to contribute to their own welfare and, hopefully, to enhance their inventory of role models and to meet some stimulating researchers.
Having pursued this type of research over many years and having added a training and residential element, it has gradually struck me that there is something which can be distinguished as “action training” and it has many advantages. To demonstrate some of the issues involved, I have to lean largely upon personal experience and for this I apologise.
A Residential Care Example
In the late 1970s, I ran a programme for Newcastle University to evaluate the benefits of a residential setting for 25 middle school aged children in a home. At the same time, I was expected to help train the staff and encourage them to observe and monitor the children. It quickly emerged that the most effective way of carrying out this work and of capturing the interests of the staff, was by “total immersion” in the home.
In fact, I worked with the children as a member of staff for one full day a week for a year before addressing the research problem. One result was that staff training occurred in situ, more or less as and when required and unobtrusively. Over the three years of the programme, this approach proved successful for both children and staff and resulted in a basic model which was sufficiently robust that it has lasted until the present time.
In a totally different setting, a boarding school house, a similar method was applied. A major portion of the Durham University BEd course in residential education was completed in the boarding house of a local school. The students and I effectively carried out boarding duties once or twice a week and were able to discuss issues and events with both staff and young people. At the end of the duty period, we sat as a group, analysed any problems and assessed the performance. As with the research in the children’s home, it was possible for the learners to witness the course teacher in action.
Field Work in Malta
The most obvious example of action training probably occurred during the Durham University BA/BSc geography course. For some fifteen years, I took approximately 35 students for a residential period of almost two weeks to Malta. There we became immersed in a different culture and worked together on a range of projects covering physical, political, economic and social geography.
Again, the students were able to see the teachers in action. We prepared each project carefully together, completed the fieldwork and then discussed and produced a report each evening. It is reasonable to say that for the majority of the students this aspect of their course was the most memorable part and also the one in which they had the opportunity to become geographers rather than students reading geography.
At another northern boarding school, there has been a programme lasting approximately three years in which it has been possible to work with staff and young people to develop effective anti-bullying procedures and restorative practice. The success of the enterprise has been demonstrated by the fact that two members of staff have completed further qualifications in boarding and residential education and many of the young people, of their own volition, attended meetings to discuss the programme and the effects upon them.
At a meeting of the York Group, which included representation from a range of boarding schools and other residential establishments, members of the school catering and cleaning staff attended together with a number of boys. All entered fully into discussion and greatly enhanced a day which would otherwise have been limited to presentations by experts.
Work in a secure unit for a week each year for the last few years has also illustrated the potential benefits of action training. Living with the young people and staff, even for only a week, allows any latent tensions or suspicions to dissipate. Staff training has been unobtrusive, on a one-to-one basis, and one result has been that several have applied for further qualifications. This particular work stemmed from NVQ training (Levels 3 and 4).
NVQ training requires not only theory but the assessment of practice. Therefore, staff members need to be observed in their own setting. However, if the entire class can take place in a children’s home, there are further advantages in that the young people will necessarily be involved and the teachers have the possibility of contributing to their welfare.
A Lesson about Learning
Having conducted a number of classes in different parts of the country over the past four years, it can be concluded that the two which took place in situ, within the residential setting, were clearly the most successful. Not only was it possible for the teacher and the staff to develop closer relationships but statistically, the results were better with, in each case, 100% pass rate.
Suffice it to say, from my experience there are many advantages to be gained from running training courses in situ, within the home in which all the candidates work. There appear to be a number of reasons for this:
i. The students feel at home and can settle to the work effectively and efficiently.
ii. The teachers see the environment.
iii. The teachers can be called upon to demonstrate knowledge and skills.
iv. The children and young people can be involved.
v. The possibility of research can be linked to the training.
vi. Theory can be applied directly.
vii. The candidates can be assessed in situ.
Ewan W Anderson is Emeritus Professor at Durham University.