BRIDGE Inaugural Doctoral Success Event

Posted on

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

Posted on

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

Posted on

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

Posted on

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

Posted on

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!

OfS Changing Minds Research Seminar

Posted on

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.

A floppy hat, a sense of occasion and the delights of the UWE Education Doctoral (EdD) Programme

Posted on

Tuesday 27th November 2018 was the culmination of over four years of work – the awarding of my Education Doctorate at Bristol Cathedral alongside fellow students. The Cathedral echoed with the voices of many students, parents, friends and supporters all celebrating a mixture of academic success, resilience, personal struggle and the joy of learning.  The floppy hat and gown worn at the ceremony added to the sense of occasion, tradition and the special nature of the event: it isn’t often you are able to don such a hat and it isn’t everyone who can!

The smiles and congratulations were a product of this unique award that recognises the professional knowledge, skills and practice of the student and this is foregrounded in the way the doctoral programme runs and how the student’s research is guided and located.

My research was titled ‘An Illuminative Evaluation of the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check: Listening to the Voices of Children and their Teachers’ and it was situated in my long history as first, a primary school teacher then deputy head, Teaching School Manager and Initial Teacher Educator. I knew that the Phonics Screening Check was the area I wanted to research: it was impossible to ignore the anecdote of a friend, a Head Teacher of a diverse inner city primary school who related the story of a number of children in her school in the year the check was introduced. The Phonics Screening consists of 40 words: 20 real and 20 pseudo words that children sound and blend to read. One of the real words in the check was the word ‘nigh’.  A number of children didn’t recognise the trigraph ‘igh’ (three letters that make one sound) and sounded the word as ‘n-i-g-hur’. Rather than blend the sounds to make the word the children were confused and upset: if they blended this word they would say a word that was considered offensive, a word that their teachers and fellow classmates knew as rude and inappropriate. The same story was recounted by a number of teachers across schools in the city. Prompted by the initial stages of the EdD programme, I was able to begin to frame this as an unintended consequence of the Check and so an area that needed to be explored further.  

The Education Doctorate has an initial taught phase which guides, prompts and challenges the wide range of professionals that embark on the doctoral journey. The first part of the EdD encourages reflection and critical positioning and so enabled me to identify my doctoral thesis focus. What is distinctive is the variety of educational professionals on the programme: in my cohort this included a prison educator; an Early Years Centre Manager; secondary, F.E and H.E teachers and lecturers; an air traffic controller trainer and a teaching assistant and learning mentor in a local primary school. It is this diverse group that enables each person to think beyond the usual professional considerations, to view issues in new ways to “make the familiar strange” (Jackson and Mazzei, 2012).

The programme challenged my approaches to thinking about ethical considerations in research and led to my thesis that foregrounded the voices of those “normally silenced” (Greene, 1994) in educational evaluation – in my case, the children who took the Phonics Screening Check. The EdD programme also pushed me to reflect on theory and in my research, the myriad of theories that impact on the practice of the teaching of early reading. A study unit on policy shone a light on the different ways that policy can be analysed which drew me to the work of Gemma Moss and the evolution of Literacy policy. All of this was in Part One of the EdD programme and this provided the springboard to progress to Part Two– the research itself. Guided by challenging supervisors who questioned, recommended and pushed me to explain and explore beyond my usual comfort zone, the thesis took shape. This was a period of delight in the wisdom of the five year olds I talked to in my focus groups; despair in the multiple writes and re-writes of different sections and moments of the type of ‘flow’ that Csikszentmihalyi describes, the total absorption in the task at hand.

I would recommend the UWE Education Doctorate to any educational professional who wants to lay bare an aspect of practice, to approach it from different viewpoints, to dissect it with forensic care and to challenge their thinking beyond the everyday. And of course – there is the lure of the floppy hat to keep you going!

Dr. Jane Carter is a senior lecturer in education and childhood.

BRIDGE Paired Peers Twilight Event

Posted on

BRIDGE is pleased to invite you to the Paired Peers Twilight event. This event is on 14 Feb, 16:30-18:30, Room 2S704, Frenchay Campus, the University of the West of England.

Critical perspectives on transitions into, through and beyond university: Learning from the Paired Peers project

Dr Richard Waller, Associate Professor of the Sociology of Education, Dept of Education and Childhood.

The phenomenon of people’s access to and experience of higher education being informed by their social class position is by no means new. Yet despite numerous policy initiatives and interventions in the last few decades, significant inequalities remain between working and middle class young people regarding their chances of progressing to higher education, the type of university attended, their student experiences and their graduate outcomes. The Paired Peers project was a two part longitudinal study (2010-2103 and 2014-2017) funded by the Leverhulme Trust which followed an initial cohort of 90 undergraduates studying at either of the two universities in one English city. The University of Bristol is an ‘elite’, research intensive institution and a founding member of the Russell Group. The University of the West of England is an ex-polytechnic, a post-1992 institution generally lying around the middle of HE league tables and which prides itself on the quality of its teaching as evidenced by the recent Gold TEF award. The project matched pairs of students by social class, gender and subject discipline both within and between the two institutions, and followed them from induction to graduation and for several years beyond into their post-university lives and careers. The project explored not just what class based inequalities existed in terms of access to university, the experience of going through higher education and the transition into the workplace, but also the processes by which these significant inequalities were established and maintained.     

The presentation will be followed by a discussion of the implications of the project’s findings for the practice of academics and university professional services staff alike.

This event is free. However, registration is required. To register click here. Refreshments will be served. 

Please share widely. 

BRIDGE Education Research Seminar – Technologies to support inclusion and learning: Working with young autistic people

Posted on

The Department of Education and Childhood, Bristol Inter-disciplinary Group for Education Research (BRIDGE) invites you to this seminar on 21st Jan 2019 — 12noon-1pm — Room 2S602. This event is open to everybody.

Ms Dimitra Magkafa, Doctoral Researcher, Department of Arts and Cultural Industries, UWE

In recent years, there has been much research into the potential of technology programs to support and facilitate a variety of skills for children with ASD and, in some cases, access to services. From a museum perspective, digital services are a means of extending the network of visitors and of enhancing visitor experiences with object rich collections. Having these perspectives as a starting point, the aim of the talk is to present briefly the overall process for the design and evaluation of a museum-based app for children with ASD. The purpose of the study was to develop a digital platform that would promote the inclusion and foster the engagement of children with ASD in a museum environment. This  study aimed to understand the impact of a digital museum experience, through collecting and analysing qualitative data. The results obtained from different perspectives revealed the positive influence of the museum-based app by presenting emotions of enjoyment, engagement, and satisfaction among the children. This study provided some important insights into the importance of the use of digital services, in this case, a touchscreen-based app, as a mediating tool to offer opportunities for interactive experiences and create an inclusive environment for diverse user communities in the museum community.

Dr Nigel Newbutt, Senior Lecturer / Researcher Department of Education, UWE

In this talk I will provide some context to using head-mounted display (HMD) technology with autistic groups; the potential benefits and why this technology has/is being applied. In addition, this session will provide insights from research and practice in using technologies in classrooms for autistic children. I will look at virtual reality and examples of how this has been applied with autistic children in their education (and specific support needs more generally) for positive gains and outcomes. This talk will showcase some examples and responses to using virtual reality in schools while also covering some of the key challenges and barriers that have been reported in taking VR into classrooms. With the benefits of VR-HMD technology clear (from a research perspective), I will discuss the ways to best overcome some challenges that lie ahead and how practitioners and researchers can work collaboratively to help ensure technology can be applied in real-world settings.