Monthly Archives: February 2016

Current Developments and Looking to the Future

Sam CWritten by By Sam Clements, Birmingham City University HELS PhD Student and Senior Lecturer at London South Bank University. (also read My experiments with Adapted Repertory Grid (ARG) Technique for more info)

This academic year (my first year as a ‘proper’ PhD student!) I have been carrying out my main data collection (using the ‘evolved method’ developed through the control group pilot study) with a group of nested case study participants. Adopting a nested approach to my selection of six case study participants by selecting individual participants who are at different stages in their training and experience will provide the opportunity for a more comprehensive analysis of the data than if they were all at the same stage.

The virtual worlds activity using CC3 gaming software and associated adapted repertory grids are now completed for all participants and my electronic ‘perception survey’ for the wider teaching community is underway. The purpose of this survey is to infer from my nested case study participants to a larger population. Hammersley (1992) argues that such comparisons with a larger population may allow us to establish some of the representativeness of our single cases. In addition, non-participatory observations of classroom music teaching will be carried out with the nested case study participants. The focus of each observed lesson will be Music Teaching Phenomena (MTP) agreed in advance by the participant and myself, the observer. Observation notes will only describe evidence of teaching and children’s learning in relation to the identified MTP. All findings and constructive feedback will be verbally shared with the participant at the time, and subsequently discussed in the form of ongoing blog via a participant Wiki. Observation notes will be coded and analysed using grounded theory.

4. Example of a control group participant's virtual world

The schedule for observations will be event driven as I will be bound by the school timetable and the frequency of opportunities to teach music will vary by participant. In addition I am expecting my first baby at the start of May so we shall see how I manage my research schedule with or (hopefully) without too much interruption!

Addressing my Final Research Aim

The final part of my research will utilise the idea of teaching through learning, which means that the lens will be on the participant as a learner as opposed to the university or CPD tutor as a teacher of the learner. This variation on the ‘usual’ lens falls within Folkestad’s summary (1998) of a general relocation of focus from teaching to learning. The focus on the learner necessitates a revision of teaching methods, from ‘How to Teach’ (with the ‘results’ of teaching witnessed from the teacher’s point of view), to ‘How to Learn’, and ‘What to Learn’, so for example in this study how different Music Teaching Phenomena (MTP) are perceived, experienced and expressed in activities by the learner (nested case study participant).

Participants’ planned individualised learning will be informed by the grounded theory, co constructed by the researcher and participant, and will be supported by the participant Wiki.

Reimagining Further Education: 29th June 2016

Reimagining Further Education: One-day Conference on Wednesday 29th 2016, 9:30am-4pm at Birmingham City University

Overview of the conference

There is no more challenging time to be working in Further Education (FE). Having borne the brunt of the government’s austerity agenda more than any other education sector in England over the last 5 years, FE providers have endured repeated cuts to therb4170_ChildNursingir budgets, resulting in the closure of departments, courses and ongoing mass redundancies across the sector. Yet FE practitioners, teacher educators, researchers and all those with an interest in FE cannot stand by and let others set the agenda solely around efficiency savings and market interests. It is time the agenda was driven by the needs of practitioners and the students they teach. It is time the agenda was informed by what research tells us about VET practitioners and how that practice gives a new vocabulary to the very work that FE practitioners are involved in. By exploring positive, imaginative and creative ways forward that enhance agency, workforce development and the professional ethos of all FE practitioners, this conference aims to put teaching and learning at the centre of its agenda.


