After a Year, is it Time to Log Off?

Covid-19 Anniversary Blog

In this morning’s tutorial with a postgraduate our conversation meandered here and there, touching on writing, juggling deadlines and inter-weaving theoretical ideas with the blessed Harvard referencing. It reminded me of the best things about being a university tutor – I was actually helping!

Except, I was sitting in my house with my laptop perched atop my knee and as I stretched my crumpled back, I thought how this was now normal.

Before the pandemic, tutorials would be prearranged on campus and less frequent.  Now, I’m constantly online, seemingly available and visibly accessible. In truth, I am troubled by this altered relationship with the digital world even with all its inherent affordances.  

Recently my research has been putting to work theories of new materialism (Albin-Clark 2020). Through this lens, we see the humans (me and my friendly postgraduate) in co-existence with a non-human world that we could trace from our laptops. Cables snake beneath my street, electrical wires stretch across rooftops powered from generators far away, flicking data along invisible networks. From this perspective, the material and social are in a complex assemblage when the human becomes displaced from the centre of the focus. This leads me to the question; what does the non-human world do?  

Without doubt our inter-relationship with the non-human digital world offers affordances, like convenience and accessibility. But there is more at work as using technology is embodied, your fingers tap at the keyboard and your heart rate spikes as you open your emails.

Yet what troubles are embedded in those affects? Our enticing, ever blinking devices blur personal and professional boundaries causing the working day to creep in earlier and slip later into the evening.  Our back and wrists ache, the reading glasses prescription no longer fit for purpose after a year of screen-bound life.

Now what I long to do is the simple act of switching off my computer and shift into an evening that is not a workplace.

I am missing those chance human encounters in my lockdown technologically entwined life, the material social assemblage of twinkly corridor tutorials. The students catches your eye, you gently touch their arm in greeting and the ensuing talk tunes you in, sparks your next teaching plan and eases troubles.  

So now I’m looking to re-entangle with natural world, so I just might refill those birdfeeders in my little back garden and stretch my legs in the Springtime air. I’m disentangling in stages from my non-human digital world, and so here I go – I’m logging off!

Dr Jo Albin-Clark is a senior lecturer in the Early Years Department, Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University.

This piece is written in response to a post originally published in the Covid-19 blog on 28th May 2020 by Jo which can be found here.

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Gendered Double Imbalances in Higher Education

Some of you might have seen the Tweets and blogs making the rounds regarding the sexual harassment and exploitation (sexual and not) of female academics.

I read them with a profound sense of knowing sadness: whilst I have been lucky to not be in these women’s places, the misogyny and gendered power imbalances are evident everywhere I look in the academy.

They were evident in the disdain with which a very senior colleague treated me at one institution – on the basis of, I have to assume as we never really spoke, my sex and age (I was approximately half his age). Indeed, he was only ever civil with me once he knew I was leaving. It was also evident in the problematic, unethical behaviour of a senior professor at another institution who started a relationship with someone freshly graduated from a PhD despite the fact that he was her line manager. In most of these, the imbalance created by gendered relations of power are further distorted by the imbalances connected to seniority.

Sadly the academy still views seniority as something that is connected to masculine behaviour. Thus, essentially, seniority itself is gendered, thus creating a double barrier for women and enabling the continued imbalances that exists.

What do I mean by all this?

Seniority is still all too often awarded on research achievement – the number of publications, the number of international collaborations, the number of funding bids completed. All of these take time, and it’s time that women, if they behave in gendered ways, rarely have. Research has shown that women, again and again, take on more pastoral care and also find themselves contributing more to institutional work on student support more generally. Several initiatives have been started that are meant to support women, such as the Aurora leadership programme. But what that means is that often women have to do extra work in order to fit in better, rather than the academy better fitting in with women.

Also women, already have less time – something that has been exacerbated by Covid-19. The Guardian recently reported on the inequalities exposed by the pandemic. Oxford University ran a webinar on the 24 June to talk about how female academics, and mothers in particular, are affected by the crisis. Of course I, as other mothers, couldn’t attend because we were too busy juggling home schooling with holding down the job. So the question arises: how will the academy support women in the future?

