Save the date: Living Creatively in Common

We invite you to a research-informed, youth-led social action event Living Creatively in Common, on Thursday 4th January 2018 at Brooks Building, MMU, Manchester.

Living Creatively in Common will bring together young people with the ideas and resource that can support them to develop youth social action projects to navigate loneliness, find belonging, develop solidarity, and feel part of a community that nurtures and supports them to thrive, learn and inspire others.

Young people from the Greater Manchester Housing Association Youth Assemblies will be supported to identify challenges facing their communities, explore and develop practical strategies for youth-led social action.

This process will build on cutting-edge academic and peer research exploring youth loneliness and participation in changing formations of children’s policy and services in an austerity context. These projects include: the Youth Loneliness project, Partispace, and the BERA Poverty Commission. If you are from a project that would help young people understand and take social action on youth loneliness and belonging, please get in touch below.

The event will pilot the Greater Manchester Youth Living Lab, a place-based, collaborative, multi-stakeholder platform (universities, businesses, civil society and young people) for inspiring, supporting and evidencing strategies and practices for young people to navigate loneliness, explore solitude, initiate friendship, and find belonging. Social action will be supported across the platform through highly participatory workshops to inspire, support, share and research youth-led social action in project partner organisations.

If you would like more information about this project, please register below:

Living Creatively in Common is supported by the Coop Foundation, 42nd Street, Youth Focus North West and Manchester Metropolitan University.







Digital comics and stories of heritage, lives and experiences

Over the past 6 months, I’ve been working with British Bangladeshi women from Hyde Community Action in Tameside on a Heritage Lottery funded project to make digital comics telling the stories of their heritage, lives and experiences. We’ve been doing a wide range of activities including: planning stories using pinboards; visiting museums and galleries; developing digital skills; and discovering how to tell stories using words and pictures. You can see more of the activities here.


Every member of the group is creating her own comics using an app called Book Creator. The comics will be finished by early autumn when we start the dissemination phase. This includes workshops in schools, libraries and at MMU; stalls at comics and literature festivals; and a celebration event at Hyde Town Hall.

In our last session before the school holidays, I asked the women about their experiences of the project so far. These are some of the things they said:

I’ve enjoyed telling my story. It’s helped me to remember my background and given me an opportunity to talk about the past.

I learnt how to use comics tools and how to express myself using pictures and writing to make a story.

I was able to express myself about personal issues.

I feel like I’m a writer now!

If you want to know more about the project, or about the events we’re running in the autumn, please email

Sarah McNicol

Final exam results are becoming less valid – Prof. Harry Torrance

There are good reasons, rooted in traditional assessment concerns for validity and reliability, to involve teachers in setting and marking national test work in their own schools (coursework, project work and so forth).

Validity demands that the pursuit of broader curriculum goals such as analysing data, applying knowledge and developing practical skills be underpinned by broader methods of assessment. These wider skills and abilities cannot be tested by written final papers alone. For example, final papers can test knowledge of how to conduct an experiment, but not the actual practical skills involved or the collecting and recording of data over time.

Equally, reliability demands that these and other skills and abilities should not simply be measured by a one-off test, but assessed on several occasions over a longer period: the larger the sample of assessed work, undertaken under a variety of conditions, the more reliable the result is likely to be.

Now, however, history, experience and good educational practice are being set aside as the Conservative government moves back to an entirely final exam-based system. The argument is that the previous Labour administration allowed too many flexible teacher-assessed elements into school exams, lowering educational standards and inflating pass rates.

Yet teacher assessment has been a key element of education for many years under Conservative and Labour, while pass rates at GCSE and A-level have risen consistently under both parties since the 1970s.

Given that these upward trends have extended over so many years, there is likely to be some element of a genuine rise in standards driven by the better socio-economic conditions of students, higher expectations of educational outcomes by students, parents and teachers, and better teaching underpinned by better training and resources.

More recently, however, this trend has been combined with and compounded by an increased focus on passing exams because of the perceived importance of educational success for school accountability, teacher career progression and student life chances.

Research evidence indicates that the pressure to raise results at almost any (educational) cost is a key driver of grade inflation. Thus, identifying a possible problem of grade inflation is one thing; assuming that eliminating coursework and teacher involvement in assessment is the only solution is quite another.

Pursuing new curriculum goals demands new forms of assessment to report grades with validity and reliability – coursework, fieldwork, oral work and so forth can capture different outcomes from end-of-course written tests.

When we also add in ideas about formative assessment and changes in pedagogy – including students drafting work, receiving feedback on it, and then redrafting it for final submission – we produce a potentially positive situation in which students can be supported to develop their knowledge and understanding of subject matter over time and produce their best possible work for exams.

In principle this should constitute the core of any attempt to broaden and raise “educational standards”. However, in a context of intense accountability such practices can lead to little more than coaching students to meet exam criteria, thus undermining the validity and credibility of results. Yet improving the validity and reliability of teacher assessment is possible – this is what assessment policy, research and development should be trying to achieve.

As accountability pressures increase, the evidence base for published results is becoming narrower and less valid as the system moves back to wholly end-of-course testing. Instead, policy should:

(i) decouple accountability measures from routine student assessment and address the monitoring of standards over time by use of specifically designed tests with small national samples;

(ii) re-conceptualise the development of educational standards by starting from the perspective of the curriculum: ie, put resources and support into rethinking curriculum goals for the 21st century and developing illustrative examples of high-quality assessment tasks that underpin and reinforce these goals, for teachers to use and adapt as appropriate.

Prof. Harry Torrance (MMU)

This article is reposted from SchoolsWeek.

A longer version of this article is available in the British Journal of Educational Studies, 2017.

ESRI Seminar: Professor Tim Ingold – Anthropology and/as education

Wednesday 26th April 2017: 16:00 – 17:30, Brooks Building, Room 2.19
Professor Tim Ingold, University of Aberdeen, UK
Anthropology and/as education
Anthropology is a generous, open-ended, comparative and yet critical inquiry into the conditions and possibilities of life in the one world we all inhabit. But these principles – of generosity, open-endedness, comparison and criticality – are also cornerstones of education. Thus I go beyond an exploration of the interface between the disciplines of anthropology and education to argue for their more fundamental identity. This argument, however, calls for a reassessment on both sides. On the side of anthropology, we have to depart from the established view that it is about making studies of different peoples and their worlds, and recognise that it is about going to study with them: it is, in that sense, to undergo an education. And it is to acknowledge that this education carries the responsibility, on the part of its recipients, to become educators themselves. Teaching is thus as essential to the practice of anthropology as is the learning that takes place through participant observation. On the side of education, it is necessary to overturn the traditional view of teaching and learning as the transmission of authorised knowledge from one generation to the next. I argue instead for a view of education as a ‘leading out’ (from the Latin, ex-ducere) of novices into the world that opens up paths of intellectual growth and discovery, without predetermined outcomes or fixed end-points. It is about attending to things, rather than acquiring the knowledge that absolves us of the need to do so; about exposure rather than self-defence. As with the anthropologists’ participant observation, the paths of education are often difficult to follow and entail considerable existential risk. The ‘school’ for the educator, like the ‘field’ for the anthropologist, is a place where people gather to follow such paths together. The task of the teacher, then, is not to explicate knowledge for the benefit of those who are assumed, by default, to be ignorant, but to provide inspiration, guidance and criticism in the exemplary pursuit of truth. I conclude that by joining forces, and by recognising their common purpose, anthropology and education have the power to transform the world.
Biography: Tim Ingold is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen, and a Fellow of both the British Academy and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Following 25 years at the University of Manchester, where he was appointed Max Gluckman Professor of Social Anthropology in 1995, Ingold moved in 1999 to Aberdeen, where he went on to establish the UK’s newest Department of Anthropology. Ingold has carried out ethnographic fieldwork among Saami and Finnish people in Lapland, and has written on comparative questions of environment, technology and social organisation in the circumpolar North, as well as on the role of animals in human society, on issues in human ecology, and on evolutionary theory in anthropology, biology and history. In his more recent work, he went on to explore the links between environmental perception and skilled practice. Ingold’s latest research pursues three lines of inquiry that emerged from his earlier work, concerning the dynamics of pedestrian movement, the creativity of practice, and the linearity of writing. He is currently writing and teaching on issues on the interface between anthropology, archaeology, art and architecture. Ingold is the author of many books, including The Perception of the Environment (2000), Lines (2007), Being Alive (2011), Making (2013) and The Life of Lines (2015).

Digital comics project records immigrant stories

British Bangladeshi women share their heritage, lives and experiences

Researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University are working with British Bangladeshi women from Hyde Community Action in Tameside to make digital comics telling the stories of their heritage, lives and experiences.

Thanks to National Lottery players, this project has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and will see women exploring their own life stories and the historical narratives of their communities through workshops on comics, life history, cross-cultural storytelling and digital skills, as well as visits to museums and archives to engage with collections.

Using digital multimedia comic creation tools, the volunteers can write their comic books and use their own photographs and drawings to illustrate their stories. The comics can also feature sound in any language, to bring the stories to life.

Research Associate and project lead Dr Sarah McNicol says comics are important and effective forms of literature that can tell, often difficult, stories in simple ways.

Cultures and comics

Dr McNicol said: “The majority of research into British Bangladeshi communities focuses on public life outside the home. Many Bangladeshi women look after their home and family so they are invisible in this. Through representing and sharing women’s stories and heritage, we hope to put forward alternative representations that focus specifically on women’s stories and experiences.

“Through this project, we aim to challenge preconceptions and widen representations of migrant heritage. We want to raise awareness and change attitudes and behaviours – ultimately, through these comics we hope to improve understanding and cohesion.”

Rehana Begum, Chief Officer from Hyde Community Action said, “Hyde Community Action is delighted to be part of this fantastic project working with Manchester Metropolitan, to be able to be the bridge that links and enables the voices of migrant women from the Bangladeshi community to be heard, to tell their stories and journeys through interactive, creative workshops. An exciting project!”

Working with communities

The project will culminate in an event for the local community to celebrate the British Bangladeshi women and their stories later this year and the comics will be showcased at local and national events including Oldham Libraries, and Rochdale Literature and Ideas Festival.

To encourage wider participation, academics from Manchester Metropolitan University and women from the Hyde community will be running sessions in two local schools, holding a workshop for teaching and social work students and producing a resource pack to encourage and support other organisations wishing to undertake similar activities.

Dr McNicol has worked on comic books for past projects, including using comics to provide information and emotional support to patients and their families.

(This was originally posted here.)

Drawing as a Method of Inquiry

“My engagement with touch is not an exploration of something I could strictly define as sensing per se but an encounter with the atypical expressions of a sensing body in movement.” (Manning, 2007:xv)

Laura Trafi Prats led a session this week on drawing as a method of inquiry. This methodological approach connects with Laura’s current research with young people in Manchester, asking;

  • What does it mean to do research on the senses?
  • How can we empirically research the senses within processes of art making?
  • How do the senses relate to expression?
  • How/when does instructional guidance in artmaking function as enabling constraints?

Laura is also interested in habit, and the role of habit in how we come to understand the body. For the first drawing exercise, we were asked to take off our shoe in order to draw it. Many people automatically placed their shoe in front of them, next to a sheet of paper, ready to draw. Laura pointed out this was a habit which we had acquired, one which indexed specific assumptions about drawing, the senses and the body, and implies that drawing is exclusively based on looking and using our eyes as a principal means of gathering information.

The drawing exercises included one drawing of an everyday object with an ‘extended arm’ (pencil on the end of a long stick). This aimed to unsettle our familiarity with picking up and holding pencils , and enable the chanceful discovery of unknown possibilities for mark-making. The second drawing was led by a sense of touch rather than sight . This involved focusing on our hand as we explored the textures and shapes of our chosen object, whilst the other hand responded to these sensations by drawing onto the paper using a continuous line. Laura offered the possibility of closing the eyes as we drew feeling our object to better reconcile drawing with touching.

Discussions after the drawing exercises were rich. Conceptualisations about drawing and what it means to draw reference specific ideas about the body and senses. The idea that drawing has to begin and end at a certain point, and to represent what can be seen, belongs to a specifically Cartesian notion of the body. Drawing on touch in particular in researching drawing can be generative because touch is a sensorial realm that seems to relate particularly to relationality. For many of us participating in the session, moving from what can be seen to what can be sensed through touch enabled particular kinds of attunement, that perhaps unsettled habitual assumptions we might hold about the body and drawing as a methodology.

From Arts Based Methods at MMU.

References used in the session:

Manning, E. (2007). Politics of touch: Sense, movement and sovereignty. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Manning, E. (2012). Relationscapes. Movement, art, philosophy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Maslen, M. & Southern, J. (2011). Drawing Projects: An exploration of the language of drawing.  London: Black Dog Publishing.