On 29th June 2016, Birmingham City University’s Centre for the Study of Practice and Culture in Education (CSPACE) will host a national conference entitled ‘Reimagining Further Education’ at its City Centre Campus, the Curzon Building, located in the centre of Birmingham. The conference will bring together practitioners, researchers and commentators in the field of Further Education and will include a range of workshops, presentations and symposia exploring some of the latest practice, thinking and research in the sector. Some of the topics/themes discussed during the conference will be:

  • Lessons from work based learning: a new vocabulary of practice for FE?
  • Apprenticeships
  • New Communities of Practice: professionalism in FE
  • Sustainable models of teacher learning in FE
  • HE in FE: looking ahead
  • Leadership in FE
  • Intelligent accountability and governance in FE: supporting the FE workforce

If you are interested in attending the conference and/or would like to know more about it, please contact
BCU logo

Meet the CSPACE Team – Chris Bolton

Name: Chris BoltonChris B

Role at BCU: Senior Lecturer Drama in Education & Subject Route Leader PGCE Secondary drama

Research Interests:

  • Drama in Education (DiE)
  • Drama in secondary education
  • The creation of democratic spaces using drama pedagogy

Research you are currently working on: My current interest is in how drama teachers create meaningful learning in drama using personal resources and oral history. Additionally, I am also researching how the essence/ purpose/ nature of drama learning is influenced by drama’s place within secondary education in the UK.

Working predominantly with trainee drama teachers and Newly Qualified drama teachers affords me the opportunity to see how the planning for drama learning begins; the implications for DiE in school contexts; and how my role can influence, support, co-construct and socially construct meaning for drama teachers more generally.

Research methodologies you are using: Co-constructive learning studies, elicitation and observation.

Current issues, thoughts and reflections on education & research: As a result of my current research position, there are a number of areas emerging that need further consideration. Firstly, whilst my current research only focuses on one drama teacher in one school in the West Midlands, the findings make me question to what extent her ‘stories’ might be shared by other drama teachers in secondary schools. Consequently, the second area for consideration is the position of drama in secondary education. As my research has highlighted, DiE is facing some increasingly difficult circumstances in which its potential purpose as an educative pedagogy is being changed and one is challenged to consider how its position in secondary education might be strengthened.


Drama teachers face some challenges to their pedagogical practice and their rationale for drama teaching is contested by its existence in secondary education. The balancing act needed to facilitate DiE and ensure that it survives as a subject within secondary education risks losing the potential for deep, meaningful and relevant content, particularly as teachers are continually forced to concentrate their practice primarily on two areas; the drama form, which is easier to measure in quantitative terms and thus demonstrate their impact as a teacher; and prove their teacher identity by meeting the requirements of the Teaching Standards. The risk in complying with these two areas not only impacts upon dramaDrama teachers’ practice but also to DiE itself.

The risk is that these two considerations become legitimated as ‘good’ drama teaching and thus this type of drama learning becomes normalised in practice. The problem is further exacerbated by the use of a compliant pedagogy in that the tendency to ‘perform’ so that certain external criteria such as the Teaching Standards can be met in order to survive in the secondary education context. Ball (2003:223) argues that “Beliefs are no longer important- it is output that counts” and drama teachers are potentially highly aware that the outcome of their lessons is important in making judgements about not only their identity as a teacher but also the position of drama in secondary education. What this means is that potentially, “what is produced is a spectacle, or game-paying, or cynical compliance, or what one might see as an ‘enacted fantasy’ (Butler 1990), which is there simply to be seen and judged- a fabrication” (2003:222).

 (Stephen J Ball (2003): The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity, Journal of Educational Policy. 18:2, 215-228)

Most influential research you have read/seen: Stephen Ball’s (2003) research entitled ‘The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity’ is really powerful for me. Whilst not specifically ‘research’, the writings of Dorothy Heathcote and Edward Bond are also interesting.

Advice for new researchers: Don’t panic!


Identifying, assessing and supporting young children’s speech, language and communication in early years settings

Written by Dr Carolyn Blackburn, Research Fellow in Early Childhood Studies, HELS

Carolyn’s latest blog post is all about her PhD and People with Speech, Language and Communication Needs. The full article can be found here:

Here are some highlights:

“My PhD aimed to explore the policy-to-practice context to the delays and difficulties in the acquisition of SLC (Speech, Language and Communication Needs) in the first five years using a mixed-methods interpretive case study design.”

“At the microcontext of the home environment, parents appeared to be supportive, were realistic in their expectations for children and sought professional help for their children when needed.”

