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Introduction to a dissertation methodology example

Do children need to go to school to get an education or is there a workable alternative that is fit for purpose? With more schools struggling to stretch their budgets and children often having to take their English GCSE three or more times just to attain a C, this dissertation methodology sample is concerned with finding out how to explore the aforementioned question.

However, before we investigate how we can answer the question, it is important to discuss the historical context because it demonstrates how traditional schooling has become the set model used in British schools. It is essential to understand that traditional schooling originated to fit the purpose for the 19th century and with so many children’s futures being at stake, we have to explore whether an alternative is fit for purpose or not.


In the United Kingdom, up until the Victorian era, the very poor did not receive any sort of worthwhile education. It was not until the first education act in 1870 that the government made any substantial commitment to the education of the nation on a national scale. However, it was not until 1880 that an act was brought in that made it compulsory for children to attend school. At that point in our history, attending school would protect children from child labour in the factories and essentially attempt to make them literate. The question is not whether this is still fit for purpose in the 21st century but if the workable alternative is.

Some parents think that taking charge of the child’s education themselves is the best option. In other words, the children do not attend school at all. The parents take full responsibility for their child’s education. In many cases, this takes place during the child’s school years and then they attend college and university. Some choose not to obtain recognised qualifications such as when they are being trained to work in a family business. Throughout this sample, the method of parents taking personal charge of their child’s education will be referred to as Home Education even though a lot of the time the education does not actually take place in the home. Fundamentally, the research in this sample will explore ways that can evaluate whether Home Education as the alternative to school is fit for purpose in 21st century United Kingdom.

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Essentially, the first question is if whether the alternative is legal. Every day, people send their children to school without a thought. They believe that sending their children to school is compulsory by law. Yet the Education Act 1996 states that:

“The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause her or him to receive sufficient full-time education suitable to the child’s age, ability and aptitude, to any special educational needs that he or she may have – either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.”

Essentially, there is a mindset that believes that for a child to get a legal education (education will be defined later in the sample) they have to attend school in a full time capacity. This typically means a state school, a registered private school or prep and boarding establishment. However, the law act 1996 offers an alternative. The reader of the act needs to scrutinise the piece closely because it is easy to miss the operative word ‘otherwise’. ‘Otherwise’ is a generic term that can mean all sorts of education practises. This means that the alternative in this research is legal so it is fit for purpose in that way.

In essence, thousands of children in the United Kingdom never go to school at all. Anyone reading that from a third world country may be indifferent because that is the normal state of play in their environment. However, in the United Kingdom attending school is considered normal and essential to get a good education but how do we measure a good education?

After much research in the review section, it could be suggested that home educating parents are divided on the definition of a good education. Case studies suggest that there are those that measure a good education as passing exams. In other words, even though they have taken another route to educate their child they still evaluate the end product by that of national regulation. However, there is another group of parents that define a good education as producing an adult that is fit for the world. Basically, this means that they earn a living, can socialise with family and friends and live a happy life.

As stated earlier in this sample, the objective of this study is to discover whether Home Education, the alternative to school, is fit for purpose in today’s society. In this piece of research ‘fit for purpose’ suggests the following criteria:

  • The child achieves the best level of academic knowledge and skills to suit their personal ability.
  • The child is happy and comfortable whilst being educated.
  • The child can work and socialise with other people.
  • The child is given the skills needed to function and be productive in their adult life to their best of their individual abilities.

Although it is essential to research if it is possible for a Home Educated child to achieve these criteria without attending school it is as imperative to focus on factors that may make Home Education not as beneficial as it appears to be. Therefore, other research questions have to be answered that affect the parents and other members of the family.

  • Does Home Educating the child or children of the family affect the family budget? If so, to what degree?
  • Does Home Educating a child affect a parent’s promotion or career prospects?
  • If one of the children has special needs, does this affect how much attention the other Home Educated children get?
  • Does Home Education cause disruption or discord within families due to personal beliefs?

