Monthly Archives: May 2015

6 Links Between Research and Composing

Written by Kirsty Devaney, PhD student, School of Educationme with ensemble

Some interesting discussions were initiated today after a session about academic writing, lead by Alex Wade. I am fairly new to the word of research but I feel I am starting to fit into this ‘new world’ or ‘field’. For 5 years I trained as a composer at Birmingham Conservatoire – I wrote more music than I did words! I have had to transition from thinking in term of music, to thinking in words, sentences and paragraphs. I had experience of academic writing during my undergraduate studies but my PhD felt like a completely different way of thinking and viewing the world. How would my years of experience as a composer help me get through my 80,000-word thesis?

Upon doing my PhD for over 1 year, I have discovered that there are a lot more similarities between research and composing than I first thought.

  1.  We all have confidence issues

The feeling of ‘not being good enough’ impacts both academics and creatives at various stages in their career. I wrote an article titled ‘Feeling Like a Fraud’ discussing how our preconceptions can increase the pressures we place upon ourselves and how it can impact our own confidence and productivity:

  1. We have to receive negative feedback

Whether you are having a piece of music performed in front of an audience, or sending your article off for peer review, it can be hard to receive negative feedback. We are placing ourselves in a vulnerable position and it can be hard to take criticism on something personal to you. Having five years of 1-2-1 tuition in composing has definitely helped me during my PhD supervision sessions. It is about being able to stay positive and learning how to take advice and feedback.

  1. It is personal 

Whether we meant to or not, our research and writing reflects what is happening in our lives and this is the case for composing too. It may not be conscious decisions but what we create does reflect what is important to us at that moment in our lives. Often we only realise this when looking back on older work and reflecting.

for wards deskIMG_0388

  1. We spend hours on the tiny details

We have to have an obsessive quality to spend hours on what may seem very insignificant to other people but sometimes just changing a word in a paragraph or changing a note in the music can make all the difference.

  1. How we view the world changes

When you are completely involved in something it starts to affect the way you think and perceive the world. When I started composing full-time I started to observe the world in a different way: I would ask myself ‘can I turn that into a composition?’ and I would keep a diary of all my composing thoughts. Now that I have been doing research my question is: ‘how could I research that?’ My diary now has a combination of research questions and compositional ideas.

6.   We need space for individual work but we benefit collaboration 

Time alone can help to solidify our own thinking but collaboration can help develop our thoughts and allow a space to discuss ideas with broaden our thinking. Collaboration as a composer can take many forms such as working across disciplines and working closely with your musicians. Collaboration in research can benefit from cross disciplinary work, discussions with peers and working with your research participants in methodologies such as action research.

Going into my second year of research I am starting to realise how my compositional training can enrich my research and aid the writing of my PhD. Research and writing are both creative processes and they involve discipline, communication, dedication and putting yourself in a position open to criticism.


Exchanging Notes

Written by Dr. Victoria Kinsella, Research fellow in education.

In April 2014, the National Foundation for Youth Music announced grants to support 10 Exchanging Notes projects across England. Since September, each project (a partnership between a school and specialist music provider) has been working with young people at risk of low attainment, disengagement or educational exclusion to see how participation in regular music-making activities can enable achievement of musical, educational and wider outcomes. The 10 projects comprise a wide range of educational contexts, all developing innovative approaches and working with a variety of different musical approaches and styles. This includes; music technology, learning an instrument, singing, group percussion, song-writing, music mentoring, production, performance and musical communication.

Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 23.15.15

I am very excited to be working as part of a team of researchers at Birmingham City University on this longitudinal four year action research evaluation. It is hoped that the results of this project may have great significance to the music education sector to stimulate fresh thinking and support the aspirations set out in the National Plan for Music Education.

