Doing Research about Education

By Geoffrey Walford | Go to book overview

3

'Are you a girl or are you a teacher?' The 'Least Adult' Role in Research about Gender and Sexuality in a Primary School

Debbie Epstein1

During 1995-96, I did a small-scale piece of ethnography in a Year 5 class of a London primary school (Edenfield School) 2 to investigate the gendered cultures of the children and how questions around sexuality were involved in the ways gendered identities were put in place. The substantive findings of the project have been published elsewhere (Epstein, 1997; Epstein and Johnson, 1998, especially Chapters 5 and 6) so the purpose of this paper is to consider some of the methodological and ethical questions that arose during the course of the project ('warts and all' as Geoffrey Walford said when he invited me to write this chapter).

The project arose from several different strands of my work and networks. During the early 1990s I had worked on some connected projects around sexuality, gender and ethnicity on which I had collaborated with Richard Johnson (Epstein and Johnson, 1998), Peter Redman (1994) and others in the Politics of Sexuality Group (Steinberg, Epstein and Johnson, 1997). Our work in secondary schools, along with evidence from other researchers, 3 had convinced us that it was necessary to investigate what, at the time, we called 'sexual cultures' of primary schools and some of us (myself, Máirtín Mac an Ghaill and Peter Redman) had put in a bid to the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) for funding for a project which would have followed children from Year 6 into Year 7. This proposal, though alpha-rated did not receive funding, 4 so we were left with the problem of whether to try again and of what to do next.

Second, I had spent approximately 17 years in primary (mainly early years) schools/classrooms and two as a Teacher Adviser in a Local Education Authority (LEA) before giving up my job in 1989 to finish my PhD, so it was some time since I had had regular contact with schools. Since I had left my LEA job just as the National Curriculum was coming in, I felt that not only had I been too long outside the classroom but that the changes in UK schools which had taken place during the 1990s (following the Education Reform Act 1988 and the Education Act 1993) were so vast that my research would be seriously weakened if I did not soon spend some significant time in schools on some basis.

-27-

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