BRIDGE Inaugural Doctoral Success Event

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The Department of Education and Childhood is very pleased to celebrate the doctoral success of Dr Jane Carter, Dr Juliet Edmond, Dr Ali Rouncefield-Swales and Dr Jacob Bacon. The speakers will present about their doctoral journey and research. The event is open for everybody, including family and friends.

Jane Carter – The Year 1 Phonics Screening Check: Listening to the voices of children and their teachers.
This thesis explores children’s and teachers’ evaluation of the statutory
phonics check and the impact of the check on the teaching and learning
of reading.

Juliet Edmonds – The Beliefs, Practices and Development of Three Teachers of Science in the Primary School
This thesis explores three teachers’ beliefs about effective primary science
practice, and the ways these develop in a climate where there are few school resources for primary science teacher training.

Ali Rouncefield – Apprentice to Graduate: narratives of navigating a pathway into and through higher education
Ali has explored the experiences of Apprentices who have embarked on HE.
She draws upon rich narrative interviews and reflects on the connection
between relationships, personal identity and self.

Jacob Bacon – FE Sports Lecturer Professionalism: ‘Freedom to Play’, or ‘Do as I Say’?
The primary aim of this research was to investigate how Further Education
(FE) Sports Lecturers defined their sense of professionalism with reference
to the contexts in which they worked.

To register, Click here.
This will be on 26th June,4:30- 6pm, Room 2S704, Frenchay Campus, the University of the West of England.

Autism and Technology: Placing autistic people at the centre of research

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The field of autism and technology, or put another way technology used to help support autistic groups and individuals, is a field that has existed for over 40 years. Over this period of time the field of research has grown and diversified in many ways. Researchers first started looking at multimedia applications in the 1970’s and since then we have seen a range of technology used to help support (and enable) autistic groups. In particular, researchers have looked at educational opportunities, testing social skills, supporting language skills and more recently routes to employment; all with the aid of technology. Each of these efforts have been within the context of supporting specific needs in relation to diagnosis (i.e. difficulties with social communication and interaction, repetitive motor movements and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, or activities; see this link for more information.  The range of technologies that have been employed within this field consist of: multimedia, virtual environments, virtual worlds (i.e. Second Life, Minecraft), virtual reality head-mounted displays and touch-screen devices.

However, and despite the increasing and growing research in this field of 40 years, the evidence for outcomes using technology tools for autistic groups remains somewhat limited; as does the design and deployment of these technologies. In addition, research examining the views and opinions of autistic groups is even more limited within this arena. What this means is that the voices, suggestions and opinions of the key users of technology (designed for them) are not being effectively captured or used in framing research. This has been changing (although slowly), and efforts are afoot to consider placing user groups (in this case autistic people and stakeholder groups) at the centre of technology designed and deployed with the aim to support them in areas of education.

In a recent example that I’ve been involved with, we have been examining the potential of virtual reality (VR) head-mounted displays (HMDs). Here we’ve (researchers and schools) been working to discover what the educational opportunities might be within this ‘space’. As this field is at a very early stage of development (as our recent review published in the Journal of Enabling Technologies highlights the limited evidence-base. we undertook a project that sought the views and experiences of autistic children in school settings. In order to best understand the opportunities and limitations of VR HMDs use by young autistic people, what better way to go and ask them; examine it through their lived experiences. Would they mind wearing the VR head-set? Would they report enjoying the software/content displayed to them? Would they like to continue using the VR HMDs? Which device would they most prefer? Without wishing to be too radical, we thought these questions would be best addressed in a place they were learning (i.e. school) and to ask them these important questions. Results from this work are still being written up, but some overview information can be found here.

In doing this, and even before formulating these questions, I worked with a mentor. Nothing too unusual in the research arena per se, but on this occasion, my mentor was also autistic and had a range of experience of working with technology. By working with him in this context I was able to see things and learn more closely about ways the research might be undertaken, what ethical, health and safety obstacles I might have neglected to see, and other insights that were not even on my radar. In short, by working with an autistic mentor, I was able to devise safe and ethical working practices in addition to ‘seeing’ and understanding constraints and problems with some of my research questions. After this my research framework became more solid and autistic-focused.

This was only a starting point to involving autistic voices and a range of important stakeholders. Autistic school children we also asked to contribute their views on what should be important in research like this. Teachers were asked also. Both groups were asked before, during and after the study. In addition, pupils’ parents were invited to use, test and feed into the process form the outset at a ‘show ‘n’ tell’ event at the school. Finally, the work was disseminated back to the autistic community and practitioners at a National Autistic Society event held in September 2018, click here. Search #autismtech to see what people said/thought about the various presentations and work on display.

While we are still in the process of writing up the results of our autism and VR-HMD study, I wanted to share aspects of our work that has sought to involve autistic participants (participation) and autistic voices in our research; especially as I feel this field can learn so much by doing so. It also makes no sense to me to build a field of knowledge around autistic users of technology (and exploring the possible benefits therein), without first asking them to be involved in defining the research and participating in the generation of data. We have firmly moved away from researching about autistic people and shifted research to researching with autistic people, as researchers, we stand to learn so much more (thus adding to the evidence in this field) and have far better reach and impact with our work in doing so. I look forward to working with the autistic community (and their stakeholders) in future work.

Link/Ref to JET article:

  • Bradley, R., & Newbutt, N. (2018). Autism and virtual reality head-mounted displays: a state of the art systematic review. Journal of Enabling Technologies.

Author: Dr Nigel Newbutt is a senior lecturer / researcher in Digital Education at the University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol. His research has involved working with a range of technology and autistic users with the aim to best understand how, where and why technology can play a role in educational opportunities. He was also the Chair of Autus and now a trustee of the charity, who’s vision is to: create exciting opportunities for growth, learning and work for young autistic people; using innovative and engaging virtual environment to help build confidence and develop social communication, digital and employability skills.

This post was originally published on Emerald Publishing, 12 November, 2018.

A lack of aspiration is not the problem

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Late last year, when Education Secretary Damian Hinds told universities and schools in the north-east of England that they had to “raise aspirations among all working class communities”, he was following in a venerable, if thoroughly ill-informed, tradition.

Twenty years earlier his predecessor, David Blunkett, invoked a “poverty of aspirations”, later reflected in the 2003 White Paper which stated (without evidence) that “aspirations are low” among “families without a tradition of going to HE”. This was echoed more recently by OfSTED Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman’s speech to the ‘Festival of Education’ in June, which asserted that white working class communities lack “aspiration and drive”.

Indeed, this trope – that disadvantaged young people are under-represented in higher education because they have low aspirations for education or their lives in general – has thoroughly permeated policymaking and practice. The national strategy document uses the word ‘aspiration’ 23 times and it’s asserted to be a key element in various vignettes of ‘good practice’ that it showcases.

Where’s the evidence?

The problem, as we explore in our recent paper in the British Educational Research Journal, is that there is very little evidence to support this. Research using large-scale datasets has demonstrated that young people in general have high aspirations and that there are few differences in aspiration between different social class groups. In fact, many more disadvantaged young people say that they want to go to university than actually do, so it seems unlikely that it’s a lack of aspiration that prevents them from doing so. Asking a young person if they expect to go to university may be a better indication of what they are likely to do years in the future. Importantly, expectations don’t just reflect whether someone wants to do something, but whether they feel they will able to, given the personal and social constraints that they face. Arjun Appadurai refers to this as being a different ‘capacity to aspire’. Why then does the idea of “aspiration-raising” continue to hold such sway? It is now such an ever-present element of the discourse around access to higher education, but it was largely abandoned in the final years of New Labour’s Aimhigher programme (2004-2011) before creeping back into social policy once again during the Coalition – and as we explore in our paper, it’s now where outreach managers believe they are most successful.

The violence of aspirations

Pierre Bourdieu used the term “symbolic violence” to describe how a dominant social group successfully normalises the position of a subordinate group as being just due to their inherent shortcomings or malfeasance – making the arbitrary disadvantage appear natural, or even necessary. This is achieved by bringing the subordinate group to consent to the arbitrary criteria as being both objective and fair. In some ways, it is similar to the idea of “blaming the victim” in common speech. However, it has the added dimension of relying on the victim to (unknowingly) collude in the process of normalisation – not to critique the system that sees them being becoming its victim. We propose that the discourse of low aspirations and aspiration-raising is a clear example of symbolic violence. It is little more than a middle class conceit to explain away the manifestly unequal. It is easier to assert that working class young people are responsible for their unfortunate position than to concede the severity of the challenges and constraints that they face. This, after all, would carry with it the moral obligation to act to tackle these inequalities. By setting out to persuade disadvantaged young people that it is their aspirations that need to rise, policymakers are setting an unrealistic challenge that it will be impossible to meet – positioning another generation to fail and further entrench the idea that they who are to blame. It will not impact the status quo, but it will make it feel more just.

Moving to more fertile ground

One alternative starting point might be to explore the belief that working class communities have about the linkage between educational success and life outcomes. Lynn Raphael Reed and colleagues explored communities with the lowest participation in higher education and concluded that “many young people grow up in environments where they rarely encounter educational or economic success – or the relationship between the two”. This is clearly distinct from aspiration and links more closely to the idea of expectation touched on above. However, the unavoidable reality is that by far the strongest predictor for participation in higher education is attainment in school. Working class young people do not progress to higher education because they lack ambition, but because the accumulation of disadvantage throughout their childhood becomes embodied in their qualifications. Indeed, the modest diversification in higher education has closely echoed changes in attainment patterns over the last decade. Therefore, the clearest route to widening participation in higher education is to support the achievement of disadvantaged young people.

A ‘possible selves’ approach might be one way forwards. Demonstrated to be successful in a wide array of social fields – but with little use yet in education – it focuses on how we make links between future visions of ourselves and our current actions. Importantly, it sees the individual in their social context and supports them to build their own ways of getting to where they want to be, rather than berating them about their aspirations.

This post was originally published on WONKHE on 11/01/ 2019.


Neil Harrison is Deputy Director of the Rees Centre at the University of Oxford.

  Richard Waller is Associate Professor of the Sociology of Education at the University of the West of England

UWE Bristol to Tackle Gender Based Violence

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UWE Bristol is taking a pro-active action and working collaboratively with students, UWE Student Union, staff and the city of Bristol to tackle Gender Based Violence.

I (Helen Bovill) recently spoke at two events in Bristol, at City Hall; exploring the research and provision at UWE aimed at interrupting and preventing gender based violence (GBV). I was really pleased to be invited to be part of the panel closing the day in the Bristol Zero Tolerance room (BZT) at the Bristol Women’s Voice (BWV) International Women’s Day celebration on March 2nd 2019. I joined in conversation with an expert panel of speakers from Safegigs4women, Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse support (SARSAS), Stand Against Racism (SARI) and feminist performers Deborah Antoinette and China Fish. At this event I discussed the research I am involved in regarding GBV and UWE’s proactive approach to GBV as part of SpeakUp – this is a UWE collaboration between: UWE students, UWE Student Union, UWE staff, and external Stakeholders; (BZT), (SARSAS) and (SARI). The SpeakUp campaign asks students and staff at UWE to speak up when a situation does not feel right. The campaign emphasises safety first and foremost, and aims to work with students and staff to develop the knowledge and skills to be pro-active bystanders. It has developed films (see below) which have a tag line of ‘inappropriate behaviour, appropriate action’. The campaign is focused on enabling and sustaining ‘an inclusive campus where diversity is celebrated, antisocial attitudes and behaviours are challenged and any type of harassment, assault and discrimination aren’t acceptable. We want you to SpeakUp if you see or hear something that’s not right, and be an active bystander.’