“Language learning for young children is not a skill but a culturally learned behaviour created through patterns of action and interaction in a specific social context.”

“The study has highlighted the difficult and subjective nature of early identification and assessment and the wide variation in children’s early experiences, social interaction, SLC, socio-economic and socio-cultural environments.”

My experiments with Adapted Repertory Grid (ARG) Technique

Written by Sam Clements, Birmingham City University HELS PhD Student and Senior Lecturer at London South Bank University. (15th February, 2016)Sam C

My research interests are music education, the performing arts, creativity, creative partnerships and teacher identity. The working title of my PhD thesis is ‘Defining the X Factors: Enablers and Inhibitors of effective music teaching’.

What is a Repertory Grid?

The type of repertory grid used in my study is an adapted one, where the participant identifies their own elements and is then supplied with a limited choice of suggested constructs from which to select. In a ‘true’ repertory grid the participant would elicit both their own elements and their own constructs. The constructs presented to the control group for their selection were examples of Music Teaching Phenomena (MTP). Participants were required to choose only constructs (MTP) with which they have experience.


Elicitation of the Elements

The elements for each participant were the codes which were generated through their map making activity. Poles of the elements were elicited by the participant to represent the element and its opposite, or contrast (where more appropriate). Young et al (2005) explain that it is sometimes better to ask participants to generate a contrast rather than simply use a literal opposite because it provides more information about how they perceive it in regards to the stimulus.

Selection of Constructs

The MTP with which participants were presented for selection were divided into two categories, initially entitled:

  1. Professional skills level – related to the participant’s musical abilities
  2. Pedagogical skills level – related to the participant’s teaching abilities

Critical Reflection

The questions; ‘What is ‘ability’?’, and ‘Aren’t skills just knowledge in action?’ have long been the subjects of debate amongst educationists. Schulman (1986) and his colleagues in the ‘Knowledge Growth in Teaching Project’ built a model of pedagogical reasoning and action, and a professional knowledge base for teaching that clearly places the emphasis on the intellectual basis for teaching and on the transformation of subject matter knowledge by teachers. They proposed a model of the components of the professional knowledge base for teaching that includes three major categories of content knowledge: subject matter content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge and curricular knowledge. A key component of the knowledge base for teaching that gives it its special identity according to Shulman and his colleagues, is pedagogical content knowledge, and this component laid the groundwork for the evolving categories of constructs in this current study.


Within pedagogical content knowledge Shulman includes ‘demonstrations, examples, illustrations, explanations, analogies’, and ‘the most useful forms of representation of these ideas’. In my current study, ‘demonstrations, examples, illustrations’ could relate to constructs around the Musical and the Professional. ‘Illustrations, explanations, analogies and representations’ could relate to constructs around the Pedagogical. What is being measured through my repertory grids is how participants’ aptitude for these constructs is related to their elements.

I consequently revised the construct categories to become:

  • Musical and Professional Aptitudes
  • Pedagogical Aptitudes

The Musical and Professional Aptitudes were selected and then adapted (for appropriate relevance to themselves) by each participant. The source for these constructs was a model of outcomes of music education introduced by David Hargreaves (2007). The Pedagogical Aptitudes were selected by each participant from requirements listed within the programmes of study of the 2013 National Curriculum for Music for Key Stages 1 and 2.


Each participant completed their repertory grid, rating their elements (X Factors) against their constructs (Music Teaching Phenomena). The elements were rated from 1 to 9 where 1 represents concordance with the element and 9 represents concordance with its contrast.

Critical Reflection

I observed that the success of the repertory grid activity was dependent to a degree on the rapport developed between myself as the researcher, and the participant. The importance of a careful management of my own subjectivity became apparent, particularly following the repertory grid activity undertaken with participant 1. Peshkin (1988) claims that to identify one’s own subjectivity the researcher must undertake self-monitoring to note and address areas of concern. Peshkin’s own self-monitoring involved identifying six discretely characterized ‘I’s’ which were aspects of the whole that constitutes him (the researcher) in his particular research context. I therefore began to consider the ‘Situational I’s’ present in the context of this pilot of method.


