Artificial Intelligence in Student Assessment: What is our Trajectory?

Artificial Intelligence in Student Assessment: What is our Trajectory?

Bengi Birgili is a Research Assistant in the Mathematics Education Department at MEF University in Istanbul. Here she shares her research and insights into the development of Artificial Intelligence applications in the field of education and explains the current trajectory of AI in the Turkish education system.

As a mathematics teacher and doctoral candidate in educational sciences, I closely follow the latest developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications in the field of education. Innovations in AI become outdated within a few months because of the rapidly increasing studies on image processing, speech recognition, natural language processing, robotics, expert systems, machine learning, and reasoning. With Google, Facebook, and IBM AI studies being open source, these companies help speed up developments.

If we think of education as a chair, the legs are the four essential parts that keep it standing: that is, the student, the teacher, the teaching process, and measurement-evaluation – the four basic elements of education. Key areas of AI for education are determining the right strategies, making functional decisions, and coming up with the most appropriate designs for the education and training process. I believe there are many areas in which teachers can work in cooperation with Artificial Intelligence systems in the future.

Human behaviour modelling

The main focus of AI studies worldwide is human behavior modelling. The relationship between how humans model thinking and how we can, therefore, accurately measure and evaluate students is still a subject of exploration. Essentially, the question is: how do humans learn, and how can we teach this to AI expert systems?

Presently, AI expert systems learn in three ways:

  • supervised learning
  • unsupervised learning
  • reinforcement learning

As an educator, whenever I hear these categories, I think of the conditional learning and reward-punishment methods we learn about in educational sciences. These methods, which are prevalent at the most fundamental level in the individual teaching and learning process, are central to the design of AI systems being developed today, which are developed on the behavioristic approach in learning theories.

Just as in the classroom environment, where we can reinforce a students’ behavior by using a reward, praise, or acknowledgment in line with the behaviorist approach while teaching knowledge or skills so that we can strengthen the frequency of the behavior and increase the likelihood that how the response will occur. In a similar vein, an agent or a machine which is under development learns from the consequences of its actions.

AI in the Measurement-Evaluation Process

One area for the use of natural language processing in the measurement-evaluation process is the evaluation of open-ended examinations. In Turkey, large-scale assessment consists mostly of multiple-choice examinations, chosen for their broad scope, objective scoring, high reliability, and ease of evaluation. On the other hand, open-ended examinations are more challenging because they measure students’ higher-level thinking skills in much more detail than multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blanks, true-false, and short-answer questions.

Education systems in other countries make more use of open-ended items because they allow students to thoroughly use their reading comprehension skills. Also, students are able to demonstrate their knowledge in their own words and use multiple solution strategies, which is a better test of their content knowledge. But these open-ended items do not just measure students’ knowledge of a topic; at the same time, they mediate between higher-level thinking skills such as cognitive strategies and self-discipline. This is an area in which AI studies have begun to appear in the educational literature. 

Countries using open-ended items in new generation assessment systems are France, the Netherlands, Australia, and, in particular, the United States and the UK. These systems provide teachers, parents, and policymakers with the opportunity to monitor student progress based on student performance as well as student success. The development of Cognitive Diagnostic Models (CDM) and Computerized Adaptive Tests (CAT) changed testing paradigms. These models classify student response models in a test into a series of characteristics related to different hierarchically defined mastery levels. Another development is immersive virtual environments such as EcoMUVE, which can make stealth/invisible assessments, evaluating students’ written responses and automatically creating follow-up questions.

AI in Student Assessment in Turkey

It is a very broad concept that we call “artificial intelligence [AI] in education”. To simplify it, we can define it as a kind of expert system that sometimes takes the place of teachers (i.e., the intelligent tutors) by making pedagogical decisions about the student in the teaching or measurement-evaluation process. Sometimes the system assists by analyzing the student in-depth in the process, enabling them to interact with the system better. It aims to guide and support students. To make more computational, precise, and rigorous decisions in the education process, the field of AI and Learning Sciences collaborate and contribute to the development of adaptive learning environments and more customized, inclusive, flexible, effective tools by analyzing how learning occurs with its external variables.

Turkey is a country of tests and testing. Its education system relies on selection and placement examinations. However, developments in educational assessment worldwide include individual student follow-up, formative assessments, alternative assessments, stealth assessments, and learning analytics, and Turkey has yet to find its own trajectory for introducing AI in student assessment.

However, the particular structure of the Turkish language makes it more difficult than in other countries to design, model, develop, and test AI systems – which explains the limited number of studies being carried out. The development of such systems depends on big data, so it is necessary to collect a lot of qualified student data in order to pilot deep learning systems. Yet the Monitoring and Assessment of Academic Skills report of 2015-2018 noted that 66% of Turkish students do not understand cause and effect relationships in reading.

In AI testing, students are first expected to grasp what they read and then to express what they know in answering questions, to express themselves, to come up with solutions, and to be able to use metacognitive skills. The limited number of students who can clearly demonstrate these skills in Turkey limits the amount of qualified data to which studies have access. There is a long way to go in order to train AI systems with qualified data and to adapt to the complexities of the Turkish language. In short, Turkey is not yet on a trajectory for introducing AI for education measurement and evaluation – we are still working to get ourselves on an appropriate trajectory. We are still oscillating through the universe. However, there are signs that the future in this area will be designed faster, addressing the questions I have raised.

The Outlook for AI in Student Assessment

While designing and developing such systems, it should be remembered that students and teachers also need to adapt to the system. Their readiness to do so will help us measure the quality of education in general as well as the level of students’ knowledge and skills in particular. Authentic in-class examinations and national and international large-scale assessments should serve the same purpose. In the future, we will need AI systems to play a greater role in generating and categorizing questions and evaluating student responses. And they need to do this is a system whose main goal must be to provide a learning process that positively supports the curiosity and ability of all our students
Bengi Birgili

Bengi Birgili

Research Assistant in the Mathematics Education Department at MEF University, Istanbul.

Bengi Birgili is a research assistant in the Mathematics Education Department at MEF University, Istanbul. She experienced in research at the University of Vienna. She is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Educational Sciences Curriculum and Instruction Program at Middle East Technical University (METU), Ankara. Her research interests focus on curriculum development and evaluation, instructional design, in-class assessment. She received the Emerging Researchers Bursary Winners award at ECER 2017 for her paper titled “A Metacognitive Perspective to Open-Ended Questions vs. Multiple-Choice.”

In 2020, a co-authored research became one of the 4 accepted studies among Early-Career Scholars awarded by the International Testing Commission (ITC) Young Scholar Committee in the UK [Postponed to 2021 Colloquium due to COVID-19].

In Jan 2020, she completed the Elements of AI certification offered by the University of Helsinki.

Researchgate:https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bengi-Birgili-2

Twitter: @bengibirgili

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bengibirgili/

ORCID:https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2990-6717

Medium: https://bengibirgili.medium.com

What can international data tell us about education paraprofessionals? Almost nothing

What can international data tell us about education paraprofessionals? Almost nothing

In many schools and classrooms across the globe, the drive towards the inclusion of pupils with special educational needs (SEN) in mainstream schools has become contingent on the creation and utilisation of a relatively new paraprofessional workforce, known variously as teaching assistants or teacher aides (TAs). It is claimed that in many countries, policies of mainstreaming pupils with SEN rely heavily on this ‘non-teaching’ workforce (Masdeu Navarro, 2015).

