Role at BCU: PhD Researcher and Graduate Teaching and Research Assistant
Research Interests: Family Learning, Adult Education, Literacy, Ethnicity
Research you are currently working on: My PhD is looking at Family Learning initiatives in Birmingham. My research questions are:
What does family learning mean to parents, children and practitioners?
What does best practice look like in different contexts?
How can best practice be implemented in all family learning institutions?
Can a framework for monitoring the benefits of family learning be established and embedded into institutional practice?
Research methodologies you are using: I am going to carry out case-studies of 3 Family Learning providers. I will use semi-structured interviews with families and practitioners and observations of learning sessions. I also plan to use Visual and Sensory ethnography and Discourse Analysis.
Current issues, thoughts and reflections on education & research: It is an exciting time to be within the School of Education at BCU as the school is expanding and the links between teaching and research are getting stronger!
Most influential research you have read/seen: Black Masculinities and Schooling: How Black Boys Survive Modern Schooling (Sewell, 1997)
Advice for new researchers: Don’t be afraid to try new and innovative techniques whilst carrying out your research.
Mini fact about you: I have a trainer addiction (currently on 18 pairs and counting!)
Role at BCU: Full time PhD student and Graduate Reasearch and Teaching Assistant
Research Interests: Primary School Education
Research you are currently working on: Assessment without levels in Primary Schools.
Research methodologies you are using: Mixed methods case study or how primary schools are assessing without levels. This will involve teacher interviews as the primary data which will be used with a comparison of teacher assessment and test assessment.
Current issues, thoughts and reflections on education & research: There’s a very broad range of literature on assessment. It’s been both enjoyable and daunting to immerse myself into it. A very interesting area I’ve found is the research around the validity and reliability of teachers’ assessments, formative and summative. The over whelming influence on this is how the assessments are used and the matter of league tables is never far from the discussion. A number of reviews over the years have been commissioned by the government to advise on assessment. The two main reports from TGAT (Task Group on Assessment and Testing, 1988) and The Bew Report (2011). Both reports, years apart, do not recommend assessment data being used to rank and judge schools. The TGAT Report (1988) discusses concerns about using the suggested external test in league tables. The question I have in my head when reading these reports is what do we have these external tests and league tables for?
Coming into the PhD fresh out of teaching myself, I’d expected a lot of the research to be quantitative because quantitative data was predominant in schools. However, a vast majority of research on assessment is qualitative. This took some getting used to and was confusing at first. I didn’t understand why the research is mostly qualitative but schools are judged on quantitative data. The recommendations from the government are also based on quantitative data. Now I’m thinking a lot about whether learning can be measured quantitatively because of how many factors are involved. This is certainly something I’m going to delve deeper into.
Most influential research you have read/seen: It’s not one piece in particular. There are a number of key author in the field (Black, P; Wiliam, D; Harlen, J; Stobart, G) that I find the most useful but the biggest influence is when I find a completely different point of view and it really makes me think. That makes me question the conclusion I have come to and the context I’m seeing assessment in compared to someone who thinks differently.
Advice for new researchers: Have a system to record your reading including quotes you find useful and what you think about the article/book/report. I’ve also found that when I started reading things I didn’t particular know what I was looking for but as I got into it themes and reflections came to me a lot easier. So, don’t expect to get everything out of a piece of literature when reading it for the first time, it’s when you read other things and read it that you get the most out it.
Mini fact about you: I can sew pretty well and make all sort things.
Role at BCU: Senior Lecturer and Subject Leader for Music Education
Research Interests: Bourdieu inspired:
What is the Field of Music Education?
Is the Universe of Discourse in Music Education under threat?
How can Signature Pedagogy in Music Education be defined?
Research you are currently working on: How can Signature Pedagogy in Music Education be defined?
Research methodologies you are using: Humanistic and interpretivist phenomenography underpinned by Bourdieu’s perception of epistemic reflexivity.
Current issues, thoughts and reflections on education & research: This is a fascinating time to be involved in education research since we are in an anti-intellectual turn in education policy discourse. There is an urgent need for genuine critical education research. The place of theory in education has been questioned but education research is responded by creating strong links between theory and practice through critical practice-based enquiry. The question remains whether genuine critical education research can save the education system from collapse under the false gods of knowledge-led curricular and evidence based research (or research that proves what policy makers have already decided).
Most influential research you have read/seen: Bourdieu, P (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Advice for new researchers: Join a community of thinking.
