Date of Award

2012

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Psychology and Social Science

Faculty

Computing, Health and Science

First Advisor

Professor Lynne Cohen

Second Advisor

Associate Professor Julie Ann Pooley

Abstract

The experience of transitioning to boarding schools away from home for Aboriginal secondary school students from regional and remote communities in Australia has not received the attention it deserves (Calma, 2009; Dodson, 2009). The weight of public discourse and a paucity in research provided strong testimony for undertaking the current study. Moreover, it was evident the voice of those Aboriginal students undertaking the experience was absent from this public dialogue and the literature. This qualitative research investigated from a social constructionist perspective how 32 male Aboriginal secondary school students from regional and remote communities constructed meaning and understanding around the experience of studying away from home at five boarding schools located in Perth, Western Australia (WA). While students’ experiences with being away at boarding school were explored, it also investigated how meaning was constructed around the experience of having a child away from home for 11 parents and the experience for 16 staff employed at boarding schools in supporting students. Congruent with the assertions of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC, 2003) this research was supported by an Aboriginal Advisory Group. A narrative interviewing style was used to collect data from student, parent, and staff informants. Thematic analysis of the data revealed three major themes emerged for student informants, these were 1) Decision Making and the sub-themes of Choice-Less Choice and Opportunity 2) Organisational Climate and the sub-themes of School Environment and Belonging, Culture Shock, Homesickness, Identity and Rites of Passage, Code-Switching, Teachers, Academic Expectations, Residential Life, and Friendships and Peer relations, and 3) Relational Change and the sub-themes of Family Dynamics, Friendships at home, and Cultural Connectedness. For parent informants the following major themes emerged from the data 1) Access, Standards and Quality, and the sub-themes of Declining Local Schools, Opportunity, and Worldliness 2) Parental Agency and the sub-themes of Parent-School Connection, Parenting Style, Communication, and Milestones and Siblings, and 3) Cultural Heritage and the sub-theme of Maintenance and Transmission. Finally, for staff informants the following major themes were identified 1) Indigenous Education and the sub-themes of Social Responsibility and Opportunity 2) Academic and Social Determinants and the sub-themes of Culture Shock, Homesickness, Friendships and Peer Support, Literacy and Numeracy, and Prejudice, Stereotypes, and Racism 3) Relationships and the sub-themes of Staff-Student Relationship, Staff-Parent Relationship, and School-Community Relationship. The key findings from each informant group are reviewed. However, to provide a wider discussion of informant’s experiences and constructions of the transition experience, attention is also drawn to meta-themes that were evident across the student, parent, and staff informant groups. The findings of this research are discussed in relation to policy and practice implications pertinent to boarding schools in WA. The strengths and limitations of the current research are considered and future research directions are suggested. This research offers a unique contribution to current understandings of the transition experience to boarding school for male Aboriginal secondary school students from regional and remote communities.

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