How will it recognise how women are exploited in many different ways by the gendered double-imbalances described above? And will it finally address these imbalances, or will it ask us to do more work?

Dr Elke Weissmann is Reader in Television and Film in the Department of Creative Arts at Edge Hill University. Her research is focused on television, transnational relations, and gender and the media.


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To the Moon and Back: Summing up the ISR/EHU Covid-19 Blog

When we had the idea to ISR blog in the week after lockdown in late March, we could not have imagined that it would have such resonance. Since the start of April we have had nearly 50 posts, charting our immediate response as an academic community to a once in a 100-year event.

In receiving, reviewing and editing the posts each day – I have oscillated between hope and despair; and somewhere in between. Fear that we may have permanently given up our way of life to fight this disease, but then hope that perhaps we can reimagine part of it for the better in its aftermath. Moreover, some of the historical entries have prompted me to wondered if the ordinary people felt the same during the Spanish flu pandemic a century ago? Likely at times they did feel hopeless, not least the populations of Europe, the USA and the Empire had just endured 4 years of war. Yet as a species we did bounce back from Spanish flu – and made it all the way to the moon! So I have no doubt that we will do so again.

And so, in setting out to summarise what is already an historical document, the blog falls into four broad categories;

  1. The pandemic has the potential to permanently alter the way in which we organise our lives. Many of us have become more creative and learnt new skills. It has been a journey of discovery, individually, institutionally, economically, and as a society, and may even solve the EHU car parking problem, and we have all got used to working remotely.
  2. Vigilance is needed when loaning out our ‘civil liberties’ for the perceived ‘greater good’; what surveillance and other genies have we let out of the bottle during this period – and can we put them back? Relatedly, how do we do ‘politics’ in times of crisis and how to we critique constructively?
  3. In the longer term, the ‘cure’ for Covid-19 may end up being more harmful than the disease. Many posts illustrate just how hard it is in our complex and integrated world, to take difficult decisions in the absence of full or good information.
  4. History repeats – or at least rhymes. Thankfully, the red X was not put on our front doors this time, but other aspects of the accounts of pandemics passed, were eerily familiar; including the both the mythology and inequalities arising therefrom.

As the blog entered its final week, it also reflected on ‘what’s next?’. As we emerge from ‘lockdown’ will society be kinder, or will we miss the opportunity to make permanent changes as we flock back to the shops, and queue for ‘drive through’ take away? Perhaps some of the philosophical perspectives also expressed in the blog will help us we take away the good, leave behind at least some of the bad, and make it back to the moon?

In the next few weeks we will be compiling all the blog entries into a pdf document. This will be available to download from the ISR website. We also intend to host an anniversary event in March 2021 where we will ask some of the bloggers to reflect on their posts; what happened next, did they get their predictions right – and what do they think now? More information on this event will also follow.

Finally I would like to thank all the contributors and readers of the blog. You all made it a huge success; and I look forward to seeing you all on campus one day very soon!

Prof Jo Crotty,  Director: Institute for Social Responsibility, Edge Hill University


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Returning to ‘normal’: Better or Worse for those with special need and/or disabilities?

In uncertain times, it is unsurprising that evoking the idea of ‘normal’ provides a source of comfort. ‘Normal’ implies a predictability and coherence that many of us crave. Both a return to the ‘old’ normal and a re-imagining of a ‘new’ normal are presented as potential reassurances of a more familiar and comprehensible future. It seems that the word ‘normal’ is more present in our communications than ever before. However, our craving for normality is not without issues.

I want to explore my own discomfort with the idolisation of normality, from the perspective of education. The school closure experiences and insights of children and young people who attract the term ‘special educational needs and/or disabilities’ (SEND) can offer some insight into our relationship with ideas about ‘normal’.

The very fact that the term ‘SEND’ includes the word ‘special’ indicates an interesting relationship with normality. For example, disabled advocates have long campaigned for the use of remote meetings as a way to make education, workplaces, and social opportunities more accessible. Their need for these provisions has been deemed special, and thus extra or other.

