All posts by remoss

The Light is shining on Religious Education in England

Imran Mogra is a Senior Lecturer in religious education and professional studies, and a member of CSPACE. He is Departmental Research Co-ordinator of the Department of Early Years and Primary Education. In this post, Imran discusses a recent report proposing a national plan for religious education. Follow Imran on twitter @imranmogra.

Religion and Worldviews The Way Forward A National Plan for RE 2On September 12th 2018, the Commission on Religious Education (RE) launched its final report Religion and Worldviews: The Way Forward: A National Plan for RE, making eleven far-reaching recommendations for the future of the study of RE. The report is an important step in promoting further debate about the purpose, structure, legal framework and organisation of this important subject.

The review was undertaken as a response to major concerns expressed over the years regarding the overall dwindling status, quality and provision of RE in schools. Of the varied and broad recommendations, probably the most significant, innovative, and perhaps controversial, is the creation of a statutory national entitlement for all children in public schools. The Commission conducted a two-year period of consultation, evidence gathering session and engaged with individuals and interested parties, which resulted in the publication of Interim Report.

This important report is welcomed for highlighting some of the issues troubling the RE community, schools and teachers. Its significance ought to be considered in light of the vision it sets out for the new National Plan for RE so that RE is retained as an academically rigorous and a knowledge-rich preparation for life in a world of great religion and belief diversity. The Foreword highlights that the report:

  • Offers a new vision: The subject should explore the important role that religious and non-religious worldviews play in all human life.
  • All pupils should have access to high quality teaching, whatever school they attend.
  • There should be significant investment – finance, teacher development and local structures

It recommends that the name be changed to Religion and Worldviews. This is certainly going to prove irksome for some, but will be welcomed by others. Perhaps it is intended to indicate a new aspirational dawn for RE. However, I am not wholly convinced about the impact that the change might have, should it hinge solely on the idea of being inclusive, i.e. of ‘worldviews’. The QCA 2004 had recommended that for a broad and balance RE, there should be opportunities for all pupils to study secular philosophies such as humanism and many local syllabuses do include secular philosophies. Nevertheless, as with previous questions raised about the breadth of scope in terms of which religious should be included, I see the use of ‘worldviews’ leading to a similarly problematic debate about which non-religious worldviews to include and for what purposes. It is important to ask what the inclusion/exclusion criteria will be.

According to recommendation 2, a national entitlement to the study of Religion and Worldviews should become statutory for all publicly funded schools. Since the beginning of the process, I have found my position in relation to the proposal of a statutory national entitlement moving in a pendulum-like swing. How will such an entitlement guarantee a significant increase in the quantity of high-quality teaching? Is it so with history and geography, for example? On the other hand, it might strengthen assessment and monitoring, which may impact positively on school attitudes to valuing this subject. It can certainly guarantee a curriculum for ‘all’ pupils in all types of schools so that a situation can be created whereby a baseline of religious literacy is delivered nationally. Of course, it is important to temper this with a note of caution. How will such a programme be enforced through Ofsted inspections?

It says that a programme of study should be developed by a national body of a maximum of nine professionals, including serving teachers. The emphasis on professionals appears to be a clear message for the determination of the nature of the subject to be within the confines of education, which is vital for addressing misunderstandings and the myth about RE being confessional and indoctrinatory in schools. The inclusion of serving teachers is also welcomed, as there is the clear potential for the body to be kept informed by insider viewpoints and from those working on the ground. It states that this body ‘could choose’ to take advice from other organisations where appropriate, though some might perceive this as watering down the role of faith communities, stakeholders in this debate?

There has been considerable debate and concern about the removal of the right of withdrawal from the subject. Currently, parents can withdraw their children from RE. The report recommends that the DfE should review the right of withdrawal and provide legal clarification. Calling on the DfE ‘to review’ seems that a softer approach has been taken by the Commission. It presents a clear indication that the removal of this will remain a thorny issue. To alleviate concerns related to withdrawal it expects the DfE to work with school leaders to develop a code of good practice for managing the right of withdrawal. Unfortunately, the report offers very little in terms of evidence and direct voices of those who wish for this right to be retained.

There is much to commend in this independent report: the proposals to raise the profile and significance of the subject, the need for well-trained teachers, improvements and funding in CPD, the continuation of the statutory nature of the subject up to KS4, incorporating the subject into vocational qualifications.