Alongside regular visits to the settings, we have already had two national meetings hosted at the University. These meetings have provided a great opportunity to share effective practice, discuss challenges, disseminate early findings and build an exchanging notes community. I look forward to observing the second term of music activities and keeping you updated on its progress

National Meeting at Birmingham City University 2015


Professionalism as a commitment to continual learning

Written by Phil Taylor, MA Education and Maters in Teaching and Learning Course Director, Education, Pedagogy and Professional Studies Co-ordinator

The newly-formed Practitioner Education Research Cluster within the Faculty of Health Education and Life Sciences has begun to share and discuss ideas on professionalism and professional identity. This is bringing together perspectives from across different disciplines and practices, drawing on experience in diverse healthcare and teaching roles. Our initial stimuli for re-thinking professionalism have come from two articles, by Hargreaves (2000) and Stronach et al (2002), which over a decade ago drew attention to debates that are still current and ongoing. While agreeing that notions of professionalism are multiple and difficult to pin-down, some common themes and interesting differences have started to emerge from our discussions. My reflections on this process so far, still in its early days, are written from an educational perspective, though the opportunity to listen to and learn from healthcare experiences has already been invigorating.

First, we have shared the notion that professions do not pre-exist as entities, but arise from occupational groups with common goals, experiences, expertise, qualifications and language. Professionalism entails the acquisition of knowledge and skills specific to an occupation or discipline, but further, application of this expertise to contexts and clients is of crucial importance. This has the potential to be a source of confidence to ourselves as professionals and also to those we care for or educate as our clients, patients, learners. Professionalism, as discussed by our research cluster, therefore becomes inextricably linked to ways of meeting the needs of others, providing public service or benefit and fulfilling a greater good, working with others ethically and responsibly. Commonly expressed values in building positive relationships with others were trust, partnership and empathy.


There are also emergent tensions in the ideas we have shared, between professionalism in a culture of openness and trust where problems are shared and resolved in teams, and professionalism as a set of standards to be complied with and used for accountability purposes. One member of our cluster spoke of expectations of ‘being professional’, seemingly important to members of professions, used as both stick and carrot. Also mentioned were political interference and hyper-accountability as eroding professionalism and leading to more entrepreneurial and instrumental professional identities. We began to explore the possibility that professionalism can create barriers or boundaries as well as forge relationships, perhaps exemplified by expressions such as ‘overstepping the mark’, or ‘beyond my pay grade’. This connects to experiences of some occupational or practitioner groups not always being considered as ‘professionals’ in the same way or with the same status as others with whom they work, for example teachers, early years practitioners and teaching assistants in schools.

Some of these tensions resonate with Stronach et al’s (2002, p.131) characterisation of the professional situation of teachers and nurses as ‘unstable’, with particular emphasis on the potentially negative impact on professional motivation brought about by audit cultures. For Hargreaves (2000), in teaching, these are symptoms of ‘de-professionalization’ along with the lessening role of higher education in initial teacher education risking practice that:

‘can at best only be reproduced, not improved’ (p.168).

Hargreaves’ (2000, p.175) solution of a ‘postmodern professionalism that opens schools and teachers up to parents and the public’ is apparently not favoured by Stronach et al (2002, p.130), who link this position to discourses of performativity, effectiveness and improvement. Both articles associate stronger professionalism with greater trust but, in my reading, divergence appears over issues of how to build and motivate this trust.

Hargreaves’ (2000) solution to de-professionalisation, for ‘professional effectiveness and public credibility’, is for teachers to ‘set and meet an exacting set of professional standards of practice‘ (p.171, italics in original), recognising this as a ‘paradoxical challenge’ (p.176). For Stronach et al (2002) such standards of practice seem to invoke a deficit model that risks demotivation, insisting that healthy practice ‘needs exercise rather than medication’ (p.132). They conclude that professionalism relies on ‘positive trust’ rather than ‘performance ranking’ (Stronach et al, 2002, p.131) and that

‘excellence can only be motivated, it cannot be coerced’ (p.132).

For a group of academics and practitioner educators, perhaps a key to both fostering this motivation and re-defining professionalism lies in another theme arising from our research cluster discussions; one with which I think both Hargreaves and Stronach et al might concur. That is, a commitment to continual learning.


Hargreaves, A. (2000) Four Ages of Professionalism and Professional Learning. Teachers and Teaching6(2), 151–182.

Stronach, I., Corbin, B., McNamara, O., Stark, S., & Warne, T. (2002) Towards an uncertain politics of professionalism: teacher and nurse identities in flux. Journal of Education Policy17(1), 109–138.


The School of Education Annual Conference

The School of Education invites you to the annual summer conference on Monday 13th July, Galton, 4th Floor, Perry Barr, City North Campus.

