Monthly Archives: September 2015

Relationship-based early intervention services: lessons from New Zealand

Written by Dr Carolyn Blackburn, Research Fellow in Early Childhood Studies, Centre carfor Research in Education.

Early Intervention (EI) has the potential to improve children’s long term outcomes socially, emotionally and educationally as noted by recent English policy reports. However, there is a paucity of specialist EI services and educator training for children with complex disabilities, such as those with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders or children born extremely prematurely (Carpenter et al., 2011).

The Champion Centre (picture above) provides relationship-based EI services to infants and young children with complex disabilities. Parents and children visit the Centre each week and have one-on-one individualised sessions with each of the members of a multi-disciplinary team. Children who attend the Champion Centre in their early years are more likely to subsequently attend mainstream primary education than children who have not received comparable EI services.

The project ord
The aim of this project is to capture effective and best practice by talking to practitioners and parents at the Champion Centre and observing children’s therapeutic sessions. An additional aim is to build international relationships within an interdisciplinary context that could be mutually beneficial for all stakeholders concerned with children with complex disabilities in the UK.

During her visit Carolyn will also work with Positive Path International to identify further educational settings that support children with complex disabilities to enrich her data and deliver CPD to educators in New Zealand.

The project is the outcome of a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust 2015 Fellowships that will provide the funds for Carolyn to visit New Zealand for one month with the aim of “travelling to learn and returning to inspire.”

Follow the project on Carolyn’s blog


My HE ‘Double Life’

Written by Ian McDonald, Research Officer, Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment (CEBE) and ‘dabbling’ educational researcher

ianI’m not sure if such thing as a ‘normal’ researcher exists, but if such a thing does exist I’m certainly not one – I don’t have an ‘academic’ contract and am employed in research support in the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment (CEBE). I tend to describe myself as a ‘hobby’ researcher, a ‘twilight’ researcher or an ‘accidental’ researcher.

Firstly I should explain how I got into dabbling in academia. Whilst I was the Undergraduate Course Administrator in the (then) School of Property, Construction and Planning, a colleague who led a module about ‘society’ on the MSc Construction Project Management course, asked me, as a Social Policy graduate, to give a lecture to his students on political ideology. I survived (!) and enrolled on the Postgraduate Certificate – Learning and Teaching course which I passed. I then moved to my current job as Research Officer in CEBE and continued to study the remainder of the M.Ed. A combination of these factors resulted in the research ‘bug’ biting, but initially I wasn’t sure how to take the interest further and develop it. I saw an advert for a new pedagogical journal, based at a little known university in North Carolina which asked for papers and book reviewers. I contacted the editor and ended up writing a review of Stefan Collini’s ‘What are Universities for?’ for them. I was also fortunate enough to have the opportunity to write an M.Ed assignment in the style of a journal paper which, after some kind guidance from the editor and one of my colleagues, was published in an higher educational research journal. Following on from this, I’ve been fortunate enough to recently have a second journal paper published, be involved in some conference papers and a current project with two academics in CEBE, which is examining the state of the Faculty’s ‘research culture’. However, my most prolific form of writing is in the form of book reviews which I churn out quite a number of, for higher education journals, but more often for church history/theology journals – another academic interest of mine.

So, what would be my advice to support staff who are interested in experimenting with research?

  1. Book Reviews. These are a great place to start and to experiment. Many journals are crying out for book reviewers, especially young keen ones who can complete reviews on time. As well as getting published you’ll also get free books, which is a bonus too.
  2. Don’t say “I’m just an administrator”. We have as much to say about education as academics and it can be just as useful – some would say more so at time! In an era of greater professionalism in higher education administration, we are often as educated and intellectually capable as those in learning/teaching and research roles, so please don’t feel inferior. There are journals (such as Perspectives –Policy and Practice in Higher Education) which are specifically aimed at administrators/managers and want papers based on their practice and research.
  3. Find helpful and supportive academic colleagues. I’ve been fortunate enough to be actively encouraged by ‘sympathetic’ academics. There are lots out there who will be more than happy to encourage you.
  4. Remember what you’re paid to do. A slightly cautionary word – I believe it’s important to remember what you are actually employed to do and not to take advantage of people’s support and encouragement.



I am Geof Hill

Written by Geof Hill, Senior Research Fellow, HELS.

I am the new Senior Research Fellow in the faculty and I have moved from Australia with my wife Suzanne who has recently retired from being an Early Childhood (Nursery School) teacher.

I completed my Ed. D. in 2002. My study was to inquire into the practices of writing, supervision and examination that flow on from new paradigms in research practice. My inquiry adopted an auto ethnographic approach based on my lived experiences of geof hillundertaking an M.Sc. (Hon) using action inquiry and the concurrent lived experiences of undertaking an Ed. D.

I presented some of my Ed.D research in a cabaret entitled ‘Doing a Doctorate’.