The eleven recommendations are significant for moving this debate on and stimulate a different kind of conversation about this important, yet often neglected, subject. It remains for the government to consider them thoroughly at a time when there appears to be a decline in religious literacy, seemingly in correlation with increasing levels of prejudice, fear, hatred and violence.

CSPACE Conference 2018

On 3rd July 2018 we were treated to a fabulous day of stimulating presentations and conversations around the educational research going on in CSPACE and beyond. The conference organisers have created this document to draw together the threads of the conference and tell a story of the day. Please do take a look hereIn a message to all delegates, the team wrote:

The CSPACE conference team of 2018 would like to say a big thank you to delegates, presenters, session chairs and staff who came, supported and contributed to the event on 3rd July.  We hope that you enjoyed the day as much as we did and that you found it challenging, thought provoking, inspiring and most importantly, fun!

Check out the tweets, inter/intra-disciplinary happenings and photographs of the conference here.

Enjoy looking back on this fantastic day and thank you again for participating.

Bayley, Clair and George.

Erasmus+ Mobility visit to University of Wuppertal – Kirsty Devaney

Kirsty Devaney reflects on her Erasmus+ visit to the University of Wuppertal earlier this year. 

On the 12th-14th May I was able to visit the beautiful location of University of Wuppertal in Germany as part of Erasmus+ :

Wuppertal - picture 1

This visit was part of an ongoing research relationship regarding composing in music education with lecturer Annette Ziegenmeyer.

plane to wuppertal - picture 2

Campaigning for Creativity and Composing

Unlike in England where composing in classroom plays a fundamental role in secondary education:

‘Considerably more time is spent on composing than other musical processes within a typical Key Stage 4 music classroom’ (Savage and Fautley, 2011: 142)

School composing in Germany is not a practice that is imbedded. Annette mentioned that the influence of the likes of John Paynter (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Paynter_(composer)) and other composer-educators, did not take place in Germany. Instead music lessons focus on the “replication” and “reproduction” of other music, rather than students creating their own music. Annette, who was a music teacher and composes herself, felt that this lack of creative music making was missing in music education and since started to campaign for composing in schools.

Earlier this academic year, Annette came to Birmingham to investigate how music education, and composing, is done in England:

BMERG team picture - pic 3

I organised observations in a range of schools, including whole class instrumental lessons, to meet with music educators at the university and the Conservatoire, and to discuss her research to others in the BCU music education research community. She was keen that I come and visit her in Germany to see how music education differs and to share my thoughts and research to her colleagues and students.

During my short visit I was able to visit a secondary school and observe music taking place in the classroom. Unlike when Annette visited and she had asked to see composing taking place, Annette warned me that due to composing being so rare, it was unlikely I would be able to observe any composing. The lesson I observed focused on learning to play a popular song using instruments. The informal approach felt it had roots in the Musical Futures (https://www.musicalfutures.org/) movement: the students had selected the song, they worked in friendship groups and the teacher allowed them to just come into the lesson and start practicing and playing rather than outlining the key objectives. Although an interesting approach, students were not able to deviate away from what was being taught. Some of the boys, who were clearly disengaged playing pitched percussion, seemed to be bored playing straight crotchet beats and when they varied the rhythms were told they were getting in wrong.

“Baggage”

I gave a lecture to trainee music teachers on composing, getting them to reflect on what composing means and how to support it in the classroom:

Key questions slide - pic 4

Annette had mentioned that the word “composing” was very rarely used, if at all in music education due to the historical connotations and “baggage” of the word. Discussions were engaging and thought provoking with one student asking if Ed Sheeran was a composer. It was clear that this more open and inclusive approach to composing being possible for all students, and being about making decisions and being creative was new to them. Similarly, perceptions and beliefs about composers were discussed in my PhD thesis, concluding that 3 main beliefs were present in students and teachers. These were the belief that the word “composer” worked only in relation to composing as:

  1. A profession (earning money)
  2. An out-dated practice
  3. A creative genius

violins in window - pic 5

Comparison Study

The rest of the visit involved meetings and discussions about future research. The first direction Annette was keen to pursue was to conduct a survey to investigate current composing provision and teaching in schools.  After showing her my own composing survey (https://www.ism.org/advice/research-into-teachers-attitudes-towards-a-level-composing-released) , and the survey conducted by Savage and Fautley (2011), we identified three main research questions:

  1. How much composing is taking place in schools?
  2. What is taking place?
  3. What beliefs and perceptions are held by teachers regarding composing, composers and composing teaching?

Some of these questions have been asked in the England through research, but for Germany Annette felt this was a first. In conducting the survey we hope to be able to do a comparison study and present initial findings together at European and International conferences in the future. Developing good practice and resources for music teachers is another main stage for Annette and her team.  Overall there was a sense that there was a huge amount of work to be done to promote composing as an inclusive and beneficial aspect of a well rounded and creative musical education, but both Annette and others on her team seem passionate and being at the start of this creative revolution is a very exciting position to be in!

References:

Fautley, M. and Savage, J. (2011b) ‘The organisation and assessment of composing at Key Stage 4 in English secondary schools’, British Journal of Music Education, 28(2), pp. 135-157.

Devaney, K. and Fautley, M. (2015) Music A level Assessment of Composing – Research into teacher attitudes: Incorporated Society of Musicans. Available at: http://www.ism.org/blog/music-a-level-composing-research-into-teacher-attitudes (Accessed: 18th May 2017).

Kirsty and Annette - pic 6 wuppertal music room - pic 7

Open School Doors Project

Mary-Rose Puttick, a PhD student and Graduate Research and Teaching Assistant  for CSPACE, discusses the Open School Doors project. This initiative aims to reduce disparities in learning outcomes for migrant children, and offers support to help these young people succeed in challenging circumstances. 

Project aim

The 2-year (2017-19) Erasmus-funded Open School Doors project spans 5 EU contexts (UK, Germany, Greece, Austria and Trans-European) with the overall aim of reducing disparities in learning outcomes for migrant children, particularly those from refugee, asylum seeker, and Eastern-European Roma backgrounds who have settled in the UK or another EU country in the last 10 years. The focus on new migrants supports the project in addressing the transient population which is increasingly characteristic of EU schools. Open School Doors seeks to inspire and motivate teachers and school managers in cooperating with new migrant parents as well as creating constructive and sustainable partnerships.

Open School Doors Logo

A training framework is currently being developed by the UK team here at BCU to train teachers and head teachers. The framework launches an innovative participatory-action based approach using online tools to address diverse aspects of what we have termed ‘school-languaging’ in a sensitive, positive, and goal-oriented way, including: features of cultural diversity; teacher reflections on their own positionality in the communication process including challenging their own racialized positions as well as pre-conceptions and stereotypes; exploring digital communication / social networking tools to engage with migrant parents; devising action-plans to stimulate parents’ motivation based on localised school contexts; and exploring postcolonial theorist Bhabha’s (1994) notion of ‘third-spaces’, in the case of this project as a neutral space of communication between school and parents.

Data collection

Our UK data collection so far has included focus groups with teaching and management staff at six primary and secondary schools across Birmingham and one focus group with migrant parents.  These six schools are all ‘Schools of Sanctuary’ which is part of the national City of Sanctuary movement and Barbara Forbes from Birmingham Schools of Sanctuary is assisting the BCU team on the project to identify schools which are already taking active steps to make their schools places of sanctuary and welcome for all children and parents. Our data analysis from the six schools, alongside that from the other EU countries, will be used to inform the training framework which will then be rolled out to 50 schools across the 5 project partners.

UK research findings

Our initial research findings indicate what we refer to as a ‘crisis in teacher education’ with teachers coming to the limits of their expertise in teaching children with English as an Additional Language (EAL) and in their communication with EAL parents, many of whom are unfamiliar with the principles of the UK education system and have had little experience themselves of formal education. Teachers report feeling unequipped to deal with trauma and high levels of transiency whilst they continue to face pressures of national assessment and lack of external funding and support.

Parent motivations and interactions work well where focus is placed on building transferable capitals of parents as well as where parents have developed self-help groups.  Some of the parents I interviewed have been asylum seekers for several years, still waiting for a decision regarding their residency status, they described their life as like an ‘open prison’ due to the fact they are unable to access paid employment and have restricted access to educational provision in adult, further and higher education contexts. In this regard parents at one school said the community provision the school had provided for parents gave them a purpose in their lives as they were able to use their skills to support other newly arrived parents. One successful project this school has established is a cooking-based social enterprise called ‘Flavours of Winson Green’. This social enterprise is now in high demand with the parents who run it travelling all over the UK to facilitate cooking experience evenings.

Open School Doors - cooking 1 Open School Doors - cooking 2

BCU hosts EU partners’ visit.

Earlier this month BCU hosted the second meeting of the Open School Doors team, involving an evening in which we got to experience the ‘Flavours of Winson Green’. This was a great success as we were taught how to cook two dishes, a Somalian curry and a Pakistani curry, and then enjoyed the food together and heard the migration stories of the women who run the social enterprise.

Overall it was a very memorable experience and the staff from one of the other primary schools who joined us for the evening have since decided that they will work in partnership with the migrant parents in their school to set up a similar enterprise.

As part of the next stage of Open School Doors we will share further inspiring examples such as the ‘Flavours’ project from primary and secondary across the UK and other EU countries with the aim of encouraging schools to become places of welcome, inclusion, and hospitality where schools work in collaboration with migrant parents and the local community.

The making of a good Muslim Brit

Imran Mogra, Senior Lecturer in Religious Education and Professional Studies at Birmingham City University, explores some of the key findings from a recent review into existing research on societal perceptions from Muslim families.  

The Aziz Foundation, Barrow Cadbury Trust, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and Unbound Philanthropy commissioned Ipsos MORI to review existing research on Muslims. This is a useful piece of research, not least in consolidating existing knowledge and challenging some preconceived notions about Muslims, but also as it assists in identifying the nature and areas for future research. The datasets used in this study were taken from 2010-2016 and the commercial/media surveys from 2015- Dec 2016. This post presents a summary of the key findings from this research.

Population

According to the Ipsos MORI review, the British public hugely overestimates the number of Muslims, leading some to predict that their population will triple. The public thinks that around one in six Britons are Muslim, rather than the correct figure of fewer than one in twenty.

The public’s views about Muslims are mixed and their understanding of Islam is limited. Younger people, however, tend to be better informed and more positive in their attitudes, and knowing someone who is Muslim also makes a positive difference. This demonstrates the need for continued interaction in all sections of society, especially through education and youth channels. Significantly, a third of Muslims are below the age of 15, and half are under 25 years old. This raises implications for society in general and the Muslim communities in particular in ensuring that they have high aspiration and high aspirations for all young people.

Education

Education is important to Muslims. They are much more likely to feel that their level of education is part of their self-identity than are most Britons: 55% of Muslims say their education is important to their sense of who they are, compared to 35% of Christians.

The Ipsos MORI review found that Muslim parents have higher educational aspirations for their children than other parents— slightly higher for Muslim girls than for Muslim boys, but in both cases much higher than the national average. 70% of parents with a Muslim daughter said it was ‘very likely’ that she would go to university, and 64% said the same about their Muslim sons, compared to 43% for non-Muslim girls and 34% for non-Muslim boys. This appears insightful especially in relation to the oft purported stereotype of Muslim attitudes towards female education. Though encouraging, it would be interesting to learn about their career destinations.

Identity and belonging

Most Muslims in Britain live in ethnically-mixed areas. Younger Muslims and graduates are also more likely to have diverse friendship groups than older Muslims and non-graduates. Muslims have a strong sense of belonging to Britain and of feeling part of British society. Most Muslims in Britain consider themselves to be “British”, rather than “English”, “Scottish”, “Welsh” or “Northern Irish”, and most feel that this is their only national identity. A majority thinks that more interaction should take place between different religious and ethnic groups. 45% of under 24s said at least half of their friends are from outside their ethnic group.

Religion

Religion plays an important part in the lives and identity of most Muslims, particularly those who are UK graduates. Interestingly, a strong sense of religious identity sits alongside a strong sense of British identity. Muslims are more likely than the British public as a whole to say that their national identity is important to their sense of who they are (55% of Muslims say this, compared to 44% of all adults).

The vast majority (94%) of Muslims feel able to practice their religion freely in Britain, and most believe that Islam is compatible with the British way of life. Five in six Muslims (83%) agree that “it is possible to fully belong to Britain and maintain a separate cultural or religious identity”; and two-thirds (66%) of Britons regardless of religion agree within them.

The report found that more than half pray at least five times a day or engage in worship of some kind. To meet their spiritual and religious need mosques are needed, which goes someway to explain the estimated 1,500 mosques in Britain.

Politics

In terms of political engagement, the majority (64%) of Muslims say that they are satisfied with the way that democracy works in this country, a higher than the satisfaction levels  with the democratic process across the British public as a whole, and more likely to express trust in democratic institutions. Moreover, Muslims are more likely than the rest of the public to believe that being active in politics can bring benefits, although many feel they have little influence over the decisions that affect them.