In our present situation, the use of remote meetings has become normal, and large numbers of people are educated, carry out their paid work, and engage in social activity online. Substantial efforts are made to ensure that all of this is possible. The change in the status of remote education – from special to normal – highlights significant issues in the way that we can equitably approach education, and the problematic nature of our yearning for normality.

If we consider Lennard Davis’ (2010) analysis of the construction of normalcy, which appears in history shortly after industrialisation and follows a eugenicist path, we see that ‘normal’ can be thought of as the idealisation of the statistically average, a notion tied closely to efficiency and economy. These statistical averages allow us to universally orient our practices toward the productivity of the statistically average human, and to measure ourselves in terms of deviations from that ‘ideal’. Our practices, then, might be considered to be a good fit for the extremely few people who fit in precisely the middle of all given measures. When we organise ourselves according to the average, variations are applied as extra or other.

The current yearning for normality provides an opportunity for the further idealisation of the normal. As schools reopen, will those practices which have become normal become special once again? I wonder what other barriers we could overcome if we were to deem difference as normal rather than special? If we orient ourselves toward a new version of normal that is accommodating only toward the average, are we reconstituting the same old disadvantages?

Michelle Dunne is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University.

Reference:

Davis, L. J. (2010) ‘Constructing Normalcy: The Bell Curve, the Novel, and the Invention of the Disabled Body in the Nineteenth Century’, in Davis, L. J. (ed.) The Disability Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, pp. 3–16.


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Listen up! Schools have always been much more than places for Education

As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, schools in England have radically shifted form. After temporarily closing for the majority of children, they have remained open for some. The sector is in the midst of planning how to bring more children on site safely. Alongside this, extraordinary attempts have been made to sustain relationships with pupils who are not present in school. But what are schools like for teachers working with those children still attending? As an academic working in teacher education, I am interested in how teachers navigate this new territory that is familiar yet has become so strange.  

Recently I opened up an e-mail from a past student who is now a newly qualified teacher. A radically changed classroom is described, characterised by openness to more child-initiated approaches yet closely bound to children’s emotions. As children’s wellbeing is tuned into, what seems to be paramount is the significance of listening to children. He offers one particular observation; a 6-year-old boy is drawing and talks about his sadness and worry about his mum who works as a hospital doctor. The boy describes her long working hours, his fears that she might catch the virus and the consequences for him of less time for normal things such as playing together in their local park.

This little fragment of a listening encounter illuminates the complex emotional labour that constitutes teacher’s relationships with children. Hargreaves (2001, 2005) describes such relationships as emotional geographies.  I have used this theory in some recent research (Albin-Clark, 2020) and found that teachers use their emotions to activate changes in their pedagogical practice. In this example, we see the role that listening plays in enabling a space and time for the creative expression of complex feelings. Here the boy makes sense of his mum’s increased absence, his fear in relation to health, and how much he misses playing.

How teachers learn from these kinds of emotional encounters will not get lost as schools grapple with the practical changes that physical distancing will bring.  It is a timely reminder that the relationships that teachers and their children build is strongly driven by listening. Teachers know that children will be profoundly affected by this pandemic. As we take small steps out of lockdown, it reminds us that schools have always been so much more than places for education. Listening to children is a skill that will be vital as we navigate future classrooms, and the good news is that this is something that teachers already do exceptionally well.

Dr Jo Albin-Clark is a Senior Lecturer in Early Years Education at Edge Hill University.


Albin-Clark J (2020) ‘I felt uncomfortable because I know what it can be’: The emotional geographies and implicit activisms of reflexive practices for early childhood teachers. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 21(1), pp. 20-32.

Hargreaves A (2001) Emotional geographies of teaching. Teachers College Record 103(6):  1056–1080.

Hargreaves A (2005) Educational change takes ages: Life, career and generational factors in teachers’  emotional responses to educational change. Teaching and Teacher Education 21(8):  967–983.


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Covid-19, Higher Education and the rise of video-based learning

Given the rapid shift to focus on online video-based learning due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is evident that we need to develop understanding of how this mode of learning will impact student engagement with their course and learning. Also, what measures can be used to determine its success?

