The Power of Music to Change Lives?

Dr Anna Mariguddi

On Saturday 25th June 2022, the much anticipated (second) National Plan for Music Education (NPME) was published entitled; ‘The power of music to change lives’.

The (non-statutory) document represents political ideology (as does the Model Music Curriculum and Ofsted Research review series: music). Despite leaning towards traditional Western Art values, the NPME’s recognition of music as an ‘essential part of a broad and ambitious curriculum for all pupils’ (NPME, p.2) as a pledge is welcome and one on which we should hold this, and future governments to account.

Earlier in the year, headlines were grabbed by the Incorporated Society for Musicians’ (ISM) education report that questioned whether music was a subject in peril. Moreover, it highlighted an uncertain time for music education and brought to attention many concerns about inequality and a lack of inclusivity and uneven support for activity.

Certainly, there is still a long way to go to ensure that school music is truly valued in policy and practice for all young people; which brings us back to the fundamental question about the purpose of music education, and who should decide.

Does music have the power to change lives? Or is it more to do with the meaning that music holds for us as human beings? What power does music have as an agent of change both individually and within our communities? Can young people change their own lives through music?

Music has certainly impacted on my own life – socially, emotionally, and academically  – even down to the small minute (but precious) moments when singing nursery rhymes in time with pushing my daughter on a swing.

Musical opportunity opened up to me aged eight, when my parents agreed to pay for me to rent a flute from our local music shop. But what if I hadn’t had parents willing and able to nurture my interest in music? Would a document like the NPME have sufficed instead? The optimist within me thinks that this is a possibility, but we will have to wait to find out how this plan plays out in practice – not just in select case studies, but for all young people across all schools.

Right now my Twitter feed is alive with activity linked to the hashtag #NPME2 – highlighting perceived good bits, potential areas for concern, and even spelling mistakes! You too can join that conversation!

Dr Anna Mariguddi is a Lecturer in Education, with a focus on music, at Edge Hill University.

The Right to Play: Are young children free to determine their own actions?

Dr Jo Albin-Clark

I recently saw an art exhibition with Mark Titchener that got me thinking about how far young children are free to determine their own actions.

Previously my research interests have been about how teachers observe playful learning (Albin-Clark, 2021, 2022) and develop critical awareness about children as holders of rights (Albin-Clark and Archer, 2021).

This year I have started to work with a colleague, the children’s rights scholar Professor Carol Robinson in the research network  Children’s Rights and Wellbeing.  After Covid-19 lockdowns, it is particularly urgent that children understand their rights to voice concerns when they have felt insecure (Robinson, 2021).

Teachers act as gatekeepers to children accessing their entitlement to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).  One article pertinent to teachers of young children is Article 31, ‘the right to play’. In play, children make decisions about who, what, where and how their experience takes place (Albin-Clark, 2022). 

I know that teachers value the opportunity to consider how play is related to teaching, so much so that a current student on my Master of Arts (MA) module ‘The power of playful pedagogies’, made me stop in my tracks. She named her recent submission: Why is play a forbidden word?

In schooling, teachers can feel tension between their own personal ethos and the prevailing policy environment. But, in this area the answer may be a simple one; that teachers can not only say the word ‘play’ but also protect pockets of time and space where they can let children play (Sahlberg and Doyle, 2019).

Also, teachers, students and researchers have a role in protecting children’s access to their right to play and have their voices heard (Robinson, Quennerstedt and Phillips, 2018).

Circling back to Mark Titchener’s provocation, it matters now more than ever that children, including young children, can determine their own actions. It seems to me that a rather brilliant way of children determining their own actions and expressing themselves within a learning environment is through play.

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

Image by LaterJay Photography from Pixabay

‘Bridges’ and ‘Phonics’, and How to Navigate Both

Dr Karen Boardman

As I respond to yet another message on social media about why I am suddenly ‘crossing bridges’ from early reading advocacy to the teaching of Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP), I am wondering why I feel the need to explain my position yet again.

Firstly, it is not either/or – it is both. I am a strong advocate for early reading for under-fives and passionate about children reading in whatever format – print, digital, imagery; there is no ambiguity here! I am a supporter of all proposals that encourage and enable children as ‘readers’ in the widest possible sense.

However, supporting SSP is not really a choice I have, given the DfE ‘Core Content Framework’ 2019 and Ofsted, ‘Initial Teacher Education (ITE) Inspection Framework and Handbook’ 2021, and ‘The Reading Framework: teaching the foundations of literacy’ (DfE, 2021) emphasise the prominence of SSP teaching to support reading.

Intrinsically, these documents outline longstanding government policy focus on teaching SSP as the prime approach to teaching reading in schools. Therefore, as a researcher and strong advocate for ensuring that our trainee teachers are well-prepared in their roles in schools, it is a fundamental aspect of my role. I must navigate and negotiate the complex field of SSP to support trainee teachers to ensure confidence and competence in teaching SSP in schools.

To that end, it is critical that I support all our students and especially trainee teachers who will be working in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) settings and primary schools. To engage, enthuse and embed them in the principles of early reading. It is equally important that I support trainee teachers with their understanding of the importance of teaching Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) from Reception upwards in schools.

So we have put in place an exciting Systematic Synthetic Phonics Student Ambassador (SSPSA) initiative this year in the Faculty of Education. This encourages peer-to-peer support for trainee teachers teaching SSP. Our Student Ambassadors share ideas to support each other on social media platforms, Jam boards and in-person drop-in sessions.  This helps to make SSP less daunting for trainee teachers whilst learning from each other as a Faculty of Education SSP Phonics ‘community’. This is certainly tricky terrain.

Arising from this, we have produced an ‘SSP Iceberg’ infographic to demonstrate the competitivity of reading for trainee teachers.

I will continue to collaborate and cross those tricky ‘bridges’ to do everything I can to ensure that early reading and phonics has the prominence it deserves to encourage young children to read.

In addition, I will continue to emphasise that we also need to listen to our children and have their voices and choices heard within early reading policy and provision, in the same way that we work collaboratively with trainee teachers and our partnership schools to raise the profile of SSP. 

We hope that you find the ‘iceberg’ useful.

Karen Boardman is the Head of Department for Early Years Education in the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University. @KarenMBoardman @FoEPhonics

What Does it Mean for Teachers to be True to Themselves? Can a Critical Creative Process Support our Articulations of Self?

Victoria Inyang-Talbot

As I prepare to share parts of my research at the International Symposium on Poetic Inquiry later this month in Cape Town, I cannot help but meditate on the question that has preoccupied me for a long time, and is key to my research project. The famous quote, ‘to thyself be true’, spoken by Polonius, King Claudius’ chief minister in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, exhorts us to understand much about ourselves, and at such self-knowledge, not to depart from its convictions.

Being true to oneself is, indeed, a noble aspiration. What else could one aspire to be but oneself?

For teachers, this exhortation is ambiguous, both in the literature and in practice. For to be autonomous, teachers need to cast away the yoke of managers, OFSTED inspectors, policy makers, local council interventions. To be professionally distant yet open to self-disclosure, is itself an oxymoron. To be genuine will mean at some point to tell the truth about the inadequacies of the education the students are being provided; at other times the opposite. This risks disillusioning them too early and that in no way would reflect the teacher’s commitment to them. So how does a teacher remain ‘authentic’?

To engage with the question of authenticity in teacher identity, and to provide an avenue for teachers themselves to respond to what makes up their authenticities, the Critical Authenticity Project invited teachers from all over the world to participate in poetry workshops.

Here teachers learnt poetic forms, and wrote about themselves. As a researcher, I was equally confronted with my own self how it plays into the wider social narrative on identity, and how this influences my role as a teacher.

As an example, when asked to write a list poem, one of the teachers submitted the following:

My Authentic Teacher Bag

I will put in my bag my beat-up guitar
Large puppets and stages and little toy cars
I will put in my bag some musical vids
To choreograph, block and entertain kids
I will put in my bag my biggest fake smile
To deal with tough parents who make me taste bile
My bag is made from the laughs of the youth
That wriggle and giggle, and show lots of teeth
I’ll dance and sing loud and bobble about, and trick them to learning then leave with a shout!

