Divorce does not affect educational achievement in children

My aim is to explore whether divorce affects the academic achievement of school children at GCSE level. My research relies on examining this family relationship against the examination achievement of any child involved. Divorce through my G.C.S.E’s wasn’t too big a distraction for me and effected me little at school but with increasing divorce rate its interesting to see how far this is true to others. My aim therefore is to find out if this is the case for the majority or the minority of people in the same situation and find out if other factors contribute to my results.

Monica Cockett and John Tripp’s research in 1994 at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation named ‘Children living in reordered families’ is to this topic as it concentrates to a certain extent on the effect of divorce on educational achievement.

The authors looked at groups of children rather than individuals to gain an overall view of the effect to children generally using a carefully matched sample of 152 children aged nine to ten and thirteen to fourteen. Half the families had broken up one or more times.

The report looks at both the negative and positive aspects of divorce, for example whether the child is better off living in a peaceful environment even if it means the parents are separated.

Cockett and Tripp found that:

* “Children whose families had been ‘re-ordered’ by separation or divorce were more likely than children from intact families to have encountered health problems (especially psychosomatic disorders), to have needed extra help at school…”

This suggests the child suffers at a high level at school due to the disruption of divorce.

Another study conducted on divorce, done by Jaap Dronkers et al, is ‘Parental divorce and children’s education’.

To evaluate the educational consequences of divorce they analysed the educational experiences of 4,513 people he had questioned in1989 as well as their brothers and sisters. The survey asked questions about family situations at around age 14 and upwards. They asked about mother and father’s and occupations, the number of books in the home, and whether their parents had divorced or separated (they also focused on deaths of a parent).

A good extension to my work would be developing one of the more interesting points of the study – the question of whether it is better for the child if parents stay together even if it means living in a constantly disrupted environment.

‘Educational achievement’ would means looking at achievement in relation to different ability groups of children. A grammar school child’s G.C.S.E passes would vary in number from a comprehensive school child’s. At my own school information on people is more readily available to me, through knowing friends backgrounds at home and school and having contact with the target audience, so it will help my sample method to narrow my research to grammar school children.

Trip and Cockett looked at separation and divorce of couples in their study but I will concentrate on the concept of divorce, meaning the legal termination of a marriage rather than increase the complexity of the study and questionnaire.

My main research method would be much the same as Dronkers’, relying on questionnaires to obtain qualitative results. Dronkers sampled a cross-section of 4,513 people (including people experiencing the death of a parent) over the period of five years using in depth interviews. The time available means I would make my focus much narrower using an age range of British children aged 14 to 16 (the G.C.S.E period) and those affected specifically by divorce to concentrate my research.

Given more time and money to conduct a proper research project I would include a larger number sample in my sample to over hundred. I would try to find out how old the person was when their parents divorce, whether the divorce was amicable, the parents’ professions, whether they thought it affected them in their education and if they achieved as well as they thought they would at G.C.S.E’s. The benefit of using a questionnaire is that names do not have to be included so participants have no need to conceal information. It must not be prying; for example, the reason for divorce is not particularly relevant to my research and need not be asked. At the same time it must gather enough useful personal information as possible to reach a relevant conclusion to the hypothesis. A questionnaire is quick as opposed to in depth interviews and concise answers mean the data is more easily operationalised.

My research group is more likely to be willing to quickly fill in a questionnaire than participate in an in-depth interview as it may be easier to answer quick questions on such a subject rather than talk in length about it.

The questionnaire would be given to people in years ten and eleven at grammar schools in the local area, Faversham and Canterbury, to gain a substantial number of responses from nearby sources. Researching in an institution means I could target specific age groups easily by giving questionnaires to the predefined year groups. The questionnaires are also more likely to be completed and handed back if given out in a classroom and given to a teacher, hopefully keeping the results safe.

A problem in my research is finding a consenting sample to complete it. Not everyone has experienced divorce so this restricts my target audience. Some people may not want to talk about such a personal family matter even without including their names. Aiming the questionnaire at a teenage age group means the number of responses coming back will probably be less as returning forms to a teacher often gets forgotten. I will also face gatekeepers of information such as headteachers who determine whether I can conduct my questionnaire in their school. Permission may not be granted due to the nature of my research. A postal questionnaire would pose similar problems with the returning of the data and the cost of paying for envelopes for returns would be very expensive.

The research is time consuming, having to write to schools, getting questionnaires filled, getting them back and analysing them. When carrying out the research I would keep the number of questions to the minimum to gain only essential data.

It is impossible to group everyone as being in one situation as everyone has had different experiences within their family so finding the extent of the disruption to a child is difficult without specifically asking them. This is where an in-depth interview would be more appropriate to find out the state of mind of the child. Functionalists put as stress on the beneficial aspects of the nuclear family staying whole and see that damage through divorce is inevitable to a child. A Marxist view is that the nuclear family suffers an emotional overload between members during divorce which directly

Affects any children. I can only ask if the child’s achievement at school was what she or he had hope for and to what reason they attribute any failure. Ideally, to measure educational achievement official exam results should be analysed for individuals over the period when divorce occurred compared with pervious achievements. Having limited access to such results means I need to go straight to the people who are, themselves, involved.

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