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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.


Research Snapshot: Shannon Ludgate

PhD student Shannon Ludgate of the School of Education talks about her research on children’s use of touchscreen technology. Shannon describes her research and what she hopes to achieve during the course of her PhD.

Meet the Team – Shannon Ludgate

Name: Shannon Ludgateshan

Role at BCU: PhD student and Assistant Lecturer in Early Years

Research Interests:

  • Touchscreen technologies
  • Young children in early years
  • Social learning
  • Activity Theory
  • Teaching and Research relationship

Research you are currently working on: I am currently working on my PhD, which looks at young children’s experiences using touchscreen technologies in early years settings. This study focuses on children aged three and four years old.

Research methodologies you are using: My research has taken a mixed-methods approach to collecting data. By researching in this way, it has enabled me to collect quantitative data through an online survey and observations, alongside qualitative data from interviews and observations of young children’s uses of touchscreen technology.

This was done through a multi-case study approach, which allowed for a comparison within and against other case studies in the study.

Advice for new researchers: Considering I see myself as an organised person, I would suggest that new researchers, particularly those doing PhDs to get on top of organisation. Planning is essential in order to have a structure, and to give you a clearer idea of how your time might pan out. That being said, be flexible too – you do not know what might happen from one month to the next, so be prepared for set-backs.

Be passionate and enthusiastic about your research – let your interests lead you to where you research. Don’t be afraid to do something new!

Mini fact about you: I am the only left-handed, red-headed person in my family. I am a statistical anomaly with blue eyes and red hair.


My Reflections on Creativity

Written by Becky Snape, Graduate Teaching and Research Assistant, PhD student, @BeckyS1993 

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‘The role of government is to enable great culture and creativity to flourish – and to ensure that everyone can have access to it.’

(Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2016: 13).

We are at the advent of a new period in education. The English educational landscape is undergoing significant transformation, and over the next few years we’ll see these changes play out. The release of the Department for Education’s White Paper last week frames how it is proposes to achieve these objectives. The paper, entitled ‘Education Excellence Everywhere’, outlines the government’s plans for the education system, including a five year plan for their education 8strategy. I’ve been following debates about the White Paper on social media. Invariably, these focus on the shift towards full academisation of schools and the changes in teacher recruitment, particularly regarding the scrapping of QTS.

However, I was most interested to consider how creativity tallied with this. A lot of people were talking about school structures and teacher training but I didn’t notice anybody discussing creativity in the context of the White Paper. Perhaps this is unsurprising, as when I looked at the document it appeared that:

the word creativity appeared in the 125 page paper just two times: one in the context of school leadership, and the other when describing a ‘pioneering’ free school in London.

I also looked for other words which are often seen as being synonymous with creativity, such as innovation, originality and imagination. Originality doesn’t appear at all. Imaginative is used once, where they describe the work of many schools across the country. Here, the DfE outline their aims to build on the work of these schools. They also refer to innovation numerous times, although this is largely in the context of restructuring and shaping schools, and leadership development, rather than in learners’ education. To me, it appears as though innovation is used to strengthen the argument for academisation.

rb4816_EducationOverall, my concern is that the new White Paper does not sufficiently address creativity in its 125 pages. While I haven’t read the entire paper yet, from what I have seen I get the distinct impression that its purpose is to address raising standards in order to place our country on the global stage. For instance, writing is only addressed in terms of how standards have been raised so far and what needs to be improved. This isn’t entirely surprising as writing is largely the medium for learning and assessment in schools, and is therefore often seen as one of the central pillars of not just literacy attainment but education success more generally. The core skill of writing is one which is seen to be integral to a learner’s development and success, not just in school but also beyond in the ‘real world’. In the White Paper itself, the government highlights:

‘preparation for adult life’

as one of the central pillars of their five year plan for education (2016: 124). Good grammar and spelling are seen as valuable in our society, so a confident grasp of Standard English in writing is vital whether you’re writing a CV to get a job or carry out basic tasks like sending an email once you’re in a job. Thus, it makes sense to consider raising standards and to strive for excellence, and very few people would argue that this doesn’t matter at all.

But what about creativity? Isn’t that important for the workplace too? Of course, the act of pulling bits of information together to create something new is often original, so writing in many forms may be seen as creative. However, my concern is that creativity seems to be presented as something that is a convenient by-product of raising standards rather than something which drives how curricular and specification documents are shaped. This certainly seems to be true in creative writing (as part of English), but also seems to relate to other domains of creativity too. If taken at face value, the marginalisation of creativity in the new White Paper would seem to highlight how sometimes raising standards takes precedence over nurturing learners’ creative development. My questions are:

  •  If the central focus of the paper is ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’, why is this reform not anchored to creativity?
  • Why is educational excellence not explicitly underpinned by creativity?

My initial response to this is that this may be in part due to the perception that creativity is not as easy to measure as other areas of a child’s education. Moreover, in my opinion, it seems that globalisation is a worldcentral issue to the government, and feeding into that is raising standards in education to match some of the world leaders. However, something to note here is that many of these world leaders still very much value creativity in their school systems!

My contention is that creativity should be something that is central to educational reform rather than a politicised term that is used to pay lip service to those who see it as integral in teaching and learning. For me, this is why it is so important that many of us in CSPACE are challenging this status quo and providing evidence to support the fight to preserve the value of creativity in schools. The quote I began this blog with is taken from the government’s new Culture White Paper, which was released today (as I write this). This notion of access of creativity is one which resonates with the seminal NACCCE report (1999), where democratic creativity is highlighted as a key component of educational reform. It’s important to remember this and ensure that creativity is not simply used as a political sound-bite, but rather something that the government ensures is embedded in teaching and learning. Many teachers appreciate – and, crucially, apply (within their means) – the true value of this, but I’m not entirely convinced that this government does. I can only hope I’m wrong.





My PhD experience – four months in

Written by Shannon Ludgate, PhD Student, School of Education – Early Years

Making the decision to embark on a PhD journey has been the biggest decision I’ve made so far. Being just 21 and starting a PhD, it’s fair to say I felt incredibly under-experienced, questioning my ability to take on this challenge at such a ripe age. Nonetheless after much thought and discussions with my undergraduate peers, family and partner, I submitted the application form with my fingers and toes crossed. After being successful, I have embarked on a journey to research experiences children aged three to four years have, and how this has the potential to enhance their learning (specific area yet to be decided).

With not knowing what to expect with a PhD, particularly as I was introduced to the opportunity with just weeks to read up on and write a research proposal, I searched endlessly on the web and in books to discover what it meant to be writing a thesis, and what it might look like as an end product. Doing a little background reading into these areas provided me with the initial knowledge I would need, with what to expect and what I would be doing.

Regardless of the literature, starting on my first day felt unusual; as an undergraduate, I had a whole network of friends, academics to talk to, and support 24/7. Walking into the office, I was greeted by another PhD student; I felt a little out there on my own. Looking back, I can see the need to adapt to this new lifestyle – reading endlessly on my new topic, trying to find out what had already been researched and where the interesting little gaps were in the literature. Four months on, I can positively say I’ve enjoyed the journey, even though I am only just starting! I am happy to admit I have changed my ideas too many times to remember, but I see it as a refinement process; my ideas are becoming more absolute as I progress. I am really excited to get started, to get out there in the field and start collecting interesting data, but I know there’s a lot to do before.

As the days pass I can see how I am progressing towards that point, and making initial contact with settings to conduct the research has been exciting, I can almost touch it – the beginning of data collection. I know that a great challenge lies ahead of me, and after speaking to other PhD students, I feel somewhat ready for it. I am eager to begin and enjoy this journey, after all, I’m researching something that really interests me and I want to inspire others with my work.

To research very young children’s experiences with touchscreens is such an appealing topic. Having completed my undergraduate in the early years field, this topic held so much interest and everyone I have spoken to has gave an opinion on it. Our youngest children using technology isn’t something that is overlooked; there are people all for it, and of course, those who absolutely dispute against it, expressing health and social development concerns to name a few.

