Life is a constant flow of discourse, of language, functioning in one of the many contexts that together make up a culture. Language, undoubtedly, is fundamental to the creation and maintenance of institutions and practices. According to Fairclough (1992) discourse is ‘more than just language use: it is language use, whether speech or writing, seen as a type of social practice’.
As Gee (1999: 1) says, human language is essential ‘to scaffold the performance of social activities (whether play or work or both) and to scaffold human affiliation within cultures and social groups and institutions.’ We create our world with words – spoken words and written text. What is said constitutes not only data for analysis but also the basis of the development of hypotheses and conclusions.
In the context of this dissertation, meaningful analysis shall be done of school policy documents arising from the foundress’ letters as well as the Charter, which clearly outlines the principles to be followed by the congregation in question. Similarly, education policy documents such as the National Minimum Curriculum, the LOF, a sample of SEC syllabi and other arising documents shall be analysed in great detail. The aim of doing this is to analyse not just the content of such documents, but the context from which they arise, where they aim to lead their recipients, and the power exercised through such documents and policies.
The concept of power, as formulated by Michel Foucault, recognises individuals as ‘locations of power’ (Foucault, 1980). Power exists between people and within people, as self-discipline. When studying power, one should analyse how it is exercised, and what tools are being used to exercise it. For the scope of this dissertation, the focus shall lie on the linguistic power of various documents and the implied power of the author or the policy maker.
Norman Fairclough refers to power as possibilities created within the social structures in which individuals or groups act. As he suggests, analysing texts is a first necessary step in assessing how power is reproduced and how it changes. He describes discourse (1995: 74) as ‘a complex of three elements: social practice, discoursal practice (text production, distribution and consumption), and text, and the analysis of a specific discourse calls for analysis in each of these three dimensions and their interrelations’.
Paltridge (2012: 32), referring to Johns’ work (2006) argues that the ‘critical framing of texts, then, can help us unpack some of the assumptions underlying the use of language and what the text is aiming to do where we stand back and look at them in relation to their social and cultural values. It also helps remind us of the importance of considering the social, political underpinnings of spoken and written discourse, as well as helping us unpack the ideological thrust of seemingly ordinary, everyday genres.’
Fundamental aspects of the organisation of conversation when analysing interviews and discussions held in focus groups include turn taking, the overall structure of the interaction, sequence organisation, lexical choice, and epistemology. It is also equally important to be prepared to deal with problems in interaction such as problems with hearing or understanding and to question the use and understanding of words used for the interaction.
The turn-taking system is of particular concern in analysing interactions within the focus group interactions so as to see how participants decide who talks, how the flow of conversation is maintained, how gaps are avoided and how overlaps are minimised. This also leads us to examine the ability of participants to identify and seize upon points in the interaction where it is possible and appropriate to take or resume a turn so that the interaction runs smoothly.
As Fairclough (1995: 47) says ‘it is clear that Grice primarily had in mind, when formulating the ‘Cooperative Principle’ and the maxims in the 1975 paper, interaction between persons capable of contributing (more or less) equally; this is the implication of his focus on the exchange of information. But for persons to be able to contribute equally, they must have equal status. Having equal status will presumable mean having equal discoursal and pragmatic rights and obligations’.
Since a lot of institutional talk will take place in the interviews with both school leaders and with teachers, care has to be given to design these well and limit the asymmetrical phenomenon. When analysing what is said, as well as what is not said, the researcher has to consider one’s institutional and social profiles with regards to colleagues and to the interviewee.
Paltridge (2012: 26) says that the ‘way in which language is used in casual conversations, like all spoken interactions, is influenced by the relationship between the people speaking, the frequency with which they come into contact with each other, the degree of involvement they have with each other and their sense of affiliation for each other.’
In transcribing interviews and interactions within focus groups, it is vital to observe wholeheartedly the ethical guideline and procedures agreed with the school, staff and the parents of the students involved in this study. This will definitely involve guaranteeing anonymity. Thus when transcribing the event participants will be given pseudonyms. Also, any references within the transcript that could potentially identify the speakers shall be removed, including any reference to subject areas.
In attempting to answer the research question posed by this dissertation, it is crucial to observe the core principles that underpin rigorous research and a pragmatic overview of the varied approaches to research design, data collection and data analysis that are used within educational research. It is therefore important to understand where I stand and contrast this to others’ views about the nature of reality (ontology), how this can be brought out through the research techniques chosen (epistemology) and the different values (axiology) that may underpin such enquiry. All this must be analysed within the chosen paradigm, the aim of supporting the school and its stakeholders during the implementation of the Learning Outcomes Framework (LOF) and the preparation for the new SEC assessment & examination system in a way that brings to light the conventions and guiding principles of the congregation.