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Publication - Dr Lucy Wenham

    ‘It’s horrible. And the class is too silent’

    A silent classroom environment can lead to a paralysing fear of being put on the spot, called-out, shown up, shamed or humiliated.


    Wenham, LJ, 2019, ‘‘It’s horrible. And the class is too silent’: A silent classroom environment can lead to a paralysing fear of being put on the spot, called-out, shown up, shamed or humiliated.’. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, vol 17., pp. 162-187


    With the relentless increase in the number of new kinds of schools in the English education system, the already fragmented secondary school system is fracturing still further. Since branching points, partitions and choice are all known to contribute to inequalities, the urgency to fully understand the roots and effects of marginalisation has never been greater. This ethnographic study sheds light on disengagement by giving a voice to marginalized students. The student participants are pupils who have spent some time being removed from the mainstream classroom setting, to work in a withdrawal unit, most commonly following a period of sustained low-level disruption. The research is primarily drawn from semi-structured interviews, with additional participant observation, as well as some small group or one-to-one teaching by the researcher within this unit. The data gathered was analysed through a process of grounded theory. Analysis of emergent categories indicates that students experience many barriers within the secondary education system. One such barrier is the silent classroom environment. Through poignant first-hand telling of their experiences, these marginalized students exemplify enlightening instances of this silent environment, as either constraining and tedious or as anxiety inducing, either of which may feed into academic underachievement. The current trend for a strict classroom prioritises discipline, spawning many a silent classroom in the process. Reforms promoting a more nuanced approach to behaviour management, the greater application of a weakly-framed approach to learning and teaching, or the more comprehensive embracing of critical pedagogies are needed to mitigate the barrier to inclusion which the current silent classroom presents.

    Full details in the University publications repository