The perceptions of minoritized pupils on student-teacher relationships

The perceptions of minoritized pupils on student-teacher relationships

At ECER 2023 in Glasgow, Julia Steenwegen from the University of Antwerp will present her research about the minoritized students, and their perceptions of the student-teacher relationships in mainstream and supplementary schools. We asked Julia to give us an overview of her research, and the implications for minoritzed students in Belgium, and beyond.

Student reflections

This is the response of a pupil when asked about the differences between her supplementary school and her Flemish mainstream school as part of a project investigating minoritized pupils’ views on the relationship to their teachers.

Some background – Minority students in Flanders, Belgium

Against a backdrop of persistent inequality in education throughout Europe, and in Flanders specifically, studies find that there is a gap not only in academic achievements between minoritized pupils and their peers, but also in the quality of student teacher relationships. The student-teacher relationship is of crucial importance to students’ educational pathways, yet teachers indicate feeling ill-prepared in teaching the diversity of their classrooms [1]. Students with a migration background tend to evaluate the relationship to their teachers as not as positive as their majority peers [2].

Other research has shown that some teachers hold ethnic prejudice towards their minority students  [3], this is particularly worrisome as only a very small percentage of teachers in Flanders have a migrant background [4]. The difference in ethno-cultural background – called Ethnic incongruence [5] – between teachers and students in mainstream schools is often hypothesized as an explanation for the different evaluation of student-teacher relationships. What is currently missing from the research is the perception of those minoritized pupils.


Our research methods

Supplementary schools pose a unique vantage point from which to study minoritized pupils’ views on the student-teacher relationship.  They are educational spaces [5] organized by minoritized communities to support their youth, usually take place during the weekend, and they often focus on teaching heritage language and culture. These schools are widespread, with as many as 45% of pupils in Flanders attending them at some point, as a yet unpublished paper by Coudenys and colleagues shows. That makes them particularly interesting to study in light of this project. After all, contrary to the mainstream Flemish schools in which most teachers are of white majority backgrounds, teachers in the supplementary school tend to share their pupils’ migrant backgrounds.

 Pupils attending both mainstream schools and supplementary schools are in an exclusive position to compare two different settings and reflect on what is constructive to a strong relationship, in their experience. To this end, we conducted group interviews with 29 minoritized pupils in two supplementary schools. The pupils were between 9 and 12 years old and voluntarily decided to take part in the interviews, either alone or with a friend.

Our findings

To our surprise, we find that throughout all these interviews, in which the pupils recount and reflect on their relationship to their teachers in the mainstream Flemish school as well as in the supplementary school, not one of the pupils points towards the ethno-cultural background of the teachers. Rather, they give a nuanced depiction of their relationships in each context both on an academic and an emotional level. This is in line with other research [6] suggesting that children do not rely on ethnic categories to organize their world.

 On an emotional level, the pupils indicate that they find the teachers in the mainstream Flemish schools to be less available to them overall. The children point towards factors such as class size to make sense of this lack of availability. Many of the pupils describe situations in which the teacher did not intervene in fights or altercations in the classroom, negatively impacting the quality of the relationship. The children are especially grateful to those teachers that show an interest in their cultural backgrounds. Some pupils remember teachers who asked about their supplementary schools fondly, while acknowledging that such interest is rare.

 While there is not always a clear-cut difference in the pupils’ perception of the teachers from one context to the next, they do almost uniformly declare a difference in the support they receive academically. The pupils report that they are reluctant to ask their mainstream teachers for help because they expect to be turned down. The children relate how they keep their questions to themselves, and then ask their teachers in supplementary school to explain to them at the weekend.

Implications for practice, beyond Belgium

We conclude by highlighting some important implications of our findings. Importantly, there is ample research [7] that emphasizes the importance of diversity in teacher staff in terms of countering prejudice, academic expectations, role models and more. The findings of this project do not seek to diminish that importance. Rather, in a reality of ethnic incongruence in student-teacher relationships we make some suggestions to better support pupils of minoritized backgrounds. First, pupils appreciate curiosity from their teachers. Interest in their cultural backgrounds and, relatedly, asking questions about their experience in the supplementary school is clearly beneficial. Second, the pupils were very perceptive of the pressure their teachers experience, and therefore they found them less approachable. And third, there are ample resources available in the supplementary schools. There could be much gained from a meaningful exchange between these different educational contexts.