Please join us for presentations from key note speakers Dr. Geof Hill, Dr. Rob Smith and Dr. Matt O’Leary, alongside the launch of our in-house CSPACE journal.

We are hosting debates on a variety of topics in Education that are relevant within current research and practice.

Contact: for more info on how to present or attend.



Whispering to your self: musings from a conference

Written by Imran Mogra, Senior Lecturer in Religious Education and Professional Studies

At the recent 6th Annual Conference of The Qualitative Report held at the Nova Mogra-Imran-mainSoutheastern University in Fort Lauderdale, besides the huge and impressive number of presentations, there were a few particular features and experiences which prompted some reflection and introspection. Some of which I will cover in this post.

The idea of attending a conference can be a very tempting one, (especially when it involves travelling abroad). However, for some, in the climate and culture created by the REF (Research Excellence Framework), this temptation has almost turned into a necessity. No longer are conferences considered a dormant activity or a prerogative of a few select individuals, instead a proactive stance is being taken in many universities for all staff; both novice and established researchers. (click here to see our Birmingham City University REF 2014 results)

In addition to the demands placed on you by your line manager or by the research strategy in your institution, there are many reasons which you may want to consider for attending a conference to present your paper. Here are some reasons which could tempt you to attend one. These are drawn from my personal experiences and, in part, show what has influenced my decisions, in the past, to be ‘out there’:

  • To establish and enhance your network reach
  • To share your ideas both in terms of research methodology and content to a wider audience – this is probably the most likely and/or natural reason for wanting to present at a conference
  • To set the framework, foundation and future direction of your forthcoming project or article
  • It may be that you have had an article rejected. You now want to reposition your material to clarify its purpose, address its criticisms from peer reviewers or to explore its current potential in the field for resubmission, or to revitalise interest about the topic
  • You might want to inform colleagues and others interested in your field about work in progress
  • You may have been invited to present, following a considerable interest in your publication – over 200 reads/downloads for instance!
  • You might be opportunistic and can’t resist the chance as the theme of the conference perfectly fits your interest and it is seems highly likely that your paper will be accepted – this is about ‘gut feelings’

Here is my latest reason for attending my most recent conference. I decided to contribute to this international conference as I have conceived my work on narratives to be in a state of flux. To explain, I have been collecting material in the form of narratives, and simultaneously analysing them, and occasionally drawing tentative conclusions. Concurrently, I dump (in my external hard drive of course!) some of this valuable material – or should I say let it ‘simmer’ – and select some data to write a little bit and also to think about future lines of enquiry. In other words, I saw attendance at this conference as being part of my research process on narratives and not a stimulant for or product of my research. Therefore, I went there to immerse myself in the methodological field to seek epistemological answers, if they were any.

Having decided the reason/s for attending a conference, I frequently ask myself: What do I want to gain from the conference? Admittedly, I have attended some conferences, both as presenter and participant, but have not returned with ‘a buzz’, inspiration or ideas which I could implement in my practice. Therefore it is equally important to think carefully about the difference that a conference will make to your thinking and practice. Remember you are not there solely to deliver your paper, as worthy an activity that may be in its own right. In fact, you are there to reciprocate being a learner as well as a creator of knowledge.

Finally, on the matter of influence, often conferences are conceptualised as domains for influencing others. As researchers, many of us will acknowledge and recognise that the research process can affect the researchers’ self-perception. Likewise, attending a conference should not always be about others. It should be seen potentially as an activity which will influence you in terms of how you see your self.

Listening to Valerie Janesick, present her paper on Practicing the Zen of Research as Contemplative Qualitative Inquiry, and assert:

“In qualitative research every voice counts”

aroused a whisper within my self: ‘I want my voice to count’.

Publish or Perish? A Guide for Emergent Researchers

Dr. Written by Alex Wade, Research Assistant 

Being accepted onto a PhD programme can be as terrifying as it is enervating: an individual and their institution believe that you have the aptitude to make an original contribution to knowledge in your subject area. All you have to do to reciprocate that faith is complete your extended piece of research to a publishable standard. The reality is that you have three years (longer if part-time) to become an expert in your topic while avoiding sublimation to social media, sleeping under the desk and administrators chasing you for undergraduate essay marking.

