Underachieving locales: A socio-cultural perspective on pupil motivation.

Nicola Birdsey

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter in a published conference proceeding


This paper is concerned with the dominant ‘underachievement’ discourse that has generated considerable interest and been subject to much controversy in recent years. Although levels of attainment are continually improving, there remains a wide variation in school performance in deprived areas. Empirical research has identified that certain locales experiencing significant social and economic deprivation are consistently demonstrating ‘underachievement’ (by failing to achieve National Benchmark Figures). Whilst poor educational attainment and socio-economic deprivation are commonly linked, some schools within these disadvantaged locales are progressing at a greater rate than might be expected, thus challenging the assumption that deprivation and low attainment are inextricably linked. This doctoral study employs a sociocultural lens to explore differential pupil motivation within an ‘underachieving’ locale in Wales, at the institution, classroom, and individual level. It examines the situated learning practices of ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ achieving schools within this locale; comprising eight classroom communities across two Key Stages (four Year 6 and four Year 2 classes). It focuses specifically on the personal experiences and biographies of 64 pupils identified as ‘centrally involved’ and ‘peripheral participants’. Pupil motivation is explored through a detailed examination of national standardised assessments (SATs), questionnaires, observations, interviews, sorting tasks and specifically devised instruments to reveal the social norms and values attached to classroom practice that impact on pupils’ participation. This paper maps the specificities of successful and ineffective practices that contribute to school performance and throws light on how some classrooms can successfully legitimise the knowledge that pupils bring to the learning environment whilst other learning communities impede active participation by failing to recognise the embedded sociocultural history and practices of the child’s outside world.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBritish Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Institute of Education
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2007


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