A constructivist grounded theory study of reformers' experiences of scaling-up Accelerated Literacy
: Legacies of failure and a quest to make a difference

  • Claire Bartlett

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    Providing equitable and effective English literacy education for Indigenous students learning English as an Additional Language and/or Dialect (EAL/D) is a longstanding challenge for education reformers in the Northern Territory of Australia. In 2004, in an unprecedented attempt to change the teaching practices of 700 teachers and rapidly improve the English literacy achievement of 10,000 Indigenous students in 100 mostly remote schools, the Australian and Northern Territory governments committed to scaling-up Accelerated Literacy. By the end of 2009, when funding for scaling-up AL ceased, these metrics were reportedly met however the more ambitious goals of accelerating students’ English literacy achievement and sustaining system-wide change proved difficult to achieve. Although scaling-up English literacy reform is on the rise no research currently exists that examines the process in Australian Indigenous contexts from the perspectives of the reformers involved. Attempts to scale-up education reform elsewhere show that it is a dynamic and multidimensional process shaped by reformers.

    To understand and explain reformers’ experiences of scaling-up AL I adopted constructivist grounded theory methods and the theoretical lens of symbolic interactionism. To collect rich data I interviewed 34 reformers using intensive interviewing techniques and obtained hundreds of documents from the reformers. Through a process of coding, memo writing, diagramming and constant comparison I analysed the data and uncovered the underlying meanings reformers ascribed to scaling-up AL. From this I constructed conceptual frameworks and a substantive theory grounded in the data to explain reformers’ experiences.

    This research found that scaling-up AL was experienced by reformers as a political and ideological quest to overcome the legacies of a history of Indigenous education policy and practice failure, experienced in six evolving phases: 1) Indigenous education, a history of failure?; 2) grasping AL as the solution; 3) scaling-up a pilot project; 4) faltering implementation; 5) improving implementation; and 6) winding down. The phases explain how reformers shaped the process of scaling-up AL as they adapted to contingencies according to their contested beliefs about English literacy approaches for Indigenous students learning EAL/D and conflicting conceptions of scaling-up. This resulted in disunity, and in turn, ineffective implementation. These findings point to a need for collaborative approaches to scaling-up English literacy reform in Indigenous education contexts that cut across all levels of implementation and enable reformers to examine how they shape process.

    Date of AwardAug 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorGary Robinson (Supervisor), Judith Rivalland (Supervisor) & Helen Harper (Supervisor)

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