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Research into gap experiences
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Taking a Gap year

Research into gap experiences

Volunteering as part of youth employability - New from the national youth volunteers service V is research by the Institute for Employment Studies on the contribution of volunteering to the development of employability skills, contacts, qualifications etc. The research found that volunteering helps young people to develop their networks and mix with a more diverse social group as well as to develop the skills and confidence that improve their chances of getting a job. Read 'Volunteering: Supporting Transitions'.

'Rallying Together’ – An IPPR research study of Raleigh’s work with disadvantaged young people. 2009

The Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr) is the UK’s leading progressive think tank, Producing cutting-edge research and innovative policy ideas for a just, democratic and sustainable world. In 2008, ippr was commissioned by Raleigh to research the long-term impact of Raleigh’s work with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
This research had two key objectives:
(1) To provide Raleigh with feedback on its work with disadvantaged young people over the past 25 years, and (2) To provide a case study of a practical intervention which has broader lessons for policymakers and practitioners concerned with improving young people’s lives.

Dr. Simon Beames – University of Edinburgh & Dr. Tim Scott – Liverpool John Moores University, ‘Raleigh International Pilot Study Report’. 2008

The investigation’s principal objective was to gain a greater understanding of how expedition participants are influenced by their Raleigh International experience. This pilot study was designed with the understanding that the findings will be used to offer Raleigh International initial information on how they may design expeditions that present their participants with more opportunities for learning. The findings presented below will help the researchers and Raleigh International “fine tune” the questionnaire for use in a more substantial investigation.

Dr. Simon Beames – University of Edinburgh, ‘Overseas youth expeditions with Raleigh International: A rite of passage?’ 2004

This paper examines to what degree a 10-week expedition to Ghana, West Africa may be considered a rite of passage for its British participants. A case study method was adopted to interview 14 British youths two months before leaving on expedition, three times on expedition, and six months post expedition. Thematic analysis was employed to identify positive and negative indicators of van Gennep’s (1960) three stage model of rites of passage: separation, transition, and incorporation. The findings indicated that while the structure of the expedition mimics rites of passage on a superficial level, there are some aspects central to rites of passage that are missing from the overseas expedition experience. Expedition providers may consider adopting van Gennep’s model as a way to‘re-introduce’ young people back into their communities with added responsibilities.

Tara Duncan – Department of Geography, University College London, ‘Livin’ the dream: working and playing in a ski resort’. 2004

Backpacking has become a popular geographical topic. Many studies, however, seem to only look at young people who travel around countries such as Australia to escape entering either further education or the workplace. This paper aims to broaden these definitions by looking specifically at young budget travellers who work their way around the world. Focussing on research undertaken in Whistler, B.C., Canada this paper aims to explore how narratives of self are defined as much by a naivety of the travelling experience as by the desire to have an adventure. The paper will go on to argue that company culture plays a larger role in this self-narrative than many of these young people realise. This will be illustrated by looking at the ways in which their work often becomes performance before going on to discuss the ways in which these young people can either resist these experiences or utilise them in order to enhance their cultural capital. This paper will conclude by arguing that current popular views on backpackers are often too simplistic and that the role of work within these young peoples travels needs to be taken into account in order to understand how these young people see their work and travelling experiences as a way of expanding career and life chances.

Sue Heath – University of Southampton, ‘The pre-university gap year: a research agenda’. 2005

Taking a year out between the completion of ‘A’ levels and the commencement of degree level studies, whilst still a minority pursuit, is nonetheless becoming increasingly common amongst British students. Despite its growing popularity, research into the contemporary gap year is scant. This working paper provides an overview of existing literature in this area and then sets out an agenda for future research based on four broad themes: the significance of the gap year as a form of cultural capital; the gap year as a normalising exercise in citizenship; the growing institutionalisation and commodification of the gap year ‘experience’; and the significance of the gap year to debates on individualisation and 'delayed adulthood'.

Dr. Andrew Jones - School of Geography, Birkbeck College, University of London, ‘Review of Gap Year Provision’.  2004

This review was commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) in the autumn of 2003 to provide a baseline overview of the policy issues surrounding gap year in the UK. In the context of rising gap year participation by young people over the last 15 years, the review originally aimed to provide a comprehensive summary and analysis of the existing literature and research into gap years. The review’s original key aims were:

  • To provide a definitional framework for understanding gap years taken by young people aged 16 to 25 years in a policy context
  • To build up a comprehensive picture of current gap year activity in the UK and overseas including an understanding of access and participation to different gap year opportunities
  • To identify the barriers to undertaking a gap year, especially among groups of young people who do not currently take up opportunities
  • To identify existing standards and/or other approaches for quality assurance of gap year organisations/activities

