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Early view – Hard Graft: Collaborative exploration of working class stories in shaping female educator identities


This empirical qualitative study investigates the ways in which working-class roots have shaped educator values and identity. Using collaborative autoethnography, we share an honest insight into the stories of seven female educators drawn together from a variety of health and social care disciplines.

The five themes emerging from this research: Connection through differences and commonalities; graft; inner tensions; authenticity ‘I am who I am’ and the bigger picture are tightly interconnected, generating a complex and rich picture of contemporary female educator identity. This supportive and collaborative approach has been transformational in the realisation we are not alone, and it has provided a space to celebrate our ‘otherness’. As a result, we have embraced our collective responsibility to challenge inequalities and foster a more open, accessible and authentic HE future for all.

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“Striving, Thriving and Making a Difference”- a conference with and for children impacted by parental imprisonment

Help, Reach Out, Assistance, Hand, Support, Reaching

Abstract This blog reflects on the Youth and Young Adult Track of a 3 day online global conference (INCCIP 2021), which is for and about children of incarcerated parents.  The youth and young adult track was the first of its kind; an opportunity for impacted young people to come together from around the world to discuss their experiences. This programme was essentially a conference within a conference, and this blog is a reflection from the lead of the youth/young adult track.

Experiences from the lead of the Youth Track, and INCCIP Board Member.

INCCIP (International Coalition for Children of Incarcerated Parents) is a global charity that aims to improve the lives of children who are impacted by parental incarceration across the world. Every 2-years INCCIP holds an international conference that brings together practitioners, researchers, policy makers and young people who share this passion and aim. In 2017 we met for our inaugural conference in New Zealand; in 2019 we met in the UK; this year we had planned to meet in Washington USA, but the pandemic hit, and we were forced to move our conference online.

After many days, week and months of restrictions, isolations and lockdowns around the world, where Zoom and similar online platforms have become our norm, you would be forgiven for imaging a three-day online conference to be tiring, energy draining and perhaps something you might log onto with your screen off, whilst doing other tasks. Yet INCCIP’s 2021 conference was nothing like this! I am not exaggerating when I tell you that this one of the most inspiring, uplifting, mind-opening and heart-opening conference I have ever had the pleasure of being involved in.

This conference had two tracks; the Main Track for those sharing local, national, and global challenges, academic papers and good practice, and the Youth and Young Adult Track, a safe space where young people aged 13-25yrs could come together to share how it feels to be a child who has experienced parental imprisonment, what helps them, and the ways in which they strive in the face of this adversity. This was the track I had the honour of being asked to lead and facilitate.

Of course, an online conference, with young people living in different time zones is no easy feat. Checking and re-checking intended log-on times in the preparation phase and making sure to be up to date with Daylight Saving Time Zones became a near-daily occurrence. Moreover, as this was my first time facilitating a youth conference over the internet, I was nervous about how I could make sure the participants felt safe and supported at all times. In any environment, talking about parental imprisonment is a sensitive affair; reading the mood of the room, picking up body language queues and adjusting my groups accordingly is the way I practice, so the barrier of screens, with camera’s that may or may not be on, had to be thought through carefully. Parental / caregiver consent was naturally sought for those 17yrs and under, and for an extra layer of protection, we made available an online ‘Safe-Guardian’; a person who they could talk to in the breakout rooms if they needed any additional support.

I am delighted to tell you that across the three days, a whopping 32 young people came together from across the globe; mostly from the UK, USA, Canada and Uganda. It is noteworthy that children from Uganda logged on from a shared phone from a children’s residential home ( they live in, set up specifically for children who have been separated from their primary caregivers due to imprisonment. In our programme, co-designed and co facilitated by my brilliant and committed colleagues Jessica Reid from Canada ( and Katie Kramer from the USA ( welcomed inspiring key notes speakers; young adults in university, postgraduates, rising stars in their careers who shared with us their stories of success in spite of the trauma’s they had suffered. Of course, stories naturally included difficult experiences and memories, stigmatization, grief and loss. Across our international group, children and young adults spoke of guns to heads, being scared for their lives, witnessing (commonly violent) arrests, a child’s right to privacy being ignored and abused by the media, the sharing of their information without due consent or legitimate necessity, the constant battle of being exposed to negative rhetoric’s and discrimination, and sadly some of our group even reported the death of their primary caregivers.