Key Messages

  • Supplementary schools pose an interesting vantage point from which to study the perspectives of minoritized pupils.
  • We study the student-teacher relationship from an academic and an affective dimension.
  • Pupils describe that they feel better emotionally supported by their teachers in the mainstream school when they show an interest and open attitude towards their ethno-cultural background.
Julia Steenwegen

Julia Steenwegen

PhD Researcher

With past experience as a primary school teacher, Julia’s research focus is on inequality in education. Her main focus is on the resources in children’s networks that provide support in their educational pathways.

Orcid: 0000-0001-6743-9788

Other blog posts on similar topics:

References and Further Reading

[1] Berkovich, I., & Benoliel, P. (2020). Marketing teacher quality: Critical discourse analysis of OECD documents on effective teaching and TALIS. Critical Studies in Education, 61(4), 496-511.

[2] Agirdag, O., Van Houtte, M., & Van Avermaet, P. (2012). Ethnic school segregation and self-esteem: The role of teacher–pupil relationships. Urban Education, 47(6), 1135-1159.

[3] Van den Bergh, L., Denessen, E., Hornstra, L., Voeten, M., & Holland, R. W. (2010). The implicit prejudiced attitudes of teachers: Relations to teacher expectations and the ethnic achievement gap. American Educational Research Journal, 47(2), 497-527.

[4] Nulmeting herkomst leerkrachten in het Vlaamse onderwijs

[5] Thijs, J., Westhof, S., & Koomen, H. (2012). Ethnic incongruence and the student–teacher relationship: The perspective of ethnic majority teachers. Journal of school psychology, 50(2), 257-273.

[6] Steenwegen, J., Clycq, N., & Vanhoof, J. (2022). How and why minoritised communities self-organise education: a review study. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 1-19.

[7] Sedano, L. J. (2012). On the irrelevance of ethnicity in children’s organization of their social world. Childhood, 19(3), 375-388.

[8] Goldhaber, D., Theobald, R., & Tien, C. (2019). Why we need a diverse teacher workforce. Phi Delta Kappan, 100(5), 25-30.

Fostering collaborative educational research: An EERA Network case study

Fostering collaborative educational research: An EERA Network case study

The book ‘Research and Schooling in Rural Europe: An Engagement with Changing Patterns of Education, Space and Place’ by Gristy, Hargreaves and Kučerová, was published in 2020, with seminal chapters on educational research schooling in rural Europe. It was quickly and widely reviewed and praised. According to Redford(2021, p 633), it is a book ‘that sets a new standard for educational research and schooling in rural Europe.

This book is a hugely important contribution to the field. Its development and success are a direct result of collaboration through an EERA network. The book includes contributions from a wide range of authors from across Europe, for some their first publication in English.

We asked one of the book editors, Cath Gristy, and Link Convener of Network 14, Laurence Lasselle, to explain the process. They explained how at each stage of the book’s journey, the editors and authors made excellent use of the resources available within EERA (European Education Research Association) and its networks: Network Members, ECERs (the European Conference on Educational Research) and Network Funding.

Context – EERA Network 14 and ECER

As with all EERA Networks, EERA Network 14 (Communities, Families and Schooling in Educational Research) fosters communications between researchers and aims to facilitate collaborative research. Its major activity always takes place during the European Conference for Education Research (ECER), organised annually by EERA.

ECER is organised around 34 EERA Networks. Researchers from across the world submit their proposals to EERA Networks in the form of academic papers, symposia, posters etc. Proposals are then reviewed by reviewers within each network. Accepted proposals are subsequently presented at the annual conference. The format of the conference offers plenty of networking opportunities, as it has a packed programme of sessions of 90 minutes, breaks for tea and coffee and lunches and other social events, meetings with publishers and Network meetings.

Network 14 is one of the original EERA networks [1]. It was created by Dr Linda Hargreaves and Prof Rune Kvalsund in 1995. A group of European researchers started to share interests in the role and the place of small (or rural) schools in educational research. Over the years, the study of the relationship between school and community and place-based education would become one of the most popular thematic streams. More and more conference proposals regarding the topic were submitted to ECER, leading to more ECER sessions and more participants. An early collaborative work of the Network stream can be found in the special issue of the International Journal of Educational Research in 2009.

 In 2012, Cath Gristy – one of the current fourteen EERA Network 14 co-convenors, attended her first EERA conference and participated in EERA Network 14 sessions. Here she met a group of researchers, including Linda, Rune and Silvie Rita, who shared an interest in education in rural places.

Initial concept developed at the EERA network-funded seminar 2013 in Prague

Every year, EERA finances various projects fostering Network activities, including researchers’ collaboration and publication. This NW14 group set out to begin a publishing project.

With an awareness of the importance of including the growing number of researchers from Eastern Europe, they successfully bid for EERA network funding to finance a seminar in Prague in 2013.

The group of seminar attendees (which included colleagues from Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia) worked together on a plan to promote research and publications in the field. Indeed, it was clear that there was a significant body of research work on education in rural places from Eastern Europe that was not available in English. One reason for this was the financial challenges many researchers were facing. By the end of the seminar, the plan for collaborative work coalesced around a collective book.

An Informal Meeting within ECER 2015 Budapest

The outline proposal was developed by Cath, Linda and Silvie Rita at an informal meeting of the group who met with other international rural educational researchers from Canada and Australia while participating in ECER 2015 (Budapest). The goal of the proposal was to gather a unique set of European scholars from a range of social science disciplines, including education, geography, pedagogy, psychology, and sociology, who would elaborate on the context and challenges faced by rural (or small) schools and their communities in several European countries, including the Eastern and Central European countries.

The book proposal to the US publisher IAG (Information Age Publishing) ‘Current research in rural and regional education’ Series, managed by Michael Corbett and Karen Eppley in 2016, was successful.

Further development of the proposal at ECER 2016 Dublin

ECER 2016 (Dublin) offered the opportunity for the three book editors (Cath Gristy, Linda Hargreaves and Silvie Rita Kučerová) to meet some of the book contributors and to give an oral report of the book progression at the Network meeting taking place during the conference (cf. the Network report).

 At the same conference, Cath and Linda convened a two-part symposium entitled ‘Educational Research and Schooling in Rural Europe: An Engagement with Changing Patterns of Education, Space and Place’, focusing on a series of case studies located in Norway, Serbia, Czechia, Finland, and England., The three editors met and supported the contributing authors to ensure the good progress of each chapter. Contributions were now covering 11 countries: Austria, Czechia, Finland, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Serbia, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

Second successful EERA Network Funding in 2017

The editors were keen to support authors who were publishing in English for the first time. All contributors had published their research findings in national academic journals or reports and/or regularly presented their contributions at English-speaking conferences, including ECER. However, some had not contributed to academic journals or books published in English for academic purposes.

The three editors were successful in their bid for Network Funding to support the book publication in 2017. Their application was in the spirit of Network 14 and EERA. It ensured the best development of a community of scholars from various fields and different countries, including enhancing their writing skills. It fostered scholarly collaboration and the dissemination of high-quality research.

After the Publication: Book reviews and Participation Activity in Network 14

By 2019, the 395-page, 16-chapter book was ready for publication. It was now time to make it known to the community outside Network 14.

 The editors approached key international journals in the field as well as potential reviewers, all with links to Network 14 and/or ECER. Within 18 months, six reviews – all recommending the book – were published: Hernan Cuervo for the Journal of Research in Rural Education, Paul Flynn for the British Journal of Educational Studies, Rebecca Ipe for the International Review of Education, Robyn Henderson for the Australian and International Journal of Rural Education, Laurence Lasselle for the Center for Educational Policies Journal and Morag Redford for the Journal of Education for Teaching.

Contributors continue to be active within Network 14 by submitting proposals to ECERs, and one of them joined the Network 14 co-convenors team in 2021!

Tips for publishing within the EERA Network

  1. Engage with a community of scholars within an EERA Network and beyond
  2. Build the community around a strong and topical idea
  3. Submit symposium proposal to ECER
  4. Identify publication opportunities
  5. Look for EERA funding opportunities
  6. Disseminate the publication
Cath Gristy

Cath Gristy

University of Plymouth (UK), Plymouth Institute of Education

Cath is a Lecturer at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom, and her current research focuses on issues of inclusion and education in rural contexts. She is one of the co-conveners of EERA Network 14 (Communities, Families and Schooling in Educational Research).

Laurence Lasselle

Laurence Lasselle

Senior Lecturer, University of St Andrews (UK), School of Management

Laurence is a Senior Lecturer at the University of St Andrews in the United Kingdom, and her current research focuses on widening participation in Scottish Higher Education with a particular focus on access to Higher Education for Scottish rural and remote communities. She is the link convener of EERA Network 14.

Other blog posts on similar topics:

References and Further Reading


Cath Gristy, University of Plymouth, United Kingdom, Linda Hargreaves, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, and Silvie R. Kučerová, Jan Evangelista Purkyně University, Czechia, Educational Research and Schooling in Rural Europe: An Engagement with Changing Patterns of Education, Space and Place, Information Age Publishing, INC, 2020; 406 pp, ISBN: 978-1-64802-163-3.

A volume in Current Research in Rural and Regional Education, Series Editors: Michael Corbett, University of Tasmania, Australia and Karen Eppley, Penn State University, USA, Series Editors

Link to book:


Hernan Cuervo (2021) Book review of “Educational research and schooling in rural Europe: An engagement with changing patterns of education, space and place.”, Journal of Research in Rural Education, 37:5, 1–5, DOI:10.26209/jrre3705 

Paul Flynn (2022) Education research and schooling in rural Europe. An engagement with changing patterns of education, space and place, British Journal of Educational Studies, 70:2, 261-262, DOI:10.1080/00071005.2021.1978773

Rebecca Ipe (2021) Educational research and schooling in rural Europe: An engagement with changing patterns of education, space and place, International Review of Education, 67, 715–717, DOI:10.1007/s11159-021-09916-8

Robyn Henderson (2022) Book Review: Gristy, C., Hargreaves, L., & Kučerová, S. R. (Eds.). (2020). Educational Research and Schooling in Rural Europe: An Engagement with Changing Patterns of Education, Space, and Place. Information Age Publishing, Australian and International Journal of Rural Education, 32:2, 151–153, DOI: 10.47381/aijre.v32i2.343

Laurence Lasselle (2021) Book Review: Gristy, C., Hargreaves, L., & Kučerová, S. R. (Eds.). (2020). Educational Research and Schooling in Rural Europe: An Engagement with Changing Patterns of Education, Space, and Place. Information Age Publishing, CEPS Journal, 11 (Special Issue), DOI:10.26529/cepsj.1301

Morag Redford (2021) Educational research and schooling in rural Europe: an engagement with changing patterns of education, space and place, Journal of Education for Teaching, 47:4, 632-633, DOI: 10.1080/02607476.2021.1928482

EERA networks:

[1] Maria P. FigueiredoIan GrosvenorMarit Honerød Hoveid, and Natasha MacNab (2014) The dynamic and changing development of EERA networks, European Educational Research Journal 2014 13:4404-417, DOI: 10.2304/eerj.2014.13.4.404

 You can find other blog posts from the EERA Network 14 here.

Similar but Different: Small Rural Schools in Northern Ireland

Similar but Different: Small Rural Schools in Northern Ireland

 As children returned to school after the summer break in 2021, five small rural schools in Northern Ireland didn’t reopen their doors. What that means for the former pupils and their communities has barely been given any attention.

What is a ‘Rural School’?

Many small rural schools in different European countries were also forced to close last school year due to declining pupil numbers and financial pressures. In our recent review of the European research literature, we found that small rural schools have been defined in different ways.

While many definitions relate to the number of pupils enrolled (typically between 70 and 140 for primary schools), in the Republic of Ireland, for example, they are defined as schools employing four teachers or fewer. However, north of the border in Northern Ireland (United Kingdom), there is no official definition of small schools despite a history of small and very small schools in the region, partly because of its rural character and the segregated nature of the school system. In fact, in 1964, there were over 450 schools with between 26 and 50 pupils, although by the early 1990s, there were less than 150 schools with such number of pupils.

In 2006, an Independent Strategic Review of Education (otherwise known as the Bain review) indicated that there was an excess of schools in Northern Ireland because of falling pupil numbers and the existence of many school sectors. The review argued that there should be fewer, larger schools, and established that primary schools in rural areas should have at least 105 pupils enrolled. So, in the context of Northern Ireland, we understand a small rural school to be a primary school situated in a rural area (i.e., settlements with a population of less than 5,000 and areas of open countryside), with 105 pupils or less enrolled.

Small rural schools in Northern Ireland

There is scarce research on small rural schools in Northern Ireland, as most studies have concentrated on schools in urban areas. Between April and July 2021, we conducted an online survey of principals of small rural schools in Northern Ireland. Out of 201 principals invited, 91 took part (86 completed responses and 5 incomplete). In this post, we are sharing three themes that emerged when analysing the survey data.


Northern Ireland society is segregated along ethno-sectarian lines between an Irish Catholic group and a British Protestant group. This is reflected in its school system, so most pupils from a Protestant community background attend Controlled (de facto state) schools (in which the Protestant churches have a formal role), and most pupils from a Catholic community background attend Voluntary Maintained schools, owned by the Catholic church. There is also a small number of integrated schools, which are attended by children and staff from Catholic and Protestant traditions, as well as those of other faiths, or none.

From the survey results, it was clear that the 

schools were serving very segregated communities. Thus, the majority of Controlled school principals described the communities their schools served as mostly Protestant, and the majority of Catholic maintained school principals described them as mostly Catholic. Only a few described them as mixed or fairly mixed. Surprisingly, all three principals from integrated schools described their communities as mostly Catholic.


In both Catholic and Protestant rural communities, the churches appeared to have a significant role, with most principals (90%) identifying them as key institutions in the communities their schools served. However, we found a clear difference between school types. While 91% of Catholic Maintained school principals identified the sports association as another key organisation, only 12% of Controlled school principals did so. That is because in many Catholic communities, the GAA club is very influential. GAA stands for Gaelic Athletic Association, and it is Ireland’s largest sporting organisation (which promotes Gaelic games). Community voluntary groups and cultural associations were less likely to be identified by principals, and they were selected by a larger proportion of Controlled school principals rather than principals in Maintained schools.


According to the principals surveyed, the main challenges these schools were facing were similar to those found in other research in different European countries. The ones that were most identified by the survey respondents were:

  • financial pressures and lack of funding (selected by 74 out of 90)
  • staff’s intense workloads (72)
  • increasing numbers of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (47)
  • declining pupil numbers (45)
  • pressure or threat of potential closure (28).

However, in contrast with other studies, difficulties in staff recruitment and retention were barely ever selected as current challenges (just two principals did).

Some of the comments written by principals highlighted the main challenges they encountered:

“… Our school, that twenty-thirty years ago would have had 7 straight classes, now is struggling with 4 composite classes.  Our parents ARE supportive of our school but small numbers means we are struggling to survive in this community.  ….”

There is now so much paperwork and accountability not just educationally but from a health and safety and financial perspective that I feel the role of a teaching principal is no longer feasible.”

Unfortunately, the threat of closure is ever present and this has stopped some families enrolling at the school thus resulting in a fall in our enrolment numbers which are hard to recover from. Our physical site also needs a lot of investment but this does not fail to materialise because of question marks over our future which results in the local community not having faith that our school will remain open and so they choose to travel further away.”


The connection between the schools and the families and wider community was generally described as strong. Most principals (80%) considered the school as a key institution or organisation of the community they served. This is also clear from many of the principals’ open-ended comments:

“Our school is the heart of the rural community. Our families often have no other outlet or community-based organisation to support them. We offer support for parents and work closely with community groups to offer social events. Many of our parents do not drive and have no public transport, meaning they live isolated lives apart from their connection to the school.”

“The local community is very important. Pre-pandemic we had good contact and well attended events. We had a great Mums and Tots group.  Our PTA are fantastic at organising and promoting school events.”

“The school is a central part of our rural community. Enabling local groups to access our facilities assists local groups and clubs to exist.”

The most common ways schools engaged with the communities they served were:

  • Church/ religious leaders coming regularly to the school to visit pupils and teachers (78%)
  • Community leaders being on the board of governors of the school (77%)
  • Pupils being actively encouraged in the school to get involved with particular community organisations (63%); and
  • After-school (or outside of school hours) activities organised by community/sporting/religious organisations/institutions taking place on school grounds or being advertised by the school (64%).

We asked whether the pandemic had had an impact on the level of engagement of parents/families and the wider community with the school. As expected, most principals believed that the pandemic had a negative impact – 88% believed there had been less engagement between the school and the wider community, and 57% believed there had been less engagement between the school and parents/carers.

In conclusion, small rural schools in Northern Ireland face similar challenges as other small rural schools in Europe, but their situation differs mainly because of the segregated environment in which they are immersed. Also, small rural schools in NI are not a homogenous group. Some schools appeared to be experiencing more challenges than others, some have more resources than others or are considerably bigger/smaller, etc., and their community contexts are also distinct.

If you would like to find out more about our study, please visit our study blog.

Montserrat Fargas-Malet

Montserrat Fargas-Malet

Research Fellow

Montserrat Fargas-Malet is a Research Fellow at the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s University Belfast. Her background is in Sociology (BSsc), Women’s Studies (MA), and Education (PhD). She has over 15 years of experience in social science research and an excellent publication record.

Professor Carl Bagley

Professor Carl Bagley

Professor of Educational Sociology

Carl Bagley is Head of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s University Belfast where he holds a Chair in Educational Sociology. He has held research posts at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) and the Open University (where he obtained his PhD) and previously held a Senior Lectureship in Sociology at Staffordshire University, before Joining Durham University in 1999, obtaining a Chair in 2008 and serving as Head of the School of Education from 2013-2017.

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 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.