Mini fact about you: I am passionate about music education for all and how music can change people’s perception of the world around them.
Birmingham City University and the University of East Anglia are currently engaged in a collaborative research project with Brazilian education activists for whom critical pedagogy and popular education pedagogy are harnessed to facilitate a critical, politically engaged education processes for social change.
CSPACE recently held a Research Seminar, Wednesday , 11 May 2016 : which showcased the work of Brazilian educators visiting from Fortaleza in the state of Ceara, and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Dra Maria das Dores and Dra. Jackline:Rabelo: ‘The World Bank and its consequences for Education in Brail and Latin America.
Dra Sandra Maria y Dr Luís TavoraFurtado Ribeiro: ‘Universities, Social Movements and Social Transformation’.
Dr Paolo Vittoria: ‘The implications for education of the threatened parliamentary coup in Brazil today
We welcomed our Brazilian colleagues back to continue the face-to-face dialogue begun last year. This dialogue explores possibilities and constraints for alternative education processes in, against and beyond the neoliberal university in the current challenging context where the governing Brazilian Workers’ Party faces a ‘parliamentary coup’ whilst, at the same time, progressive social movements like the Landless Movement (The Movement of Rural Landless People or MST—Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra) have developed impressively well organised bottom up processes of educational change that seeks to build social movements to improve the lives of, amongst others, the rural landless people.
The conference will bring together practitioners, researchers and key figures in the field of Further Education (FE) and will cover a range of themes from apprenticeships and work-based learning to accountability and governance in FE.
Instead of the conventional ‘stand and deliver’ format of many conferences, ‘Reimagining Further Education’ will be organised as group conversations framed and facilitated by a discussant and chair for each of the 6 thematic strands included. By exploring positive, imaginative and creative ways forward that enhance agency, workforce development and the professional ethos of all FE practitioners, this conference aims to put the ‘confer’ back into conference!
The role of leadership in FE has changed. The current round of Area Reviews are a testimony to that. Under incorporation, the colleges as freestanding institutions with the power to set their own contractual conditions for staff and control over their budgets developed a distinctive version of leadership that matched the assertive new profile of the sector. Not everyone bought into this (mercifully), but Roger Ward – the then chief executive of the College Employers Forum (forerunner of the AoC) seemed to set the tone. This was in keeping with the market ideology that underpinned the incorporation experiment. The FE (quasi) market was designed to be a mechanism that would lead to an improvement in standards. This is what we now call a neoliberal approach to organising FE.
This neoliberal approach was underpinned by a vision. Colleges were freed from the shackles of the Local Authority. They were free to be run on business lines because the perception was that public sector organisations were inefficient, uneconomical and ineffective. They were expected to develop in commercially-minded ways. There was a full expectation that the proportion of college budgets coming from commercial and entrepreneurial activities would increase and the proportion of college budgets coming from government funding would decrease. The aim was a sector of colleges that were virtually autonomous: purveyors of courses to the public and to employers with an ever-reducing dependence on public (government) funding. This vision has spectacularly failed to materialise.
In those terms, it’s fair to say that incorporation has failed. After all, what else do the Area Reviews signal if not that the college as a delivery unit for FE is no longer relevant? Today, more than ever, FE is being viewed by government in sectoral terms. The significance of individual colleges has been absorbed within that wider overview.
That said, the failure of incorporation is rooted as much in the almost impossible funding environment for FE that has emerged due to austerity as it is in the failure of commercial and entrepreneurial cultures two flower and produce autonomous colleges. The Area reviews are part of the machinery of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The present government believes FE is inefficient and the Area Reviews focus on this idea rather than taking the purpose of FE as a central theme.
So what is the current purpose of FE leadership?
From some perspectives, there is some mileage in viewing the leadership style of the 1990s as being part of a more general crisis of authority in our country. In the current conditions, it’s unsurprising that the role has undergone fundamental changes. Because of budgetary constraints leadership in FE has moved away from focusing on teaching and learning. It’s now much more likely to be about the proficient management of performance data. Because as everyone in the sector knows, the most important thing in colleges is to ensure of that the data is good. In some cases, that is irrespective of the reality as it is experienced by teachers and students.
So in the space of 20 years, we have shifted from a model of principalship as the leadership of a competitive, self-interested organisation looking to expand and keen to pursue business opportunities (although oddly, there are continuing echoes in the current policy of academisation). From that we have moved to a role primarily focused on balancing books and overseeing the production of a simulated version of college activities crafted to yield maximum funding returns and to satisfy OFSTED’s inspection regime.