Whilst embarking on this dissertation methodology sample, a quantitative method was initially desired but this proved problematic. Ideally, it could be suggested that the most productive way to research how many Home Educated children had achieved national qualifications would be to evaluate the national statistics. However, this is not possible as there is no reliable data and no formally recognised source. This suggests that if there are no statistics of factual data which can be accurately evaluated, there will be no reliable statistics on other criteria that needs to be measured such as happiness or opinions and beliefs. Although both opinions and beliefs can be used in quantitative data, it could be suggested that emotions such as social happiness do not get translated as effectively as when using a qualitative approach. Therefore, this sample suggests the use of qualitative research methods for this particular piece of methodology.

Interviews with Home Educated children

Although distributing questionnaires would be quicker and access more people; this quantitative approach has been discarded in favour of interviews. The reason for this is that although it is easy to send out 200 questionnaires, it is impossible to monitor how many will be returned. Furthermore, when children answer questions on a paper when the researcher is not present it is not obvious if the child has fully understood the question. On the other hand, if the researcher is interviewing the child on a one to one basis they can pick up on confusion over the question through facial expressions and body language. It could be suggested that the best approach for the interviews with the children would be semi structured. This means that the questions will be a mixture of clear, concise ones that elicit simple answers and more open ended questions that allows the interviewee to open up with beliefs and opinions on their education.

It is imperative when performing interviews of this nature that the collecting of the evidence is well prepared. For instance, when interviewing children, it might be more useful to video them (with their parents written permission) or record them. The reason for this is that the researcher is far more likely to lose a child’s attention if they are busy writing notes than they are when with an an adult.

Fundamentally, getting a correct record of the interviews is imperative to the success of the research. Important aspects of the research are:

  • The length of the interview.
  • How the questions were structured. For instance, the first questions were general but became specific as the interview progressed.
  • Keep a record of the techniques for collecting the information and if this affected the interviewee at all.
  • Did the interviewee appear nervous or stressed? It is important to keep a record of how the child appeared to be feeling as that could reflect on how they answered the questions.

Interviews with the Home Educating parents

The objective with the adult interviews is to uncover what effect Home Education has on the parents and the rest of the family. It could be believed that interviewing adults is easier than interviewing children. However, the problem is that it is easier to read the body language and facial expressions of children as opposed to adults who have learned how to hide their emotions. Furthermore, children are not as secretive about personal aspects of lifestyle such as family budget. Therefore, when interviewing adults, the questions have to be more contrived, without being leading, to elicit true answers than when dealing with a child.

Focus Groups

As discussed in the aforementioned point, interviewing adults one to one can be problematic if the adult is holding their true thoughts and feelings back. It could be said that this happens on occasion with home educators because of the bad press that Home Education has often had. However, research demonstrates that when people get together with other individuals that are in the same position as themselves, they often let their barriers down. In other words, they speak truthfully about how they view the situation that they are in. This is why a focus group could be invaluable to someone researching whether Home Education is a fit for purpose alternative to traditional schooling.

Unfortunately, there are disadvantages to focus groups:

  • One person can dominate the whole discussion.
  • The topic can be lost if the group go off on a tangent and seem more interested in another subject.
  • It is often hard to distinguish whether a subject is merely agreeing with another stronger minded individual.
  • Disagreements can break out and the discussion becomes abandoned.

Ultimately, preparation is key when organising a focus group. The focus group for the Home Education topic would consist of between four to six people. The reason for this is that less than four and the discussion could peter out. More than six and people can break off into two groups and two conversations can take place. In that situation it would be impossible to collect usable data.

The discussion questions would strictly be organised to consist of the aforementioned questions about the children and then the questions which cover how Home Education affects family life. It is useful to allow the participants to openly discuss the questions, however, if the subject moves away from the research it is essential to gently bring it back to the topic.

The focus group should be taped or captured on film. It is preferable for another person to be filming the discussion so that the researcher will not miss any subtle relationship struggles between the group. Understanding the hierarchical structure of the collected people is helpful when doing research of this nature. For instance, it helps if you notice that an alpha female dominates the other mothers to suggest that Home Education does not affect the family budget whatsoever and no-one misses out whatsoever on their careers. If this is the case, the researcher can detect false evidence and perhaps do another focus group when the alpha female is not there.

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