Community engagement and charitable

Giving is regarded as highly important in Islam. Most British Muslims donate to charity. Three-quarters (72%) say they have given in the last year, with older Muslims, graduates and those living outside London donating more than younger Muslims, non-graduates and Londoners.

Prejudice

Some Muslims feel that there is prejudice and mistrust against them. The majority take the opposite view; and seven in ten (70%) Muslims feel they are treated fairly by the government. Nevertheless, prejudice against Muslims is felt to be increasing, particularly by Muslim graduates and young Muslims, and a significant minority believes Muslims do not get the same life opportunities as others. One in four (27%) Muslims say they have experienced discrimination; this rises to one in three (34%) for graduates and Muslims aged 18-24.

Employment

More than 7% of Muslims are unemployed, compared with 4% of the UK population as a whole. The hostile climate is holding back some Muslims in work places and several barriers have been identified including impact of the rise in Islamophobia as evident in the House of Common Report. These reveal that there is some reluctance to hire Muslim women as they prioritise family commitments and caring duties. Statistics need to reflect this more and, perhaps link it to a wider social attitude regarding the choices and preferences of some. The age demographic of Muslim women with young families, religio-culutral values and affordable childcare or gender discrimination are additional factors.

Social attitudes

Muslims tend to have more conservative attitudes. Close to half of Muslim men and a third of Muslim women agree that “Wives should always obey their husbands”. Most Muslims participate in traditional British cultural practices, even those with explicitly Christian origins. At Christmas, three-quarters (73%) send cards and three in five give presents, and many also send Mother’s Day or Father’s Day cards, and wear a poppy on Remembrance Day. But most do not put up a Christmas tree. I wonder which headline will feature in the newspaper, the former potentially reinforces stereotypes, and the latter reflects contemporary multi-faith Britain. The tendency it seems is to highlight controversial elements which aid in polarising the community and underplay the positive aspect of the community. Indeed, this highlights a broader issue relating to the representation of Muslims in mainstream media, a point to which I return later in this piece.

Terrorism

Across numerous surveys, only a tiny percentage of Muslims have expressed support or sympathy for terrorism. The reports notes that a recent 2016 survey found that on any act relating to violence, there were notably higher levels of condemnation among Muslim communities than for the population as a whole. Indeed, if anything, sympathy for terrorist violence in the general population (4%) was higher than among Muslims (2%). The vast majority (94%) of Muslims say they would report activities supporting violent extremism to the police, only a minority (16%) say they have come across such activities and these were mainly on internet sites.

Public views

There is a mixed picture on how the public as a whole views Muslims – some measures find a broadly positive or neutral view, others a more negative impression – but younger people are consistently more positive. Most (57%) of the British public do not feel that they have much knowledge or understanding of Islam, and surveys confirm that misconceptions are often widespread.

Victim of crime

Muslims are much more worried about being a victim of crime than average. In 2010-11, Muslims were twice as likely as adults in England and Wales as a whole to be very worried about becoming a victim of crime: 15% were very worried, and 33% fairly worried; for all adults the figures were 8% and 27% respectively.

A NUS survey has found third of Muslim students have experienced abuse or crime at their place of study in the UK, with most victims believing it was motivated by Islamophobia. The community is concerned about physical attacks targeted towards them due their skin religion, colour and ethnic origin.

The role that the media have played in perpetuating stereotypes which do little to dispel potential Muslim hate cannot be understated and is worthy of a much more detailed comment than I can give here. In my view, a more principled position on the reporting and depiction of Muslims needs to be taken, and a wider conversation needs to be started on this issue, including that of a definitive definition of Islamophobia.

The Muslim community should continue to strive in nurturing their youth to be good Muslims. The findings suggest a good Muslim is a Good Brit!

Imran Mogra

A ‘future perfect’ for the University

Dr Fadia Dakka, a postdoctoral researcher in CSPACE, reflects on her experience at the 2017 Society for Research into Higher Education Annual Conference, and challenges our perceptions of how we think about ‘university futures’. 

The dust may have well settled on last December’s Society for Research into Higher Education’s Annual Conference (SRHE2017), yet some of its most inspiring messages still resonate in a polyphony of intellectual voices at their finest. As it should be.

Professor Susan Wright (Educational Anthropology) inaugurated the conference proceedings with a thought provoking keynote that effectively set the tone of the event: ‘knowledge ecology or economy’? – she asked, urgently calling for new ways of ‘imaginizing’ and organising the university. After reviewing some thirty years of unyielding critique of neoliberal higher education between England and Denmark, while unwittingly offering the audience a much revered glance at one’s lifetime intellectual and professional endeavour, she articulated her compelling call to arms: time is ripe for action. And for a substantial shift to occur in the way we presently think about university futures, we need to start from the semantic and semiotic aspects of it. Wright suggested a change in root metaphors, calling biology and anthropology to the university’s rescue. Let us imagine waking up from a fever dream to discover (with much relief!) that neoliberalism, academic capitalism, and the knowledge economy had never risen to become the culturally hegemonic, all-encompassing narratives and sole horizons for thinking and action that we have painfully grown accustomed to. Instead, we live in an interactive knowledge ecology, characterised by a ‘sympoiesis of holobionts’: a collective organisation populated by assemblages of diverse species, forming harmonious ecologic units. Let us linger on the metaphor… and shape the contours of the new ontological and epistemological premises of the university as a ‘holobiont’. Sue Wright sees it as a ‘space for dissension’, that progresses through a ‘generous willingness to disagree’ and through ‘thinking with care’. A space, place and time to ‘lead an examined life with troubling questions’.

I left the plenary enthused, intellectually challenged and positively ‘troubled’, trying to connect what I had just heard with a deliberately provoking revival of Wittgenstein’s famous quote: the limits of my language are the limits of my world.

As the conference progressed, aided by glamorous evening drinks and – proportionally to the amount drunk –  what one believed were the absolutely brilliant accompanying conversations with random delegates, I felt that I had sufficiently rehearsed my upcoming presentation on the rhythms of emancipatory higher education.  While reflecting on the ways in which time, space and affect interweave to continually create and recreate the modalities and materialities of our existence within the university, Penny Burke’s paper (Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education, Newcastle, Australia)  – ‘Investment in Time & Space in HE’ – shed light on another crucial yet under-researched point:  time & space (rhythms) in academia are increasingly and worryingly individualised, decontextualized and disembodied. This means that those who do not conform to hegemonic values and practices of space & time are constructed as problematic and lacking capabilities. In other words, not only are these timescapes far from being neutral – indeed they are  multiple, embodied, gendered and racialized; but spaces too (architecture and technology as cases in point),  structure the student and teacher’s experience by making certain forms of practice possible while excluding others. Burke’s stringent critique enlightened me on the necessity of making the politics of rhythms in academia both explicit and radical, by pointing toward a new conceptualisation of time-space in relation to equity and belonging.

As the conference finally drew to a close, my reflections on the past-future-present of the university seemed to come full circle, too, while I was silently engaging with Sue Wright’s ultimate provocation: “There’s no such thing as the individual. Humans are more bacteria than they are human genes.” This should be a starting point for thinking the future University as a sympoiesis (co-creation):  the university of the commons.

Alongside this powerful vision for a re-energized and democratized Anthropocene, I begin to wonder whether the journey toward ‘the centre of the maze’, for a hypothetical university of the future, should not simply be an inward gaze: the aesthetic of absence that historically characterized the myth of the ‘ivory tower’ could be recovered as a space of separation and incubation. As Masschlein and Simons (2017) remind us, the Greek philosophical and historical conceptualization of schole can be simultaneously defined as study, free time, rest, delay, discussion, lecture, or school building. In creating a suspension from the dominant (time-space) economies that have produced it, the university can and should reclaim the freedom to ‘suspend’ hegemonic time-space and allow becoming. In connecting past and future to our everyday, I therefore suggest a new ‘tense’ for higher education: the future perfect.

Dr Fadia Dakka is a post-doc researcher at CSPACE. Her research interests interface between political/economic/ cultural transformations of the contemporary university, university futures and the rhythms of emancipatory (higher) education.  

Musicology and Music Education: Fault lines?

In this post, Adam Whittaker reflects on two talks that he gave at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. He explores the intersections of two areas rarely considered in the same breath, and draws attention to the ways in which they can speak to each other. 

In early October, I was fortunate enough to be invited to present at the first public research seminar at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. In a break from the usual format of 60 minutes plus discussion, I was asked to present two shorter papers drawing on my work in historical musicology and music education. This was an interesting opportunity to highlight the ways in which these two disciplines, traditionally separated along methodological and cultural lines (and REF units!), could interface with each other. The event was well attended and the discussion was certainly lively!

