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: jade.parnell@uwe.ac.uk or twitter: @jadeparnell.

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. 

English as an Additional Language and Creativity Conference 2018

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EAL and Creativity – Using Arts-Based Methods for Supporting Learners of English as an Additional Language

Thursday 12th July 2018 9.00 – 4:00 pm

The University of the West of England, Coldharbour Lane, Bristol, BS16 1QY

CWLE team at the Department of Education and Childhood, the University of West England in collaboration with Integra Schools is pleased to invite practitioners to a one day conference.

Keynote speakers:

 

Professor Alison Phipps, Glasgow University:

“The Well in Welcome: Creating Welcoming Environments for All”.

Dr Mary Carol Combs, University of Arizona.

Learning in the Third Space: Pedagogies of Hope and Resistance

Programme Highlights

Creative art workshops

  • Adinkra Creative Links – Naa Densua Tordzro and Gameli Tordzro
  • Spoken Word, Broken Silence – Tawona Sitholé and Alison Phipps
  • Film-making and EAL Learners – Maryam Almohammad
  • Craft-making with EAL Learners – Jane Andrews

 Teachmeet:

  • Judith Prosser, Cotham School, Bristol
  • Karen Thomas (Portsmouth EMTAS) and Rebecca Reeve

The conference is free but please make a booking here so we can organise catering and transport.

For inquiries please contact Dr Jane Andrews  jane.andrewsedu@uwe.ac.uk and Dr Maryam Almohammad Maryam.Almohammad@uwe.ac.uk

Follow us on Tiwtter: @CWLE_EAL 

 

Jamie, joy and learning to read

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You may have heard the expression “never work with children or animals” and having been a primary school teacher and now a lecturer in Primary Education I have always felt that this is rather an unfair maxim. From my experience, it is often children that offer a more insightful view of the world we have created rather than the adults who created it. Children are able to reflect on the world from their unique vantage point, unburdened by big picture pressures of the big ‘p’ and small ‘p’ politics of daily life: the politics of party political education policy and its ramifications in schools and classrooms.  However, working with children does offer an element of unpredictability, surprise and unplanned for diversions – and perhaps this is what the expression is hinting at. As a researcher at UWE Bristol, these are the qualities that make researching with children so powerful and engaging.

I have just completed my Doctoral studies researching the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check and drawing on the voices of teachers and children to evaluate the Check in its widest sense. Kushner identified evaluation as a social service and the data that it generates as representing “the people – their hopes, fears, aspirations and failures.” Children, in their open and generous responses provided just this and so giving a momentary insight into the world of children aged 5 and 6, in Year 1.

One child, let’s call him Jamie, left a particular impression. The struggle to become a reader was etched on his face and clearly, reading was a real challenge. In fact when introducing the research to the children and asking if they were happy to be part of it, he immediately volunteered “I’m no good at reading, it’s really hard,” suggesting he was therefore not suitable to be part of such a research study. Jamie repeated through the session that the only way to get better was to practice – every day. His ideas of perseverance and practice seemed to be, in part, repeated tropes from teachers and parents. He offered this as the way to learn to read but without any joy or delight in the process or even a sense of any satisfaction in the final destination. Jamie knew reading was important: he made this clear – he mentioned the need to read as an adult, to get a job, to find your way “around London” as he put it. Jamie seemed to have internalised a fear of not being able to read and a keen knowledge that his friends could. Jamie expressed how he was not as good as others at reading and his face seemed to express how tired he was by this constant ‘practice’ that he seemed to suggest was his ‘lot’ for some time to come. Jamie, whilst being only six was no longer a primary school child but, as described by his teachers, ‘a student’ ripe for intervention. How is it that this term ‘student’ has come to be used with reference to all school aged children where once it was only used to identify learners at University? Have we lost the fact that Jamie is a child and that he won’t recapture these years as a child at primary school?

Jamie expressed an almost treadmill approach to developing as a reader – learning sounds; being tested on sounds; reading allocated books; moving through the book levels until one day in the future moving to that enviable position of being a free reader. Each step will be marked out by daily practice. Not only that, but Jamie expressed what seemed to be an ‘obstacle race’ view of the process – adults putting unnecessary additional hurdles in the way of the drudgery. “We have to read alien words,” he said – words that don’t make sense to children “only aliens”.  Lucy piped up at this point to correct him:

“Miss Honey said that, um they are just to help you with your sounds they are not for any other use they just help with sounds – um, a bit of a waste of time.”

These children are taught by fabulous teachers who inspire and enthuse their classes and there were many children that reflected this as part of my research. It is the voice of Jamie though that is the voice that sticks with me. In the introduction I talked about the warning that you should “never work with children or animals” and Jamie is perhaps one of those children, not because he is difficult or disruptive but because of the uncomfortable truths he expresses. Yes, we do want to teach Jamie to read and for some children, like Jamie, it won’t always be easy. However we do need to learn how best to make this a joyful process and one that doesn’t become so focused on the mechanics of practice that we lose sight of the child ‘in the student’.

Jane Carter ,Senior Lecturer in Primary Education