The intertwining of inclusion and TAs leads to the view that TAs have become ‘the mortar in the brickwork … hold[ing] schools together in numerous and sometimes unnoticed ways’ (Webster et al., 2021, p2). Its relative intuitiveness – more individualised support for pupils that struggle most – is arguably why it is the model of choice for education systems and schools striving for inclusion and why it has replicated itself more successfully than just about any other model. 

Despite all this, there are virtually no macro-level data on the characteristics, role, and contribution of TAs and their relationship to and impact on inclusion. The most influential international study on schools and classrooms, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), is lauded by policymakers and researchers of advanced nations for the richness of its data and the detailed insights it provides. It, however, has vanishing little say about TAs.

The third and most recent wave of TALIS from 2018 – which involved over 275,000 respondents from 31 countries (OECD, 2021a) – stated that ‘teacher aides [and] pedagogical support staff … were not considered to be teachers and, thus, not part of the TALIS international target population’ (OECD, 2021b). Leaving aside whether there is, or there ought to be, an equivalence between TAs and teachers, the decision to exclude TAs from TALIS matters. Not just, I would argue, in and of itself, but because other high-level analyses of education rely on the data it collects, such as the authoritative Global Education Monitoring (GEM) annual report (which is hosted and published by UNESCO).

The focus of the 2020 GEM report was inclusion, yet it was unable to report much at all about TAs because ‘data on teaching assistants is limited, even in high-income countries’ (UNESCO, 2020, p300). The report concluded that ‘comparable international data on inclusion-related use of support personnel are not generally available’ (UNESCO, 2020, p306).

Elsewhere, a rare international survey, commissioned by Education International (the global union federation of teacher trade unions), of the characteristics, employment and working conditions of just over 3,000 ‘education support personnel’ [ESP] – a group among which TAs are prominent – concluded: ‘there are significant gaps in the knowledge and understanding of ESP: who they are, what they do, and what they need to do their jobs effectively’ (Butler, 2019, p1). 

If recent trends are anything to go by, and as the near-global drive towards inclusion continues, large amounts of public money will be spent on employing more and more TAs. In England, for example, school census data show that 28% of the school workforce are employed as TAs (and 35% of the primary schools’ workforce)1. However, there are no public data on what this costs or to what extent it represents value for taxpayers’ money. Such questions can be both reductive and a rather blunt way of quantifying TAs’ highly nuanced contributions to education. Nonetheless, these are the kinds of questions that motivate policymakers and imply a prima facia case for national governments to show as much interest in the working lives, practices, and perspectives of TAs as they do in those of teachers.

For this reason, in a paper for an upcoming special issue of the European Journal of Special Needs Education2, guest editors Anke de Boer (University of Groningen) and I, call for the OECD to extend TALIS in ways that reflect, and are proportionate to, the global trend towards employing and deploying TAs in educational settings (Webster & de Boer, 2021). 

Many of the themes selected for inclusion in the 2018 TALIS survey are relatable to the lives of TAs:

    • instructional practices
    • professional practices
    • initial preparation for the role
    • school climate
    • job satisfaction
    • human resource issues
    • stakeholder relations
    • career opportunities
    • professional responsibility and autonomy.


At the more basic but nonetheless essential, descriptive level, a survey of TAs would be able to track demographic trends relating to equality, diversity, and representation. Crucial, you would think, for a role synonymous with inclusion.

UNESCO Global Education Monitoring reports ‘serve as a foundation for evidence-based advocacy to promote progress towards SDG 4’ (the fourth Sustainable Development Goal on education) (OECD, 2021c). The 2020 report on inclusion points to how a broader ‘shortage of data on teachers’ from countries that are not included in TALIS represents one of three ‘data gaps remain[ing] in key areas of the SDG 4 monitoring framework’ (UNESCO, 2020, p198). The macrodata gap relating to TAs can be seen as part of the same issue. Providing and sharing the robust evidence needed to underpin policymaking and practice, and to hold world leaders to account, are essential if we are to achieve SDG 4. Progress will be all the slower, if not unworkable, without a coordinated and consolidated data collection effort that incorporates and reflects the role and contribution of TAs.

In our paper, we argue that the potentially transformative ideas for improving policy and practice in relation to TAs exist in the skillful accumulation, harmonisation, and utilisation of data at the macro, meso, and micro levels. Expanding an existing data collection effort that is funded by, and maps education labour force trends in, the world’s most advanced economies seems to us a good place to start.

The next cycle of TALIS, due in 2024, is perhaps the first opportunity to pilot a survey for TAs in a select number of territories where they are a well-established part of the school workforce.

Survey items could be limited to questions drawn from several of the most relatable themes from the teacher survey (see above), and trialled in countries such as the US, the UK, Norway, and Finland; countries that are not only above the OECD average in terms of TA-pupil ratio (7.3 TAs per 1,000 pupils) (Masdeu Navarro, 2015), but also have large enough numbers of TAs from which a meaningful sample can be drawn. We might extend our pilot to Brazil, Chile, France, the Netherlands, and Sweden, which interrogation of the most recent OECD data from 2018 suggests also have sufficiently sizable and sampleable TA populations across both primary and secondary education (OECD, 2021d).

A successful pilot could lead to approaches which, within a couple of TALIS cycles, are capable of producing the kind of data on TAs that have impressively – and in relatively short order – transformed and enhanced our understanding of teachers and teaching.

Dr Rob Webster

Dr Rob Webster

Associate Professor at UCL Institute of Education, UK

Dr Rob Webster is an Associate Professor at UCL Institute of Education, UK. He was part of the research team that conducted the world’s largest study of teaching assistants: the ground-breaking Deployment and Impact of Support Staff project. Rob writes extensively on the role of teaching assistants, and he also created the award-winning Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants programme for schools (maximisingtas.co.uk). Prior to research, Rob worked as a teaching assistant in mainstream and special schools.

Website: www.rob-webster.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobWebster_
http://orcid.org/0000-0003-1416-4439

Further Reading

Notes

  1. Department for Education (2021) School Workforce in England: November 2019. Available at: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/school-workforce-in-england (accessed 09.03.21).
  2. A special issue of the European Journal of Special Needs Education entitled ‘Teaching assistants: Their role in the inclusion, education and achievement of pupils with special educational needs’ will be published in April 2021. It draws together research and perspectives on the role, deployment and impact of TAs from six European countries.

References

Butler, P. (2019) Understanding the invisible workforce. Education support personnel’s roles, needs and the challenges they face. Brussels: Education International. Available online: https://issuu.com/educationinternational/docs/research_esp_final_report. Accessed: 04.02.21.

Masdeu Navarro, F. (2015). Learning support staff: A literature review. OECD Education Working paper no.125. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1787/5jrnzm39w45l-en. Accessed: 11.02.21.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2021a) TALIS FAQ. Available online: https://www.oecd.org/education/talis/talisfaq/. Accessed: 04.02.21.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2021b) Annex A. Technical notes on sampling procedures, response rates and adjudication for TALIS 2018. Available online: https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/1d0bc92a-en/1/3/1/index.html?itemId=/content/publication/1d0bc92a-en&_csp_=1418ec5a16ddb9919c5bc207486a271c&itemIGO=oecd&itemContentType=book. Accessed: 04.02.21.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2021c) The Global Education Monitoring Report, in brief. Available online: https://en.unesco.org/gem-report/about. Accessed: 04.02.21.

 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2020) Global Education Monitoring Report 2020: Inclusion and education: All means all. Paris: UNESCO. Available online: https://en.unesco.org/gem-report/report/2020/inclusion. Accessed: 04.02.21.

 Webster, R. Bosanquet, P., Franklin, S. & Parker, M. (2021) Maximising the impact of teaching assistants in primary schools: Guidance for school leaders. Oxon: Routledge http://maximisingtas.co.uk/our-books.php

 Webster, R. & de Boer, A. (2021) ‘Where next for research on teaching assistants: The case for an international response’. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 36(2). https://doi.org/10.1080/08856257.2021.1901368 

The Promise of Donna Haraway’s Philosophy: Knotting Together Better Educational Futures

The Promise of Donna Haraway’s Philosophy: Knotting Together Better Educational Futures

As we have grappled with critical questions in our research and teaching, all of us contributing to this blog have been energised by Donna Haraway’s work. This blog explores the promise of Haraway’s philosophy for knowledge, learning and education. Donna Haraway’s philosophy offers conceptual and practical resources for navigating the complexities of contemporary educational problems.

Reconceptualising knowledge, learning and education with Donna Haraway

Haraway’s major early intervention was to challenge traditional notions of objectivity – which she called ‘the God trick’ (Haraway, 1988). She argued that objectivity was a Western masculinist, patriarchal tradition, which presumed researchers could be impartial, observe and produce ‘Truth’. This damaging fallacy has conferred epistemological status on science delegitimizing many other ways of knowing. Haraway opposes ‘the God trick’ with the concept and practice of ‘situated knowledges’ which pose a feminist critique demonstrating that knowledge practices are ‘political’ and that some knowledges have been (illegitimately) disqualified by dominant science. Recognising that all knowledge is located and relies on partial perspectives allows for the inclusion of lived material realities and feelings that shape our educational experiences.

The concept and practice of learning is central to Haraway’s oeuvre. Learning happens in the world, attending to our being-in-relation with the world and other species. Learning is an enactment: she calls it a ‘corporeal cognitive practice’ (Haraway, 2016a: 277), a material semiotic co-composition of relational acts of thinking and doing. Learning comes about through specific, mundane, embodied acts of communication that forge partial connections across the differences (of race, class, geography or species) that divide us.

Haraway’s philosophy, and its promise for education, demonstrates the need to move beyond human exceptionalism. It is an urgent call for us to take responsibility for how humans have produced alarming natural-cultural conditions, and to take action to address these. The task of shaping better human/planetary futures has been recognised as core to education as an ethical-political project (Strand, 2020). Haraway’s philosophy offers an affirmative biopolitics that can be useful in extending curricula on global education (Barratt Hacking and Taylor, 2020). Her transdisciplinary thinking, feminist situated ethics, and situated politics of knowledge might be the basis for renewing educational approaches for composing more relational futures.

How has Haraway’s philosophy been influential in our research? 

Carol has taken up Haraway’s philosophy outlined in When Species Meet (2008) to rethink what comes to matter in educational relations. Her work addresses the question: How can multispecies knowings and matterings give us hope to build a better world for the future? Haraway (2008: 134) uses multispecies thinking to argue for ‘compassionate action’ to promote well-being for individuals, species and communities. Carol has considered how such thinking can be the foundation for different forms of educative flourishing by fashioning education as a form of posthuman Bildung that bring new possibilities for knowledge/praxis (Taylor, 2016). Carol has also considered how nonhuman-human relations can centre around play and pleasure in ways which make consequential differences in our lives as academics (Taylor, 2017).

Nikki (Fairchild, 2017) has drawn on The Cyborg Manifesto (1991) to reconceptualise young children’s gender identities. Haraway uses the cyborg both as figuration and ontological position to explore the breakdown and fluidity of technological, natural and cultural bodily boundaries. Nikki’s research shows how the cyborg figuration ‘moves beyond traditional notions of the feminine body’ (Benozzo et al., 2019: 89). Her doctoral thesis considered how girls are expected to perform and act in certain ways (Fairchild, 2017) and how the cyborg can ‘produce[s] new articulations of gender at the same time as making traditional gendered societal roles ‘available’’ (Taylor & Fairchild, 2020: 520). The cyborg subverts gender and provides new political possibilities for women.

In Staying with the Trouble, Haraway posits ‘lived storying’ (2016b: 150) as ‘the most powerful practice for… becoming-with each other’. Shiva has written of co-storytelling as a way of making-together, co-theorizing and co-enduring (Niccolini, Zarabadi & Ringrose, 2018). Lived storying foregrounds the care-full response-ability required when researching participants’ experiences. Towards the end of her PhD thesis writing, the COVID pandemic put the world into multiple lockdowns and made racism intelligible in new ways. Shiva’s PhD participants are from British Bangladeshi backgrounds, they live in overcrowded households and, like other BAME populations, suffer disproportionate social and educational inequalities (Booth, 2020). Their COVID storyings speak of histories of exclusion, troubled times and uncertain futures.   

‘No adventurer should leave home without a sack’ writes Haraway (2016b: 40) in Staying with the Trouble. Haraway learned about the carrier bag theory of storytelling from Ursula Le Guin (1989). During her PhD, Anna experimented with a Bag-lady positionality (Moxnes, 2019), figuring herself as an (elderly) woman collecting whatever she found carrying everything with her in bags. For Anna, the carrier bag theory became a story of research, a methodological and methodic concept, a feminist force enabling her to do research differently. Carrier bag research provides a compass ‘to think otherwise’ – it changes our understandings of the world we live in and how we make meaning about it.

In our work together, Haraway’s philosophy gives us the courage to find philosophical and practical ways of troubling dominant educational thinking, research and writing (Zarabadi et al., 2019). Haraway’s philosophy informs our collaborative research experiments in theory, method and practice enabling us to continue to think of new ways to produce academic knowledge differently.

Some Final Thoughts

Haraway’s books are not easy, but they repay the focus, immersion and concentration needed. Haraway makes you think about how you can do research and teaching differently and in more creative ways. Her writing is an encouragement to slow down, ponder, not rush to action too quickly, and to focus on details and specificities. She offers intellectual resources to contest neoliberal imperatives of competitive individualism, performativity and measurement. Haraway’s philosophy provides a stimulus to new, creative, experimental ways of producing knowledge; her generative, ecological, life-affirming thinking offers important insights for reshaping educational thinking to contest the damages of the Anthropocene.

Citations and Further Reading

Biography of Donna Haraway 

Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective – Haraway, 1988

Situated Knowledges – Monika Rogowska-Stangret

Manifestly Haraway – Haraway, 2016

Rethinking Ethical-Political Education – Strand, Torill

Reconceptualizing international mindedness in and for a posthuman world – Barratt Hacking and Taylor, 2020

When Species Meet – Haraway, 2008

Is a posthumanist Bildung possible? Reclaiming the promise of Bildung for contemporary higher education – Taylor, 2016

Producing Pleasure in the Contemporary University – Taylor, 2017

Earthworm disturbances: the reimagining of relations in Early Childhood Education and Care – Fairchild, 2017

Simians, Cyborgs, and Women (The Cyborg Manifesto) – Haraway, 1991

Disturbing the AcademicConferenceMachine: Post‐qualitative re‐turnings – Benozzo et al., 2019: 89

Towards a posthumanist institutional ethnography: viscous matterings and gendered bodies – Taylor and Fairchild, 2020

Staying with the Trouble – Haraway, 2016

Spinning Yarns: Affective Kinshipping as Posthuman Pedagogy – Niccolini, Zarabadi & Ringrose, 2018

BAME groups hit harder by Covid-19 than white people, UK study suggests

Dancing at the Edge of the World – Ursula Le Guin

Working Across/Within/Through Academic Conventions of Writing a Ph.D.: Stories About Writing a Feminist Thesis – Moxnes, 2019

Feeling Medusa: Tentacular Troubling of Academic Positionality, Recognition and Respectability – Zarabadi et al., 2019

Authors

Professor Carol A. Taylor

Professor Carol A. Taylor

Professor of Higher Education and Gender in the Department of Education, University of Bath

Professor Carol A. Taylor is Professor of Higher Education and Gender in the Department of Education at the University of Bath where she is Director of Research and leads the Learning, Pedagogy and Diversity Research cluster. Carol’s research focuses on the entangled relations of knowledge, power, gender, space and ethics in higher education and utilizes trans- and interdisciplinary feminist materialist and posthumanist theories and methodologies. She is currently exploring the relations between feminist praxis and quiet activism, women’s academic leadership and mentoring, and institutional power. She is engaged in various experiments in doing academic writing differently. Carol is co-editor of the journal Gender and Education. Her latest books are Taylor, C. A., Ulmer, J., and Hughes, C. (Eds.) (2020) Transdisciplinary Feminist Research: Innovations in Theory, Method and Practice. London: Routledge and Taylor, C. A. and Bayley, A. (Eds.) (2019) Posthumanism and Higher Education: Reimagining Pedagogy, Practice and Research.

Dr Nikki Fairchild

Dr Nikki Fairchild

Associate Head (Research and Innovation), School of Education and Sociology, University of Portsmouth

Dr Nikki Fairchild is Associate Head (Research and Innovation), School of Education and Sociology, University of Portsmouth. Her research interests include posthumanist and material feminist theorizing to articulate more-than-human subjectivities in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC). Her recent research centres on place/space in classrooms and gardens, this has been enacted using walking-with methodologies. She is also part of any International collective which challenges the knowledge practice in conference spaces. The collective enacts arts-based research-creation workshops at conferences to consider how human, non-human and other-than-human bodies interact. The collective has recently been awarded a Special Commendation for the BERA Anna Craft Creativities in Education 2020 Prize.

Shiva Zarabadi

Shiva Zarabadi

PhD research candidate at UCL Institute of Education

Shiva Zarabadi is PhD research candidate at UCL Institute of Education. Her research interests include feminist new materialism, posthumanism and intra-actions of matter, time, affect, space, humans and more-than-humans. In her PhD she uses walking and photo-diary methodologies to map these relational materialities. She is the co-editor of the book Feminist posthumanisms/ new materialisms and Education (Routledge 2019) and the leading author of the journal article “Feeling Medusa: Tentacular troubling of academic positionality, recognition and respectability” (2020) in Reconceptualizing Educational Research Methodology, and chapters “Post-Threat Pedagogies: A Micro-Materialist Phantomatic Feeling within Classrooms in Post-Terrorist Times”(2020) in Mapping the Affective Turn in Education Theory, Research, and Pedagogies,  “Re-mattering media affects: pedagogical interference into pre-emptive counter-terrorism culture” in Education Research and The Media(2018) and a co-authored article ‘Spinning Yarns: affective kinshipping as posthuman pedagogy in Parallax(2018).

Dr Anna Moxnes

Dr Anna Moxnes

Associate Professor at the department of Pedagogy, University of Southeastern Norway

Dr. Anna R. Moxnes is an Associate Professor at the Department of Pedagogy at the University of Southeastern Norway. Anna’s research interest is feminism and new materialist perspectives. Her recent projects involve both higher education and early childhood practices, including children and animals, and children and aesthetics, in Early Childhood Education and Care institutions, but also classroom teaching and materiality in Early Childhood Teacher Education ECTE) and research connected to education of mentors for students in teacher education. These research interests brought her in contact with international researchers, which have expanded her professional network and her writing experiences. Right now, she is co-editing a book about research-projects in ECTE in Norway. In 2019, she was honored with a Norwegian national prize for teaching.

Education in a Post-COVID World: Creating more Resilient Education Systems

Education in a Post-COVID World: Creating more Resilient Education Systems

Schools across Europe have been at the forefront of dealing with the COVID crisis since it began in 2020, coping with different systems of attendance, new methods of learning, and changing government guidance on how to operate. Many education systems have found themselves under pressure in these circumstances. Not all have fared well.  Data from our research[1] tracking how primary teachers in England responded to the disruption provides some insights into whether and how COVID-19 can lead to more resilient education systems. Revaluing local knowledge is a vital element in rebuilding, reconnecting, and reimagining education after the pandemic.

Our data shows that local knowledge provides a more accurate guide to exactly what the problems are and, on that basis, can help determine what the most useful next steps might be.

One key decision that governments faced at the start of the pandemic was whether to close schools or keep them open, at a time when governments found it was hard to judge the risks for children’s health and well-being. Many governments resolved this choice by looking at what others were doing first. 

Here in England, the government opted for closure during the first wave, with schools staying open only for children of key workers or those judged vulnerable. In June, just a few age groups were allowed to return. Since the start of this academic year, all schools were instructed to stay fully open, even in regions with the highest number of infections. Staff or pupils who fell ill and their close contacts were expected to self-isolate.

To cover gaps in provision, the government passed emergency legislation which gave schools “a legal duty to provide remote education for state-funded, school-age children unable to attend school due to coronavirus”. This decision has proved controversial in a system which is not equipped with sufficient digital devices and connectivity to ensure all pupils can benefit in this way. 

These decisions show how far politicians emphasised returning the education system to normal functioning as quickly as possible, fuelled by reports quantifying learning lost during the lockdown. Modelling the consequences of lessons lost, or volume of work returned has certainly created alarming scenarios of widening attainment gaps with severe consequences for the students involved. If teaching and learning are imagined as steady delivery of curriculum content to time and test dates, then “catching up” seems crucial. But is this the right reaction, or a product of insufficient local knowledge to make the right calls?

Research into teacher responses and priorities

By focusing our research on what was happening in real schools in real-time, we and colleagues at UCL Institute of Education have built a clearer picture of how primary teachers responded during the pandemic, their priorities as schools began to fully reopen, and the lessons learnt for the longer term. 

Our survey and interview data demonstrated that teachers were most concerned about pupil wellbeing.  On schools reopening, 76% of teachers thought pupil wellbeing was central with only 8% prioritising “Enabling students to catch up for missed learning”. Teachers thought parents’ priorities would broadly be in line with their own, with the benefits for children of socialising with their friends (54%) and the normality of settling back into school routines (65%) holding more importance than reassurance that children would catch up quickly in core areas of the curriculum (28%). Schools are about much more than curriculum delivery.

Strengthening school communities

Our research showed that teaching during lockdown was changing teachers’ perceptions of their school communities. Many teachers felt more aware of the impact of poverty on pupils’ lives, and recognised the difficulties some families experienced in supporting pupils’ learning at home. Feedback on home-learning highlighted the importance of creating tasks that children would enjoy.  Teachers worked hard to ensure that children without internet access had opportunities to learn offline. 

Many teachers working with our most disadvantaged communities played a key role in supporting families and communities by checking that families were not going hungry, that they had access to other avenues of support, where needed, and that the most vulnerable children were as safe as they could be. This kind of direct support for communities matters, yet it is often overlooked in the public debate on the value of education which frames it as a private rather than a public good.  

Looking ahead – the impact of testing and importance of community resilience

If the COVID crisis has revealed the depth of educational inequalities in societies where economic gaps have widened disproportionately, it can also lead to a re-evaluation of the good that schools can do. Looking ahead,

  • 77% of our respondents agreed with the statement, ‘If testing and inspection goes ahead as normal next year, schools serving the most disadvantaged communities will be unfairly penalised’.
  • 72% agreed ‘Schools have an important role in building community resilience that should be both recognised and funded’ and 73% considered ‘Primary education needs to begin again, with a broader definition of curriculum values and purposes’.
  • Only 4% thought ‘The best approach to supporting children through the crisis is ensuring they reach the expected standards in KS1 and KS2 assessments next year’.

Our research tells us that a narrow focus on repairing test scores is counter-productive. Slower processes of recuperation create firmer foundations for future learning, particularly when they build upon the knowledge teachers have gained from working with their communities during a period of disruption. 

Revaluing local knowledge is a vital element in rebuilding, reconnecting, and reimagining education after the pandemic.  Research can help in making more visible the voices of teachers and their communities and thus creating more resilient education systems.

References and Further Reading

[1] The research project, “A duty of care and a duty to teach: educational priorities in response to the COVID-19 crisis’. Funder: UKRI/ESRC Rapid Response to COVID call, project no. ES/V00414X/1. Researchers: PI: Gemma Moss. Co-Is: Alice Bradbury, Sam Duncan, Sinead Harmey, and Rachael Levy.  See 

Professor Gemma Moss

Professor Gemma Moss

Professor of Literacy, UCL Institute of Education

Gemma Moss is Professor of Literacy at UCL Institute of Education and Director of the International Literacy Centre.  She has written extensively about the evolution of literacy policy, gender and literacy, assessment, and the emergence of new knowledge networks in education.  She was a member of EERA council between 2016-18.

Dr Alice Bradbury

Dr Alice Bradbury

Associate Professor of Sociology of Education, UCL

Alice Bradbury is Associate Professor of Sociology of Education at UCL Institute of Education and Co-Director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Pedagogy (0-11 years). Her research focuses on the relationship between policy and classroom practices and subjectivities in primary and early years education.

How to prepare for your first ERG conference

How to prepare for your first ERG conference

The Emerging Researchers’ Group holds an annual conference, the Emerging Researchers’ Conference (ERG), preceding the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER). We asked Estella Ferraro for some tips on preparing and attending your first ERG Conference.

Going to an international conference for the first time can be overwhelming and exciting at the same time. It is an excellent opportunity to meet fellow colleagues from all over the world – I have met colleagues from Europe but also from Australia, Asia, South America, and Africa.  It also gives you feedback on your research from outside the own academic framework, which can really open your eyes to entirely new perspectives.

You can’t just show up on the first day of the conference. There are a number of preparations you should undertake, and some of them start months before the conference even takes place. Especially when planning to go to ECER for the first time, it is easy to lose track of the upcoming necessary deadlines. So here are some tips on how to prepare for your first (or second or third) ERG conference.

Deadlines and preparations in advance to the conference

The Proposal

Many reasons may have led you to want to attend the ERG conference. Perhaps the topic is of great interest to you, or you have always wanted to travel to the place ECER takes place that year, or maybe your supervisor asked you to come along. The first decision is if you wish to present yourself or if you are attending to watch, learn, and network. Both have their advantages: it can be very inspiring to participate for the first time without being nervous or stressed about your own presentation, especially if your funding permits that.

On the other hand, I would suggest that if you have a chance to present you should go for it! The ERG conference is a great place to practice your presentation skills and get helpful feedback on your research in an extremely friendly atmosphere on an international scale.

Submission usually starts in December before the conference and ends in January. You can find the current deadline here. This timeline is something you should keep in mind and plan for so you can write the proposal and hand it in in time.

Funding

With that in mind, you might also consider funding opportunities. There are many opportunities for travel grants and funding you can apply for (from EERA, your home country, or home university). It is worth researching the conditions and deadlines for funding opportunities so that you don’t miss a chance! Make sure you can get all necessary documents in time, especially if you need something from others who might take some time such as a recommendation letter.

Accommodation, Visa and Flights

Obviously, this won’t apply if the conference takes place digitally. In April review results are usually announced, and this is when things get real! It can be advisable to book accommodation even before results are announced if you have an option to cancel free of charge. ECER is a huge conference and often in small cities so affordable accommodation can be booked out quickly. Don’t leave this to the last minute. Similarly, if you need to apply for a visa, check the deadlines so you don’t miss anything.

Deadlines and Preparations Closer to the Conference

Preparing your Presentation

Once time draws closer to the conference, you should start preparing your paper if you have been accepted to present one. Here it is important that you don’t overload your presentation as timing can be tricky. Participants often want to include too much information, while often it’s better to keep it simple and clear. Don’t be scared about presenting in another language.  Your English doesn’t have to be perfect and, in my experience, everyone at the ERG conference is really helpful even if you forget how to say something. If you have questions on your research or about something you’re stuck with, it’s fine to ask for that in the discussion too, so that you can really get the most from your experience and presentation at ECER.

Scheduling your conference

Look at the schedule and think about what interests you, and what you want to get out of the conference. Be prepared to pick out some sessions in advance but also accept that sometimes you might end up spontaneously changing your mind. Don’t overschedule yourself Leave some space for networking opportunities and meeting other academics as well.

Finally, all I can say is the emerging researcher conference is an amazing platform to learn, engage and network, so: Enjoy your time there!

Further Information

Find out more about the ERG Conference, including deadlines, programme, and accepted presentation formats on the EERA website.

Want to know what to expect? Have a look at the previous ECER and ERG conferences and check out our YouTube channel for videos of the ECER keynote sessions in 2020. 

Dr Estella Ferraro

Dr Estella Ferraro

Dr Estella Ferraro (née Hebert) is a Post-Doc researcher at the Goethe University in Frankfurt at the chair for theory and history of education. She is also a co-convenor for the Emerging Researchers Group and for Network 6 Open Learning: Media, Environments, and Cultures of the European Educational Research Association (EERA). Her research interests focus on questions of media education including teaching and learning with new media, datafication and big data, digital surveillance, identity in the light of personal data, and questions of digital ethics. Her PhD thesis published under the title of „Willful Blindness – on the relationship of identity, agency and personal data“ exemplifies the intersection of a bildungs-theoretical perspective with post-digital theories that characterise Dr Ferraro as a researcher.

