Skip to content
January 2, 2015 / C H Thompson

Paul Lacey -Hightown Grammar School

HIGHTOWN GRAMMAR Colin Lacey (1970)

The study deals with many aspects of the school:

  • its changing function over the last fifty years
  • its position within the present educational structure
  • the way in which selection and anticipatory socialisation affect the pupils
  • the process of sub-culture formation within the student body
  • staff and staff-pupil relationships

Though the case study is of one school, its significance is not confined to the particularistic concerns of one school. It extends to general problems in sociology and education.

The study was based on Lacey’s belief that the particularistic (study of a single case) can illuminate the universalistic (other similar situations). That is, case studies are generalisable. (This view is not held by everyone.)

In the study, the school was viewed as a social system which was nevertheless embedded in a wider society. In the case study, Lacey lays bare the social mechanisms within the school in an attempt to explain the disappointing performance of working-class boys in grammar schools.

The following sections deal with some of the practicalities and issues that needed consideration during the period of the study

Access: gained permission from the Chief Education Officer and the head teacher. (NOTE: At this period in history, it was not considered necessary to consult the staff!)

Mutual benefit: agreed to ‘repay’ the favour by including some teaching as an essential part of the field work.

Familiarization: spent two months getting to know the way around, meeting and talking to staff and pupils and explaining his purpose and presence in the school.

Data collection:

  • observed teachers giving lessons (at least one by every member of staff) to gain a clearer picture of what was happening in the school
  • spent twelve weeks sessions per week teaching and twelve observing teachers at work which continued over eighteen months
  • engaged staff and pupils in informal conversations
  • during the first term, Lacey sent out two questionnaires to 1st years (Year 7) and 5th years (Year 11) after their exams asking details about values, career aspirations, family background and peer group affiliation
  • material from school records and the local education offices were also used

Lacey also discloses other relevant information

  • he immersed himself in school life
  • he ran the cricket team
  • he went on a number of school trips
  • his own home was very close to the school

Lacey wrestled with a difficult ethical issue during the study

He was aware that certain teachers who struggled to keep control preferred to hold their own private detention classes instead of using the official register book which would have betrayed their difficulties to colleagues. A senior teacher told Lacey that he was sure that some staff were using private detentions but uncertain who it was or how widespread. Lacey decided to remain silent.

A case study within a case study

Within this case study of the school, Lacey includes a number of representative case studies to illustrate the nature of the relationship between a number of a major social factors:

  • social class
  • academic achievement
  • parental encouragement

Main findings

  • the existence of tremendous energy and drive towards academic achievement
  • the demoralisation of academically less successful pupils
  • the school structure over-emphasised competition to the detriment of low achievers
  • a sub-culture of low achievers absorbed too much staff time and energy
  • low income families were more likely to be represented in the low achievement groups

In his summary, Lacey confirms that his findings agree with certain previously held positions and conflicts with other authors’ claims. That is, he sets his own findings within the existing body of knowledge.


  • a system of cross-ability grouping should be adopted rather than streaming
  • sets (differentiation) should be used as a teaching approach within each group
  • some staff should be released from a full teaching load and trained to give support and counsel to under-achievers

Note the thoroughness with which Lacey approached this study. Your study is unlikely to be in the same depth as Hightown Grammar but requires the same degree of careful thought, planning and execution.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: