The Reconceptualising Early Childhood Education Conference: An account from ESRI participants

ESRI researchers participated in the 26th International Reconceptualising Early Childhood Education Conference held in Copenhagen, Denmark in October 2018. The conference topic this year was Inequality in Early Childhood Education and Care.

This year it was the strongest representation of Manchester Metropolitan University at a RECE conference to date, so it was a rare chance for us to both hear more about each other’s current research as well as to build on our collaborative networks. As a result of our work at the conference, multiple new and exciting opportunities have emerged for our on-going research.

The conference itself offered plenaries in the mornings followed by parallel sessions, which removed some of the formality. The atmosphere was friendly and supportive, with informative discussions after each panel that offered constructive peer assessment.

The Manchester Metropolitan contingent included Lisa Taylor, Headteacher from Martenscroft Nursery School and Children’s Centre, who gave a paper with Ian Barron, Professor of Early Childhood Studies, called ‘That roar which lies on the other side of silence’: critical and creative engagement with UK government policy regarding educational provision for two-year olds. Their paper presented findings from the 2-Curious Project, longitudinal research that involved professional development sessions and follow-up interviews with staff from early childhood settings and has illuminated the complexities in challenging hegemonic ideas about two year olds and their families.

A panel convened by Dr Laura Trafi-Prats, Senior Lecturer, was chosen as a plenary panel. It included papers by Dr Trafi-Prats and Dr Abigail Hackett, Research Fellow, alongside Christopher M. Schulte, Assistant Professor of Art Education and Early Childhood Education at Pennsylvania State University. The title of the panel was Mattering, knowing, ethics and care: Post-human approaches to parenting in neoliberal times. It explored everyday parenting experiences through “materiality, emplaced knowing and children’s and adults’ sensory engagement with places” (Hackett, 2017). Working against neoliberal conceptions of good parenting that characterise current parenting policy, the panel challenged a normative language that targets minority, immigrant and working-class families, and the prioritization of economic return over issues of ethics, democracy and social justice.

Dr Trafi-Prats’ paper was entitled Thinking-doing parenthood with a posthumanist ethics of care and being alongside other kinds. It sought to mess with the assumption that parenting is a human to human relation about becoming human, and ask what else can be thought and done in parenting when it is considered through the troubling of the human and animal division developed by feminist science studies and posthumanist ethics of care. Dr Hackett’s paper was called Inchoate literacies; leaking, entwining, messy ways of parents and children being in the world. It considered the role of words and articulation within parenting practices, and wondered about the potential for young children’s literacies to foreground entwining, leaking and refusal to articulate as modes of being in the world.

Dr Christina MacRae, Research Fellow in ESRI, and Thekla Anastasiou, Lecturer in the School of Childhood, Youth and Education Studies, organised a symposium with Teresa Aslanian from Oslo Met. University called Rethinking care: care-matterings in the Toddler Room. There was a common motivation across the three papers to think about ways that care is entangled with the non-human in the nursery classroom.  When care is only located within the adult-child dyad, an emergent ethics of care-mattering is overlooked. Our panel opened up the notion of care as something less stable, more diffuse and distributed across both human and non-human. Thekla’s paper was based on her doctoral work and was titled A Becoming Monstrous Assemblage: ‘Caring about Mary’. Christina’s paper was titled: Schema: care-mattering in the nursery school, and used data from her current longitudinal ethnographic research project in a classroom for two-year olds called “The Sensory Nursery”. Dr Martin Needham, Associate Head of the School of Childhood, Youth and Education Studies, gave a paper in a session on new materialist and posthumanist perspectives in studying children called Building memory and communication in body and mind. He presented findings from an evaluation of preschool children’s and practitioners’ responses to introductory movement sessions delivered by football coaches in early years settings, and the importance of body movement to the development of cognition.

Charlotte Arculus, ESRI White Rose Doctoral Student, presented a paper as part of an early years arts-based panel: Actual children, unique situations: improvisation and immersive pedagogy: A collection of vignettes from a collective of artist-educators. Her paper foregrounded the practice of improvisation, as well as attending to the affective role of both the materials, space, and sound created through an immersive environment, and explored the absence of adult speech and the possibilities that this non-representational space opens up for very young children.


At the RECE Business Meeting, recognising the strong theoretical contribution made by Manchester Met to the RECE community, we were invited to submit a proposal for Manchester Met to host the RECE Conference in 2020. This invitation was welcomed and supported by our Faculty of Education and a proposal will be submitted by the end of November 2018.


Researchers from the Education & Social Research Institute participate in the 2018 European Educational Research Association Conference

Researchers from ESRI participated in the four-day conference of the European Educational Research Association in September.

Held in Bolzano, Italy, the conference attracts 2, 500 researchers annually. This year’s theme was ‘Inclusion and Exclusion, Resources for Educational Research?’.

In a session on accountability in schools, Dr Linda Hammersley-Fletcher, Reader in ESRI, presented a paper (written with co-authors Dr Sam Sellar of ESRI, Dr Emile Bojesen of the University of Winchester and Professor Matthew Clarke, York St John University) entitled ‘Rethinking teacher professional development using a conversational research methodology’. The authors drew from philosophical perspectives on accountability as responsibility, presenting two empirical case studies of educational leaders who are working to develop more democratic leadership and accountability cultures in a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) and a Teaching Schools Alliance (TSA). The paper provided a response to the question of how we can re-invent educational accountability in an era of datafication without subordinating teacher professional knowledge.

Dr Steph Ainsworth, Senior Lecturer in Primary Education, presented data from a project (conducted in collaboration with Dr Jeremy Oldfield, also at Manchester Metropolitan University) that sought to quantify key constructs in the area of teacher resilience. This presentation shared survey data that demonstrates the importance of contextual factors on the process of positive adaptation in teachers. Although individual factors such as self-esteem, emotional intelligence and self-care were found to be associated with higher levels of positive adaptation in teachers (e.g. wellbeing and job satisfaction), aspects of the school environment (e.g. support from management, workload and support from colleagues) were found to be just as important. The implications for policy and practice were discussed within the context of a prevailing discourse which tends to place the responsibility of ‘being resilient’ at the feet of individual teachers.

Dr Matthew Carlin, Senior Lecturer, presented a paper entitled ‘A Worker’s Education’ as part of a symposium developed with colleagues from Aalborg University in Denmark. The symposium opened up a discussion about the ways that schools are currently preparing students for integration into a globalized, techno-fetishized work force. Matthew’s paper drew on a range of philosophical texts in order to demonstrate how school-based forms of manual, practical, and collaborative work can be integrated into public school curriculum in a way that serve as a buttress against the immateriality of contemporary pedagogical trends and the associated existential desperation endemic to students’ vocational future.

Reader Dr Karen Pashby and Research Associate Dr Su Corcoran presented data that was generated as part of a British Academy project that brings together critical scholarship in education for sustainable development and global citizenship in order to critically engage with United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4.7. In a session on Promoting Social Justice, Dr Pashby and Dr Corcoran presented ‘Barriers and enabling factors to teaching ethical global issues in support of SDG 4.7: Participatory research with teachers’. This presentation shared early findings from surveys and expertise-sharing discussions with secondary (and upper secondary) teachers in England, Finland and Sweden regarding their motivations for teaching ethical global issues in complex ways, as well as factors that enable or prevent them from doing so. Later, Dr Pashby (co-authored and presented with Dr Louise Sund of Maladarlen University) shared early findings from workshops with the teachers in a presentation entitled ‘Bridging 4.7 through ethical global issues pedagogy: Combining critical work in Environmental and Sustainability Education and Global Citizenship Education’. A common critique of both fields is the reproduction of colonial systems of power. This presentation shared key themes emerging from teachers’ discussions of a pedagogical approach grounded in post- and de-colonial theoretical resources.

Ethnographic research on youth participation

Janet Batsleer, Principal Lecturer in Youth and Community Work at Manchester Metropolitan University, and Dr Harriet Rowley, with their Turkish colleague Demet Lukuslu of Yeditepe University, presented a set of papers at a symposium dedicated to the four-year EU HORIZON 2020 project “Spaces and Styles of Participation” (PARTISPACE). Professor Dennis Beach chaired the symposium with Professor Elisabet Öhrn acting a discussant, both of the University of Gothenburg. The papers drew on cross-country comparative findings from eight EU cities, and, in particular, ethnographic case studies of youth participation. Prominent themes across the papers included:

  • How different spaces and places structure and are in turn structured by young peoples’ activities;
  • The borders created by pedagogic and philanthropic interventions designed to enhance young people’s participation in public life one the one hand and young people’s reappropriation of spaces which become places on the other;
  • Narratives constructed by young people of formal, informal and non-formal modes of participation and how styles of participation involve processes of resignification;
  • The opportunities and challenges of doing a multi-sited ethnographic study which simultaneously involved other research methods including action research, biographical interviews, focus groups and surveys.

Through the use of rich case study material and the mobilisation of theoretical tools, the material highlighted forms of participation that are about resistance, struggle, association and expression, exploration and experimentation in the pursuit of alternative ways of living, being and acting according to young people’s aspirations, motivations and interests. This led to an exploration of the central claim from the PARTISPACE study; that there needs to be a great re-awakening in Europe to the democratic potential of the creative spaces of civil society. Janet and Harriet enjoyed presenting their work at this opening symposium of the Education and Ethnography strand, and really appreciated engaging with colleagues from the Education Faculty at the University of Gothenburg.

Policy studies and the politics of education

Dr Emilee Rauschenberger, Professor Moira Hulme, and Professor Robert Hulme presented a paper entitled ‘Trials, Toolkits, and ‘Global Evidence’ Banks’. The presentation considered how Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs) fit into the global script of evidence-based education and how and why the approach is being adopted and adapted in a variety of international contexts. More specifically, the presentation highlighted the background, methodology, and social networks of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and its strategy for influencing educational decision-making in England. Next, the presentation explored the recent international spread of its approach and its Teaching and Learning Toolkit to Australia, Chile, and Scotland. Through the study into these cases utilizing 15 interviews with key informants and network analysis, the presentation considered: Why and how is the RCT-based approach in education, as exemplified by the EEF, being adopted and translated in other countries? And what types of international networks exist, or are forming, to further the use of RCTs to build a ‘global evidence bank’ for educational decision-making? Following the presentation, there were questions and a helpful discussion about the implications of the EEF’s work, the underlying contextual conditions promoting the use of Toolkits in various contexts, and reflections on how policy networks may be better captured over time as they evolve.

Dr Rauschenberger also organised and participated in a joint Symposium entitled ‘Teach For All in Europe and Beyond: Examining the emergence and impact of a globally-marketed education policy’.  The symposium featured her research into the origins of Teach For All in the original programme model, Teach For America, and its first recreation abroad as Teach First in the UK. Her paper, Teach For America vs. Teach First, highlighted the similarities as well as critical differences between the corporate-backed teacher education model in the two countries and discussed how Teach First emerged in 2001-3 through the efforts of policy entrepreneurs and network-building. Her presentation was followed by a paper presentation by Katrine Nesje which examined the Teach First initiative in Norway and a paper presentation by Seyda Subasi which detailed the development and components of Teach For Austria. The symposium attracted a number of attendees, including individuals from the US, Lithuania, and Australia, who asked further critical questions into the funding and influence of these expanding models.  From the discussion, the symposium appeared to achieved its goal of raising critical awareness and prompting further questions that will helpfully stimulate research into the expanding role of private interests in the teacher education sector.

Reflexivity and educational research

Professor Kate Pahl, Head of ESRI, presented a session on ‘Re-thinking Literacies with communities: Literacy as a collaborative concept’ as part of a session on ‘Revisiting communities and spaces: Considering longitudinal affiliation and reflexivity’ organised with co-presenters Professor Annette Woods, Queensland University of Technology, and Catherine Compton-Lilly, University of Wisconsin-Madison. The session focused on ways in which researchers’ reflexivity governed and guided understandings of the field – how do we engage with the places where we do research and what do we bring as well as how do we learn from those engaged encounters? The subject of Kate’s presentation will be presented in a forthcoming book with Mike Grenfell entitled ‘Bourdieu, Language-Based Ethnographies and Reflexivity: Putting Theory into Practice’ (New York: Routledge 2019).

ESRI researchers look forward to participating in next year’s conference in Hamburg.