All posts by remoss

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

Musicmark logo

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.

 

Book Review: Excellence in Higher Education

In this post, Bethany Sumner, one of CSPACE’s doctoral students, reviews an important new book on the Teaching Excellence Framework, edited by Amanda French and Matt O’Leary.

Details: French, A. and O’Leary, M. (Eds.) (2017) Excellence in Higher Education, Challenges, Changes and the Teaching Excellence Framework. Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited.

TEF book coverThe introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) has ignited debate and controversy about the potential effects on the English higher education (HE) sector, particularly given the framework’s reliance on a core set of metrics that have tenuous (at best) links to teaching quality. Excellence in Higher Education, Challenges, Changes and the Teaching Excellence Framework (French and O’Leary, 2017), the first title in the ‘Great Debates in Higher Education’ series, captures many of those debates. It draws upon the experience of current HE professionals and the wider agenda of teaching excellence to offer some much-needed insight into the repercussions of TEF for those directly involved in teaching and learning. The book offers a useful breakdown of key issues including the aims of the TEF, what it involves, and
how it relates to the wider discourses of HE, such as
widening participation and employability.

It was pleasing to see that the authors welcome the renewed focus on teaching in HE. However, as they highlight, multiple difficulties arise when an endeavour is made to reduce a complex, shifting, context-dependent and multifaceted construct such as ‘excellence’ to a set of metrics (Gourlay and Stevenson, 2017). The TEF’s continued reluctance to engage in any debate concerning the complexity of teaching excellence does little to negate this. This book engages in a nuanced and comprehensive discussion of what ‘teaching excellence’ might actually mean, drawing on a range of relevant literature and practical experience to help develop the readers’ thinking, not only in terms of the TEF but also in relation to pedagogy, professional learning, and developing authentic and effective teaching practice. It offers an important reminder of the importance of teaching and learning that can sometimes be lost in criticism of the metric-driven nature of the TEF.

One of the challenges in this text is that the very nature of the subject means that some of the discussions are quickly outdated. For example the book is critical of the TEF’s proposed link to fees, noting the perceived inevitability that TEF performance would eventually be used to justify a differential fee structure in the sector. However, as things currently stand, the TEF no longer has a bearing on the amount that higher education providers can charge (Leach, 2017). Despite this context, the rapidly changing political climate of HE is in no way detriment to the book’s critical commentary on both the TEF and wider discourses of teaching excellence in general and the refreshing ideas offered such as putting forward the idea of emergent pedagogies to help grow great teaching in HE.

The text offers a thought-provoking and detailed commentary on an area that has been subject to much debate and contention and proposes some refreshing and relevant discussions in terms of pedagogical practice. In a context where higher education providers are caught up in a ‘status economy’ with status being the global higher education market currency (Warren, 2017) and where ‘metrics are everything’ the book provides a valuable, critical voice of reason. I recommend this book to anyone working in HE or who has an active interest in the sector. It is well written, clear and informative, and helps to shed some timely light on the contentions surrounding the TEF and the notion of teaching excellence in general. This is an important book, not least because as French and O’Leary point out ‘it’s time that teaching and learning became a bigger priority in higher education’ and it appears that the TEF is here to stay.

 

Gourlay, L. and Stevenson, J. (2017) Teaching excellence in higher education: critical perspectives. Teaching in Higher Education, 22(4), pp.391-395.

Leach, M. (2017) Government defeated in the Lords over TEF and fees. Available at: http://wonkhe.com/blogs/government-defeated-in-the-lords-over-tef-and-fees/ [Accessed 20th October 2017].

Warren, S. (2017) Struggling for visibility in higher education: caught between neoliberalism ‘out there’ and ‘in here’ – an autoethnographic account. Journal of Education Policy, 32(2), pp.127-140.

The good, the bad and the ugly: Religious Education at a crossroads

The good, the bad and the ugly: Religious Education at a crossroads

In this post, Imran Mogra, Senior Lecturer in Religious Education and Professional Studies, reflects on the recent publication of a report from the Commission on Religious Education. Note the link at the bottom of this post to join the debate on these important issues. 

Religious Education for All coverLast month the Commission on Religious Education (CoRE) published its Interim Report Religious Education for All. The CoRE wishes to engage the public in developing their thinking on Religious Education over the next academic year. The future of RE, it believes, is in the balance and they conclude that a timely intervention is necessary if RE is to continue making its significant contribution to pupils’ education. The Commission has made recommendations in four key areas which they believe will reinvigorate the subject. The consultation is open until 9.00am on 4th December 2017. In this article, I reflect and react to some of their proposals.

Whilst there will be points of departure with some of their recommendations, nevertheless, the first point to make is that for anyone passionate and concerned about RE in schools, the stark warning by the Commission, who were unanimous in their view, that “RE faces a perilous future without strategic, urgent intervention”, should welcome this report.

The interim report makes for some fascinating and encouraging reading. For example, in the 2017 GCSE exams, Religious Studies was the fourth most popular subject, after English language, English literature, and mathematics, and just ahead of science. Nearly 300,000 pupils took the examination. This is a clear demonstration that the subject is considered relevant, valuable, interesting and worthy of study by many youngsters.

The value and benefits of RE are widely conceived by the Commission itself. They state that RE continues to be a vital academic subject for education in the 21st century. It gives young people

  • the knowledge, understanding, and motivation they need to understand important aspects of human experience, including the religious, spiritual, and moral.
  • RE gives insights into the arts, literature, history, and contemporary local and global social and political issues.
  • It provides young people with a space in the curriculum to reflect on their own worldview and to engage with others whose worldview may be different.

This standpoint is apt as it allows students to understand themselves, the subject itself, intercultural issues and to engage with global dynamics.

Crucially, it gives voice to young people who articulate an instrumental role of RE. They said that “RE enables them to have better friendships, and to develop greater respect and empathy for others.” The views from employers are also welcome. The Commission reported that “RE is highly valued by many employers, who increasingly understand that, in a globalised world, understanding others’ world-views and their impact on people’s lives is essential to success” (p.3).

The evidence base of the report is wide and being independent gives confidence. The report is based on the knowledge and experience of the Commissioners and on oral evidence from 53 individuals and organisations at five evidence-gathering sessions in Birmingham, Exeter, London, Manchester and York, though East Anglia could also have featured. They also received 1,377 responses to an online survey, and 49 submissions by email.

Some of the findings are unsurprising. In outlining the variable standards and some persistent low standards in many schools, the report noted that where RE was good or better, it was a result of strong support for RE from senior leadership and governors, effective training, and good subject knowledge on the part of teachers. By contrast, poor standards were often the result of a lack of confidence on the part of teachers, inadequate ITT and CPD, and the high proportion of lessons taught by non-specialists at Secondary and non-teachers at primary.

The Commission should be congratulated for recommending that pupils in Key Stage 4 who do not take Religious Studies at GCSE should have their work accredited.

They endorse minimal entitlement for RE which is also advocated by several key organisations. Pragmatically, this is appealing in the current political and educational climate. All schools could be held accountable in meeting their legal obligation and in making appropriate provisions. ITT may have clearly defined parameters. Heads would be able to show how their vision and mission is in line with national entitlement. Professionally, in a climate of academisation and the increasing autonomy of individual schools, it will provide a single reference point for the subject, increasing the prospects of accountability, which is also a key recommendation of the report. However, faith communities hitherto less prominent, humanist, and other groups have been campaigning for more time and space within RE provision. On top of this, the role of local authorities in determining the syllabus of RE is also under consultation. Thus, there are various stakeholders poised to make their viewpoints and be considered in these debates.

The report leaves me with some questions:

  • Who will translate the entitlement into a detailed programme of study?
  • What will the outcomes be?
  • Changing the name is being proposed, what impact will this have on the quality of provision, if any?
  • It recommends a minimum 12 hours’ initial training for RE. Should this be accepted, how will other subjects square up with this?
  • As an option, it sees funding for SACREs to come from the Department of Culture, media and Sport or the Department of Communities and local government, what about the Department of Education?