Nonetheless, in the midst of our difficult conversations this was a positive and happy group. Sessions were opened and closed by each member choosing from memes to represent their feelings, (eg “what crazy cat are you today?” or “what marvel character represents you this session?”). We also had a ‘show and tell’ of items that meant family to us; one young boy showed us the photo he keeps by his bed of his dad and him; a young woman showed us her grandmothers ring who raised her when her mother was incarcerated. These were the kind of things we shared. We also talked about some positive ways that social media could help change the rhetoric for impacted youth, and we picked the winners of the stuffed animal competition from the main track. Indeed, the Youth and Young Adults Track was really only part of a whole; a whole incredible wider conference, led by the inspirational super-woman that is Dr Avon Hart-Johnson from Walden University and the president and founder of DC Project Connect ( The whole conference program can be seen here:

Even a quick flick of this digital booklet will demonstrate the enormity of what was achieved. Within this plethora of incredible contributors, I was able to share my own research (“My Zoom-Time. 1:1 Support over Zoom for children with a parent in prison during the Covid19 Pandemic UK Lockdown”) with my esteemed colleague and friend Angie Daly from the LJMU School of Education. Also, from our school, was Bisnhu Subedi, a PhD student speaking about his work on how children with a mother in prison in Nepal thrive which was met with great interest across the community. Younger children with lived experience were also represented via their virtual art exhibition, created and narrated by the children from Time-Matters UK, with a little support from yours truly. ( importantly we were able to co-ordinate young adults from the youth track by ‘remotely jumping’ into the main track to share our discussions with the wider delegates and remind them of our hopes for the future. One clip from a Youth Ambassador Check can be found on the updated conference page (

Here are some of the things we learnt. We learnt that we must stop pathologizing young people; predicting negative outcomes. We must allow impacted children and adults to share their story in their own time and that’s even if they want to. We must address the sharing of children’s home addresses through the media, removing a child’s privacy and safety in their own homes. Mostly, however, we learnt that great things can be achieved in times of trouble. This incredible conference, hailed as a huge success by all who attended, was born and delivered in Covid times. But most of all, youth and young adults with lived experience, with support and compassion, can and do Strive, Thrive and Make a Difference!

Coming soon – Special Edition on Doctoral Research in Education

Lightbulb, Workplace, Laptop, Idea, Inspiration

We are delighted to announce the imminent publication of a special edition of PRISM, which brings together seven papers authored by postgraduate research students arising from the 1st International Doctoral Research Conference in Education hosted by the Centre for Educational Research (CERES) at Liverpool John Moores University.

Over 500 participants registered for the event delivered via videoconferencing from over 17 different countries just as the first lockdowns were occurring due to COVID-19. The conference involved over 60 presentations and addressed a wide range of themes, from initial teacher education to the role of digital technologies, decolonising the curriculum and the philosophy of education.

The event was inspired by the theme of ‘resilience in doctoral research’, an apt one at a time of significant disruption to research students. The special edition bears the fruits of this and includes a selection of papers authored by postgraduate research students.

We are particularly pleased to be able to showcase this research because it aligns to the ethos of Prism foregrounding new voices and innovative thinking in educational practice.

Editorial: The Mission of Integration

Hands, Cohesion, Together, People, Support, Help

Genealogy: ‘I set out from a problem expressed in the terms current today and I try to work out its genealogy. Genealogy means that I begin my analysis from a question posed in the present’, (Foucault, in Garland, 2014, p. 367).

The papers featured in this special edition set out from ‘a problem in the present’, the problem of a civic nationalist agenda in UK government education policy and practice which has redefined the relationship between educators and students through the requirements of the Prevent Duty and fundamental British values. To work out its genealogy, we set out a brief chronological outline of what we characterise as the civic nationalist agenda in UK education policy and practice before we turn to the critical perspectives offered by the papers in this special edition.

