Reflecting on evaluation in research projects with community partners and artists

Su Corcoran and Kate Pahl

Recently, we took part in a workshop focused on developing a position paper on “Evaluating the Arts” as part of the AHRC-GCRF PRAXIS project hosted by the University of Leeds. As a result of discussing the various different ways in which traditional methods of programme evaluation could be adapted to take account of the arts, we felt it would be useful to articulate our individual approaches to the use of evaluation in relation to some of the projects that we have been involved with.

As a researcher with experience of working with non-governmental and community-based organisations on monitoring and evaluation (M&E) processes (e.g. Corcoran and Wakia 2013&2016), my (Su’s) approach to evaluation often begins at the practice level. As an academic researcher, I am very aware of the criticism directed towards researchers who parachute into a context, conduct their research, and gain later notoriety through their publications, without ensuring impact – or equal recognition – for the communities, partners, and research assistants who contribute to the research process.

Therefore, the collaboration with Glad’s House as part of our BA-funded project (Re)-engaging street connected young people with education in Mombasa, was developed in order to benefit the organisation. We focused on a research question that we both wanted to answer using methodologies that would help the organisation to work towards achieving their advocacy goals. In this instance, developing qualitative research skills to enable data generation as part of M&E processes that could provide evidence for working with local government to better inform initiatives/responses aimed at street-connected young people. A key observation made by the social work team involved in the project was the benefit of using more creative methods of engaging with young people (Corcoran et al. 2020) and therefore the project had a lasting impact not only on the development of qualitative modes of M&E, but also on the activities utilised on a day-to-day basis. The development of more qualitative and/or ethnographic approaches to monitoring and evaluation are being developed by a number of funders in the international development sector. StreetInvest (2017) are encouraging participative and reflective practice approaches to M&E and Comic Relief funded Retrak in Uganda to explore the use of a combination of qualitative data generation methods that could link into storytelling (Gebeyehu and Endeshaw 2018) – both focused on street-connected young people.  

My work focuses on contexts that I do not have experience of living, although I have work experience as an educator and administrator in schools and NGOs in these contexts. Therefore, evaluation can play a key role in helping a cross-sectoral team of researchers, artists and practitioners to envisage frameworks that need to be in place for future projects. Our (Kate and Su) AHRC-GCRF Belonging and Learning network project aimed to pilot the use of arts-based methods to encourage dialogue between young people and policy makers. However, in exploring the effectiveness of encouraging local government officials to either dance or write poetry with street-connected young people in Kenya and the DRC, or of bringing policymakers to an exhibition of visual art created by refugees in Uganda, there were wider questions to evaluate beyond the mode of communication (Ferguson 2020).

Art exhibition after workshop held in Uganda as part of Belonging and Learning project – image taken by Su Corcoran

We took an ethnographic approach to evaluation in this project, inviting Vicky Ferguson, who has extensive safeguarding knowledge, to observe all aspects of the workshops conducted in each of the three countries. As such, we opened ourselves up to extensive critique in relation to our relationship as academics with the practitioners and artists who were our partners on the project. More importantly, we were able to highlight the complexities that need to be negotiated to ensure that both the artists’ roles as facilitator and equal partner in the research is combined and supported with the practitioner knowledge of our community partners in order to provide safe spaces in which young people are heard. And that these young people understand from the outset, what realistic impact from their participation looks like in practice (Ferguson 2020). In order to do this, how can we bring young people’s voices into the project from the beginning – if not at the proposal writing stage then ensuring that the proposal includes time for young people to be consulted and the project to be co-produced.

In the AHRC-funded Questioning the Form project, we are further developing the ethnographic approach to evaluation, engaging the art form around which the project has been developed as the output of a reflective evaluation of the project. Questioning the form will combine poetry and visual art in the creation of zines with women in Uganda. Adapted in light of the COVID 19 situation, two reflective zines will be produced in addition to the zines made by the women who participate. The first will involve a station on one side of the room that will become a collective zine that the women can contribute to at any stage during the two 5-day workshops. Lisa Damon, who is observing the workshops and speaking with the women and the different collaborators at various stages in the project, will create the second. Lisa’s reflection has already started as she is reflecting on how we are working together to adapt our plans to the current – pandemic – situation. As we are unable to travel, Lisa, and the two of us, will interact with the workshops remotely, which offers an interesting opportunity for thinking through a blueprint for future projects that place autonomy for the projects firmly in the hands of local collaborators and consider the growing need to consider climate change.  

However, despite the depth and engagement with the artistic form that creative methods of evaluation provide, we have found that policy-maker audiences are not necessarily receptive to such outputs, even though they carry great weight for the participants involved in their creation. I (Kate) have had extensive experience of co-producing research with young people. Evaluative work is only meaningful to young people if the form it takes makes sense to them and can articulate their concerns (Pahl 2019). Film and poetry is sometimes not seen as ‘evidence’ by policy makers. In Rotherham, the AHRC-funded Making Meaning Differently project I led explored young people’s perceptions of government and involved a group of young people making a film to show to government using shadow puppets. Although their message was powerful, the officials preferred Slide Packs as forms of evidence. The work of the young people was not engaged with. Therefore, as we developed the Rotherham project, we took the decision to co-produce a book that was composed of art work as well as writing by the policy-makers, exploring the nature of knowledge and the different forms that knowledge could take within communities.

Art workshop (3) in Uganda as part of Belonging and Learning Project – image taken by Su Corcoran

So where does our experience lead us in terms of identifying innovative ways of capturing learning and impact, and how we can balance the needs of different stakeholders and compile recommendations for ways forward – particularly in terms of the preference for formal reports and quantitative impact data? We feel that there are a number of key questions that should be considered:

What do young people, community partners and artists want/need from the project?

As much as possible, research projects should be coproduced with the people who will be directly involved with delivering or participating in them. What researchers in the UK feel is important may not necessarily correspond to the practitioners at the local level in the DRC for example. The current scramble to complete proposals for funding calls does not necessarily provide the opportunities for equal collaboration – or the involvement of young people, for example, who are the focus of the project. Therefore, the design and budget for projects should necessarily incorporate space in which these different voices are able to articulate their expectations to shape and co-design the project that is finally delivered – from deciding on the form of the project outputs and research methodologies, to the nature of the evaluation process.    

What data is required at the local level? Can the project incorporate this? Would the local level data also satisfy the detail at the funder/policy maker level?

There are multiple levels of knowledge creation within any project – for example, from the young people who participated in the projects above to the funders who require that we report on our impact – and it is just as important to understand what all of these various stakeholders would like the project to achieve. In discussing the evidence that is required at the local level for advocacy etc., their requirements may correspond to the expectations of stakeholders who often have more influence on the form that such evidence needs to take.   

Does bringing policy makers into the projects mean that a system of data generation can be codesigned once they experience the value of the arts? 

The activities we developed in Rotherham and the DRC showcase two clear instances of outputs involving the voices of young people and of policy makers. For future projects, we aim to develop the format of the Belonging and Learning project to involve policy maker engagement throughout. In so doing we hope to raise the profile of knowledge created using arts-based methods and potentially influence policy-makers. Arts methods open up a space which enables people to communicate in more horizontal ways, and thereby change the space of their encounters to communicate more honestly and fully.


Campbell, E., Pahl, K., Pente, E. and Rasool, Z. (2018) Re-Imagining Contested Communities: Connecting Rotherham through research. Bristol: Policy press.

Corcoran, S.L., Awimbo, L.A., Mugwanga, K., I. A. Aluoch (2020) Street-connectedness and education in Kenya: Experiences of formal schooling as rationale for inclusive pedagogies of practiceProspects 

Corcoran, S. & Wakia J. (2013). Evaluating Outcomes: Retrak’s use of the Child Status Index to measure wellbeing of street-connected children. Manchester: Retrak.

Corcoran, S. and J. Wakia (2016). ‘Using child wellbeing assessments to track progress in family reintegration’. Global Social Welfare 3:137-145

Ferguson, V. (2020). External Evaluation of the GCRF/AHRC-funded project – Belonging and learning: Using co-produced arts methodologies to explore youth participation in contexts of conflict in Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Manchester Metropolitan University.

Gebeyehu, M. & Endeshaw, Y. (2018). Final Evaluation of the “Changing lives of vulnerable children and families from the SNNPR” Project. Manchester: Retrak

Pahl, K. (2019) Recognizing Young People’s Civic Engagement Practices: Rethinking Literacy Ontologies through Co-Production Politics of Literacies. Studies in Social Justice 13(1) pp 20-39

StreetInvest (2017) Street Work and Partnership M&E: Guidelines for regional coordinating partners. Twickenham:StreetInvest

Education Studies beyond the classroom: An insight into global real-life application.

If you are interested in the recorded panel discussions that occurred, you can find the attached video-links in ANGEL Early Career Researchers Conference: the University of Oulu, Finland from 11-12 June 2020

By: Cheryl Ng, Katie Ormrod and Nay Myo Htet

Amidst the lockdown measures of COVID-19, I tuned into the Academic Network on Global Education & Learning (ANGEL) Early Career Researchers Conference 2020, hosted by the University of Oulu on Zoom and waited excitedly. As people started streaming into the conference, I noticed my peers from BA (Hons) Education Studies, Katie and Nay in attendance too. 

We had attended seminars with Dr Karen Pashby and Marta da Costa during our degree, and it was here that Global Education (GE) was first introduced to us through the unit: International Development, Education and Colonialism. The riveting in-class discussions about the different ways that education reproduces oppression and colonialism through knowledge/ power on a global level, sparked intriguing debates and conversations. Knowing Karen was invited as one of the keynote speakers amongst other leading scholars, and that Marta was presenting her doctoral research at the event, we were excited to register. It  presented a great opportunity for us to see their work in the global education research field alongside other top scholars.

During the two-day event, panels consisting of academics and scholarships from across the globe led discussions on a broad range of interconnecting conceptualisations, raising new questions and possibilities regarding global education. Amongst the panel discussions, it was really interesting to listen in to Karen’s sharing on ethical considerations future researchers could think of applying for future research. The panellists also gave advice to researchers in their early careers. Although sometimes complex, these concepts were made wholly accessible to us because of what we had learned from our Education Studies degree. 

We also had the chance to join small group break-out sessions. These sessions gave the options of listening to research presentations on topics such as GE in schools; social justice and culture; implementing GE; teacher engagement with GE and more.  The researchers presented perspectives spanning across various contexts and ideas, demonstrating a broad range of studies in the field. This created a platform for eye-opening discussions, where we got to hear diverse viewpoints. 

The presentations compelled us to think beyond our own perceptions and consider the views of diverse participants’ professional and cultural backgrounds related to global education. These little sessions were an enjoyable element of the conference and were also an opportunity to network and interact with academics with whom it would have been difficult for us to meet otherwise at this stage in our careers. 

Participating in ANGEL 2020, was a valuable experience which allowed us to interact and network with other participants, sharing our reflections and thoughts from what we have learned, are learning and future possibilities of our engagement with global education.  After the event, we each have significant individual takeaways from participating in this conference. In the following paragraphs, we share our reflections on the experience. 

I had two major personal and professional takeaways from the conference. An expanding professional network to learn from/ with. More questions to consider for the future.  Both My BA dissertation and my MA proposal focused on international higher education (IHE). Hence, Xi Tao’s work discussed in the panel intrigued me. She and I exchanged our personal experiences as international students and shared our converging research interests despite the different contexts we engaged with. We even exchanged emails and continued our correspondence until today.      Another presenter that I have kept in touch with since, was Guaravi Lobo. Her research focused on the role of religion in India’s education and its relation to nationalistic, cultural and identity tensions. Growing up in a Confucianist-centric society of Singapore, I related to the possibilities in education to deconstruct dominant cultural values and provide spaces for communal learning and sharing. It was the first time I had encountered Lobo’s framework and I enjoyed our conversation after, from which I learned a lot, opening new possibilities I could look into for future research. These were just some of the most significant experiences for me.  Attending the conference challenged some of my perceptions and I felt as though I had unearthed more questions and considerations for the future which is exactly what I had hoped for in the pursuit of my university education. This experience has revealed the possibilities for interdisciplinary approaches and the wide scope that global education research encompasses. Prior to this conference, it had never crossed my mind that my interest in IHE was related to global citizenship. However,  the discussions revealed to me the multiple ways global citizenship and identity is an interconnected part of IHE. As a fresh graduate, this event has affirmed that I am heading in the right direction regarding my own future career plans. Additionally, it has been a great opportunity to help me develop a growing network early in my journey. 
This was my first online and academic conference, and I did not know fully what to expect. The panel discussions gave some very relevant advice as one of the professors spoke about how it can be a struggle to get published, with work often being rejected. They advised us to prepare for possible rejection, not letting it be a detriment, and that you may need to try different journals for your work. Hearing about this common experience amongst academics conveyed the rejections I need to prepare myself to face in my future academic career. On day one, I joined a session on teacher engagement with Global Education and Learning (GEL), where Cuicui Li presented rural Chinese school teachers’ perspectives on GEL. The discussions on current Chinese views of Chinese students studying abroad in these turbulent times were particularly interesting. It showed me the necessity of GEL in building better relationships with ourselves and how we relate to each other globally. On day two, in a session on decoloniality, Susanne Ress gave a visually stunning presentation on the experiences of African students in Brazil. My personal reflections on this research explored my own world views. Coming from a largely white working-class deprived area in northern England, I did not have much exposure through school regarding the South American continent. This revealed to me how the British education system promotes a very limited view of the world and I will apply these considerations in my postgraduate research. The session culminated with Pablo Dalby, exploring GEL for the privileged, concentrating on gap year students. The stories in the research saddened me as voluntourism was a strong theme. However, it also expressed the necessity for us to question our positionality and to honestly examine our intentions. I can now view the Education Studies degree in new ways, as the conference brought the degree out of the classroom, making it feel more tangible and immediately relevant.  A common theme amongst Education Studies students was not knowing quite where to apply the degree outside of teaching. As I am going into academia, the conference has demonstrated the critical importance of Global Education in today’s world and how elements of the Education Studies degree can be applied in this area of research to build a more inclusive, equal and friendlier world. 
Scrolling through the event schedule, many topics seemed highly related to what I had learnt and researched in my Education Studies degree. I was surprised. This instantly made me feel like I belonged in this community. In addition to the panel discussions, I joined the small sessions on social justice and culture; policy analysis/non-western perspectives and decoloniality.  Throughout the conference, I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the panellists, presenters and the participants, and the amazing discussions on global education and learning. There were many powerful research presentations that were very personal to my experiences. Anielka Pieniazek’s fantastic presentation on conceptualising ‘Ubuntu’ as a pedagogical framework for global education connects to both my research and personal interest in the process of knowledge democratisation. That is the process of representing non-western knowledges in teaching and learning.  Fadilla Mutiarawati’s nuanced research on the role of indigenous knowledges in Indonesian national education policies highlighted remarkable similarities to my home country, Myanmar. In both of these cases, education policies limit the representation of indigenous knowledges. We have since continued discussing how we could collaborate in order to be part of the solution in achieving justice for marginalised groups. Coming from a poor, ethnic-minority and non-Western background, these two speakers made me feel empowered and inspired to make an impact for marginalised communities by exposing inequities within education. However, this conference highlighted to me how a research career mirrors the global situation. As an international student in the UK, after years of pursuing and winning scholarships to complete my undergraduate degree, I have the ongoing struggle of finding rare postgraduate funding; an experience that was shared by many of the doctoral students on the second day of the conference. The event came at a time of personal instability: the end of my undergraduate studies; awaiting decisions on funding and job applications and; a global pandemic. I have learnt many new things from this conference and new opportunities are developing from exposing myself to the reality of academia. Expressing my voice in this blog is perhaps one of them. I guess that is how opportunities arise. Maybe not. Who knows?  