Following my graduation I secured a part-time post-doctoral appointment working in the Office of Research at the university through which I had graduated as an Ed. D., and for the following twelve years provided a range of professional development programs for research supervisors. I established a blog called ‘The research supervisor’s friend’ ( ) which I have been writing now for about four years. In the past twelve months I have written about issues related with nurturing creativity in research students and responding to desires to be creative by research students.

In the remainder of my professional life I ran a Management Consultancy called The Investigative Practitioner that delivered services to industry (Education, Mining, Health, Government) to help professionals explore their professional practices. This consultancy continued a professional line that had been established in my 20’s when I trained as a Work Study Analyst. Although this background and my undergraduate degree in Psychology give the impression of being a traditional researcher, through my M.Sc (Hon) I embraced action inquiry with gusto and I now live and breathe the ethos of post-positivist inquiry. The second doctoral degree I am currently undertaking in the Graduate Business School at University of Queensland (Australia) was/is a lived experience of exploring practice-led inquiry (where the starting point is the practitioner’s practice) in a Business Environment.

I enjoy theatre and cooking and walks in forest (bush walking) and travel.

Suzanne and I have been married for twenty years and we have no children. We love to travel and she has undertaken two international teacher exchanges (one to Minnesota, U.S.A and the other to U.K. where she taught for a year at Rickmansworth Royal Masonic School for Girls). Together we have undertaken two mini teacher exchanges to Tennessee, U.S.A. and to Mosbach, Germany, as well as numerous overseas trips to Canada, U.S.A. and Europe for a range of educational (conference) opportunities. I have been visiting U.K. as a visiting academic for the past twenty years and undertook a sabbatical in 2012 at Coventry University Academic Writing Centre. I drive a network of academics in U.K. interested in creative approaches to research supervision and for the past few years have toured with my various cabarets. Extension 7376 Room 101 in Attwood

A personal journey through RIME 2015

Axtell_Ian_mainWritten by Ian Axtell, Subject Leader for Music Education, Secondary Partnership Coordinator.

Have you ever been to the University of Exeter?  I was lucky enough to visit whilst attending the international Research into Music Education (RIME) conference. For me there was a very strong sense of place.  The main campus is on the side of a hill with some amazing views. We were lucky enough to experience these views in brilliant sunshine from Holland Hall, probably one of the best spots for a hall of residence at any university. But these views were just for starters!  When we went into the city we found the area around the Cathedral. Perhaps it was a combination of good food and good company combined with a sense of history and culture but the area was stunningly beautiful, particularly in the sunshine.exeter-uni1

This sense of place came alive when I began to interact with other people.  The desire to share and explore knowledge was tangible.  Not simply to grab knowledge so it can be regurgitated at some given moment in time but much more about developing and refining ways of knowing. There was a real sense of connecting with people through their history and culture, through rich and meaningful discourse in the field of music education.  I had the privilege of joining a powerful community of thinking whose participants were open to critical academic enquiry.  Enormous respect was held between people who share different views because they have the insight and maturity to realise that progress and transformation are not achieved by conflict and ridicule but through the critical dialogue, generated through ethical, reflexive and even recursive discourse.  It would be wonderful if our education system could reflect this open dialogic approach, where thinking and learning are prioritised over the gathering of data to measure performance.

I initially misjudged this approach, probably because I was a little in awe of the people I was meeting and I wanted my voice to be heard.  I started by being egocentric.  We were sitting in a pub opposite the Cathedral and an American music educator who had joined us starting talking about “American Music”.  Immediately my ears pricked up and I wanted to challenge the view that music can be given such labels and even framed into particular hierarchies.  Was she suggesting that some music is more important than other music?  Was she suggesting that music is created in isolation away from any other cultural or historical influences?  At the time I was quite assertively arguing the point that music is diverse and thus inclusive.  We shouldn’t impose our own enculturation or habitus (Bourdieu, 1977) on other people as though “our music” is more important.  Ethically this is very unsound and music is in fact a powerful way of creating community cohesion by bringing ideas and people together.

I misinterpreted the situation based on my own preconceptions and personal perceptions. She was not making a fixed assertion but posing a question to promote thinking. I had assumed that she was talking about American music in the context of Western Art Music which is my own field of expertise. I made this assumption based on who I saw (she was a middle class white American) and my own habitus.  If I had listened more carefully and allowed her to share her thinking in a bit more detail before jumping in and imposing my own thinking on the situation, I would have realised that she was in fact posing the question: Why is music created by Black American musicians not recognised as having a significant influence on the musical world? She was, in fact, being ethical and in her approach.  She was demonstrating epistemic vigilance by empathising with musicians from outside her own cultural experiences, outside her own habitus. She was being sensitive to other people’s point of view. There wasn’t a simple answer to her question but one that merited further exploration and research. When I realised what was happening this became a magical moment for me.  It helped to frame the way I approached the rest of the week.  I needed to maintain an open mind, to listen carefully to what was being discussed and recognise that education research is not about proving absolutes or asserting certainties but creating the conditions for transformative learning. Ethics through empathy and care underpin effective education research which in turn help to promote continuous growth and development.