TEE open day October 2010. TEE open day October 2010.

I’ve had great support so far from everyone around me; my supervisor has sat and listened to my ideas, even if they’re not fully formed in my own mind, but expressing them in some way has helped me to realise what I’d like to research. Gaining advice from others is a definite must, and having others to support you on the journey I’ve been told is advisable.

For now I’m keen to begin, although I’m not really sure when I can actually say I’m beginning (of course I began in September), but I know it’s coming soon. My time as a PhD student has been great so far, and I can see the next three years being the most interesting and insightful yet.

6 Links Between Research and Composing

Written by Kirsty Devaney, PhD student, School of Educationme with ensemble

Some interesting discussions were initiated today after a session about academic writing, lead by Alex Wade. I am fairly new to the word of research but I feel I am starting to fit into this ‘new world’ or ‘field’. For 5 years I trained as a composer at Birmingham Conservatoire – I wrote more music than I did words! I have had to transition from thinking in term of music, to thinking in words, sentences and paragraphs. I had experience of academic writing during my undergraduate studies but my PhD felt like a completely different way of thinking and viewing the world. How would my years of experience as a composer help me get through my 80,000-word thesis?

Upon doing my PhD for over 1 year, I have discovered that there are a lot more similarities between research and composing than I first thought.

  1.  We all have confidence issues

The feeling of ‘not being good enough’ impacts both academics and creatives at various stages in their career. I wrote an article titled ‘Feeling Like a Fraud’ discussing how our preconceptions can increase the pressures we place upon ourselves and how it can impact our own confidence and productivity: https://thesamplerblog.wordpress.com/2015/04/21/kirsty-devaney-on-feeling-like-a-fraud/

  1. We have to receive negative feedback

Whether you are having a piece of music performed in front of an audience, or sending your article off for peer review, it can be hard to receive negative feedback. We are placing ourselves in a vulnerable position and it can be hard to take criticism on something personal to you. Having five years of 1-2-1 tuition in composing has definitely helped me during my PhD supervision sessions. It is about being able to stay positive and learning how to take advice and feedback.

  1. It is personal 

Whether we meant to or not, our research and writing reflects what is happening in our lives and this is the case for composing too. It may not be conscious decisions but what we create does reflect what is important to us at that moment in our lives. Often we only realise this when looking back on older work and reflecting.

for wards deskIMG_0388

  1. We spend hours on the tiny details

We have to have an obsessive quality to spend hours on what may seem very insignificant to other people but sometimes just changing a word in a paragraph or changing a note in the music can make all the difference.

  1. How we view the world changes

When you are completely involved in something it starts to affect the way you think and perceive the world. When I started composing full-time I started to observe the world in a different way: I would ask myself ‘can I turn that into a composition?’ and I would keep a diary of all my composing thoughts. Now that I have been doing research my question is: ‘how could I research that?’ My diary now has a combination of research questions and compositional ideas.

6.   We need space for individual work but we benefit collaboration 

Time alone can help to solidify our own thinking but collaboration can help develop our thoughts and allow a space to discuss ideas with broaden our thinking. Collaboration as a composer can take many forms such as working across disciplines and working closely with your musicians. Collaboration in research can benefit from cross disciplinary work, discussions with peers and working with your research participants in methodologies such as action research.

Going into my second year of research I am starting to realise how my compositional training can enrich my research and aid the writing of my PhD. Research and writing are both creative processes and they involve discipline, communication, dedication and putting yourself in a position open to criticism.


Publish or Perish? A Guide for Emergent Researchers

Dr. Written by Alex Wade, Research Assistant 

Being accepted onto a PhD programme can be as terrifying as it is enervating: an individual and their institution believe that you have the aptitude to make an original contribution to knowledge in your subject area. All you have to do to reciprocate that faith is complete your extended piece of research to a publishable standard. The reality is that you have three years (longer if part-time) to become an expert in your topic while avoiding sublimation to social media, sleeping under the desk and administrators chasing you for undergraduate essay marking.