As we sat together virtually writing this a few weeks after the end of the conference,  we all agreed that there were many new lessons which we drew from the conference, plus more for us to reflect on. Before our experiences with the various seminars we attended during our course of studies, the words, “decoloniality’’ and “multiculturalism’’ were nothing more than trendy jargon. Without our Education Studies degree, the conference would have held little meaning for us, and instead would have felt like a world in which we could not effectively participate in or understand.We learned a lot of theory in Education Studies, and this opportunity helped us to see the connection and application to real-world situations. 

Through the conference, we learned and observed how it is applied in the field and potentially influencing people and policies, weighing the importance of the theoretical knowledge and critical thinking skills we have honed through our course of studies. The conference showed us how vast and varied the global education field is, with future research possibilities holding importance across a multitude of different contexts and locations. We now have a clearer idea of what to expect in our academic careers, with realistic portrayals of academic life coming from the panel discussions, showing us a supportive and friendly academic community that we could potentially gain guidance from in our future careers.

Lifting the lid on hidden forms of homelessness during lockdown

We have all been deeply affected by the current global pandemic and as I write this blog it is five weeks since the nation was asked to stay at home in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

As a researcher, I have worked closely the local homelessness sector over the last three years and am acutely aware of the pressures they had already been working under before this crisis.  Sustained cuts to public sector since 2010 had eroded housing welfare services by 46% between 2010 and 2014 (Perry, 2014).  Moreover, evictions from the private rented sector sored by 28% between 2010 and 2017 (Fitzpatrick, et al., 2018).  

In this context, hidden forms of homelessness are of particular concern.  In 2018, the government recorded that 79,880 households with children in England were living in temporary accommodation; in these households, there were 126,020 children (MHCLG, 2018).  In addition to that, the charity Justlife estimated that 51,500 single adults reside in unsupported temporary accommodation in England (Maciver, 2018).

Whilst there is a statutory responsibility for Local Authorities to provide support to families with children, the temporary accommodation offered almost always has a damaging effect on people’s mental and physical health as well as children’s developmental needs. Even before COVID-19, issues such as were already major problems – the Trussell Trust reported a peak rise of 23% from 2018 to 2019 in the number of food parcels distributed nationally (the steepest rise in five years).

It is for these reasons that small projects such as #LockdownLIVEs are so important. As an ongoing project, it hopes to creatively connect Greater Manchester residents living in emergency and temporary accommodation.  As a weekly documentary broadcast it has the potential to increase public awareness in a way that can drive political change.  

In the first instalment released on Tuesday 28th April 2020, we got a taster of what the project will look like going forward.  It already looks like it will become a positive force to connect people and build community.  Poetry was provided by one contributor whose engaging style and delivery reminded me of the legendary John Cooper Clarke,

“stay at home and don’t go out, just stop in and isolate. You know what this is all about, you shouldn’t really congregate”

However, it won’t shy away from the real struggles of living in emergency or temporary accommodation.  One contributor described that it is a growing struggle to find positive things to do during the day where he lives.  

I’m told that each week there will be a theme for each documentary which will help build a discussion about these collective experiences that undoubtably needs to happen.  This week’s theme is 
What’s the first thing you noticed about the place you’re staying?

To find out more, visit @LockdownLIVEs @twitter and Street Support Network on Facebook.

Nigel Allmark


Fitzpatrick, S., Pawson, H., Bramley, G., Wood, J., Watts, B., Stephens, M. and Blenkinsopp, J., 2019. The homelessness monitor: England 2019.

House of Commons Library (2020) ‘What do the latest food bank statistics tell us? [Online]

Maciver, C. (2018) Lifting the lid on hidden homelessness. Justlife. [Online] 

Perry, J. (2014) ‘Local government cuts: housing services have been hit hardest.‘ The Guardian. [Online]

Co-production during physical distancing – teach out

What does physical distancing and the COVID-19 ‘lockdown’ mean for participatory and co-produced research? 

There are a number of emerging resources for re-thinking research methods and projects (e.g. Virtual not ViralMethodsLab) and youth work (e.g. Youth Work Support) in light of the lockdown and physical distancing. This teach-out will further explore the challenges and potentials for doing participatory and co-produced research with young people and communities. The constraints of the lockdown and physical distancing pose considerable challenges to us as participatory researchers, as our work typically emerges through intensive investments in relationships with and between the people we work with. How can we do collaborative work through online tools?How can we seek to decentre academic power and knowledge relations while working from a distance? What types of research and knowledge co-production are foreclosed by the apparent necessity to record and document? What can we learn from communities with greater experience of doing collaborative research remotely?

On Wednesday 22nd April ESRI hosted an online teach out to discuss these issues.

The event was larger than expected. The original plan (@YouthLoneliness Thread) was to bring together 15 people but over 200 expressed an interest in participating. A decision was made to run a bigger event that allowed more people to participate. I’ve spoken to a lot of people in similar positions, wondering how they can continue or plan a research project during lockdown/physical distancing. We need to come together at this time to share knowledge and support one another to champion co-produced research that is courageous and imaginative. COVID-19 is posing considerable challenges to our collective lives. Anxieties over safety, ballooning public deficits and economic uncertainty auger seismic changes to our social, political and economic landscapes. We need to affirm that co-produced work enables those without a voice and without a part can be brought into the public conversation about how we survive and emerge from this pandemic.

We had presentations from Kirsty Liddiard (University of Sheffield) and James Duggan (MMU)

Teach-out: Co-producing research during physical distancing from dugganjr

For more information:

Living Life to the Fullest Project Blog

Living Life to the Fullest Co-Production Toolkit

Twitter: @FullLivesESRC

Intro to whole Living Life to the Fullest team.

Virtual environments. 

Meaningfully including disabled young people. 

This is a pandemic – we need to share resources. 

Disabled children’s and childhood studies. With and by children and young people. Plans for impact and engagement determined by them. 

Virtual environments are important for activism and advocacy work. 

Project team has daily interactions via WhatsApp/Skype/Email/Twitter/closed Facebook group.            

Online is often more malleable to different abilities/bodies

Not tokenistic approach. The young people have undertaken the research and analysis, using new technologies such as online semi-structured qualitative interviews (see slides for list). 

There are always doubts about tokenism/imbalance in research, particularly the idea that co-researchers are only capable of doing a certain level of research. We argue they have alternative, legitimate expertise (Nind et al, 2012, 660 & Bucknall). 

Virtual methods, access and the body: new forms of citizenship online. 

Aware of digital exclusion. Work with what Kafer 2013 – ‘crip time’ allowing for e.g. different hours of availability, fatigue, medical routines. Embodied experiences – interruptions are not unwelcome but disrupt embodied modes of enquiry. 

Research team co-writes together online.

Disability research during the pandemic: ‘Your ‘only’ is my ‘everything’ – came from parent in Living Life to the Fullest in relation to focus on ‘the vulnerable’ being at risk – used to allay people’s fears.

The Coronavirus Act suspends duties of Las in Care Act, 2014. Removing this obligation is deeply impactful. 

Is now the right time for research? Should we be focusing on enquiry when survival is key?

Loneliness, Co-production and Homelabs from dugganjr

Introduction to Left on Read


Loneliness Connects Us (with Janet Batsleer): 14 co-researchers and engaged 200 young people. 

Used a carousel of methods to build the young people’s research capacity. Also worked with game/theatre designers to develop an immersive experience called ‘Missing,’ which toured the country. 

The ‘carousel of methods’ allowed people to make a sustained contribution, so they could, e.g.  contribute to one session and then another a few months later. This allowed them to participate if they had chaotic lives. We used community philosophy, made things, worked with body and movement etc. The young people selected the topics. 

We were interested in the different responses is we spoke to them cold about loneliness (e.g. ‘I go for a walk in the park.’) versus those that emerge during an immersive experience. This is why we chose the ‘escape room’ format for ‘Missing.’

FOMO: we worked with the idea of the fear of missing out re online representations.

I have a different idea of coproduction. I struggle with the idea that it is empowering/committed to social justice. It’s not as clear with what I do (as what Kirsty does). I’m interested in the question ‘How are you empowering people?’ More about the speculative. Proposing constraints and ‘lures’ for feeling to help people orient themselves in the world. Isabelle Stengers– ‘It matters.’

Left on Read: the plan was to focus on loneliness, how the young people want to approach it and what do. However, my usual project imaginaries focus on the model of the lab – bringing people together in a room. Now I’m thinking about the more contextualised place of young people’s homes. ‘Home labs.’ How we can use them to engage with something that helps to think around loneliness. 

Often I’m interested in the coproduction of failure.

 I’m also thinking about the potential issues with Homelabs.

I’m working with the City of Literature on this project that mobilises the ideas around Afrofuturism – a comic (book)-based provocation:

How has your life changed? What world would you want to go back to? 

And we want people to create responses to the comic. And it could become a rough-and-ready/co-produced version of the No Small Plans project.

*Stephanie Bolt asked the question – what happens to the young people next?

Then 5 breakout conversations

Edmund Coleman-Fountain (Northumbria) – co-producing sensitive research in lockdown, issues with privacy with, e.g., intimate and sexual citizenship 

Work on sexual citizenship. Challenges in locked down longer-term. 

What if e.g. LGBT people are locked down with people who they haven’t come out to/they can’t comfortably express themselves around. 

  • What are the challenges of doing research during lockdown?
  • What challenges to co-production research do lockdown conditions present, specific to sensitive and intimate topics? 
  • How can technology vs embodied togetherness help us to navigate the situation?
  • Is now the right time? If not. When?

Caroline Bald. Social work lecturer. Looking at young carer’s experiences. 

Ned asked – how do you find appropriate methods for dialogue? Is it important to e.g. get away from voice? 

Catherine Dod…(missed name). Undertakes policy research into HIV.  Wonders if the answer is hybrid approaches. Young people can see us but can type replies. But some may not be able to type. Is it about fluidity? Access to headsets to increase privacy? Could exchange take place over a protracted space/time?

Michelle…(missed name – Healthcare professional): Had a call this afternoon about trauma-informed approach to primary care. At the start we did introductions – where are you? Is there anyone else who can overhear you? Being aware that people may not be in a situation where they can speak freely.

If there is a facilitator, can there be an online chat so people can support one-to-one afterwards if something arises and people don’t feel comfortable speaking but need support?

Alex Marland: Trainee teacher. Ask the young people. They usually know what apps work best for them. Better for us to learn what they know rather than expecting them to. 


Fiona McHardy Research & Information Manager at the Poverty Alliance. 

Rachel Marsden: Enjoying the interdisciplinary focus. Different backgrounds. Something to be said about the wealth of shared knowledge. Does practice-based research in the arts. Contemporary arts, action archive, trauma of body, representations of chronic illness in art. 

Anna Pilson (Durham) – Dealing with the practicalities, safeguarding, platforms, and choices

Tania de St Croix (KCL) – Rethinking the early stages of co-production 

Christine Smith (Hull) – Doing memory work and collective biography during lockdown 

Ben Bowman (MMU) This is not a webinar: how can we [have fun and] share co-production in isolation? 

The internet is full of instructional videos, dance clips, TED talks and other one-way, producer-consumer multimedia interactions.  That’s fine, but it’s not what we’re usually looking for in co-production. What tools, skills and approaches can we use to resist, adapt to, or subvert those one-way relationships?

Prof Keri Facer (University of Bristol/ University of Uppsala) Reflections and ways forward

Remember – collaborative work is difficult enough as it is. 

Remember digital isn’t the only thing. There are posters, flyers, collective making. 

In my organisation, we have shifted a lot of face-to-face activities to writing (email). 

Look at all the work on digital divides since the ‘90s. This is not just about access to technology.

Look particularly at work in LMICs. Instead of thinking of the end user as one person in a room, think of the collective. That one person connecting and communicating with others, e.g. Steve Woolgar’s work. 

Remember collective action is still possible and may be needed. We can still go outside. See the March 26th VICE magazine article on protest:

Don’t try and make it all up on your own. Ask for institutional support. Demand that e.g. ethics an tech teams support you and recognise that we are working in different conditions. 

Opportunities: How often do we get so many people together like this otherwise? Look at South African Community Action Networks. Reach one, teach one. Taking a lot from barefoot college traditions in India. 

Mutual Aid – there has been a massive growth. How do we get behind and support this activityNot trying to get on with what we wanted to do before. Just because it’s an emergency doesn’t mean we should rush. The same rules for collaborative research apply: take things slowly, create space, have conversations, work with brokers (trusted intermediaries). 

How does this work bleed into our every day lives? Recognise this is emotional labour – responsibility for self-care.

Research councils: Take for granted they will give no cost extensions. Slow things down. 

As ever – who’s not involved? Who are we not speaking to? 

This is a moment for building solidarity – collaboration not competition. Collective fights, not individual. What might it look like if we networked this group

Keri suggested we read:

The Connected Communities literature reviews on traditions of collaborative research:

The Connected Communities report – reflecting on what it takes to do collaborative research well:

Policy Press book thinking about evaluation – in particular the last two chapters:

Twitter conversation #CoProdLockdown

Participants’ questions about #CoProdLockdown agenda

If you are interested in future events on #CoProdLockdown please get in touch (J.Duggan [@]

Special thanks to Kirsty Liddiard, Anna Pilson, Tania de St Croix, Keri Facer, Ben Bowman, Christine Smith, Ned Coleman-Fontain for presenting. And to Laura Breen for taking notes that are included in this post.

Spotlighting two of ESRI’s Collaborative Partnerships for the International Day for Street Children

April 12th is the International Day for Street Children. This year, organisations around the world will be marking the day between April 8th and 15th and our researchers at ESRI would like to take the opportunity to recognise the work of two of the organisations that they collaborate with in Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo*.

ESRI’s focus on street-connectedness, education and social justice is led by Dr Su Corcoran who has over a decade’s experience of either working or conducting research with street-connected young people. In 2017, she co-edited an edition of Enabling Education Review that showcases a variety of ways in which organisations around the world enable street-connected young people’s access to education and has been focusing on this area of research in her work in East and Central Africa.  

The Mombasa County response team led by Glad’s House; Liz from Glad’s House filling a food parcel


In 2018/19, she led the British Academy-funded (Re-)engaging street-connected young people with education in Mombasa project in collaboration with Glad’s House. Exploring street-connected young people’s opinions and experiences of education to inform future social work practice, the team – which includes Kelvin Mugwanga (Senior Social Worker), Irene Atieno (Street Worker), and Dr Lilian Awimbo (Counsellor), found that negative experiences of schooling can be a key motivating factor for dropping out of school and migrating to the street. These experiences – in addition to feelings of (not) belonging, shame, and stigmatisation – can present barriers to going (back) into education as well as the cycles of dependency that are set up and reinforced by civil society organisations and ‘Good Samaritans’ taking an adhoc and uncoordinated approach to supporting street-based communities. The complete findings and recommendations for practice can be found in the final project report, which should be uploaded onto the project page at the end of April 2020. The team are now hoping to develop a follow on project that will focus on inclusive pedagogies of education practice.

Currently, while Kenya prepares to go into lockdown in the wake of COVID 19, the Glad’s House team are working to ensure that the young people they support are not forgotten. It is an especially hard time for young people who are street-connected and homeless, as they have nowhere to go when cities and countries go into lockdown. Glad’s House have contributed to a Street Invest blog post that shares the experiences and fears of street-connected young people in Ghana, Kenya, and Bangladesh, as well as guidelines for street workers during the pandemic that Street Invest have compiled. In practice, the organisation is working to ensure that homeless young people are as safe as they can possibly be. They have delivered food parcels to the young people and families they support and have also been working to install water tanks and facilities that street-connected young people can access to ensure that they are able to follow the COVID 19 recommendations of washing hands frequently and staying safe. In addition, Glad’s House are currently leading a response team comprising a number of non-governmental organisations and the County Government to develop a united, targeted approach to the issue.

The water tank set up by Glad’s House in Maboxini

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Dr Corcoran and Professor Kate Pahl’s Arts and Humanities Research Council and Global Challenges Research Fund networking project, Belonging and Learning, explored the use of arts methodologies to facilitate dialogue between displaced populations in Kenya, Uganda, and the DRC, and policy makers concerned with education and training. Using a different creative process in each country, policy makers were invited to take part in workshops with either street-connected young people or refugees to discuss the young people’s experiences and the challenges they faced in accessing education. In the DRC, Thomas D’Aquin Rubambura from the organisation PEDER, co-facilitated the workshop, bringing local policy makers together with various education stakeholders to write poetry or short plays concerned with children’s right to education. The project report will be available to read here at the end of April 2020.

A PEDER listening post

PEDER takes an holistic approach in their work with street-connected young people, from providing trustworthy adults on the streets of Bukavu who can support them to running multiple centres that provide vocational training for street-connected and vulnerable young people. One aspect of PEDER’s work that is inspiring is the installation of Listening Posts across the city. These small sheds are manned at set times every day to ensure that if they need to find a trustworthy adult, young people know when and where to find one. In the current COVID 19 climate, the DRC government have imposed rigorous measures to prevent the spread of the virus and most of these interventions have had to close. As it is important that young people access the government advice on the virus, PEDER is prioritising tools for raising awareness with street-connected young people. They are developing a communication system focused on the health of the young people they support: providing necessary information about COVID 19 in order to reduce the risk of contamination and setting up operational alert mechanisms to monitor their health situation and decide modes of referral to specialised services when needed. PEDER are also part of a Protection Cluster network of organisations, coordinated by UNICEF, and will meet to discuss a collaborative advocacy approach to supporting street-connected and vulnerable young people that they will take to local government.

Dr Corcoran and Professor Pahl are hoping to develop their collaborations with both organisations in the future. 

Read more about what street workers are doing in Kenya, Bangladesh and Sierra Leone in Street Invest’s latest blog post:  

* Due to the length of this blog we can only focus on two organisations, but Su and Kate would like to recognise the important work of Kito International, Fikisha Kenya, Zero Street Child Foundation, Retrak, Child Rescue Kenya, Project Elimu, InterAid, Karunalaya, Street Child United (SCU), and all organisations participating in the 2018 Street Child World Cup and 2019 Street Child Cricket World Cup – as well as their contributions to their current and past research projects.

What do you see? Reflections on a week in Athens as part of the Erasmus + project ‘Developing English, Engagement, Motivation, Challenge and addressing Big Issues by Using Art, and an Arts Approach , to Non Art Subjects’

Alison Ramsay – Tutor in Drama and Education 

From 12th to 17th January, Joe Barber (Senior Lecturer in Education and PGCE English Award Lead) and I were in Athens as part of an Erasmus + project entitled ‘Developing English, Engagement, Motivation, Challenge and addressing Big Issues by Using Art, and an Arts Approach, to Non Art Subjects’.  This project looks to draw upon well-known selected art works as starting points for learning across the curriculum. Joe and I worked over four days with ten teachers from five participant schools across Europe. Also present was project co-ordinator Mick Boyle, a former Drama teacher and senior school leader. Our brief was to look at how arts-based methods might put the paintings to work as pedagogical tools to engage and motivate learners.

As a group we spent time discussing how encounters with art can engender feelings of self-doubt about one’s capacity to comment with authority on what might be the wider meaning. Through the application of individual and collaborative strategies and approaches for engaging with the artworks in question, it was the aim of MMU tutors to look at ways to dismantle such barriers. 

In our first workshop, we began by asking participants to select one painting they felt drawn to and to explain its appeal to the rest of the group. This activity situated the painting within a subjective realm of possibility, eliciting a multiplicity of meanings that each had a unique rationale. This was a celebration of the human capacity to connect emotionally with an image and we all felt moved or stimulated by the variety of responses that emerged. However, we were also provoked to consider the extent to which it was necessary for the individual to understand how the personal response was stimulated by the original painting. Do what might be perceived as random observations and connections lessen the authenticity of a response, or are they a valid feature of a creative encounter with a stimulus? Following Barthes’ contention that the ‘west moistens everything with meaning’ (1982: 70), is it also sometimes desirable to resist imposing meaning? That is, can we value the interpretative process as an end in itself rather than reaching for a definitive conclusion? Equally, might developing cognisance of how creative connections emerge and grow from a stimulus be something important to the project moving forward. Joe and I decided to explore these ideas in the subsequent workshops. 

The following day, Joe asked the group to consider what existing knowledge and capabilities we draw upon when we attempt to ‘read’ a painting. Drawing attention to the field of semiotics (Sebeok, 2001) and our capacity to infer meaning from culturally embedded signs and symbols, he encouraged us to consider how the act of interpreting art operates at both a subjective and cultural level. In the activities that followed, Joe looked to create opportunities for the teachers to interrogate one of the selected paintings, Joseph Wright’s ‘An experiment on a bird with an air pump’ (1768)as a cultural sign bearer. This included attending closely to the use of light and shade, moving around the picture in a clockwise direction to scrutinise fine details and imagining the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and textures evoked by the image itself.

In the next workshop, I wanted to use drama methods to add to the interpretative toolkit Joe had begun to compile and to encourage further confidence in the act of interpretation. I decided to base the session on Mantle-of -the Expert (MOE), an approach to learning through drama created by Dorothy Heathcote (1995) and further developed by Tim Taylor (2016). MOE involves putting learners into role as ‘experts’ in a particular field or endeavour in order to create an imaginary framework for learning. Thus, I requested the teachers take on the role of art historians charged with curating an exhibition of new art inspired by existing famous works of art. Using the convention Teacher-in-Role (TIR), I went into role as director of the Athens Gate Gallery (a playful nod towards the hotel we were staying in) to welcome the group as eminent art historians and to introduce them to the aims of  the exhibition they would be working on entitled What do you see? The drama techniques Still-images, Spoken-thoughts and Hot-seating were then applied to encourage deeper engagement with the ideas and themes suggested by Ford Maddox Brown’s ‘Work’ and Michelangelo’s famous fresco from the ceiling of the Sistine chapel ‘The Creation of Adam’.   

In the final workshop, Joe and I informed participant teachers they were going to again take on their expert role as art historians/artists to create the exhibition that had been introduced the previous day. Invited to choose any of the pictures selected for the project, teachers were given one hour to create an artistic response drawing upon their skills of interpretation and analysis. The responses were then presented as work in progress to the exhibition benefactor, a role taken on by project coordinator Mick. The exercise produced a diverse range of responses, each of which reflected participant teachers’ personal and professional engagement with the pictures (see 

During the week participant teachers commented on how the workshops had enabled them to feel more confident forming opinions on the various artworks. There was a sense that the activities had facilitated a considered engagement with the subject matter and that this provoked more depth and breadth in the act of interpretation. In the context of the project, teachers saw the potential in introducing such methods to young people to help them connect with the paintings as a stimulus. This might then open up multiple lines of inquiry useful to learning across the curriculum. The possibility of empowering young people to uncover complex ideas for themselves through collaboration was also noted. 

The week in Athens affirmed the potential of the artworks to generate exciting opportunities for learning. It also enabled the objectives for the forthcoming mobilities to be refined, allowing us to identify thinking laterally and creativelydeveloping interpretationnurturing independenceand collaborative working to further deepen knowledge and understandingas key areas of focus. We now look forward to February, when MMU representatives will head to Denmark to work with young people from the participant schools. 

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Barthes, R. (1982) Empire of Signs. London: Jonathon Cape

Heathcote, D. and Bolton, G.  (1995) Drama for Learning: Dorothy Heathcote’s Mantle of the Expert Approach to learning. Portsmouth: Hienemann

Sebeok, T.A (2001) Signs: An Introduction to Semiotics. Toronto: University of Toronto Press

Taylor, T. (2016) A Beginner’s Guide to Mantle of the Expert: A Transformative Approach to Education. Norwich: Singular

Education and Global Futures research group hosts two international seminars

The Education and Global Futures (E&GF) research group has launched its local, national, and international activities by hosting two invited seminars in recent months.

Education Policy in Uncertain Futures: Reassessing Neoliberalism, 14 May 2019.

This seminar was strongly attended by the research community in ESRI and the Faculty of Education. Dr Karen Pashby, co-leader of the group, introduced the aims and focus of E&GF: to explore the important role education must play in preparing people for uncertain futures shaped by technological, economic, political and environmental changes. Reiterating the importance of reconsidering neoliberalism within the context of policy and praxis in education research, she invited speakers to consider whether and how neoliberalism as a concept applies to policy contexts for global futures, and to what extent we need a new vocabulary?

Dr. Karen Pashby

We took advantage of hosting Katariina Mertanen, an early career researcher from the University of Helsinki, as a visiting scholar. Katariina joined two very established scholars, Dr. Christine Winter from Sheffield University and Professor Matthew Clarke from York St John University, to respond to our provocation. The speakers brought a range of perspectives to the topic from their empirical research and theoretical work.

Katariina opened the discussion with her presentation, entitled Not a single one left behind’? Researching youth policies and youth support systems in the era of neoliberal political rationality”. Drawing on examples from her PhD research, her ‘genealogy of problematisations’ highlighted the multiple discourses that go into policy framing, including those connected to neoliberalism.

Highlights included:

  • Troubling how ‘young people’ and ‘civil society’ are constructed and presented as categories.
  • Tracing discourses of employability and therapization aimed at increasing human capital.
  • Showing how education and training are presented as convenient solutions to social problems.

Katariina Mertanen


Next, Chris Winter’s presentation, “The Geography GCSE curriculum in England, global development and neoliberalism: an inquiry”, drew on research related closely to practice in schools. Her presentation examined four questions: what is the relationship between global development discourses in curriculum and neoliberalism? Are these discourses racialised? What are the implications for a culturally diverse society? What hope for the future?

Highlights included:

  • Arguing that curriculum as policy (and the allocation of values) encourages attention to subjectivity (Butler).
  • Illustrating the colonization of minds through racist categories and language embedded in everyday texts (Fanon).
  • Mapping paths beyond neoliberalism: voice, imagination and hope.

Dr. Christine Winter

Finally, Matthew Clarke presented his paper, “Neoliberalism as political theology: Deicide and dismemberment”. He utilised a ‘political theology’ framework to explore neoliberalism in education.

Highlights included:

  • Illustrating how neoliberal subjectivity exists as a combination of attitudes, imaginaries, beliefs and practices.
  • Arguing that going beyond neoliberalism requires letting go of our need for redemption.
  • Exploring alternative modes of anarchic political subjectivity.

Prof. Matthew Clarke

Dr. Sam Sellar, the other co-leader of the group, responded as discussant, synthesising key themes from the three presentations and inviting wider reflection on the seminar topic. He asked presenters and participants to think about neoliberal subjectivity as a trap and provoked reflection on the complicity of critical educational theories and practices.

Dr. Sam Sellar

Attendees continued the conversation over drinks to conclude an engaging afternoon on a topic that deserves continued and sustained conversation.

Global Education Policy in Evolving Network Societies, 9 September 2019

This seminar brought together national and international participants for three panel sessions that involved short inputs from invited speakers followed by sustained small and larger group discussions. It provided an opportunity to: (a) take stock of different perspectives on a range of network theories and methodologies that have been taken up in education; and (b) consider promising lines of theoretical and methodological development.

The panels were organised around three key questions to be explored interactively amongst participants:

  1. How do network governance regimes compare across national contexts and transnationally?
  2. What are the limitations and possibilities for improvement of current methodological approaches for capturing the structures, processes, and impact of network governance?
  3. What are the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for innovation within current theoretical approaches to studying networks and governance?

Dr Andrew Wilkins, Dr. Philip K. Chan, Prof Radhika Gorur

The first session compared different national and international modes of network governance:

  • Governance assemblages: Mapping productive alignments and strange entanglements, Andrew Wilkins, University of East London
  • Networked governance in action: Aid infrastructures and the politics of harmonization and alignment, Radhika Gorur, Deakin University
  • Public education reform and network governance: The case of Chinese state-owned enterprise schools, Philip K. Chan, Monash University

The second session examined methodological approaches to network governance:

  • Capturing evolution: Examining network generation and change through time, Emilee Rauschenberger, Manchester Metropolitan University
  • Higher education industry and its future: The role of market devices in making markets, Janja Komljenovic, Lancaster University
  • Commercial (networks hiding) in confidence, Anna Hogan, The University of Queensland

And the third session explored theoretical approaches to studying networks and governance:

  • The governance of SDG4 and the strange non-death of the nation[1], Sotiria Grek, University of Edinburgh
  • 1996: The OECD education policy assemblage, Greg Thompson, Queensland University of Technology
  • Enacting alternative networks from the ground up: Education/policy collaboratories, Stephen Heimans, University of the Sunshine Coast on behalf of Parlo Singh, Griffith University

The event provided many opportunities to meet new colleagues and to encounter diverse perspectives on new modes of education governance around the world. The group continued the conversation at a drinks reception hosted by The Anthony Burgess Foundation.

These seminars showcased the focus of the Education and Global Futures research group on big global trends in education and our commitment to bringing together diverse groups of national and international scholars to debate the most pressing education policy issues today. The 2019/20 ESRI seminar series will continue this debate with a thematic focus on Education in uncertain times.

[1] With acknowledgement to Colin Crouch

Manchester Met experts appointed to help improve communication skills of Greater Manchester’s young children

Professor Deborah James and Dr Julie Marshall to support GMCA’s Pathways to Talking project

Education and health professionals at Manchester Metropolitan University are assisting a government initiative that will support under-fives living in Greater Manchester find their voice through communication and language.

The Greater Manchester Pathways to Talking project will support the scale up and implementation of the current speech and language and communication pathway of the GM Early Years Delivery Model, which aims to give all children in Greater Manchester the best possible start in life.

Professor Deborah James from the Faculty of Education and Dr Julie Marshall from the Faculty of Health Psychology and Social Care at Manchester Metropolitan University will support with the implementation of the pathway, the evaluation of its success and turn the learning from the project into tools for practice in the future.

The initiative is supported by the Department for Education’s Early Outcomes Fund that was awarded to eight area areas in the UK to make sure all children who need it, get help to develop speech, language and communication.

Professor James said: “Julie and I are delighted to be able to support the development of the Early Years Model in Greater Manchester, working alongside the leaders from health and early years’ education to create system change. Greater Manchester has a national reputation for leadership in early intervention and in the speech and language profession and this successful bid to the DfE (for over £1.5M) demonstrates that. We are looking forward to working across faculties to combine our expertise in integrated workforce development and early communication, speech and language research. Research shows that inequality in children’s outcomes before school tends to persist across the life-course. Addressing social inequality requires a whole system approach. This project aims to accelerate the roll out of the integrated system in Greater Manchester to ensure that all children in Greater Manchester get support, if they need it, to develop language and communication.

Prof James and Dr Marshall will work with multi-agency early years speech and language leaders from all 10 Greater Manchester localities to support the leadership of integrated services. The academics will help develop an implementation action plan and include tools to coach each locality’s leadership team using relationally-based coaching, strengths-based perspectives and training in community participation and co-design. They will work closely with Julian Cox, Head of Research Policy and Strategy, and colleagues at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to use population data to shape the implementation of the Pathway to maximise it for all families.

Professor James added, “Integration of services is a priority for system transformation. We hope that this collaboration will provide new knowledge of how to create change using relationally-based approaches”.

The aim of the pathway and the Early Years Delivery Model is that more children will start school with the communication and language skills they need to be successful lifelong learners, reducing inequalities and increasing life chances for all children.

The launch of the Pathways to Talking project was at Manchester Metropolitan University on June 13.

Holding the Family in Mind

The fourth 1001 Critical Days conference for Newcastle upon Tyne took place on June 11th 2019 during Infant Mental Health Week. The annual conference promotes the 1001 Critical Days agenda. Three services in the North East: NEWPIP, the Perinatal Community Service, and the Family Community Hub in the East of the City described their services providing vivid descriptions of practice with families. The conference explored links between the realities of adversity during early childhood, with contributions from Dr Wendy Thorley on the ACES approach and supervision practices for the workforce with Dr Rebecca Johnson from the Solihull Approach. Dr Ian Robson invited the 200 participants of the conference to develop the City’s narrative of Early Help using creative and visual methods. The conference is organised by Newcastle upon Tyne’s Collaborative Learning and Strategic Planning group (CLASP). CLASP members come from the key partners in health, social care, statutory and community services who provide services within the 1001 critical days. This group was chaired by Deborah James from its inception in 2015 until 2018 when she left Northumbria University to join Manchester Metropolitan University. This year she was invited back to chair the meeting. Her opening address is provided below.


Good morning everyone. It’s so good to be here with you.

I want to start this morning with where we left off last year. In her summing up of last years’ conference, Dr Caroline White took up the personal story Ellie Fletcher Robbins, who, you may remember, presented, with the perinatal teams from Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, to this conference.  Ellie talked about the mountaineering work of recovery through perinatal mental illness. In her summing up, Caroline imagined Ellie at the top of the mountain; she saw her sending lines down to the climbers below – helping others on their own climb. Over this year, Ellie and I have been working towards that vision in the development of a small networking grant to the Wellcome Trust Medical Humanities Fund.  The grant, if successful, will enable us to consider some of the conceptual resources that form the braids in those lines. The conceptual resources that form part of our working practices, are deeply rooted in our biographical narratives which themselves are entwined in the narrative infrastructure in our dwelling places.

If we are lucky, our biographical narratives are entwined in the history of our families. Those family stories can guide in how to live a good life in the face of adversity.

When we face the threat of dying on the mountain, it is the concepts embedded within the stories that remind us how to find love, keep faith and persist in hope.

If someone has already taken that route up the mountain and left a guide of how to tackle it, we can also use their prior experience to help us find a way to survive. We can graft our own experience into theirs and use their guide to help with our own survival.


All these braids in the line – our own family stories, our understanding of what it means to lead a good life and our ability to graft into other stories of survival – depend on our ability to extract meaning for ourselves from what we see and hear. Extracting meaning from the world around us is, I think, enabled or disabled by our sense of belonging to a family, a place, and a society. If I do not have a sense of belonging, the stories that might guide my survival are not accessible to me.

Belonging – becoming and going on being – these are the life lines – that yes, are rooted in the first 1001 days, but we need these lines to be available to us throughout the life course. When we are in pain we tend to recoil, take our limbs into ourselves, at such times, it is hard to reach out and grab hold of the lifelines.

As workers, I wonder if our most important role, is to create space where people can, unfold, just enough, to reach the lines that their families, their histories and their dwelling places have already thrown down for them.  Contemplate that image for a moment – how would it change our practices?

Ellie has sent in this image – her family – her son, James, who is holding because he was held.

Providing a holding space. A space where we are refreshed, a space where our shared cultural concepts of what it means to do good work are renewed and reinvigorated. That is what CLASP is all about. It is our ambition to use this conference to create such space.

This is your day.


Deborah James: Professor of Educational Psychology, School of Childhood, Youth and Education Studies, Faculty of Education, Manchester Metropolitan University.

Summary of Literacy and Language group meeting, 1 May 2019

ESRI’s Literacy and Language research group came together for the second time on 1 May 2019. The group’s work draws on a wide variety of perspectives to understand literacy and language learning in and out of school settings. Group members are interested in policy and wider thinking about what literacy and language is or could be. Th meeting took 6 presentations from members.

The thread started with Huw Bell’s thinking on metalingustics which seems like a question of lexical knowledge. However, we don’t actually understand well what it is to know a word, which Huw likened to a Hedgehog: we can each recognise the whole and share some common understanding of a word but each may know a different spine of its meaning. And we don’t actually know how language is acquired! The national curriculum 2014 was introduced with a focus on grammar – metalinguistic knowledge. This can in some cases leave children feeling less confident in their use of language, which is a gift that they already bring to school.

Steph Ainsworth picked up from this theme as she described the affective nature of learning grammar. Steph’s study found that when working with students on an optional grammar course there could be strong affective responses to the revelation of the artefact of a language that students had been proficient in all of their lives, illustrated by one student’s strong sense of wonder at the lack of a future tense in the English language. Steph makes the case for wonder in learning!

Abi Hackett spoke about the everyday lives of parents and really young children up to 3 years, looking at the more than human dimension, space and objects. In her fieldwork she observed a group of parents and children on a farm visit where, in the waiting room, one child plays out the day as a cat. This was a clear example of multimodal literacy, movement, sound and multiple meanings in the communication: playfulness of being a cat, difficulty in waiting, passing time. Was this a social appeal for kindness and playfulness? Which meanings are true and does it matter? Abi challenges that it would have been planned out and for the benefit of adults, and draws from the example of other cultures that language is not the preserve of the human: indigenous societies understand that the spaces we inhabit nature and the land itself have language.

Martin Needham spoke about City Play project which coaches children in nurseries on physical activity which will be useful later for team sports. Coaches employed narrative techniques such as going on a bear hunt: green cones for forest, white for snow. Martin asks whether this will change the quality and enjoyment of the physical techniques being practices. Like Abi he is interested in the posthuman, looking at interaction between people and objects. Why should children engage with literacy activities? What is affective and motivating about them? Why should you engage with stories if you don’t find time to enjoy them?

Gee Macrory picked up on this theme with her work on young children’s experiences of and attitudes to a new orthography, French and Spanish, in the primary classroom in her Reykjavic project. She found that whilst language learning needs to be fun and engaging if it is seen only as such it will be given little emphasis in favour of English learning which is seen as more important. And this can instigate a vicious circle where if MFL learning is not given the time it needs, teachers may focus on fun, which leads to it being seen as trivial and hence little time is allocated for it, children then struggle to learn rules or patterns and show progression.

Finally, Pura Ariza’s thinking on bilingualism looks at trainee teachers’ understanding of it, and looks at ways of promoting language diversity and building multilingual classrooms. She looks at the downsides of how MFL focuses mainly on northern European languages, and EAL which focus on English deficit which assert language hierarchies and inequalities. These models obstruct bilingualism and prevent students reaping the benefits – in a society where communicating in other languages is increasingly important! She asks whether understanding MFL can develop a better pedagogy for multilingualism?