Part of the process of becoming an expert is publishing your work in academic journals. Publishing is often challenging for emergent researchers. Knowledge of journals can be limited, even after PhD completion; journal lead times can range between 3-24 months, immediately putting your work beyond the standard three-year-scope of PhD completion; certain journals will never publish work, irrespective of quality as it doesn’t fit the ‘house style’; editorial boards/reviewers can provide incomplete feedback, to the point where it is blatant that your 8000 word tour de force has not been sent out for review, let alone read; your submission can be held in abeyance by a journal, where making contact with them is like communicating with Walt Disney, but with less hope of a response.

So, academic publishing is a nebulous world.   However, there are some ways to traverse the cryogenics of academic space-time. Try these and see if they help:

  1. As soon as possible contact the reviews editor of a journal and do book reviews for them: get your name known to the editorial board and readers of top journals.
  2. When writing a chapter, or any work for your PhD, imagine how – and if – it can turned into a paper.
  3. Use journal rankings to discern the best journal for your work. Look at a selection of papers and if they publish any of the researchers you use in your own research.
  4. Look into online journals. These are no longer the last refuge of the unwashed and unpublished. The benefits are legion: often they are run by people with a real passion for their topic; they execute rapid peer review and, due to quick turnarounds, have genuinely nuanced and up-to-date commentary. They also have the potential for wider readership, particularly in the social sciences, arts and humanities.
  5. Get a handle on journals to be released in your research areas. They often require submissions and are frantically searching for decent material, which, as an active researcher, you will have to hand.
  6. Look out for special issues and calls for papers. Journals regularly invite submissions of specialised work, and while the lead times can be long to publication, generally peer review is quicker, giving you the opportunity to respond and resubmit if required.
  7. Present at conferences and talk about your research with others: invitations for chapters and papers are as likely to come out of networks as they are from the quality of your writing.
  8. Use and Research Gate to link with researchers in your area. If you share a passion and interest in a topic, collaborations are more likely, leading to invitations to write, or even joint-editorship of a special issue.
  9. Offer to undertake peer reviews of submitted articles in your area. Again, knowledge of the editorial board will give you an insight into the whole process and provide you with an up-to-date appraisal of wok in your area.
  10. Talk to senior colleagues in your institution. Is there a possibility to co-author either with your supervisor or director?

Please comments if you feel these are helpful, or if have any other hints and tips which can be used to aid academic publishing.

Researching with young and developmentally young children – ethical considerations, dilemmas and compromises

Written by Dr. Carolyn Blackburn, Early Childhood Studies

One of the most challenging considerations when researching with young and developmentally young children is the question of gaining children’s consent to participate in research and their perspectives on the topic under study. Issues relate to the age at which children can realistically understand what they’re being asked to participate in as well as consideration of their cognitive and linguistic ability to give consent. Linked to this are the inevitable power relationships that inhere in research inquiry that involves adult researchers and child participants. This is an ethical consideration that I have pondered on and deliberated over considerably in the numerous projects I’ve undertaken.

Within the UK, the term ‘child’ means anyone below the age of 18 years. The 1948 United Nations Convention on Human Rights and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1989) granted rights to children between the ages of birth to eighteen to have their wishes known, listened to and respected. The dilemma for researchers is that the perceived ability of a child to give consent will depend not just on an individual child’s chronological age, but also on their level of understanding, particularly if they are experiencing a developmental delay or disorder. Requiring high levels of understanding for a valid consent, however, could operate to exclude research with children (particularly those with SEND) unless an adult has consented on their behalf (Mason, 2004).

Whilst on the one hand researchers need to develop ways of engaging children in a wide range of different circumstances, including those with SEND, on the other hand in order to obtain high-quality information, they must also ensure that children’s rights are safeguarded (Mason, 2004). In this respect, young children are surrounded by adults who have a legal responsibility to act as ‘gatekeepers’, safeguarding them from outside influences, such as researchers, and arguably guarding their free choice of whether or not to participate in research (Mason, 2004). Children of all ages are subject to the control of those who have parental responsibility for their welfare and safeguarding. Legally, researchers who wish to include young children who are not considered mature enough (chronologically or developmentally) to make their own decision about participation must obtain the agreement of a least one person who has parental responsibility for the child (Mason, 2004).