Prism special edition, The Mission of Integration, available to view here

The case for university education: reflections on the value and benefits

College Student, Library, Books, A Book, To Learn

I listened to the program ‘The case against education’ from the series ‘Thought cages’ with great interest (Rajam, 2018). The presenter and guests discussed about the drawbacks of education, mainly in relation to a book called ‘The case against education’ by Professor Brian Caplan (2018). I was grateful to this programme for encouraging me to reflect on my place of work and our practices. These were some of my thoughts: 

School vs University

The presenters refer sometimes to schools, and sometimes to universities.  For me, they are completely different situations. I feel that universities are much more flexible and adaptable, and they offer a much more positive learning experience. I did my schooling in Greece. I was a keen pupil, but I felt that everything the school ‘touched’, became uninteresting and tedious. I studied at university level both in Greece and the UK, and I felt that university education really inspired me and made me interested in what I was taught. So perhaps my opinion reflects this experience. I have heard of new approaches to school teaching such as forest schools (Harris, 2018) and the ‘hole in the wall’ project (Mitra, 2003), which perhaps could provide opportunities for a much-needed school reform.  

Employment vs Education

The discussion seemed to make a distinction between education at university and working in a job. However, I feel that the world of work and university are much more intermingled than the presenters suggest.  For example, many undergraduate students work throughout their degree, sometimes in several jobs. The jobs tend to be in service or retail. Additionally, some universities offer apprenticeship degrees and work placement, or a workplace might fund the worker to complete a course. I am teaching MSc conversion psychology students, who often investigate topics relevant to their work. Their workplace is frequently interested in the results of their studies.  

Furthermore, individuals tend to change jobs, rather than stay in one job for their whole lifetime. Even if we stay in the same job, they are usually asked to attend training in order to advance their skills and adapt to the latest developments. Universities can provide this life-long training. 

I am aware though that the presenters mainly referred to undergraduates that go to university immediately after school. I must admit, working with what is called ‘mature’ students is particularly rewarding. Perhaps it might be true that they are getting more out of the course than 18-year-olds. What are the benefits for society and individuals to start studying at university when they are 18, as opposed to studying later on in their life? I do not have an immediate answer to that. I think at 18, individuals are still developing, and being in an environment that encourages them to develop academic and social skills is beneficial. But it is certainly something to keep pondering about, whether even a gap-year between school and university might be beneficial.  Employers relying on grades

The presenters refer to the fact that employers rely on grades to decide who to employ. I am surprised they do; we all know grades do not reflect all the students’ strengths, interests and aspirations.  I constantly advise the students that grades are not the only thing that they should think about, and that they should, say, work on online portfolios, research experience, writing, and so on.  

Useful vs useless knowledge

Some claim that we should not measure education in terms of practical benefits for the individual or society, but for its ability to transform the individual through engagement with knowledge and change their perception of who they are and what they can do (Ashwin, 2020). I do agree with this view, but I do also understand the need to take stock and assess the value the universities bring to individuals and societies. 

At university the whole educational ecosystem, with lecturers, tutors, academic skill services, online resources, clubs, and so on, create an environment where students can experiment, learn and develop important skills.  

I do get the point that university can sometimes train students to be subservient. I do worry about that, when we ask the students to write an essay on a certain topic that we set, then leave that topic and do another essay in a completely different topic, which might not be of interest to them, instead of letting them follow their interests. And of course, students learn to associate scholarly work with marks, rather than for the love of knowledge. However, there are ways to mitigate that and within universities there is a lot innovation in teaching and space for students to experiment and follow their interests.  

Here are some examples. In our department, for their third-year dissertation project, students are given the freedom to come up with their own project. Additionally, there are units where the students are encouraged to come up with their own essay titles. Furthermore, in our university, ‘special interest groups’ have been introduced during the covid-19 crisis, that are not linked to any assessment. Students can attend purely out of interest.  These courses were very popular, and I heard from students that they really enjoyed them. I ran a similar course on creative writing that encourages students to develop their own writing according to their interests. Last but not least, James and Nerantzi (2019) include showcases of lecturers that incorporate play within university courses to encourage students’ creativity. Closing remarks

As a closing remark, I am grateful to the radio programme for sparking these reflections. I will certainly read the book ‘The case against education’ by Professor Brian Caplan (2018) and take notes as to how to adjust my teaching practices so that I can best benefit students, and hopefully society at large.   


Ashwin, P. (2020). Gaining knowledge is what makes a degree valuable, not graduate salaries or transferable skills. The Conversation.

Harris, F. (2018). Outdoor learning spaces: The case of forest school. Area.  50: 222– 231. 

James, A. and Nerantzi, C. (2019). The power of play in higher education: Creativity in tertiary learning, London: Palgrave Macmillan. 

Mitra, S. (2003). Minimally Invasive Education: A progress report on the “Hole-in-the-wall” experiments. British Journal of Educational Technology. 34. 367 – 371. 10.1111/1467-8535.00333.