Following the completion of the repertory grid with the first control group participant, the following principles were applied to the subsequent repertory grid activities with the remainder of the control group: In relation to the ‘Justice-seeking I’ any musical and life events in the participants’ pasts which have had a positive or negative impact upon them cannot be met with judgement (either of the participant or any other individuals involved). The aim of these exercises is not to ‘fix’ the past. In relation to the ‘Non-human research I’, self-monitoring is necessary to ensure that whilst a good rapport is established whilst the appropriate boundaries are observed. The use of ‘leading questions’, or intentionally driving the activity towards the pursuit of rich data must be avoided.


My rationale for the planned method centred on the idea of utilising research exercises which were situated within the participant’s life, rather than the participant being situated within the research project, in order to create a non-agenda-biased context where rich data was elicited on the participant’s terms. Initially that was a failed rationale, as the first version of the mapping exercise failed to elicit any rich data at all. Critical reflection revealed a fundamental flaw in approach; there were barriers to successful execution in terms of the practical aspects of making the map (for example drawing, space awareness, ’thinking in layers’) and a lack of opportunity for participants to reflect, revise and return to their maps in an on-going way. The evolution of this activity to experiment with fantasy gaming software to create ‘virtual worlds’ not only intrigued and engaged the participants and researcher with the possibilities, but ultimately removed the barriers obstructing their success with the task.

The second round of reflection and evolution emphasised to me the importance of using discriminate terminology related to method. Shulman’s (1986) ‘pedagogical content knowledge’ offered a lens through which I could closely analyse ‘abilities’, ‘skills’ and ‘knowledge’ and re-interpret these for greater meaning in my study.

Finally I reflected upon the importance of monitoring my ‘researcher subjectivity’ in the early stages of Adapted Repertory Grid (ARG) interviews. With help from Peshkin (1988), I identified my own ‘Situational I’s’ resonating with this method monitored my own subjectivity during ARG interviews with subsequent participants.

Undertaking the pilot study enabled me to test my method through a three stage process; of implementation, critical reflection, and evolution. The experience provided significant ‘prior preparation to entering the field’ (Sampson, 2004) and the outcome is an ‘evolved method’ which has grown to become a more effective, reliable and valid version of itself.

Thanks for reading! I hope it’s been interesting (if a little long..) I’ll send an update hopefully with some findings, post baby!


Provisioning the research environment for creativity – a research supervision pedagogy.

Reader in Education Geoff Hill has written a blog all about geof hillsupervision. His latest post is about “Provisioning the research environment for creativity”. Here are some highlights from his blog:

Research supervision has been described as a practice “traditionally conducted behind the closed door” (McWilliam, and Palmer, 1995, 32)

I am seeing emergent agendas for nurturing creativity in higher degree research:

  1. Science PhDs looking for ways to adopt more exciting and user friendly publications of their scientific discoveries.

  2. The ‘Bright club’ extolling the virtues of more creative lecturing.

Dr. Jackie Musgrave visits the Childhood and Family Health Cluster

Written by Dr Carolyn Blackburn, Research Fellow in Early Childhood Studies, HELS


In January in a joint initiative between the Rethinking Childhood Cluster and Family Health Cluster invited Dr. Jackie Musgrave from the Worcester University to talk about her PhD research on including children with Chronic Health Conditions in early years settings.jackie-musgrave-education-university-worcester_rdax_200x230 download

Jackie’s doctoral research brings together her professional and personal interests in children’s health and early education.  Her research explored the effects of chronic health conditions (asthma, anaphylaxis, diabetes, eczema and epilepsy) on young children’s inclusion in early childhood education and care.  The research methods included a postal questionnaire, interviews with practitioners and parents and observations of ‘DJ’ in his early years setting over the period of year.  ‘DJ’ has asthma, anaphylaxis and eczema.  The opportunity to observe ‘DJ’ gave the opportunity for a prolonged engagement to examine how these conditions affected his participation in his early childhood education and care.







