In order to investigate these processes, our approach is broadly ethnographic with combined qualitative methods. The research is all based in North London localities which have a geography that particularly captures neighborhoods and schools in which there are significant mixes of ethnicity, cultures and socio-economic groups.
Each of these schools has been selected because they attract very intakes which are very diverse in terms of class and ethnicity. In each school we are working with children, who are aged 8-9 and exploring their friendship patterns and practices. We are then establishing relationships with the children’s parents and inviting them to participate in the project and talk to us about their children’s friendships and their own friendships. As well as the children and adults who are connected to the three schools we are talking to the teachers and assistants in the Year 4 classes and to the schools’ head teachers.
Participant Observation: members of the research team will spend time in the schools as well as the surrounding areas, getting to know the characteristics of the localities. This observation will inform the other data collection methods and will further our understanding of friendship patterns across social class and ethnic difference.
Small scale focus group: We are conducting these small-scale group interviews with children (2/3 children per session) based on visual representations (sociographs) of their friendships. We are asking children to discuss their friends, what and where they play with them as well as their descriptions of both positive and difficult points in their friendships and their awareness and negation of difference. Altogether we will interview approx. 60 children over the 3 schools.
Semi-structured interviews: These are being conducted with teachers, head teachers and parents. We aim to explore teachers’ views on the amount of social mixing visible in children’s friendships, the school’s contribution to school-community cohesion, parents’ understanding of and reactions to their children’s friendships, how they and their children react to and manage moments of difference as well as parents own friendship patterns and experiences. By interviewing a range of people we hope to gain a clear picture of friendship processes. We will interview approx. 45 parents, 3 teachers and 3 head teachers over the three schools.
Repeat interviews: A number of parents (21 in total) are being repeat-interviewed to follow-up and further explore key themes and events raised in the first interview as well as examining shifts in friendship patterns.