Part of the process of becoming an expert is publishing your work in academic journals. Publishing is often challenging for emergent researchers. Knowledge of journals can be limited, even after PhD completion; journal lead times can range between 3-24 months, immediately putting your work beyond the standard three-year-scope of PhD completion; certain journals will never publish work, irrespective of quality as it doesn’t fit the ‘house style’; editorial boards/reviewers can provide incomplete feedback, to the point where it is blatant that your 8000 word tour de force has not been sent out for review, let alone read; your submission can be held in abeyance by a journal, where making contact with them is like communicating with Walt Disney, but with less hope of a response.

So, academic publishing is a nebulous world.   However, there are some ways to traverse the cryogenics of academic space-time. Try these and see if they help:

  1. As soon as possible contact the reviews editor of a journal and do book reviews for them: get your name known to the editorial board and readers of top journals.
  2. When writing a chapter, or any work for your PhD, imagine how – and if – it can turned into a paper.
  3. Use journal rankings http://www.scimagojr.com/journalrank.php to discern the best journal for your work. Look at a selection of papers and if they publish any of the researchers you use in your own research.
  4. Look into online journals. These are no longer the last refuge of the unwashed and unpublished. The benefits are legion: often they are run by people with a real passion for their topic; they execute rapid peer review and, due to quick turnarounds, have genuinely nuanced and up-to-date commentary. They also have the potential for wider readership, particularly in the social sciences, arts and humanities.
  5. Get a handle on journals to be released in your research areas. They often require submissions and are frantically searching for decent material, which, as an active researcher, you will have to hand.
  6. Look out for special issues and calls for papers. Journals regularly invite submissions of specialised work, and while the lead times can be long to publication, generally peer review is quicker, giving you the opportunity to respond and resubmit if required.
  7. Present at conferences and talk about your research with others: invitations for chapters and papers are as likely to come out of networks as they are from the quality of your writing.
  8. Use Academia.edu and Research Gate to link with researchers in your area. If you share a passion and interest in a topic, collaborations are more likely, leading to invitations to write, or even joint-editorship of a special issue.
  9. Offer to undertake peer reviews of submitted articles in your area. Again, knowledge of the editorial board will give you an insight into the whole process and provide you with an up-to-date appraisal of wok in your area.
  10. Talk to senior colleagues in your institution. Is there a possibility to co-author either with your supervisor or director?

Please comments if you feel these are helpful, or if have any other hints and tips which can be used to aid academic publishing.

Researching with young and developmentally young children – ethical considerations, dilemmas and compromises

Written by Dr. Carolyn Blackburn, Early Childhood Studies

One of the most challenging considerations when researching with young and developmentally young children is the question of gaining children’s consent to participate in research and their perspectives on the topic under study. Issues relate to the age at which children can realistically understand what they’re being asked to participate in as well as consideration of their cognitive and linguistic ability to give consent. Linked to this are the inevitable power relationships that inhere in research inquiry that involves adult researchers and child participants. This is an ethical consideration that I have pondered on and deliberated over considerably in the numerous projects I’ve undertaken.

Within the UK, the term ‘child’ means anyone below the age of 18 years. The 1948 United Nations Convention on Human Rights and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1989) granted rights to children between the ages of birth to eighteen to have their wishes known, listened to and respected. The dilemma for researchers is that the perceived ability of a child to give consent will depend not just on an individual child’s chronological age, but also on their level of understanding, particularly if they are experiencing a developmental delay or disorder. Requiring high levels of understanding for a valid consent, however, could operate to exclude research with children (particularly those with SEND) unless an adult has consented on their behalf (Mason, 2004).