Neither version is what we really need.
Discuss the future of FE Leadership at the Reimagining FE Conference
If you would like to be part of envisioning a new role for FE leaders, come to our collaborative conference Reimagining Further Education on 29 June 2016 at Birmingham City University’s Central Campus. Our unique discussion format is designed to take a hard look at current challenges facing FE and then together seek creative ways forward. There are 6 thematic strands to the day and one is dedicated to Leadership in FE. I hope to see you there.
For the first time this year CELT and CSPACE are joining forces to host our Annual Education Conference. In case you haven’t heard of us before, CSPACE is the Centre for the Study of Practice and Culture in Education, and CELT is the Centre for Enhancement of Teaching and Learning. The conference will be held on 11th July 2016.
Although 11th July seems like a while away yet, it’s the standard protocol for us to collect and select abstracts in advance. You’ve probably already received a call for papers from me via your staff email. If you haven’t received this email, please alert me to this on Rebecca.Snape@bcu.ac.uk and I will immediately rectify this. We need to receive all abstracts before 20th May 2016, so you have two weeks to get these in to us. We have a range of different formats for you to choose from to ensure that you can present your research in the best way you see fit.
We believe that this is a fantastic opportunity for researchers and teachers across the University to showcase their best practice. Whether you’re an emerging researcher who wants to present their work for the first time, or an experienced academic who wants to share their wisdom and receive feedback from others, we’re keen to hear about the work you’re doing. It’s also a good opportunity for networking, and, particularly if you’re an Early Career Researcher, it’s a great addition to your CV. We also strongly believe that it is a fantastic opportunity for faculties to come together and hear what others are doing, which is why we are opening this up to the entire University. So, come and get involved!
This year we are keen to open out our conference to students and academics across the University who would like to showcase the fantastic work they’re doing with regards to teaching, learning and educational research. Whether you want to talk about a theoretical approach you’ve utilised in your teaching, a style of teaching which has worked particularly well, or a piece of interdisciplinary research, we’re keen to hear about the work that is being done across BCU. Below is an overview of the general themes of the conference for your reference:
Pedagogy, Practice, Politics and Policy: Where to next in teaching, learning and research in education?
(a) Professional practices in teaching
(b) Formal and informal lifelong learning pedagogies
(c) Public and popular debates in education policy
(d) Researching education
Each strand will encourage papers from all education sectors;
Third sector /Voluntary provision
Aside from informing you about the conference via internal channels, we will also be promoting it via Twitter. If you want to keep up to date with the latest developments regarding the planning, preparation and running of the conference, please follow @BeckyS1993 or @CSPACE_BCU on Twitter. We now have our own dedicated hashtag for the conference on Twitter: #CSPACE16.
We look forward to receiving your submissions in advance of 20th May. If you have any questions please contact me on Rebecca.Snape@bcu.ac.uk. Remember to follow our updates on Twitter! #CSPACE16
Research you are currently working on: I am currently looking at the whole area of Professional Doctorates with a particular interest in EdD provision. Undertaking a Doctorate as an established working professional, often in mid-life and mid-career, has its own challenges and this is an area of research that is much under appreciated. Perhaps it’s my main contention that, as a consequence, in many ways Professional Doctorates invite a different approach to the process of supervision and the discussion of the impact of the Doctoral experience itself.
Research methodologies you are using: I am currently starting to look outside of what may be regarded as the well-established canon of research methodologies in education and drawing tentatively on ideas and arguments that have emerged within the arts and humanities. For example, more creative and active approaches to interviewing, participatory research and the mapping of alternative impact. In addition, I am also fascinated by the notion of history as practice and the wider public history movement that has grown in recent years. What can we learn from these new methodologies for educational research?
Current issues, thoughts and reflections on education & research: What we often define in professional discussions as educational research tends to have rather rigid and conventional boundaries and practices. Arguably, these boundaries and practices need periodically to be challenged in order to reinvigorate the field. The whole educational environment in which we currently work and operate is changing all around us with accepted nostrums in noticeable decline, yet this has still to impact fully on educational research itself.