Video-based learning has a long history in its use as an educational tool in various forms, like instructional videos, demonstration videos, knowledge clips, and web lectures. As such, Higher education institutions have often supplemented their curriculum with alternative and complementary learning resources to support students from different educational backgrounds and learning needs. Along with the advancement in technology such as high-speed internet and personal devices, the shift towards the use of video in in higher education had begun before Covid-19.

While all university campuses are physically closed, educators and lecturers are working hard behind the scene to educate, support, and ensure that students can progress with minimum disruptions to their studies, through online lectures, video-based resources etc. Organisations and private companies such as Coursera, Future Learn, Udemy and Google, are also taking this opportunity to promote and expand their in-house online learning platforms by offering students free access to video-based academic courses.

Evidence has shown that using video technology as a way to learn can impact students directly and positively (Kay & Kletskin, 2012). Students generally describe video-based learning as enjoyable (Winterbottom, 2007), motivating (Hill & Nelson, 2011), and effective in enhancing learning performance (Salina et al., 2012). However, less is known about whether the use of video in learning will facilitate knowledge development and critical thinking within a higher education setting. The current methodological approach typically relies on post-experimental tests of basic concepts as a measure of effectiveness when comparing video-based learning with other models. This results in a research gap that requires further exploration on whether video-based learning could be used to encourage deeper and broader application of knowledge and critical thinking skills (Carmichael, Reid, & Karpicke, 2018).

Moving forward, a new era of learning will rise with the popularity of video-based learning. While we acknowledge the shortfalls of this methodological approach in the field, video-based learning has the greatest potential to be explored further to serve the demands of learners post Covid-19.  It also gives us an opportunity to find out if it works – in the longer term!

Angel Tan, PhD Student, Department of Psychology, Edge Hill University

References:

Carmichael, M., Reid, A., & Karpicke, J. D. (2018). Assessing the impact of educational video on student engagement, critical thinking and learning. Sage Publishing. Retrieved from https://us.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/hevideolearning.pdf

Hill, J. L., & Nelson, A. (2011). New technology, new pedagogy? Employing video podcasts in learning and teaching about exotic ecosystems. Environmental Education Research, 17(3), 393-408. doi: 10.1080/13504622.2010.545873

Kay, R., & Kletskin, I. (2012). Evaluating the use of problem-based video podcasts to teach mathematics in higher education. Computers & Education, 59, 619-627. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2012.03.007

Salina, L., Ruffinengo, C., Garrino, L., Massariello, P., Charrier, L., Martin, B., Favale, M. S., … Dimonte, V. (2012). Effectiveness of an educational video as an instrument to refresh and reinforce the learning of a nursing technique: A randomized controlled trial. Perspectives on medical education, 1(2), 67-75.

Winterbottom, S. (2007). Virtual lecturing: Delivering lectures using screencasting and podcasting technology. Planet, 18, 6-8.


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Towards a ‘Next Normal’: HE and Reflection at Speed

Those who lead – people, educational or research programmes, engagement activities or even entire organisations in Higher Education, like every other sector globally, are now confronting the challenges of how to move forward in a world where everything we do has the potential for radical change. However, despite common references to a ‘new normal,’ realistically all we can plan for is a ‘next normal.’ 

Every day, forecasts and predictions from popular media and the HE press bounce across the spectrum of opportunity and doom; news trickles and cascades like a leaky and unpredictable faucet that dispenses cold water one day and hot the next. However, albeit not without pain, we in higher education have all somehow managed to get through the first months of lockdown, remote working and a comprehensive move to online education. What’s next and how do we determine what to tackle first of the many never before encountered questions remaining?

Although definitions vary and models differ, those who work with students appreciate and teach reflective practice as a key element for lifelong learning. Educators have also broadened the spectrum of how to ‘do’ reflection, incorporating a wide range of tools and techniques that embrace the value of inclusive learning approaches and help reframe thinking; the art of the possible. However, the reality is that many of us, particularly now when we factor in unexpected COVID-19 responsibilities, do not undertake much, if any, reflective practice.