Rajam, S. (2018). The case against education. BBC radio 4.

Unterhalter, E. (2020). Universities enrich communities, as well as educating students – new research. The Conversation.

On disability and education: the double-edged nature of the solutions proposed as antidotes to the pandemic


Myself and a colleague deliver a course called Disability Studies with Inclusive Practice in the University Centre of a Further Education College. Recently, as part of a recruitment drive for the course, we held a forum, on the Covid19 pandemic, inviting employers and industry specialists to join us. The forum entitled, ‘Disability and Inclusion: Empowering staff to make a difference during Covid’, discussed the socio-technical aspects of the pandemic; more specifically, how the most marginalised in society have been simultaneously advantaged and disadvantaged by it. 

We discussed examples of the enabling use of technology including: (1) social media sites facilitating online music groups and educational sessions (2) e-commerce sites that maintain vital routines like shopping and (3) communication tools that maintain contact with family and friends. The technology has often been nothing short of life changing.

The 2020 lockdown has spurred many adults, including the elderly, to experiment with technology (Ravneberg and Soderstrom, 2018; Buckingham, 2006). Older students, new to the use of technology, attended lessons on Teams: sharing screens, producing PowerPoints with voice-overs, and communicating virtually. Something, they could only have dreamed about only a couple of years ago. In short, the use of technology in lockdown has changed lives. 

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news. Forum attendees noted that too many of the most marginalised, either, had no access to technology or lacked the skill to use it. This led the marginalised to feel isolation or trapped. When the lockdown began support services moved online, including the emotional wellbeing service that many depend upon. Simply put, those without access to the technology could not use the services. 

Within our course and the wider University Centre, a flurry of students began to miss lessons. Some students were furloughed or made redundant and for those unable to access technology claiming benefits became a real issue. One forum member commented that when claiming benefits speaking to an actual person was almost impossible. Digital poverty became an issue that even the government had to acknowledge.

Solutions have been identified, for example, face-to-face drop-ins to teach computer literacy to the digitally excluded. These interventions, funded by the European Social Fund, had strict eligibility criteria for accessing the course. Participants had to provide examples of identity like passports and driving licences. Ironically, in demonstrating eligibility, students demonstrated they did not need it. 

Meanwhile, the University Centre went out of its way to provide laptops and sim cards to improve connectivity and allow for universal student participation. Again, somewhat ironically, the forms to apply were hosted online. In the end, the University Centre left no student unsupported by technology; but this was largely a testament to the efforts of the students, tutors, wider support staff and management who found innovative ways to support students through a particularly challenging time in their academic journey.  

This seems to dovetail neatly with the idea of technology as both enabling and disabling. On the Disability Studies course, we use the social model of disability. Those writing from a social model perspective understand disability to be a relationship between a person, their body, the cultural and material environment that they find themselves in. This expanded understanding of disability speaks to those who find their experience of social and cultural life challenging. For example, lockdown further disabled users by not having raised desks or chairs at home that would enable them to work comfortably. In the classroom, such furniture is now a standard expectation (The Equalities office 2010). Access to technology without access to the accompanying furniture continues to disable people as much as the lack of technology.  By reading the accounts of participants in the online seminar, we can see how unequal access to resources can be oppressive. The technology creates new structures of inequality, enablement, and disablement. Some do well, others struggle!

Technology offers a way of overcoming obstacles, and lockdown has been a catalyst in illustrating a way forward; however, the issues facing the disabled are not just technological but also cultural and material. In simple terms, even when the technology is available it is not always available to those who need it most.  In the end, it is often the cultural and material barriers that need to be recognised and overcome to enable everyone to fulfill their potential. 

Buckingham, D (2006), Children and New Media in (Lievrouw and Livingston, S (eds). The handbook of new media updated student edition, pp75-91. London: Sage 

The Equalities Office, (2010) Equality Act, London: HMSO 

Hernandez, K. and Roberts, T. (2018). Leaving No One Behind in a Digital World. K4D Emerging 

Issues Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies 

Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (2019), English indices of deprivation 2019 [online] at:  accessed 23/06/2021 

Ravneberg, B and Soderstrom, S (2018), Disability, Society and Assistive Technology, Abingdon: Routledge 

Beyond perfection: Reclaiming death in and for education

Death, Darkness, Dark, Hood, Hooded, Ghost, Demon, