An exploration of how the capability of teenage migrants to achieve their long-term educational aspirations might be limited by a country's structures of compulsory schooling.

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An exploration of how the capability of teenage migrants to achieve their long-term educational aspirations might be limited by a country’s structures of compulsory schooling and formal examination assessment.
This paper draws on the capability approach of Amartya Sen, applied to issues of educational structure by Melanie Walker, to explore the extent to which teenage migrants to semi-urban schools in England have the capability and choice to achieve their long-term educational (and hence employment) aspirations.
England has a system of formal educational assessment for sixteen year olds which takes place at the end of a pupil’s period of compulsory education. These examinations, known as GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) examinations, are taken in a range of compulsory and optional curriculum subjects. The subjects and the grades at which these qualifications are gained have strategic importance for subsequent school and higher education choices as these examinations act as a nationally identified foundation for access to further/higher education courses and to many employment routes. Just as achievement at these examinations can serve to open doors to education and employment prospects, so a lack of achievement or a lack of specific subject qualification has the potential to close doors to future education or employment choices.
This paper presents data from student voice research and suggests that migrant teenagers that move to English speaking schools within three years of GCSE examinations may not have the same choice of curriculum subject courses nor the educational opportunity to achieve in these examinations that their monolingual peers have. Looking at the data through the lens of the capability approach, it identifies the following strands as contributing factors to the extent to which a newly arrived migrant might access age appropriate learning: a capability of time to achieve; a capability of autonomy; a capability of knowledge; a capability of learning; a capability of social relations; a capability of school culture; a capability of insight and voice.
The extent to which these capabilities, either individually or in association with each other, affect the opportunity for migrant teenagers to access GCSE courses and to achieve at an age and ability appropriate level at the age of sixteen, raises questions of equal opportunity in the education of migrant teenagers compared to their monolingual English peers. It also raises questions of equal opportunity between migrant teenagers to different schools or, potentially, different geographical areas, as different schools/different areas may be more or less able to support the curriculum learning of their new pupils.
Under achievement among migrant teenagers might be seen to be a combination of the interruption to schooling resulting from the practicalities of migration and resettlement, and a lack of age appropriate English language competence. Indeed, there is substantial research evidence (Cummins, Swain, Cameron, McKenna, Cooke among others) that indicates that a considerable length of time is needed to gain sufficient linguistic competence in a new language in order to achieve academic potential. However, looking at compulsory schooling and statutory examinations through a capability lens, there are indications that within the cultural expectations and assumptions of an educational institution there are additional factors that affect the freedom, choice and opportunity of an individual student. It appears that certain ‘fixed’ staging points for educational assessment may cut across the academic continuum of new migrants and, as a result, migrant teenagers may not have the opportunity to achieve the necessary ‘base layer’ which would provide future opportunities for studying those aspects of science and humanities which lead to individual career choices and career aspirations.
This paper raises questions of the capability of teenage migrants in England to achieve their long term educational aspirations within nationally acknowledged education routes. It prompts colleagues working in other countries and with other education systems to examine their own structures and to identify those aspects which may impede the aspirations of migrant youth to their education and employment opportunities.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusSubmitted - 2015
Event2015 HDCA Annual Conference, Georgetown University: Capabilities on the move: Mobility and Aspirations - Georgetown University, Washington, United States
Duration: 10 Sept 201513 Sept 2015


Seminar2015 HDCA Annual Conference, Georgetown University
Country/TerritoryUnited States


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