The problem is that the global boat called ‘normal’ in which we’ve been cruising the seas has struck a leak and is filling quickly with water. Our survival is at stake. We know we need to bail – and quickly (the urgent / the reactive) but we also need to scan the horizon to chart a safe course to shore while simultaneously determining how to fix the leak (the important/the proactive). Bailing requires repetition and physical effort; scanning the horizon and plotting a course requires mental agility; patching the hole in the boat requires ingenuity. To manage anything other than bailing what we need to develop are the skills of reflection at speed. We need to slow down the moment, we need to think about what is working and what isn’t. Taking a pause, even a momentary one, to step back from bailing and notice changing conditions will help us to see how quickly the boat is filling and, if we stop bailing, how much time we have to examine and repair the hole while continuing to chart a course forward.

And once our boat is repaired sufficiently to get to our next temporary haven, we can’t leave it at that. Reflective practice is a skill that must be developed like any other and applied before, during and after action. To tackle the next normal and the next normal after that, we need to develop our creative, cognitive, adaptive and emotional capabilities.  Reflective practice is a conscious effort that prioritises time to think; not something to push out to an imaginary future when the seas have calmed. Intentional reflective practice now, at speed where necessary, will enable us to tackle whatever comes next with a deeper sense of personal and organisational resilience. Reflective practice can calm our anxious minds and give us hope – and now is when we need hope most.

Cindy Vallance is Assistant Director of Knowledge, Innovation and Delivery at AdvanceHE


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Covid-19: An Opportunity for Nature and Outdoor Education

Since March headline stories have abounded across news outlets suggesting the positive impact that the decline in human activity, as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown, is having upon the natural world. The National Geographic (April 2020) reported ‘carbon omissions are crashing’ and forecast a  9% drop in Europe this year, elsewhere observations were recorded about skies and coastal waters appearing bluer and the return of wildlife to our urban environments. Whilst these are all welcome, they are likely to be undone as fast as they have emerged; if we return to our existing lifestyles.

Home schooling during lockdown has provided one significant and hopeful opportunity for our interconnectedness with nature to be better understood.  Wildlife organisations such as the RSPB (May 2020) have reported substantially increased social media traffic to their resources and news coverage provides testimony to a growing engagement with gardening, bird watching and interest in wildlife. The Guardian (May 1st, 2020) reported that “pavement chalking to draw attention to wildflowers and plants in urban areas had gone viral across Europe” just one example of parents valuing and using nature for home schooling. This within a context of a society that has increasingly become disconnected from nature  (The Natural Childhood Report, 2013).

David Sobel (1996) points out in Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education that,  

“If we want children to flourish, we need to give them time to connect with nature and love the Earth before we ask them to save it.”

An abundance of research by (Chawla :2006, Wells and Lekkies 2006) demonstrates how pro environmental behaviours can be developed through providing children with regular contact with nature and with adults who hold positive environmental attitudes.

Lockdown has enabled many families to experience the value of nature and this now requires building upon more rigorously by schools and teachers, as society emerges out of Lockdown. Effective practice is key to the successful achievement of this aim.  Schools will require quality guidance and access to Current professional Development in order to embed researched informed processes.  Initial Teacher Education  will need to prioritise this on their programme in order to equip new teachers with the knowledge and skills to support school partnerships in the future. The new OFSTED School Inspection Framework (2019) with a renewed focus on schools ‘meeting the needs of their community’ and providing a broad curriculum to children provides official support for this action…

The social climate is perhaps now more conducive than ever in supporting our schools and curriculum in prioritising the environment and recognising the role of outdoor education in enabling us as a society to make the changes we need to build a new revised relationship with the natural world. This would be a lesson well learnt from the Covid-19 crisis.

Cait Talbot-Landers is Senior Lecturer in Learning Outside the Classroom Primary Education at Edge Hill University


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We Make the Road by Walking: A ‘Kinder’ Society after COVID-19?

“In December 1987, Myles Horton and Paolo Freire, two pioneers of education for social change, came together to ‘talk a book’ about their experiences and ideas”

(Bell, Gaventa & Peters, 1990. p xv)

The seminal book that ensued, ‘We Make the Road by Walking’, marked a major landmark in the development of participatory education for the empowerment of the poor and powerless.  The work of Horton and Freire provided an underpinning democratic and democratising epistemology which guided the work of the Highlander Folk School, (later to be called the Highlander Centre) and continues to influence participatory and democratic education processes to the present day. 