Poetry provided the teachers the space with which to be critically concerned about themselves, and to articulate their self-knowledge creatively.

I look forward to sharing some of their words at the conference this May and for those words to fly and take on shape, making those teachers visible in themselves.

Victoria Inyang-Talbot is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Not from Keith: What can Posthuman theory and an old Easter card do?

Opening up Conversations about Performativity, Playfulness and Creativity in the Early Years of Primary School.

Dr Jo Albin-Clark

I’ve inherited a bag filled with my primary school books and creations. One thing catches my attention, a faded card with an adult drawn chick shape decorated with scrunched up tissue paper. Inside, a young hand has written ‘from Keith’ that my younger self has scribbled out and, in its place, written my own name. I wonder about the missed events from the last year, and the gaps in the bags that go quietly into lofts.

Anyone with involvement in teaching young children in schools will have a memory of all the reasons why cards get mixed up.  Sometimes card marking can feel like a production line, set up from an adult made template, pre-prepared materials in a row, an alphabetical list being ticked off at speed as sticky creations are laid out to dry. It is easy to mix things up in the lively reality of a classroom.  

Yet the scribble tells stories of the discourses that swill around education. It talks of teachers under pressure in performative cultures where making cards and more playful pedagogies can get sidelined. It hints at the precarious nature of subjects that are not literacy and mathematics. It raises questions about how confident teachers feel in allowing children to lead their own learning with the related pressure to send home such things to families. Looking back at the scribbled-out name, I wonder if the card had been a more individual creation myself and Keith would not have got mixed up.

Recently my research enquiries consider the inter-relationships between children and the things they use in the classroom.  Although the reading can take time to make sense of, I have found the thinking a refreshing alternative to the educational policy climate of England that can privilege individual outcomes. I have found that post-human theorists like Barad open the door for viewing education within a more complex frame of interdependency between humans, matter and materials .

So going back to my ancient Easter card; through the lens of Karen Barad’s theories I can see the entanglements between the material and the discursive.  All those influences, questions, forms of analysis and enquiries begin to bubble up. I’m planning to use examples like the card mix-up and great scandal of scrunched-up tissue paper in my module teaching for our new Masters programme. In the Early Years pathway, I have a shiny new module called ‘The Power of Playful Pedagogies’. Using real artefacts like this can open lively debates and rich jumping off points for thinking, research and writing.

Reflecting on the last year, perhaps we can think about the ownership of children’s creations to save those moments when the dusty bag comes down from the loft. So now I bet you are wondering…does Keith’s mum have a card with my name scribbled out?

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

The problem is often the solution: The future of video-based learning

Covid Anniversary Blog

A year ago, in March 2020, we saw a global adoption of an online video-based learning approach in the higher education sector as a strategy to flatten the curve of COVID-19 infection and to prevent person-to-person transmission around university campuses.

Since then, we’ve found ourselves switching between online and blended learning to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions on students’ higher education experience. However, most educators still retain the use of video-based learning to support in-person instruction and more importantly, to offer greater flexibility to students who are forced to stay at home on medical grounds.

Many have postulated that video-based learning is here to stay in this new era of learning. It is not easy to turn back to the traditional face-to-face teaching model when both educators and learners have been provided a glimpse of the future and experienced the convenience and the flexibility of video-based learning.

Video-based education supports the context of ubiquitous learning, allowing students to learn at anytime and anywhere. This means that students can take fuller control over their learning journey, with the options to review, rewind, and revisit any part of the video whenever needed. This is in fact, a tangible benefit to students who have additional childcare responsibilities or family duties.

Nevertheless, even with the flexibility that video-learning can offer, many are concerned about the lack of guidance and interaction between instructors and students in a virtual video-based learning environment. There is often an underlying assumption that a face-to-face lecture is more superior to online video-based learning due to the fact of having teacher-student direct interaction, which may be scarce or even not present with remote video-learning. Without the physical presence of an instructor, video-based learning requires much more self-discipline and self-motivation from students to stay away from distractions while learning and to seek support when needed.