She has over six years of experience in teaching and researching media education and has worked and studied internationally. For more information on her research and work go to: https://www.uni-frankfurt.de/55826755/Estella_Hebert

How Dialogic Educational Research Reconnects Communities

How Dialogic Educational Research Reconnects Communities

At the European Conference of Educational Research in 2020, Professor Ramon Flecha presented his keynote “How dialogic educational research reconnects communities”. Here he shares his research with our readers. 

My presentation was part of the panel at the European Conference of Educational Research in 2020, shared with two excellent speakers, with the outstanding coordination of Joe O’Hara. It was entitled ‘How dialogic educational research reconnects communities’, and it was organized around four sections:

  • Dialogic social impact and the human right to science and education
  • Dialogic Educational Research (DER) and Co-creation
  • DER and educational communities
  • DER and ethics.

What is a Dialogic Approach?

Language is one of the most remarkable human capacities. Through language, individuals are capable of action and, in consequence, of transforming their context in the direction they desire. Drawing on this idea, the dialogic approach refers to the fact that in our current societies, individuals turn more and more frequently to dialogue as a part of their social behavior.

In this vein, reaching understandings, making choices, solving conflicts, and transforming realities, all take increasingly place through an egalitarian dialogue. In it, arguments are valued according to their validity, and not to the position of power of the person that used them. This allows for the emergence of a violence-free and democratic context, in which new consensus can be reached and new meanings can be created.

Taking this idea to the educational field implies acknowledging that any member of the community can contribute through dialogue to the improvement of the quality of education in that context. In turn, this demands the creation of spaces of dialogue in which the diversity of voices of that particular context can be heard, including those of the most excluded. Adding “research” to this equation implies for researchers to recognize the valuable contributions participants, regardless of their background, can provide to the reality under study, by sharing their understandings based on their daily-life experiences and knowledge.

Dialogic Social Impact and the Human Right to Science and Education

Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that “everyone has the right…to share scientific advances and its benefits”. This right has been neglected for a long time. For instance, in education, students, parents, and communities had been excluded from their participation in the co-creation of knowledge about education. These groups had also not received information about scientific advancements in the field. In such scenarios, it is impossible to achieve the right to education for all, which is not only the right to attend school but also to receive in it the benefits of scientific advancements in education. The dominant discourse imposed a hierarchical perspective, in which researchers created knowledge, teachers received this knowledge in their training, and students, parents, and communities were the objects of its implementation.

Dialogic Educational Research (DER) and Co-creation

Horizon Europe and other international research programmes have now incorporated a dialogic demand from citizens. Social Impact and Co-Creation are the new priorities. Citizens want to see that the public investment in research yields results leading to the improvement of society and the lives of individuals. This demand was formulated in a European Conference on “Science Against Poverty” in this way:

 

“if society invests € 1.000.000 in research on poverty, scientists receiving this resource have to present evidence that their research contributed more to the overcoming of poverty than if this money had been given directly to poor people”.

 

Even though there has been resistance from researchers in education (just as in other fields), this change has been clearly co-led by educational researchers. Some studies in education have not only generated excellent improvement of educational results but also have been successful examples to orient researchers in all sciences towards the respective social impact. 

Citizens are also demanding the co-creation of knowledge in dialogue with researchers. An increasing number of researchers and research institutions want a continuous dialogue with citizens too, not only with the aim to apply that knowledge, but also to create it. This increasing dialogic research is generating more improvements in society and a growth in scientific knowledge. Dialogic educational research has also co-led this change towards more democratic, transparent, and egalitarian societies.

DER and Educational Communities

Dialogic educational research promotes dialogic educational communities. Parents and communities have a lot of experiences with schools and children. Those experiences are an excellent resource for the co-creation of scientific knowledge and also for the improvement of educational results for all children.  

Some people are afraid that this dialogic transformation can decrease the original status of science for society and the original status of teachers in schools. Instead, this dialogic process recreates in current society the original sense of the schools and the educational sciences. Both the universal educational systems and the social sciences were created by democratic revolutions. The objective was citizen sovereignty – to enable citizens to decide about themselves and their societies. In order to do so, universal educational systems were created to facilitate the basic knowledge to all people, and the social sciences were created in order to allow citizens and societies to know themselves.

As Max Weber demonstrated, a process of bureaucratization moved those human creations away from the voices and the decisions of citizens. Current social sciences, including educational sciences, are now overcoming this bureaucratization and recreating their original sense.

We, educational researchers, do not need a hierarchical distance from teachers or citizens in order to have status. The reality is the other way around. When we dialogue openly with citizens, they can see directly how much knowledge we can provide them in order to improve the educational results of their students or children. Besides, we learn a lot from those dialogues. One decade ago, educational sciences (and other social sciences) were under the threat of being eliminated from the European scientific programme of research; the main argument for doing so was that citizens did not see an improvement of their lives as a result of such research. This argument was refuted by successful scientific research on education: it was demonstrated that research in education (and other social sciences) can contribute to a greater improvement of society than if the resources allocated to it had been dedicated to other areas. The status of researchers for teachers, parents, communities, and students significantly increased with these studies, as well as for policymakers and institutions.

DER and Ethics

The continuous dialogue between researchers and citizens is also a guarantee for maintaining the anti-sexist and anti-racist values of education and science. The status and prestige of educational sciences decrease when some researchers behave against those values. Furthermore, we need a continuous dialogue with citizen movements such as #metoo in order to improve the values of research and research institutions. A minority of researchers harm the prestige of our field when they engage in sexually harassing behaviour or second-order sexual harassment. In order to overcome their conduct, we need a continuous dialogue with those movements and with citizens in general.

The democratic, transparent and egalitarian transformation of research is creating the most profound and fast revolution of knowledge in all human history. We are lucky to have the opportunity to be part of this transformation. In that way, we can make possible and real the ideals that moved most of us to dedicate our professional lives to this field: the right to education for all and the creation of excellent knowledge for humanity.

Watch the Keynote

Further Reading

Max Weber – Economy and Society

Flecha, R. (2020). Contributions from Social Theory to Sustainability for All. Sustainability, 2(23), 9949. 

Soler, M., & Gómez, A. (2020). A Citizen’s Claim: Science With and for Society. Qualitative Inquiry.

Gómez, A., Padrós, M., Ríos, O., Mara, L.C. & Pukepuke, T. (2019). Reaching Social Impact Through Communicative Methodology. Researching With Rather Than on Vulnerable Populations: The Roma Case. Frontiers in Education, 4(9). doi: 10.3389/feduc.2019.00009

Professor Ramon Flecha

Professor Ramon Flecha

Doctor Honoris Causa of the West University of Timişoara and Professor of Sociology at the University of Barcelona.

Ramon Flecha is Doctor Honoris Causa of the West University of Timişoara and Professor of Sociology at the University of Barcelona. The main conclusion of the first project he led from the European Union’s Framework Program (FP5), WORKALÓ, The creation of new occupational patterns for cultural minorities: The gypsy case was unanimously approved by the European Parliament giving rise to various European and Member States policies. The second project he directed (FP6), INCLUD-ED. Strategies for inclusion and social cohesion from education in Europe, was the only one from the Social Sciences and Humanities included in the list that the European Commission published with 10 successful scientific investigations. The last project he directed was IMPACT-EV: Evaluating the impact and outcomes of European SSH Research (FP7), which has developed the new criteria for selection, monitoring and evaluation of the different impacts of scientific research.

Ramon Flecha has been the Chair of the Expert Group on Evaluation Methodologies for the Interim and Ex Post Evaluations of Horizon 2020, DG Research and Innovation (European Commission), composed of 17 members of all scientific disciplines. His scientific works have been published in scientific journals such as Nature, PLOS ONE, Cambridge Journal of Education, Harvard Educational Review, Organization, Qualitative Inquiry, Current Sociology, or Journal of Mixed Methods Research. His article published in the Cambridge Journal of Education received the Best Paper Prize 2013 being, in turn, the most read article of the history of the magazine.

Refugees and Education – Voices, Discourses and Policies

Refugees and Education – Voices, Discourses and Policies

The issue of refugees and asylum worldwide is a topical debate, where statistics and states play a major role with regard to research. Research focuses almost exclusively on the now, on themes like borders, trafficking, and human rights. In Europe in particular, the years 2015 and 2016 marked a turning point, because the numbers of refugees who arrived and applied for asylum reached the highest level in the Post-World-War II era. The so-called ‘refugee crisis’ underlines the necessity to integrate the incomers into established communities. This is, however, not a new phenomenon. 

In political discourses and other actual debates around the entry, asylum process, and integration of refugees, historical comparisons to argue against refuge or to raise empathy are commonly used.

Why historical research of refugees matters for present policy decisions

From an educationalist view, there is an urgent need to historicize the topic of forced migration to improve our understanding of the present age of movement. Europe has a long history of refugees and providing asylum and nation-states were the main actors in making refugees in the 20th century. The reason why we inquire about the relation between present and past in discourses about refugees and providing asylum is that our frames of reference are coined by this history. We would like to give voice to the experiences of violence. Throughout history nations received refugees, schools have a long history in receiving traumatised children and still are often left helpless with regard to personnel, materials, etc. And each time the public discourse only seems to focus on the now, the new, the particular.  

Reconnecting EERA Online Conference – Refugees and Education throughout Time in Europe

During ‘Reconnecting EERA’ NW 07 Social Justice and Intercultural Education and NW 17 Histories of Education hosted a number of sessions in conjunction with the special call “Refugees in/and Education throughout Time in Europe: Re- and Deconstructions of Discourses, Policies and Practices in Educational Contexts”.

Anke Wischmann of Europa-University Flensburg, Germany, and Susanne Spieker of University Koblenz-Landau, Germany initiated the call. The aims of our joint call were: to bring the history of refugee-immigration into focus; to highlight continuities as well as changes; and to understand refuge not only as a single event, but also in a historical context, with particular discourses and practices around education, and as an inter-generational social process, which sees migrants as actors transforming education in states. This call was quite successful, as 25 abstracts were submitted. 

On 26th August 2020, Network 17 organised a series of three informal sessions. In the 2nd session, Susanne Spieker (presenting) and Anke Wischmann introduced the special call and historical research on refugees. We discussed ideas, sources, and approaches for historical research on refugees and forced migration. For example, we looked at the problem of complexity concerning the history of refugee movements. These histories need to be transnational and global. They have to take into account the voices of refugees themselves as well as the practitioners working with them. For historical research, the accessibility to experiences is related to historical sources such as letters.

Time perception is another aspect, which seems to make historical research on forced migration challenging. For instance, if one asks or reads documents from different age groups about the same event, grandparents or parents, small children or adolescents have their own perceptions of the same situation. Each age group will offer a different view.

Family migration is common, as visualised in the above copper engraving from 1698, which depicts Huegenots leaving France. Women and children are a marginalised group with regard to migration in general because former research presumed that mainly men migrate. The opposite is the case. As these families travelled, skills and handicrafts, religious ideas, and educational approaches spread across Europe. These individuals were also actors in the education of their children.

On August 27th, 2020, both networks cooperated in holding a virtual forum. Fourteen individual papers were presented in four parallel sessions. The regional focus of presentations ranged from Denmark to Namibia and from France to Australia. The presentations in the first two break-out sessions covered a range of topics, such as the practical experiences of adolescent refugees and participants of higher education and vocational education in Poland, Bangladesh, and New Zealand, to the empowerment of women from ethnic minority backgrounds in various European countries.

Another break-out session presented and discussed different approaches and experiences with Unaccompanied Minors (UAM) arriving in France and Italy in recent years. Researchers shared their experiences with various educational approaches, and the challenges children and adolescents face.

The second set of parallel sessions introduced school practices and captured the voices of practitioners. In another session, presenters shed light on hidden curricula by analysing exclusionary practices experienced by Ju|’huan students in Namibia, representations of refugees in Polish children’s literature, and a Latvian Gymnasium and its history in the context of the cold-war in Western Germany.

There were many parallels noticed with regard to the seemingly unique experiences that refugees and minorities face in different regional settings. We realised that the complexity of the topic united quite a broad spectrum of methodological approaches, which we found inspiring. However, linking history and present-day research is not evident at first sight.

The responses to the presentations were engaged and positive. In the closing session, researchers valued the opportunity to reconnect, which for most of us was badly needed, due to the restrictions related to the COVID-19-pandemic. We decided to organise a new special call for the Geneva (online) ECER, with a slightly broader scope. We will keep you posted!

In addition to the initiators, the following members assisted with the organisation, planning, and implementation:  Lisa Rosen (Link-convenor of NW 07) and Iveta Kestere (Link-convenor of NW 17). Throughout the two days sessions were chaired by Klaus Dittrich (Hong Kong), Geert Thyssen (Norway), Iveta Kestere (Latvia), and Lisa Rosen (Köln). Fenna tom Dieck (Köln) supported us with Zoom.

 

Dr. Susanne Spieker

Dr. Susanne Spieker

Substitute Professor at the department for educational theory, intercultural and comparative education at Hamburg University

Susanne Spieker is currently a substitute professor at the department for educational theory, intercultural and comparative education at Hamburg University (Germany). She is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Koblenz-Landau, Campus Landau in the research unit on Heterogeneity in education. Her research expertise lies in the history of education. She has published on colonialism and its impact on educational thought. Her research interests include migration and inequality in education (race/ethnicity, gender, class). She was a member of the Editorial Assistant Board (2017 – 2018) of Paedagogica Historica, International Journal of the History of Education, and serves as an external reviewer for History of Education Researcher (UK) and Paedagogica Historica. Since 2016 she is editor of the Journal Jahrbuch für Pädagogik.

Prof. Dr. Anke Wischmann

Prof. Dr. Anke Wischmann

Professor for Education at the Europe-University Flensburg

Anke Wischmann is a professor for education at the Europe-University Flensburg (Germany). Her research focuses on social justice in education, in particular concerning race and ethnicity, analysed from a critical and qualitative perspective. She got her Ph.D. in 2010 at the University of Hamburg and her habilitation in 2017 at Leuphana-University in Lüneburg. In 2018 her article “The absence of race in German discourses on Bildung won the emerging researcher award of the German Educational Research Association (GERA). Since 2016, she has been the editor of the Journal Jahrbuch für Pädagogik.