Students, staff and the Students’ Union at UWE are committed to developing and cultivating an inclusive campus for all our students to thrive within. We are proud to work in close partnership to continually review our approach to sexual violence and harassment on campus and ensure we have effective proactive campaigns in place, as well as vigorous support mechanisms. Rachel Colley (Community Manager at The Students’ Union at UWE), Dr Helen Bovill (Associate Head of Department Research and Scholarship), Ana Miguel Lazaro (Student Inclusivity Project Officer, UWE) and Charlotte Gage (Bristol Zero Tolerance) recently spoke at a second event in the City. This time at the Bristol Forum ‘Creating positive action through research and collaboration’ event on Friday March 29th 2019 at City Hall.

They spoke about ‘Collaborative problem solving to address the challenges students face in relation to sexual and domestic violence’. Helen discussed bystander intervention as part of the SpeakUp campaign, Ana and Rachel spoke about the wider work of the campaign within UWE and the involvement of the Student Union at UWE within this. For example, discussing that more than 5000 UWE Fresher’s students received messages from the SpeakUp campaign during induction. The five short films, developed by UWE as part of the Office For Students (OFS) funded social norms campaign, formed part of this induction. These films explore issues of: ‘unwanted touching and groping’, ‘consent’, ‘inappropriate use of social media’, ‘domestic abuse’, and ‘initiation and humiliation ceremonies’, they can be found here.  Helen, Ana and Rachel talked about student involvement in the research that underpinned the social norms campaign, with UWE students identifying these five social norms as problematic in student life. They also discussed how UWE works with students and the city of Bristol, with an understanding that UWE students are ambassadors for the University in the city of Bristol and beyond. Charlotte Gage from BZT discussed working with UWE on this campaign and the collaborative approaches used. She also considered the wider work regarding GBV and BZT within Bristol such as the Stop Street Harassment Campaign. Both talks demonstrated that UWE sees itself at the forefront of measures to counteract GBV, and is working in a pro-active and collaborative manner with both students and the city of Bristol.

If you are passionate to support this work, why not join the new Speak Up Society!

For more information, please click the following links:

Author: Helen Bovill, Associate Head of Department Research and Scholarship, the Department of Education and Childhood, the University of the West of England.

Dan Northover won the Outstanding Teaching Award

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Let’s get to know some of the people in the Department of Education and Childhood, ACE Faculty a little better. Dan Northover, Senior Lecturer in Primary Education, tells us more!

Dan works within the Education Department at Frenchay, lighting up S Block for staff and students alike. His students quote Dan as being enthusiastic, dedicated and very generous with chocolate! Last week, Dan won the Outstanding Teaching Award at the Student Experience Awards.

Dan is completing his PhD in Education at the University of Exeter. His current research interest is in the area of children’s writing and how metacognition and metalinguistic awareness develop across the primary years. Let’s find out more about Dan – outside of the classroom!

Favourite thing about working at UWE?

Working alongside such fantastic colleagues and students, and that part of my role is to read and talk about brilliant children’s books!

Three things you’d take with you to a desert island?
·         My wife and kids
·         A library card for the Desert Island Library
·         A coffee machine  

If you could host a dinner party and invite anyone (historical/fictional/real), who would you invite?

I’d invite Yotam Ottelenghi, Nadiya Hussain, The XX, Royal Blood, Dave, Maya Angelou, Cormac McCarthy, Zadie Smith, Kazuo Ishiguro, Philip Pullman, Nicola Davies and Tom Percival, then I’d have the food, music and bookish conversation sorted!  

One thing that may surprise you?

My current favourite TV show is ‘The Marvelous Mrs Maisel’ – doesn’t sound great from the title but is actually really good!  

A quote that inspires you this month?

“Stories matter.Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie  

Thank you Dan, congratulations again on such a well-deserved win!

How can we promote acceptance of stigmatised appearances in primary schools?

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Primary Schools are excellent places for child development, learning and socialisation, but unfortunately can also be hubs for bullying, social isolation and stigma. The chances of a child having negative experiences during Primary School education increase if they have an appearance which is socially stigmatised. If you are wondering what a socially stigmatised appearance is… it essentially means having an appearance which significantly deviates from society’s ‘standard’ characteristics, for example being of a higher weight or having a visible scar.

Of course, no two children’s experiences will be the same and having an appearance which is deemed socially stigmatising does not necessarily mean a child will have a negative experience in or out of school. However, studies which have considered the experiences of children with various socially stigmatised appearances suggest it would be naïve to believe, in general, their experiences are the same as children who have a socially ‘normative’ appearance (e.g., white, able-bodied with no visible difference).

Why is this the case? Well, there are a number of factors at play here. External factors such as the media, parents, education and policy can all influence children’s attitudes towards other appearances. Think of a villain in a children’s film… a number of villains have an appearance which is deemed socially stigmatising. Scar from the Lion King? Ursula from the Little Mermaid? These messages likely influence children’s attitudes towards various appearances.

Children develop attitudes towards socially stigmatised appearances at a very young age – at around 4 years stereotyping and prejudice can exist. Although, some evidence suggests this is even younger, with stigma towards people of higher weight being present at the age of 3 years, according to one study. Another study found by the age of 5 children make judgements based on weight and are less likely to choose a higher weight child as a playmate. Children with facial differences such as burn scars, a birthmark or cleft lip and/or palate are also at risk, with evidence that they are less likely to be accepted by their peers. All of this evidence highlights how children who have a socially stigmatised appearance may be less accepted and judged accordingly. Therefore, it is unfortunately not surprising that studies have also found children with a socially stigmatised appearance have a lower quality of life and are more likely to be subjected to bullying.

This issue is not new. Research during the 1960’s painted a similar picture, whereby children consistently ranked a child with no socially stigmatised appearance as most preferred in comparison to various other socially stigmatised appearances. However, to date, majority of intervention? Efforts within psychology and body image have focused on secondary school children. However, attempting to promote acceptance of socially stigmatised appearances in children aged 11 years and above may be a fruitless endeavour, as attitudes are likely well ingrained by this age. It is important efforts be placed in younger age groups, when attitudes are still developing, in order to combat stereotypes and subsequent behaviours. 

Further, the majority of school-based body image interventions have focused on a medical (individual) model and less on the social (group) model. For example, consider a child who has a facial burn. This child may be perfectly happy with their appearance. However, if they are being teased, bullied or excluded from social events, previous efforts regarding the child’s body image, would attempt to help that child increase their self-worth and self-esteem. However, efforts are not focused on changing the attitudes and behaviours of children around that child. Providing body image interventions which target acceptance at a group level allow for improvements beyond just the individual.

There has been a handful of interventions developed which target Primary School aged children in a bid to do exactly this – promote acceptance of appearance, at a group-based level.  A pilot study of a recent body acceptance intervention, titled ABC-4-YC, has found promising findings in Australia. However, interventions developed to target this broader issue have either not been evaluated at all, or require further evaluation.

What is clear is that children develop attitudes towards appearance at a very young age and this can impact on the lives of those who have an appearance which is socially stigmatised. Yet, majority of the efforts to target this issue have focused on older children or at the individual level. Therefore, undoubtedly there is a need for evidenced-based school resources which promote acceptance of stigmatised appearances in Primary School-aged children. Efforts should be made within psychology, education and social policy in order to combat this issue in a sensitive, timely and age appropriate manner.

If you are interested in research on body image in schools, Appearance Matters: The Podcast! Co-hosted by Jade Parnell (me!) and Nadia Craddock delves into what we know about how we tackle body image within the classroom. This episode can be found here.

Jade Parnell is a PhD student at the Centre for Appearance Research, based in Health and Applied Sciences (HAS) at the University of the West of England (UWE). You can contact Jade directly via email: or twitter: @jadeparnell.

OfS Changing Minds Research Seminar

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The Department of Education and Childhood, Bristol Inter-disciplinary Group for Education Research (BRIDGE), is pleased to have Dr Jessica Gagnon speak about the HEFCE funded research project Changing Minds, 7 May, 4:30-6:30, Room 2S604, Frenchay Campus.

The challenge to change unequal student outcomes: Initial findings from the Changing Mindsets project

This presentation will explore initial findings from the two-year Office for Students (OfS) funded attainment gap project titled “Changing Mindsets: Reducing stereotype threat and implicit bias as barriers to student success”. The project is focused on addressing unequal student outcomes for two student groups: Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students and socio-economically disadvantaged students. Findings from the project are intended to inform higher education policies and practices to address inequalities in students’ experiences and outcomes. For more about the project, please visit the website or follow the project on Twitter.

To register and book your place, please click here.

Dr Jessica Gagnon is a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Education and Sociology at the University of Portsmouth. She is an educational sociologist with a PhD in Education from the University of Sussex. She was raised in a working-class, American, single-mother family and she was first in her family to attend university. Her research is focused on inequalities in higher education.

Project Zulu Research Seminar

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The Department of Education and Childhood Presents: The Bristol Inter-disciplinary Group for Education Research (BRIDGE)

Project Zulu Research Seminar 2nd April 2019 — 5pm – 7pm — Room 2S704 , Frenchay.

Project Zulu is a UWE educational development initiative which works with partner schools in township and rural areas of Kwazul-Natal, South Africa. Collaborations between school communities in SA and UWE staff and students seek ways of enhancing infrastructure, pedagogy and learning opportunities through knowledge exchange, action research and practical support. The three research projects presented in this seminar have developed over the last three years and are based on such collaborations.

Dr Alex Palombi and Vanessa Parmenter LD Nursing and Occupational Therapy collaboration at township SEN school

Over the last two years, learning difficulties nursing and occupational therapy students have volunteered for 4 weeks within a special educational needs (SEN) school within Madadeni Township in South Africa as part of Project Zulu. This research used five semi structured interviews and a focus group to explore the impact of Project Zulu on the health and social care students’ professional learning, and on the participating SEN school’s teachers and principal. Transcripts of the interviews and focus group are to be thematically analysed to explore the nature of the learning derived from this experience and the extent to which teachers and principals view the project as a partnership and the extent to which their mutual learning. Initial findings indicate mutual perceived value in cross cultural learning and useful professional develop alongside managing concerns about sustainability and measuring value.

Dr Jane Carter and Karan Vickers-Hulse Reading Partner intervention at two rural South African primary schools

This project builds on current RET funding (An evaluation of the Bristol Reading Partner (BRP) Intervention) and the work to pilot BRP in two of the UWE Project Zulu (PZ) partnership schools. South Africa was the lowest performing country (out of 50 participating countries) in reading in the Progress in International Reading Study (PIRLS 2016) and is the priority area of the PZ schools’ Principals. In Feb 2019 we trained teachers in the pilot schools in the BRP intervention programme; PZ UWE student volunteers will be trained in BRP in March 2019 and will work 1:1 with children in the two pilot schools in KwaZulu Natal in August. This work will also add to the body of data and knowledge we have about BRP and EAL learners.

Dr David Wyatt and Ben Knight ICT project at a rural South African primary school

This three year ICT intervention project at one rural primary school in South Africa aimed to enable integrated ICT learning for pupils. Actions at strategic, infrastructure and teacher digital literacy levels were implemented over three phases and evaluated via teacher questionnaires and a focus group interview. Findings highlight the opportunities and challenges of managing international sustainable enhancement projects, and illustrate the critical role teachers play in pupil skills development and the importance of investing in their digital literacy.

This event is free to attend but pre-registration is required. Register here to book your place. 

The Bristol Inter-disciplinary Group for Education Research (BRIDGE) – Seminar

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Bristol Inter-disciplinary Group for Education Research (BRIDGE) invites you to a lunchtime seminar on Monday, 4th March 2019 — 12noon-1pm — Room 2S603. We are pleased to have Jade Parnell, the Centre for Appearance Research, the University of the West of England, and Dr Maryam Almohammad and Dr Jane Andrews, the Department of Education and Childhood, the University of the West of England.

Promoting Acceptance of Socially Stigmatised Appearances in Young Children in Primary School

Jade Parnell, the Centre for Appearance Research, the Department of Health and Social Sciences, the University of the West of England

In this talk I will discuss my PhD, which aims to promote acceptance towards various socially stigmatised appearances in young children. Appearance-based stereotyping and prejudice emerges in early childhood, and can exist by the age of 4 years. Children from negatively stereotyped or stigmatised groups (e.g., higher weight, visible difference) are at increased risk of experiencing stigmatisation from other children, resulting in negative outcomes such as poorer psychological adjustment and quality of life. The talk will focus on a recent study, where children aged 4-9 years, from various Primary Schools in the South West of England viewed, in a randomised order, five digitally designed, realistic child characters. The images included a character; with no stigmatised appearance, wearing glasses, of higher weight, with a facial burn and in a wheelchair. All characters had similar features (e.g., face shape, height, race and eyes), but varied slightly according to the stigmatised appearance. Children were asked open ended questions and quantitative measures assessing their attitudes and possible subsequent behaviours towards the individual characters. Discussion will consider the possible findings in relation to the literature; along with implications for researchers and education professionals regarding strategies for promoting acceptance of socially stigmatised appearances in young children.

Artmaking, Materialism, and Multilingualism in Welcoming Environments for EAL Learners

Maryam Almohammad and Jane Andrews, the Department of Education and Childhood, University of the West of England.

The Creating Welcoming Learning Environments project, known as CWLE, (AHRC-funded, AH/R004781/1)) is a follow-on project from the large grant Researching Multilingually at the Borders of Language, the Body, the Law and the State (AH/AH/L006936/1). The project involved a “creative collaboration”, using Vera John Steiner’s conceptualisation (2000), between creative artists, school-based teachers and teaching assistants, local authority advisory teachers and university researchers. The project operated on a co-operative development model of teacher development as articulated by Edge (1992) so that, through a series of workshops, teachers participated in arts-based practices, assembled artifacts and interpreted them to reflect on their identities, bodies, languages and cultures. This was prior to teachers engaging in a process of transformation of their first-hand experiences of creative techniques into activities for their own learners in the different school contexts they work in, including primary, secondary and special schools in England.

In this paper, we approach the data generated in the workshops and in interviews, using Bennett’s concepts of “thing-power” and “discursive agency” (2010). Bennett (2010) uses the term “thing-power” to describe the qualities that objects have that in many ways are indescribable and intangible. Power is among all material bodies, both human and more-than-human, and therefore does not belong to bodies independently, but rather happens because material bodies are always dependent on one another. This is known as distributive agency (Bennett, 2010). In the CWLE series of workshops, teachers worked with materials: cardboard, maps, colours, stones, textiles, dyes and symbols. Working with art materials teachers engaged with the role of objects in art and meaning-making and reflected on the potential of material transformation in EAL contexts. Materials constructed during our workshops serve as reflective tools on the body experience and materials surrounding the body. Teachers transformed the art practices in their school spaces, such as the use of the identity suitcase box. The artmaking of suitcase/boxes offered teachers and learners an opportunity to engage with the taken for granted value of both human-human and human-non-human relationships. Through a co-creative process and collective action between animate and inanimate things, teachers and learners could be seen to no longer separate human from non-human. In this sense, humans are no more valuable than materials and objects with which they interact. In our paper we analyse one example of educational practice in a specific secondary school in England. Therefore, not only the divide between human and non-human ceases to exist, and new ways for knowing the self and the object as interbeings emerge (Anderson & Guyas, 2012), but also the divide between the ‘us and them’ can be seen to finish. Distributive agency of materials may be seen to help humans cooperate with each other in the art-and-language classrooms.