But, the problem is often the solution. In the aftermath of COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a renewed interest in video-based research with a strong emphasis to improve student engagement and learning experience. Pedagogical strategies that have been found effective in the past, such as peer coaching have been brought back and incorporated into video-based lessons to encourage knowledge exchange and to influence students’ motivation in learning. Different video styles and presentation platforms have been explored and compared to develop best practices in video-based learning that not only produced videos which motivate students to watch again, but also raise learning outcomes. The option to follow up a video with a brief online assessment may also provide educators more opportunities to gauge students’ level of performance and offer individualised feedback, which we know is a powerful key.

Video-based learning should not be seen as a quick-fix for COVID-19. While we observe an important transformation to remote learning at the dawn of a new learning era, perhaps listening to what students are saying about their experiences and documenting what is working and what is not will help us to find creative solutions in addressing and improving the learning experience in the future.

Angel Tan is a PhD Student in the Department of Psychology at Edge Hill University. This piece is written as a follow-up to a post originally published in the COVID-19 blog on 27th May 2020 by Angel which can be found here.

Image by Joseph Mucira from Pixabay

Normalising ‘special’: Covid, online learning and those with special educational needs

Covid Anniversary Blog

A year ago, I was wondering how some educational practices could be changed in category from ‘special’ to ‘normal’ as a result of socially distanced practices, and what that might mean for our relationship with normality.

Online access to education had previously been campaigned for by disabled students with limited success, and where it was provided it was a ‘special’ accommodation. In response to Coronavirus, online access had become a ‘normal’ practice. The change in status of such accommodations, based upon evolving social practices, removes the illusion that barriers to access are the unavoidable and unfortunate consequences of an individual’s special educational needs or disability (SEND).

Instead, in mobilising our resources to make the world accessible to the majority, it appears many of the barriers that previously, and still exist are socially constructed, reflecting the social model of disability.

But, what has happened in the case of children with SEND accessing learning in the pandemic?

For some, school closures and online access have been a source of intense difficulty. Evidence provided to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for SEND shows that aspects such as differentiation and communication were forgotten for many during home learning activities. Supports were reduced or removed, and in some cases children’s hours of schooling reduced. The report explains that many stakeholders felt that learning for children with SEND was an ‘afterthought’, both during and after the school closures.

For other children, the evidence provided suggests that home learning provided relief from an environment that they never quite felt comfortable in. Shepherd and colleagues’ analysis of the perceptions of parents and carers shows that the lack of requirement for uniform, opportunities for developing independence, reduction of stress, and the flexibility brought about by online access were seen as positive outcomes. My own child reports the benefits of lockdown learning for him in this order: “No shoes, no uniform, no people, no sitting still or upright.”

It appears, then, that despite the rapidly changing categorisation of accommodations such as online access, the categories of ‘normal’ and ‘special’ in accommodations remained salient.

What fits into those categories has changed and changed again. The move to online access enabled some children with SEND to thrive whilst others were significantly disadvantaged. Perhaps, where accommodations are considered surplus or additional (‘special’), it can be easier to deprioritise them during times of threat and rapid change.

It might be useful to suggest that universal design learning could be a key factor in preventing children with SEND from being left behind or forgotten in times of rapid social change. In this context, all accommodations are normal. Where we always consider all potential pupils in our planning, instead of applying supports as extra/other, we promote inclusive learning environments that recognise and value human variation.

As Shepherd and colleagues suggest, what we have learned in the last year suggests that there is a post-pandemic potential for much greater flexibility and responsivity in education.

Michelle Dunne is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University. This piece is written as a follow-up to a post originally published in the COVID-19 blog on 29th May 2020 by Michelle which can be found here.

Photo by SeventyFour

After a Year, is it Time to Log Off?

Covid 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.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

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.

Image: alexsl

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

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.


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.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

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.

Photo by Arthur Krijgsman from Pexels

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


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

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.

Image by Jagrit Parajuli from Pixabay

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

Photo by Simon Matzinger from Pexels

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

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.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels