Meet the CSPACE Team – Rob Smith

Name: Dr Rob SmithRob Smith

Role at BCU: Reader in Education

Research Interests:

  • Marketisation in education
  • Education and social justice
  • Education funding
  • Educational leadership

Research you are currently working on: I am looking at FE funding and the impact of the funding regime on teaching and learning. This involves looking critically at performance data and detaching this from notions of quality. It interests me that all of the FE teachers I know understand that these data are largely inaccurate, and yet everyone ignores this elephant in the atrium. I am also interested in how this issue is shaped by (cultures of) leadership and management in FE. IN my view, there is a real danger in approaching education as though it were a production line or an exercise in counting beans. In FE, this approach has led to spoon-feeding and even force-feeding in order to ensure that colleges harvest income. This is bad for students, teachers and society at large. So why do we put up with it? I am also involved in an international comparative study into the way education funding in Israel, the US and the UK seeks to address the distribution of educational achievement with regards to students’ backgrounds.

Research methodologies you are using: My work is reflexive in the sense that it is grounded in a consciousness of how knowledge production has become politicised in educational research. Critics might view my work as primarily qualitative. To date it has mainly been quite small-scale, though my last piece of research involved an electronic survey that had 350 respondents. On the other hand, I view research that uses mainly quantitative data in a positivist way as problematic. I am interested in how quantitative data is often used as a short cut to understanding empirical phenomena and the consequences of this. In my mind, this is linked to marketisation and there are significant problems associated with this.Untitled

Current issues, thoughts and reflections on education & research: HE educational academics were characterised by the last Secretary of state for education as “The Blob”. This pulled out into the open the fact that, broadly speaking, the views of educationalists have largely been marginalised by successive governments bent on developing markets in the English education system. The centralised governance of education through ‘big’ comparative data is an integral part of this. It drives a lot of developments but, to my mind, has also impacted negatively on our education system and on teachers’ work and lives in the last two decades.

Most influential research you have read/seen: From a macro perspective, I find Stephen Ball’s work very persuasive. On the ground floor, for teachers, I have enjoyed reading Jonathan Kozol’s books about his experiences working as a teacher in the US.

Advice for new researchers: Follow your passion. Be imaginative. Don’t be put off by academics who view themselves as gatekeepers who devalue what you do. Existing hierarchies can be the enemy of critical knowledge production – for obvious reasons!

Mini fact about you: I was brought up to interact with the caretaker, the crossing warden and the cleaner in exactly the same way as I interact with the doctor, the headteacher, the MP and/ or the Queen: as an equal. Some people have a problem with that.



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