I worry that the discourse surrounding the education system in England is increasingly being based on egocentricism and doxa (which Bourdieu (1977) identified as “uncontested truths”). This discourse is being led by inexperienced career politicians making bold statements based their own ideological perspectives. Their thinking is underpinned by an orthodoxy based strong opinions rather than careful, ethical research.  It is as though our education system is being built on personal beliefs driven by elitist social capital and simplistic binary thinking (this is “right” and this is “wrong”).  Any voices that might challenge or critique this orthodoxy, particularly in university based Schools of Education, are being attacked as enemies of promise.

This very negative and even Machiavellian approach towards development was completely absent at RIME. The education research I experienced was based on rigorous ethical principles underpinned by epistemic reflexivity and vigilance.  Care was taken to value other opinions and, in the context of the field, there was a willingness to be humble and recursive in the context of the broader discourse.  “Did what I said make sense?” was a common question.

This approach was exemplified by two music educators who both came from New Zealand.  They respected each other enormously but had opposing views in terms of what should prioritised in music education. One expressed his concern about the lack of Western Art Music in an increasingly informal learning environment in school classrooms whilst the other highlighted the power of what he called contemporary (or Popular) music in the curriculum.  Bernstein’s (1999) perspective of vertical and horizontal discourse linked to formal and informal learning in music education were discussed in an open and critical manner, recognising the complexity and variety that forms the ontological reality of music from around the world and even in one particular country.  This discourse reflected a willingness to move beyond simplistic binary thinking and recognise that both orthodoxy and heterodoxy exist the field of music education.

RIME exemplified the perspective of a field that Bourdieu (1977) shared when outlining a theory of practice:

We need to maintain this “universe of discourse” to ensure that we are not just being self-recursive based on our own narrow perceptions.  I was very pleased to have a positive response to my presentation at RIME, largely because my methodology reflected a willingness to engage with listening to others.  I used phenomenography or research that describes people’s experiences of the world (Marton 1991).  The aim was to recognise and value the complexity of people’s perceptions and improve my own practice as a result.  I would have been easier to impose my ideas on others, my extensive experience legitimises this, but I have always been wary of a limited and self-centred approach.  As a teacher I was much more interested in heutagogy (Hase & Kenyon, 2007) which sees the learner as a major agent in their own learning through their own personal experiences.

I hope RIME and similar conferences centred on university based education research can continue. It is important that our politicians keep challenging those in the field of education to improve the life chances of the children and young people that we serve. However, these improvements are put under threat if one of the most powerful agents for change, namely ethical university based education research, is silenced because of the fear of complexity and multi-voiced contradictions. Education research is in fact an ethical catalyst for change rather than a barrier to improvement.  It is essential.


Bernstein, B. (1999) Vertical and Horizontal Discourse: An Essay. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 20 (2): 157-173.

Bourdieu, P. (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice: Cambridge Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hase, S. and Kenyon, C. (2007) Heutagogy: a child of complexity theory. Complicity: an
international journal of complexity and education, 4 (1): 111–118.

Marton, F. (1981) Phenomenography: Describing perceptions of the world around us. Instructional Science,10 (2): 177-200.



Writing to 2* standard – Research Excellence Framework

Written by Alex Wade and Victoria Kinsellavic

Recently, the Creativities Cluster held a series of workshops to assist researchers with writing to a ‘2*’ standard for the Research Excellence Framework, that is outputs which are of an international standard.

The workshops were held at Seacole and Attwood and were well attended by representatives from all schools across the Faculty.  The first workshop examined different approaches and strategies around writing, from thoalex Wse who have been through the mangler of writing before, but most vitally, from those who were writing now with a view to publication.


We were surprised by the multitude of answers.  So many people love to write, but feel like they don’t have the time, or indeed feel that writing is not a priority for them when students are knocking at the door, or there is an urgent email to tend to.  So the strategies people employed were divergent: writing in short bursts; writing at 4AM when the world is quiet and only students pulling an all nighter will be awake; writing late at night as  cartharsis for the day; sleeping on a problem and then being able to write about it the next day.

It struck me how deeply personal the process of writing is.  I can stand in front of others and say what works for me, but almost without exception the next person will have a completely different strategy.  This is why it is so important to experiment with writing: finding when your best times and places are and then making sure that you make it happen.  You may need support from familiy, friends and colleagues to enable it, but at the end of it all, the fact that it is such a deeply personal process means that only you can enable it and it is precisley because it is personal, that it is as important as a student or an email – even if they cross your desk at 4AM in the morning – which is of course precisely the point when you’re trying to write . . . . !

Thanks to all the people who attended and contributed.  The workshop has been such a success that it is now on tour in other Faculties of the University, where your experiences are being shared.

If you would like any support with your writing at any stage of development, please contact or and we will endeavour to assist in aproaches to writing, reflection and constructive criticism.

We look forwards to hearing from you.