Most influential research you have read/seen: I tend to use a constellation of ideas in my own teaching and research drawn broadly from the sociologist, philosopher and educationalist Pierre Bourdieu. Undoubtedly, his most influential writing for me over the years is often rather ignored by others: The Rules of Art published in 1996 and inspired by his study of Flaubert,
Advice for new researchers: Make a start and keep going. Dig where you stand and dance where you dig.
Mini fact about you: I attended a lecture by Pierre Bourdieu in Oxford but could hardly understand a word of it as he spoke in French for the whole hour.
‘Looking for the unexpected – Creativity and Innovation in Music Education’
On March 16th-19th a team of BCU music educators & researchers flew all the way to Lithuania to attend the European Association of Music in Schools (EAS). The title of the conference was ‘Looking for the Unexpected – Creativity and innovation in music education’, a hot topic for us in the UK with the uncertainty of creative subjects within schools due to the impending EBacc and forced acadamisation knocking at the door.
So Prof. Martin Fautley, Dr. Victoria Kinsella, fellow PhD student Samantha Clements, and I packed our warm winter clothes to prepare for snow and produced our presentations about our own research into creativity in music education. Director of learning and participation at Birmingham Contemporary Music Group Nancy Evans also joined us at the conference to present alongside Victoria and Martin on their action research project with ‘Music Maze’.
How is ‘creativity’ defined in other countries?
The conference kicked off with a keynote from Pamela Burnard talking about ‘diverse musical creativities’, an interesting terminology. In her keynote, Burnard discussed the links between ‘real world practice and industry’ and what is happening within schools and out of school. She also mentioned important aspects of being creative including risk taking, autonomy and enjoyment. Burnard explores musical creativity further in her book ‘Musical Creativities in Practice’ and talks about how some may view musical creativity as:
‘a particular type of practice, perhaps that of the Great Composers, rather than to multiple possibilities’ (p.7, 2012).
There were many incredibly polished vocal performances during the conference covering vast amounts of repertoire, including a lot of traditional Lithuanian folk music. Burnard asked if one of the performances that morning was ‘creative’. Many automatically nodded and said yes. It was a striking piece of musical theatre, they varied how they used the space on the stage and use of props, and the combination between traditional folk music with modern day themes was striking. The students were engaged throughout and the experience was immersive. However, had the students been creative? There is no way of telling just from the performance. Creativity is a process (Wallas, 1926) and we could not know if the students had co-created the piece, made decisions, rejected ideas, improvised, or if they had just followed a strict set of orders from the choreographer or music leader. How did the audience define creativity? What made a ‘creative performance’?
Wallas: 4 stages of the creative process
Whilst attending other presentations I was surprised by the diversity of practice happening in Europe, differences in what they valued in music education and how they defined ‘creativity’ in practice.
Is composing inherently creative?
My own research focuses on composing within schools and I have witnessed many music educators that believe composing is inherently creative because it is ‘creating something new’. However in practice composing can be a very uncreative activity, guided by stylistic rules, criteria driven direction. The assessment can lead to creating pieces of music with a set number of techniques thus creating very ‘unmusical’ works – a kind of ‘composing by numbers’. The three aspects Burnard spoke about in the keynote (risk taking, autonomy and enjoyment) are not always found when students are composing in the classroom or for exams. In other presentations focusing on composing there were interesting approaches to how people approached teaching composing. This made me consider the ‘skills vs creative’ debate:
Should you learn the ‘rules’ first before you can break them?
In one particular presentation the teacher had developed a step-by-step approach to teaching melody writing with young recorder players. The music was rooted in folk tradition but focused on limiting the students’ choice in pitch and using grids to develop a rhythmic pattern. It was also based in western classical notation. The presenter commented that it was a way for students to learn about specific folk music traditions and techniques as well as improving notation reading. His approach to introducing composing to young students was quite radically different to my own but there were some similarities in that we both were aiming to introduce stages and steps for students. For me, instead of choosing which of the two pitches to use I ask students to decide when there should be sound and when there should be silence, referring back to John Cage’s quote:
‘The material of music is sound and silence integrating these is composing’ (1949)
We would then move onto the next step asking them for either high and low, or loud or quiet sounds. For this teacher it would be the next pitch or rhythm. I would initially see my own approach as more ‘creative’ but on reflection we were both still asking our students to make a decision and go along a process, but it was framed very differently. This leads back to one of the fundamental questions of ‘how DO we teach composing?’ Both of our approaches in rooted in a cultural and musical background, and we are both limiting students decisions initially, however one was focused on melody and the other on timbre and texture.