The aim of her talk was to give an overview of her doctoral research which explored how chronic health conditions, specifically anaphylaxis, asthma, diabetes, eczema and epilepsy, can impact on children’s health, as well as exploring how early years practitioners include children with these conditions. Her talk was attended by education and health staff.

A thoughtful discussion about the implictations for education and health practitioners followed her talk which highlighted the opportunities for and benefits of interdisciplinary training and practice.

Jackie also talked to Early Childhood Education Studies students about her work thereby enhancing the experiences of students at BCU.


Review of the Big Bang Data Exhibition by Geof Hill

The creativity cluster had an exciting day out visiting the Big Bang data exhibition at Somerset house in early Feb. Reader in education Geof Hill has written a review on the exhibit and presents some interesting reflections on data collection, use and meaning.

big-bang-advertising“One strong theme that was evident throughout the exhibition was the adage ‘a picture tells a thousand words’…”

“A second installation spoke to me of the humanity that often gets overlooked in collection and representation of quantitative data.”

To read the full review go to:

**Watch this space**
More blog posts to follow from staff and students reflecting on the exhibit and trip

Top 5 research blogs by BCU CSPACE Researchers

A number of BCU staff and research students write their own blogs which are full of interesting reflections and ideas. Here are some

  1. Dr. Geoff Hillthe (research) supervisor’s friend
    Geoff writes about some of the experiences he has had as a research supervisor and aims to encourage other supervisors to share their practice.
  2. Prof. Martin Fautley
    Martin has written a lot on the subject of music education and assessment. Sometimes political but always with a hint of light hearted humour.
  3. Dr. Carolyn Blackburn
    Carolyn has been involved in a number of different research projects focusing on early childhood and families. She has written on Fosterline, Communicative Musicality, speech and language,  relationships and early intervention.
  4. Shannon Ludgate:
    Although fairly knew to blogging, Shannon has written some fascinating reflections on her use of research methods and talks about her PhD looking at touch screen technology with early years.
  5. The CSPACE blog: Ok a bit of a cheat here but the CSPACE blog offers ALL researches at BCU a space to share their reflections, practice and discoveries with the rest of the CSPACE team and the world. The CSPACE blog has posts on creative writing, supervision, conferences, music, evaluations, reflections, and much more!


Meet the CSPACE Team – Geof Hill

Name: Geof Hill

geof hillRole at BCU: I am a reader in (Higher ) Education in the Faculty of Health, Education and Life Sciences

Research Interests:

  • I am interested in practice-led research and using that in any of the professional practices.
  • I am also interested in creative ways of publishing and disseminating one’s research and specialise in publishing my research in cabaret.

Research you are currently working on: I have just published a practice-led inquiry on my using cabaret as research dissemination. I am working with a colleague to make explicit a notion of ‘provenance’ which we have situated in practice-led inquiry as a reflective process to initiate practice-led inquiry.

I am working with other colleagues on the use of practitioner stories to provide insights into a range of business, education and health practices.

Research methodologies you are using: Practice-led inquiry ( which means that the inquiry begins with the researcher’s/inquirer’s own story of their exposure and development fo the practice they are investigating.

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Current issues, thoughts and reflections on education & research: Educational research is enjoying a new resurgence as practice based inquiry is revalidated as a worthwhile way for people to investigate a range of educational issues.

At BCU it is also exciting that there is a culture of encouraging people to both research and disseminate their research using creative approaches,.

Most influential research you have read/seen: Guba and Lincoln’s (1982) challenge to the hegemony of the positivist paradigm was concept changing for me. Previously I had accepted the dominance of positivist research and now I can see how that is flawed when it is used with any people issues.

Advice for new researchers: Keep a journal so that you will be able to recognise the ways in which you change as a researcher through your candidature. Document the very first thing troubling you and with that issue it can become the topic of your dissertation.

Mini fact about you: I worked as an actor on the television series ‘medivac’.