Date of Award

1-1-2001

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Faculty

Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Associate Professor Dr Rod Chadbourne

Second Advisor

Professor Dr Collette Tayler

Third Advisor

Dr Loraine Corrie

Abstract

As a result of a government strategic decision in 1995, a new formation (the PI class) has emerged in Western Australian primary schools and its implementation is now set to accelerate across the state. Unlike multi-age groupings, PI is constructed when there are insufficient numbers of children to run straight pre-primary classes. School staff responsible for developing PI classes have raised a number of concerns. For example, the basis on which PI curriculum is to be built has yet to be promulgated. Also, a formal process for dealing with the ideological differences with respect to pre-primary and primary education has not been articulated. A further concern centres on the exculpation of the early childhood professional community from the decision in introduce PI. As educationists and the community look towards government and employers for guidance and direction, school staff are already involved in the task of constructing, implementing and evaluating PI classes. The stance that school staff adopt towards PI will be critical to its success or failure. This study investigates that stance in terms of the conceptual and behavioural position developed by school staff involved in PI. It does so from a symbolic interactionist perspective. Data for the study came predominantly from interviews with six principles, fifteen teachers and ten teacher-aids at three government and three independent primary schools. Further data was collected from classroom observations, informal conversations with school staff and document analysis. An analysis of this data identified self-interest and educational ideology as powerful influences on the way school staff defined PI. Different definitions of the PI situation led to the construction of different modes of accommodation. For example, a supportive stance was adopted when PI was seen to enhance staff self-interest and student learning; an oppositional stance predominated when PI was seen to impede staff self-interest and student learning. Overall, the findings of the study indicate that PI’s future success is conditional on the provision of educational leadership, appropriately trained staff, mechanisms for resolving philosophical differences, PI curriculum, guidelines, and quality support structures.

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