Resonating with the work of Fals-Borda and Rahman (1991), and de Sousa Santos (2007), it provokes us to imagine different, more socially just concepts of knowledges, their creation, and their value/valuing.  In relation to this, Freire suggested that for this to happen, required a renewed understanding of knowledge and power. The people’s knowledge, which he calls ‘organic’ knowledge, is interwoven with and derived from their experiences and practices.

More than ever in recent history, we are having to make our road by walking.  With the imposed partial lockdown, there is growing evidence of the ways in which many people have found positives in the experience by finding new, and often better ways, to live their lives both in family and community contexts. 

Within hours of the lockdown being announced, social media platforms across the UK were advertising community-based mutual aid groups, with contact details being collated and shared on an open google document. This rapidly became a way of mutualising skills and knowledge across communities within an ethos of care.  My own local group quickly became full of offers to ‘shop and drop’, help with gardening, collect medicines, etc. Despite being seemingly disempowered in relation to the way we had previously led our lives, this community-based initiative developed a sense of power and authority that was rooted in their own contextual knowledge and skill sets.

Of interest also, was the ways in which our highly complex society began to explore and redefine itself. The media carried daily accounts of the fact that people had taken up gardening and growing edibles, of an increase in arts and crafting, a return to reading (usually paper rather than electronic texts), and an increase in shared family meals, cooked from scratch.  Our collective actions and voices at this time speak to the hope of a kinder, and better world. This is an opportunity to reimagine society, and how we construct it.

Dr Mary McAteer is Senior Lecturer in Professional Learning at Edge Hill University.


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Lockdown and Educational Inequality: Some Reflections

In 1970, Basil Bernstein famously wrote that education cannot compensate for society.

Bernstein may have been writing fifty years ago, but recent reports on the impact of school closures on disadvantaged children and young people resonate with his conclusions. Despite decades of government rhetoric about inclusion, the empirical reality of social inequality has been exposed by the pandemic. Elena Magrini (2020), describes the impact of school closures as a ‘learning loss’ that will likely have greatest impact on the most disadvantaged children. The result is a likely widening of the ‘education gap’.

To their credit, the government has responded to this educational crisis through a commitment to provide disadvantaged children with laptops, tablets and 4G routers. This is to be welcomed. However, the practical challenges of providing on line education raises some pressing additional questions about equality and inclusion in late modern societies.

In 1992 Gilles Deleuze wrote that social inclusion is determined by possession of the ‘Password’. Nikolas Rose (2004) developed these ideas in his work Powers of Freedom.  Rose draws attention to ‘circuits of inclusion’ which require constant proof of ‘legitimate identity’. Rose provides examples; computer readable passports, driving licenses with unique identification codes, social insurance numbers, bank cards. Each card provides the bearer with a virtual identity and access to certain privileges. Governments, employers, insurance companies and banks can all utilize databases to monitor individuals, provide or deny access to training, benefits or credit. To achieve an admissible existence in postmodern societies of control requires access to these circuits of inclusion, which leads us back to the issue of educational citizenship and access to educational inclusion in the lockdown.

The problem is summed up by Tom Middlehurst of the Schools, Students and Teachers Network (SSAT) in an interview for the Guardian where he states that,

‘The kinds of parents who will be having discussions and making the effort with home schooling are likely to be “middle class parents”

In other words, those that have the ‘digital’ capitals and the ‘passwords’ that provide access to computers, on line learning, reliable broadband provision and technological skill amongst other things. For young people and their families outside of these groups it is questionable if panicked provision of lap tops and routers will enable access to wider educational inclusion in a meaningful and enduring way. What is required is a sea change in policy that leads to universal, sustainable and equitable provision for learners and families. It shouldn’t take a national emergency to refocus debate on issues of social justice and educational inclusion.

Dr Francis Farrell is Senior Lecturer in Theology and Religion at Edge Hill University.


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