Most music education research in recent times has, quite understandably, been focused on performance and composition. Aspects of contextual study, arguably the seeds of historical musicology in the curriculum, have received much less attention. In my first presentation, I shared some of my developing work on set works in A-level music examinations, problematizing the relative similarity with examinations from the 1950s. I argued that the continued dominance of classical music within A-level music has a potentially damaging effect upon the relevance and inclusivity of this qualification, building on Robert Legg’s 2012 work in this area.

In highlighting the points of similarity, and a few small points of divergence, it is clear that female composers are still significantly underrepresented in this area of study, being confined to a marginalised status that misrepresents their presence in world leading music festivals. Following this line of inquiry, it became clear that significant areas of our diverse musical culture had been reduced to a relatively fusty selection of set works that differ little from those set by examiners working in the 1950s. What are the implications of this lack of change? How can we possibly expect students to see A-level music study as relating to their own musical experiences when it barely resembles the experiences of the concert-going public? I concluded that such a narrow definition of set work study is sabotaging the ability of the classical music sector to attract students from outside of the socio-economic groups associated with white, middle-class privilege. Such an intentional provocation sparked a lively discussion, leading to a detailed and constructive email exchange with an audience member that went on for many days after the talk.

Johannes Tinctoris - Frontispiece to Valencia 835.

Immediately following this talk, and donning my historical musicologist hat, I moved to my second presentation, reprising and developing some of my research on the musical examples of Johannes Tinctoris: see Whittaker (2017) and image (above). Tinctoris is the best-known music theorist of the fifteenth-century, occupying an almost unrivalled status in modern scholarship as a leader in his field. His nine notational treatises contain over 600 musical examples, exceeding the standard practices of the time. He was also the royal music teacher at the court of Naples in the 1470s, and was clearly a widely-respected musical authority, with other writers continuing to reference his theories decades after his death. His texts are important witnesses to the musical practices of the fifteenth-century, and offer a unique insight into the pedagogical logics which underpinned the way that music was theorised and, by implication, taught to aspiring musicians. They, in turn, offer some examples of pieces that musicians should study in order to understand good compositional style and technique.

For example, Tinctoris extolls the virtue of some of compositional masters of his own age, praising the skills of composers such as Guillaume Du Fay, Antoine Busnoys, and Johannes Ockeghem. Not afraid to pick a fight, however, Tinctoris also heavily criticises these same composers for practices that he deemed to be transgressions of theoretical propriety. He doesn’t mince his words either, describing some of these errors as ‘intolerable’ and ‘inexcusable’. All this, however, is in the spirit of musical appraisal, offering detailed insights into the practices displayed by composers across an age.

It is this theme which unites the two papers, exploring the pedagogical logics which underpin our approaches to the study of music, whether based on repertoire studies in the set work model, or to think deeply about the heritage of musical pedagogies. I hope to continue to draw together my musicological and music education research to bring fresh perspectives to music education, construed in its broadest sense, both in terms of setting, historical period, and age range. Such complementary perspectives can indeed speak to each other in interesting ways!

References (if applicable):

Legg, R. (2012). Bach, Beethoven, Bourdieu: ‘cultural capital’ and the scholastic canon in England’s A-level examinations. The Curriculum Journal, 23(2), 157-172

Whittaker, A. (2017). Signposting Mutation in some Fourteenth- and Fifteenth-Century Music Theory Treatises. Plainsong & Medieval Music, 26(1), 37-61.

Short bio: Adam Whittaker is a research assistant working across the music education research projects in CSPACE. His work has been published in leading journals and he has co-authored a number of national evaluation reports, including two commissioned by Arts Council England and Music Mark. He also cofounded the Representations of Early Music in Stage and Screen Study Group, which is soon to have its first book published by Routledge in early 2018. Alongside his scholarly work, he is also active as a musician and is currently musical director of the Stafford Orchestra.

Academic social media: @DrAdamWhittaker

Whole Class Ensemble Teaching report

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The CSPACE music education research team has recently completed a nationally significant report commissioned by MusicMark, the membership organisation that represents music education hubs in England, and funded by Arts Council England. The report, authored by Professor Martin Fautley, Dr Victoria Kinsella, and Dr Adam Whittaker, offers one of the most comprehensive studies to date of the provision of Whole Class Ensemble Teaching (WCET). WCET, also known as ‘Wider Opportunities’ or ‘First Access’, sees children learn a musical instrument in a large group setting, usually with the rest of their school class and most often in KS2. The report, based upon a nationwide survey and in-depth interviews with more than 20 music education hub leaders, was launched on Friday 24th November at the annual MusicMark conference. The report, executive summary, and key messages documents can be accessed here.

Democracy through Drama- A successful Erasmus+ Project Launch!

Chris Bolton introduces a new Erasmus+ research project he is leading on Democracy through Drama. 

Chris Bolton Drama Project team

The project Demo-Dram: Young Civic Thinking and its priorities were identified as a result of recent and current social and political conflicts related to issues, such as immigration and threats in democracies around the world that pose concerns about racism and threaten the peace process in Europe. The project was inspired by a pilot study that myself and colleagues from the Education department of Birmingham City University conducted with teachers and pupils in secondary schools, which revealed that teachers believed that their curricula focuses on targets and assessment, there is no space for debate on social issues and there is social prejudice, xenophobia and imposition from the media that affect young people’s views and their decisions. You can read Chris’s full blog here.

Bio: Christopher Bolton is a Senior Lecturer in Drama Education at BCU. Before this role he worked in a secondary school as a Drama Advanced Skills Teacher. He has a keen interest in how drama can create spaces for dialogic learning by working with reasoned imagination and the impact of the education systems on the nature of drama in education.

Parenting in the Digital Age – young children’s rights and digital technology

Dr Jane O’Connor is a Reader in Childhood Studies at Birmingham City University and is currently leading ‘Technobabies’, an international research project exploring parents’ perspectives on the use of touchscreen digital devices by 0-3 year olds. In this post she explores the relationship between young children’s rights and digital technology. 

JOC 1My research into the use of mobile digital devices, such as iPads, by children under three has focused on the perspectives of parents and other care givers both in the UK and in a range of other countries including Sweden, Greece and Australia. Cultural differences aside, what has come across most strongly in the findings has been the sense of parental confusion and anxiety around whether or not their babies and toddlers should be allowed to use such devices, for how long and what the most appropriate apps may be. All of these decisions have to be made by families on a daily basis with, as yet, little research evidence from trustworthy sources to guide them. As one parent in Greece put it:

‘We just want to know if children win or lose from using iPads’.

Unfortunately, even with growing numbers of researchers working in the area, the definitive answer to that question is a long way off and the reality is much more nuanced than the question might suggest. The multiple potential benefits and drawbacks of allowing 0-3s to use digital devices continue to be debated, although the general consensus among both parents and professionals seems to be that moderation and supervision are the keys to safely incorporating such technology into very young lives.

However, what has been missing from much research in the area so far, including my own, is a consideration of the issue of children’s rights. We need to think about the extent to which we can say that children, even the very youngest children, have a right to use digital technology and how this might, or indeed should, influence parental decisions in relation to access to mobile devices. When we consider the charter of children’s rights drawn up by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), it seems that preventing usage could be perceived as an infringement of some rights, but an upholding of others. Andy Phippen, Professor of Children and Technology at Plymouth University recently outlined some of the ways in which this could relate to very young children’s technology usage. For example, he suggests that removing all possible ‘risk’ to the child by not allowing them to use digital technology could be interpreted as infringing Article 12 (Respect for the views of the child), Article 17 (Access to information; mass media) and Article 28 (Right to education), whereas the use of mobile devices for ‘digital pacification’ purposes could be seen as infringing on Article 3 (Best interests of the child) and Article 12 (Respect for the views of the child).

JOC 2In this context, the questions parents need answers to become even more complex. As well as worrying about whether using digital technology will support baby’s learning or damage their eyes they also need to ask ‘Does allowing my child to use an iPad infringe on their rights or support them?’

Related publications

O’Connor, J. and Fotakopoulou, O. (2016) A threat to early childhood innocence or the future of learning? Parents’ perspectives on the use of touchscreen technology by 0–3 year olds in the UK. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 17(2).

O’Connor, J. (2017)Appropriate play? Parents’ reflections on 0-3s using touchscreen technology in the home’. In Arnott, L. (2017) Digital Technologies and Learning in the Early Years. London: SAGE.

O’Connor, J., Fotakopolou, O., Hatzigianni, M and Fridberg, M. (2018) ‘Parents’ perspectives on the use of touchscreen technology by 0-3 year olds in the UK, Greece, Sweden and Australia’. In Palaiologou, I. (Ed) (2018 forthcoming) Digital Practices in Early Childhood Education: An International Perspective. London: SAGE.