 

School Uniform Policy in Scottish schools: Control and Consent

School Uniform Policy in Scottish schools: Control and Consent

A topic that is of continued interest to educational researchers – but also to teachers, pupils, and their parents – is school uniforms. As you may know, there is a marked difference between what pupils wear in school in the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), Ireland and the rest of Europe (recently Malta changed from formal uniforms to tracksuits). We set out to look into the reasons that schools give for having school uniforms.

I conducted the research with thirteen students from across the University of Aberdeen. A week-long course was designed to teach the qualitative data analysis software NVivo while taking part in an authentic research project. This was to provide undergraduates both research skills and experience.

I chose to analyse secondary school uniform policies because the policies are publicly available on school websites and do not involve confidential or sensitive information. We began our work with the identification of school uniform policies, school handbooks, and other information related to uniforms on each school’s website. After uploading the files, we read and coded the materials where we saw the reasons that were given for having a school uniform. Over the week, I benefited from over 300 hours of research assistance while the students learnt NVivo and applied this learning in the project.

Key Findings

Together we identified the different reasons that schools gave for requiring a school uniform. These included:

  • ethos, identity, pride, sense of belonging
  • safety, security/reduce truancy
  • preventing competition/discrimination
  • discipline and reduce bullying
  • employability
  • the reputation of the school
  • financial benefits
  • attitude to learning/improving standards of work

Students noticed more areas of interest, including the formality of the compulsory uniform from informal (no blazer or tie), mixed (blazer or tie) to formal (blazer and tie).

Of the 357 publicly funded secondary schools in Scotland we discovered:

  • 343 schools (96%) require a uniform and just 14 schools do not
  • 320 schools mandate the wearing of a school tie by both girls and boys
  • 235 schools require a blazer to be worn
  • 200 schools ban jeans

Three students have continued to analyse the data in areas of interest they identified, and we are close to submitting journal manuscripts. The students have also been involved in teaching doctoral students and university staff how to analyse qualitative research data using NVivo.

I asked the students to provide a summary of the analysis conducted so far and some of the questions or issues that arose from the research.

Uniform Policies & Gender – by Kirsten Phelps

Our analysis of school uniform policies regarding gender found that there were generally more rules and prescriptive policies for girls. Many policies mentioned the length of girls’ skirts using language that centred on the idea of decency or modesty. This suggests a placing of normative categories on girls and young women using school uniform policies, with those that follow the rules seen as moral/good and those who break them immoral/bad. Most schools in Scotland include ties as a mandatory part of their uniform for both boys and girls. This is notable as ties are not something usually worn in the workplace, or otherwise by women, yet they remain an entrenched part of the British school uniform.

School uniforms and employability discourse – by Annabelle Olsson

 

One specific justification for the uniform, employability, was analysed through the lens of governmentality. ‘Employability’ (Fotiadou, 2020; Moreau and Leathwood, 2006) is a concept referring to the ‘human capital’ – i.e., the skills, knowledge, and personal attributes – that makes an individual more likely to gain employment. Such discourses of employability generally overlook structural causes of unemployment, instead of placing the responsibility on the individual to continuously develop their skills and adapt to a precarious and competitive job market. In the policy documents, we discovered a rationale for the uniform based on such discourses. Fifty-three schools (15%) made linkages between the uniform and the world of work, illustrating a semi-hidden curriculum that implies that pupils should be presentable and employment-ready, conforming to the market and the workplace as well as their subordinate role within it.

Power and control in schools– by Jasper Friedrich

There appeared to be a tension between the practice of enforcing strict uniform policies and the way these practices are justified. While almost all policies include highly detailed regulations (some go as far as specifying the minimum length of girls’ skirts) and strict enforcement measures, justifications tend to focus on ‘soft’ values such as creating a sense of belonging and giving pupils self-confidence. We found it useful to analyse this in terms of Michel Foucault’s theorisation of different historical modes of power . When school uniforms were first introduced in the early modern period, they were what Foucault terms a technique of disciplinary power: one that ‘compares, differentiates, hierarchizes, homogenizes, excludes’. We still very much see this in how the policies homogenize dress while differentiating between girls and boys, creating hierarchies (prefects often wear special uniforms) and excluding those who do not conform.

In contrast, the justifications for these strict uniform policies are often cast in terms of what Foucault would call ‘governmentality’, a type of power that seeks to manage people with their consent instead of controlling them. The emphasis here is on how students will feel more included and improve their ‘human capital’ as a result of wearing uniforms – the uniform is justified not as a convenient tool of administration and control, but rather as a valuable part of the ‘product’ schools can offer parents.

Next Steps

Further analysis of the data set includes looking at the affordability of school uniforms, to what extent religious/philosophical beliefs are taken into account in the policies, and what is in place for pupils who identify as non-binary or who are in the process of transitioning gender. I hope to conduct research in schools that have involved pupils in decisions around uniforms.

I also hope to collaborate with researchers in other countries on school uniforms, dress codes, and appearance policies, so please get in touch if this interests you.

Finally, this project showed how it is possible to combine the teaching of qualitative data analysis software such as NVivo with actual data analysis providing a win-win for the academic and the students involved.

References and Further Reading 

Maria Fotiadou (2020) Denaturalising the discourse of competition in the graduate job market and the notion of employability: a corpus-based study of UK university websites, Critical Discourse Studies, 17:3, 260-291, DOI: 10.1080/17405904.2018.1546606

Marie‐Pierre Moreau & Carole Leathwood (2006) Graduates’ employment and the discourse of employability: a critical analysis, Journal of Education and Work, 19:4, 305-324, DOI: 10.1080/13639080600867083

The Power Thinker – Why Foucault’s work on power is more important than ever

School sends pupils home for wearing unpolishable shoes, no blazer and old footwear – Metro UK

Affordability of secondary school uniform in Scotland – University of Aberdeen (PDF).

Authors

Dr Rachel Shanks

Dr Rachel Shanks

Senior lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland

Dr Rachel Shanks is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. She sits on the Executive Committee of the Scottish Educational Research Association (SERA) and is the link person with the Educational Studies Association of Ireland (ESAI). She is a co-convenor of EERA Network 6: Open Learning: Media, Environments and Cultures. Rachel is the Programme Director of the BA in Professional Development at the University of Aberdeen and regularly runs workshops on how to use NVivo. Her research interests fall into three main categories: professional learning and mentoring; digital technologies in education; and school uniform/dress code policies. Rachel is also a member of the British Educational Research Association (BERA) and is currently conducting research funded by BERA on teacher preparation and new teachers’ responses to teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kirsten Phelps

Kirsten Phelps

Graduate Student, St Andrews University

Kirsten is a graduate student studying Middle East, Caucasus, and Central Asian Security at St Andrews University. Her interests include social movements and post-conflict transitions.

Annabelle Olsson

Annabelle Olsson

Graduate Student, University College London

Annabelle is a graduate student in Health Humanities at UCL. Her interests include emancipatory education and student wellbeing, social and anthropological perspectives on mental health, and interdisciplinary research methods. 

Jasper Friedrich

Jasper Friedrich

Graduate Student, University of Oxford

Jasper Friedrich is a graduate student at the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford. He is interested in social and political theory, especially critical approaches and theories of power.