Alderson (2004) acknowledged that consent is a key issue in research with children which raises hard, often unresolved, questions (Alderson, 2004). For example, there is no simple answer to the question of when children are old enough to give consent. Much depends on their prior experiences within the social, cultural and historical contexts in which they grow and develop. This poses an ethical dilemma for researchers, which requires reflection. Denzin reminds of our primary obligation as researchers that is ‘,. always to the people we study, not to our project or to a larger discipline. The lives and stories that we hear and study are given to us under a promise, that promise being that we protect those who have shared them with us’ (Denzin, 1989:83).

Fine and Sandstrom (1988: 46) urged that researchers provide children with an explanation of their involvement as ‘… children should be told as much as possible.. their age should not diminish rights, although their level of understanding must be taken into account in the explanations that are shared with them.’ Young children can be quite demonstrative in expressing their views, even if they do not verbally reject a researcher’s presence or questions. They can, for example, move away from a person they do not wish to be near (Aubrey et al., 2000), refuse to answer questions, change the topic of conversation or in extreme cases be physically aggressive if they feel particularly unhappy about situations. Certainly Flewitt (2005) found that children as young as three years old were ‘competent and confident enough to grant or withdraw consent – with some more outspoken and enquiring than their parents.’

The decision to adopt an ongoing process of assent whereby the child’s acceptance of the researcher within the setting can be taken as assent to participate in the research is sometimes considered appropriate where children have severe cognitive impairments. However, assent is not a term which sits comfortably with all researchers, some of whom argue that it may be used where children are simply too afraid, confused or ignored to refuse (see Alderson and Morrow, 2011). This indirect approach for assent/dissent has however, been successfully used within studies involving children with developmental delays/disorders (Blackburn, 2014; Brooks, 2010) and this may be for now the compromise that I will live with.

As far as gaining children’s perspectives within the research is concerned, I’ve really enjoyed working with Victoria Kinsella on one of the music projects to find ways of observing children’s involvement and engagement within projects when they have profound and multiple learning difficulties, and I’m looking forward to seeing the results of that, but I’ll leave her talk about that project at some point in the future.



Alderson, P. and Morrow, V. (2011) The Ethics of Research with Children and Young People: A Practical Handbook London: Sage

Alderson, P. (2004) Ethics in Fraser, S., Lewis, V., Ding, S., Kellett, M. and Robinson, C. (Eds) Doing Research with Children and Young People. London: Sage Publications pp 97-112

Aubrey, C., David, T., Godfrey, R. and Thompson, L. (2000) Early Childhood Educational Research: Issues in methodology and Ethics. Oxon: Routledge

Blackburn, C. (2014) The policy-to-practice context to the delays and difficulties in the acquisition of speech, language and communication in the first five years. Unpublished PhD Thesis, Birmingham: Birmingham City University

Brooks, T. (2010). Developing a learning environment which supports children with profound autistic spectrum disorders to engage as effective learners. Unpublished PhD Thesis. Institute of Education, University of Worcester: Worcestershire.

Denzin, N.K. (1989) Interpretive biography London, Sage

Flewitt, Rosie (2005). Conducting research with young children: some ethical considerations. Early Child Development and Care, 175(6), pp. 553–565.

Fine, G.A. and Sandstrom, K.L. (1988) Knowing Children: Participant Observation with Minors. Qualitative Research Methods Series 15 Beverly Hill, CA: Sage

Mason, J. (2004) The Legal Context in Fraser, S., Lewis, V., Ding, S., Kellett, M. and Robinson, C. (Eds) Doing Research with Children and Young People. London: Sage Publications



Generation Right – BBC Radio 4

It’s a commonplace thought that the young start their lives as idealistic left-wingers, only to become more conservative with age. But are today’s twenty-somethings going to debunk that as a myth? Extensive polling shows that in many respects, young people now are to the political right of their parents and grandparents when they were young. Their attitudes often appear characterised by a suspicion of collectivism and a greater scepticism towards the state.

This BBC radio 4 programme explores the reasons for this generational shift and its implications. Click here to listen: and make your comments and thoughts on the topic below.