Bryan Mitchell – University of Birmingham, Gap Year International Volunteer Programmes: Are they irrelevant to the effort to reduce poverty?’. 2007

This study discusses the impact that young, unskilled, short term volunteers have, whilst working on overseas projects designed to reduce poverty in the developing world. The research is based on the results of questionnaires completed by returned volunteers, comments made by ‘key commentators’, and on semi-structured interviews conducted, on location, with Guaymi indigenous people of Costa Rica who worked on local projects, aimed at poverty reduction, with volunteer organisation Raleigh International. The overriding conclusion of this study is that although some organisations using young, unskilled, short term volunteers have major short comings others, when organising and training their volunteers appropriately, not only make an apt contribution towards poverty reduction, but also offer the International Development sector some alternative ideas for working successfully with small, poor, rural communities. Although, the poverty reducing impacts of using these volunteers is limited, the work of the volunteers is far from irrelevant to the local communities and individuals who benefit from their actions.


Kate Simpson, ‘Broad Horizons? Geographies and Pedagogies of the Gap Year’. 2004

This thesis draws together diverse discourses on development, travel and education, and combines this with ethnographic fieldwork with gap year participants in Peru, to offer a critical exploration of the constructed nature of the gap year, locating it both historically and geographically. This thesis explores the inspirations for, and the institutionalisation of, the gap year ‘industry’. It examines the knowledge of, and relationships with, ‘others’ that participants produce through international gap year experiences. A critical pedagogical perspective is used to argue that, currently, despite the educational claims made about gap years, there is a failure to engage with the processes involved in knowledge production across space and time. This failure undermines the radical educational possibilities of the gap year. In order to move debates forward, this thesis explores the potential for a pedagogy of the gap year, arguing that any meaningful social agenda or attempt to engage with global awareness necessitates a pedagogy based on social justice.

Thomas Roberts, ‘Are Western Volunteers Reproducing and Reconstructing the Legacy of Colonialism in Ghana? An Analysis of the Experiences of Returned Volunteers’. 2004

International volunteering is by no means a new phenomenon; however, in recent years there has been an explosion in the number of Westerners travelling to developing countries to engage in volunteer work. The aim of this dissertation is to discuss the possibility that volunteers are reproducing and recreating the legacy of colonialism in Ghana. This research consists of a combination of primary and secondary data, which is used to analyse the volunteers’ perceptions of their relationships with the communities that hosted them, the role that they played in the community and the impact on the volunteers’ future life choices. The research has been undertaken from a post-colonial perspective which allows the analysis to draw comparisons between contemporary volunteers and the colonial administrators of the past.

Pete Allison and Kris Von Wald 'Exploring values and personal and social development: learning through expeditions' Pastoral Care in Education Vol. 28 (3) (2010)

This paper looks at the benefits that travel and overseas experiences can bring to a young person’s development. Allison and Von Wald suggest that expedition experiences often occur at a crucial life stage, when an individual is in the process of developing their own personal values. They suggest that the context of the expedition creates an educational space where the student is able to learn though mistakes, carrying out exploration on both a metaphorical and literal level.

Pete Allison and Simon Beames 'The Changing Geographies of Overseas Expeditions' (2010)

This article suggests there has been limited research into the educational value of the overseas expedition experience. The paper examines six contentious areas within the expedition sector and argues that these areas must be considered and addressed when exploring the educational benefit of an expedition experience. The article covers areas such as access to expeditions, the nature of volunteer work being undertaken, psychological implications of the expedition experience on the young person, issues associated with regulation of expedition practices, challenges of expedition research and the need for both cultural and environmental sensitivity in any overseas fieldwork.

Knowledge network for youth volunteering - A new open network to enable researchers, practitioners and policy makers to collaborate on projects which strengthen the evidence base for volunteering. The Volunteering Knowledge Network, focuses on youth volunteering and connected areas such as social action and employability preparation. The network was launched to coincide with the publication of 'Measuring the Impossible: Making a Start' from the National Foundation of Educational Research. Information on the network can be found at Vinspired.

Bullet More information on current research into gap experiences can be found on the Expedition Research Facebook page here.

· IPPR Raleigh evaluation 2009 PDF
· Beames and Stott 2008 PDF
· Beames 2004 PDF
· Duncan 2004 PDF
· Heath 2005 PDF
· Jones for DfES 2003 PDF
· Mitchell 2007 PDF
· Simpson PhD 2004 PDF
· Roberts MA 2004 PDF
·Allison and Von Wald 2010 PDF

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