Whilst on the one hand researchers need to develop ways of engaging children in a wide range of different circumstances, including those with SEND, on the other hand in order to obtain high-quality information, they must also ensure that children’s rights are safeguarded (Mason, 2004). In this respect, young children are surrounded by adults who have a legal responsibility to act as ‘gatekeepers’, safeguarding them from outside influences, such as researchers, and arguably guarding their free choice of whether or not to participate in research (Mason, 2004). Children of all ages are subject to the control of those who have parental responsibility for their welfare and safeguarding. Legally, researchers who wish to include young children who are not considered mature enough (chronologically or developmentally) to make their own decision about participation must obtain the agreement of a least one person who has parental responsibility for the child (Mason, 2004).


Alderson (2004) acknowledged that consent is a key issue in research with children which raises hard, often unresolved, questions (Alderson, 2004). For example, there is no simple answer to the question of when children are old enough to give consent. Much depends on their prior experiences within the social, cultural and historical contexts in which they grow and develop. This poses an ethical dilemma for researchers, which requires reflection. Denzin reminds of our primary obligation as researchers that is ‘,. always to the people we study, not to our project or to a larger discipline. The lives and stories that we hear and study are given to us under a promise, that promise being that we protect those who have shared them with us’ (Denzin, 1989:83).

Fine and Sandstrom (1988: 46) urged that researchers provide children with an explanation of their involvement as ‘… children should be told as much as possible.. their age should not diminish rights, although their level of understanding must be taken into account in the explanations that are shared with them.’ Young children can be quite demonstrative in expressing their views, even if they do not verbally reject a researcher’s presence or questions. They can, for example, move away from a person they do not wish to be near (Aubrey et al., 2000), refuse to answer questions, change the topic of conversation or in extreme cases be physically aggressive if they feel particularly unhappy about situations. Certainly Flewitt (2005) found that children as young as three years old were ‘competent and confident enough to grant or withdraw consent – with some more outspoken and enquiring than their parents.’

The decision to adopt an ongoing process of assent whereby the child’s acceptance of the researcher within the setting can be taken as assent to participate in the research is sometimes considered appropriate where children have severe cognitive impairments. However, assent is not a term which sits comfortably with all researchers, some of whom argue that it may be used where children are simply too afraid, confused or ignored to refuse (see Alderson and Morrow, 2011). This indirect approach for assent/dissent has however, been successfully used within studies involving children with developmental delays/disorders (Blackburn, 2014; Brooks, 2010) and this may be for now the compromise that I will live with.

As far as gaining children’s perspectives within the research is concerned, I’ve really enjoyed working with Victoria Kinsella on one of the music projects to find ways of observing children’s involvement and engagement within projects when they have profound and multiple learning difficulties, and I’m looking forward to seeing the results of that, but I’ll leave her talk about that project at some point in the future.



Alderson, P. and Morrow, V. (2011) The Ethics of Research with Children and Young People: A Practical Handbook London: Sage

Alderson, P. (2004) Ethics in Fraser, S., Lewis, V., Ding, S., Kellett, M. and Robinson, C. (Eds) Doing Research with Children and Young People. London: Sage Publications pp 97-112

Aubrey, C., David, T., Godfrey, R. and Thompson, L. (2000) Early Childhood Educational Research: Issues in methodology and Ethics. Oxon: Routledge

Blackburn, C. (2014) The policy-to-practice context to the delays and difficulties in the acquisition of speech, language and communication in the first five years. Unpublished PhD Thesis, Birmingham: Birmingham City University

Brooks, T. (2010). Developing a learning environment which supports children with profound autistic spectrum disorders to engage as effective learners. Unpublished PhD Thesis. Institute of Education, University of Worcester: Worcestershire.

Denzin, N.K. (1989) Interpretive biography London, Sage

Flewitt, Rosie (2005). Conducting research with young children: some ethical considerations. Early Child Development and Care, 175(6), pp. 553–565.

Fine, G.A. and Sandstrom, K.L. (1988) Knowing Children: Participant Observation with Minors. Qualitative Research Methods Series 15 Beverly Hill, CA: Sage

Mason, J. (2004) The Legal Context in Fraser, S., Lewis, V., Ding, S., Kellett, M. and Robinson, C. (Eds) Doing Research with Children and Young People. London: Sage Publications