An aspect of composing that was present in this presentation, and one that I see regularly in the UK, was an obsession around pitch as a starting pointfor composing. Why is it that deciding on what key a piece of music should be, or what pitch to start with, the most important thing for music? Why not the title, the mood, the structure, the timbral quality of the instruments, the way it looks when performed, the rhythmic quality or the ‘feel’. I am not suggesting every young musician or teacher starts with pitch when composing but it seems more common than other areas of music. This focus on pitch may also impact on what a young person might think composing is about – I remember telling myself at the age of 16:
‘once I know how to do harmony, I will be able to compose’
For a start that phrase doesn’t even make sense, but I felt at that time there were inherent rules that I just needed to learn in order to be a composer. The more rules I learnt, the better I would be. But who dictates these rules – Society? Examination boards? Culture? The teacher? In music and composing there are rules we can learn, but the act of being creative is deciding how and when to use them, when to not use them, and when to change them, do something new and make them our own.
Reflections on my presentation:
On the 3rd day I gave my presentation titled: ‘Loosing Faith in the System: The implications of inconsistent marking, of AS and A level composing, on creativity.’ My talk used the results collected from my KS5 composing survey on teachers’ experiences of marking in A level. Results from 71 teachers found that over 90% of them had been surprised by an examination grade and many did not feel confident with predicting grades. The first aspect of my presentation involved delegates looking through the raw data from the survey and talking about what they felt the data told them. I enjoyed this aspect of my talk as it allowed them to ask questions and open up a dialogue with the audience early on in the presentation. It engaged them in the research from the start. I was also keen to see how other researchers in the audience would react to the data; one even commented saying how the research was ‘gold dust’ and examination boards would be very keen to see the full research.
In addition to the qualitative data, my research used the free text answers on the survey and 9 telephone interviews. In this section of the presentation I presented some emerging themes into what impact inconstant making has in the school:
1) Downward Spiral:
This is when, due to unexpected poor grades, teachers restrict what students can compose so that it is closer to the marking criteria. However as a result of trying to second-guess the exam board requirements the students do not enjoy the experience as much and therefore do less well in the exam.
2) Trail of interpretation:
As mentioned before, there is a danger of trying to second-guess what the exam board of examiner wants to see in the composition. As a result a trail of interpretation of what people think ‘good’ composing looks and sounds like is developed, leaving the student at the end of this line trying to compose what they think others want.
3) Ripple effect:
The final emerging theme is this idea of a ‘ripple effect’ – that inconsistent marking has an impact on the teacher’s confidence, which effects their teaching of composing (potentially limiting creativity), which in turn effects the students’ learning and experience of composing. The wider implications are that students decide not to take music as a subject at this level which endangers music as a subject in the school and therefore threatens jobs. At the end of this it could have a negative impact on the music industry in the UK as a whole.
I enjoyed presenting my early findings at EAS. It has given me confidence to present at future conferences including ISME and BERA, and practice into how to present to a wider audience from across Europe where there are diverse practices in music education.
BCU team presentations overviews:
The BCU team covered a wide range of topics at the conference. Martin Fautley focused on creativity within lower secondary schools. His results from a survey of over 100 secondary music teachers from Birmingham and London found that assessment was based on matching school expectations of predicted grades. It was also noted that that assessment was reducing creative opportunities in the classroom.
Samantha Clements presented her PhD research methodology involving gaming software as a tool for critical incident charting. This experimental way of collecting data was used in her pilot study with 4 trainee music teachers. She asked them to create ‘fantasy worlds’ which charted each of their ‘critical incidents’ in their life influencing their aptitude for different aspects of music education.
Victoria Kinsella has been working alongside ‘The National Foundations for Youth Music’ on their ‘Exchanging Notes’ projects across England. Victoria reported, from the first year findings, on the importance of multi-agency working for increased creative engagement and intrinsic motivation of young people.
On the final morning Nancy Evans from BCMG, Martin and Victoria presented research from an action research project with BCMG’s composing group ‘music maze’ from 8-11 year olds. The research focused on how the students responded to open-ended composing tasks. Some of the finding included that the children’s starting points were very diverse, and the way they composed and how much adult support and scaffolding was needed, varied.
We all enjoyed attending the conference as it helped stimulated discussions and debates with each other and with other delegates from outside the UK. Lithuania has a rich musical and cultural background and a country none of us had thought to visit before but would be excited to go back to.