Considerable international attention has been given to the school composition or "mix" effect. It is accepted almost as a matter of common sense that schools with a high concentration of working-class students face particular difficulties, associated with peer group resistance, and that as a result their overall performance levels are generally depressed. The most recent presentation of this thesis has been offered by Thrupp's (1999) qualitative study linked to the influential New Zealand Smithfield project (Lauder & Hughes, 1999). Thrupp's evidence is subjected to a critical examination using, in a "triangulation" exercise, data from a parallel case study. The analysis does not support Thrupp's central hypothesis. The theoretical and methodological implications of these incompatible findings for qualitative and quantitative research are discussed. A realist strategy able to overcome this dichotomy, which confuses matters of scientific method with matters of data collection technique, is outlined. The paper argues in conclusion that the ability of low-SES schools to realise the capacities of their students is likely to be enhanced if they are empowered to support the effective non-cognitive dispositions of students that drive progress at school.
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