Our recent paper in the British Educational Research Journal (Sant & Brown, 2020) seeks to question the logic by which education, education and yet more education will bring about emancipation from the hidden exercise of force that underpins populist movements in contemporary politics. We showed how the fantasy of the educational cure operates as an ideology protecting education’s project of securing customers for its product in the market place. For example, in England the university sector’s more critical ambitions have been displaced by demand-side financial clout in dollops of £9,250 fuelled by desires schooled in suppositions of the future job market, and more immediate demands in university classroom dynamics secured through the National Student Survey (Thiel, 2019).
These marketised demands are inculated in students long before they reach university.
The recent furore over A’ level results in that country and the operation, or not, of an algorithm in producing the correct distribution of grades across schools, has deflected attention from the chief assessment function of such exams. That is, as a selection device that dutifully, year after year, produces the right number and distribution of students for pre-defined course quotas across the university sector. As for the young woman pictured in the Guardian with a banner declaring “I’m a student, not a statistic”? Get real – the heat is on to stage-manage your own statistical profile if you want to be liked. Universities are part of the state’s ideological apparatus designed to produce a compatible citizenship.
The economist Thomas Piketty (2020) argues that populism has emerged as a consequence of left wing parties now speaking more to the educated winners of globalisation who have a self-serving image of how efforts should be rewarded, and how populism has emerged as an alternative for the disenfranchised looking for different scapegoats. He sees the reduced influence of workers’ parties as being a consequence of the disillusionment with the collapse of real life communism, and capitalism glorifying in its own success through an enhanced assertion of the free market. There is a real difficulty in putting together a coherent programme for the less advantaged as the collectivised union model that initiated the Labour movement has less traction in current circumstances where the disadvantaged are highly dispersed across many sectors and countries with little coordinated support.
Our paper transcends such economised perspectives with winners and losers. We adopt a critique of ideology where the populist fantasy, centred on there being an elitist stranglehold of everyday reality, is a victim of its own deception. The populist fantasy fails to recognise the impossibility of escaping the ideological constraints within or outside institutionalised forms of education. Emancipatory education can only aim at transparent rationality but will ‘imprison’ us in old or new power relations. Emancipatory education necessarily ties knowledge and authority altogether. But this leaves us with the question of what we would want emancipation to bring about. How might we conceptualise future progressive paths in education? What would we want them to achieve? Edda (Sant, 2019) has reviewed a broad range of conceptualisations from the point of view of how education is variously aligned with democratic ambitions. She identifies the existence of at least eight distinctive emancipatory projects within the academic literature. Each project sustains its understanding of emancipatory education in distinctive ontological, epistemological and ethical grounds.
Our BERJ paper, however, follows the political theorist Ernesto Laclau in arguing that human beings need to recognise themselves as the true creators and no longer be passive recipients of a predetermined structure. On the other hand, all social agents have to recognise their concrete finitude as nobody can aspire to be the true consciousness of the world. Might then we emancipate ourselves from both populist and anti-populist discourses? And if so, how should we do this? Or does the discursive landscape require renewal so that educational trajectories can be thought differently? It seems that we need a new fantasy and must question how we might understand education within this. We will surely fail again but may learn to fail better or, more likely, differently.
Piketty, T. (2020) Capital and Ideology. London: Belknap.
Edda Sant and Tony Brown both work at Manchester Metropolitan University. Edda is Senior Lecturer in Education. Her book, Political education in times of populism will be published by Palgrave MacMillan next year.Tony is Professor of Mathematics Education. His tenth book, A contemporary theory of mathematics education researchis being published by Springer in November 2020.
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
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
and Endeshaw 2018) – both focused on street-connected
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).
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.
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?
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
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?
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.
S. & Wakia J. (2013). Evaluating Outcomes: Retrak’s use of the Child
Status Index to measure wellbeing of street-connected children. Manchester:
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.
M. & Endeshaw, Y. (2018). Final
Evaluation of the “Changing lives of vulnerable children and families from the
SNNPR” Project. Manchester: Retrak