There are some recommendations which are controversial. Resolving these may prove challenging:

  • Removing the right of withdrawal from parents.
  • Faith schools’ ability to teach their own confessional syllabus should end.

In summary, the report highlights the good, the bad, and the ugly elements of RE. The time is ripe for a discussion on RE and its structure, aims and outcomes, accountability, syllabus, funding and legal issues. It identifies specific gaps and offers reasonable propositions in the unfolding landscape of education. It has several features which are impressive and there is much to commend. It also appears to be defensive in some respects and rightly warns against some fears which resonate with some in the RE community regarding the subject.

The call for evidence is available here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/CoREConsult1

Join in this important debate and highlight the issues emerging in your context.

A PDF of the full set of questions, can be downloaded here to allow you to think about your responses before filling it in online, if you wish.  You are not required to answer all of the questions.

 

 

Conference Report: BERA 2017

Becky Snape, a PhD student and Assistant Lecturer working with CSPACE, reflects on her recent experience of the 2017 BERA Conference.

I’m Becky Snape and I work in CSPACE as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD researcher. I’m just about to go into my third year of my PhD programme. On 4th September 2017, I travelled down to Brighton for the British Educational Research Association (BERA) Annual Conference. BERA is one of the largest conferences in the educational research world – I was one of 996 attendees – so I was keen to attend and disseminate my research at this event. In this blog, I will share some of my experiences of the conference.

About BERA

Unlike more specialist conferences, BERA hosts a broad range of topics about education. It has 33 Special Interest Groups (SIGs):

When you submit an abstract to the conference committee, you can choose to affiliate your research with a particular SIG. I aligned my work with the ‘Creativities in Education’ cluster. However, two new SIGs caught my attention at the conference – ‘English in Education’ and ‘Language and Literacy’. My research looks at teachers’ perspectives of creative writing in GCSE English Language. Within that subject area, my research encompasses pedagogy, policy and philosophy (teachers’ conceptualisations of CW). Therefore, like me, you may find that your research aligns with different SIGs.

In order to present your research at BERA, you need to submit a 750 word abstract to the conference committee. The deadline is very early, so watch out for it (31st January). The abstract is then marked using a points system by experts in your selected SIG. The abstract is marked on its clarity, contribution, quality, and relevance. For an Early Career Researcher, this was a useful and gentle introduction to peer review.

My presentation

My presentation was scheduled at 1:40pm on 5th September. I arrived at the room early so that I could get set up.

Becky 1Before my presentation started, I took the opportunity to speak to the other presenters and delegates who had arrived early. The delegates were from a range of backgrounds, including teachers from Singapore and someone who worked in a research company. There was also a representative from one of the GCSE exam boards in the audience too, which was quite surreal!

Becky 2My presentation ran fairly smoothly. Rather than focusing on one aspect of the research, I presented a whistle-stop tour of my project. Some people like to take one part of their work and look at it in-depth but I decided to present an overview of the context, literature review, methodology, and emerging findings. I felt that this was the best format as BERA is an international conference, so some of the delegates would not have an in-depth understanding of the English school curriculum.

 

Following my twenty-minute presentation, delegates were keen to know more about my perspectives on creative writing: how do I define creative writing? Do I have any recommendations for teaching creative writing? It was really nice to hear those sorts of questions, and to be able to share the insights I have gleaned from my research.

Looking ahead

I returned from BERA enthused, having presented successfully and encountered some of the most prominent names in my field, including Professors Teresa Cremin and Dominic Wyse. On the final day, we were also treated to a fascinating keynote lecture from Gert Biesta.

Becky 3

I hope to attend BERA again next year (11th-13th September 2018, Northumbria University), when my PhD is at a more advanced stage. I would definitely encourage my BCU colleagues to attend BERA. It’s a great opportunity to present your research to a wider audience, and find out about cutting edge research in the field. You can find out more details about next year’s conference here: https://www.bera.ac.uk/event/bera-conference-2018.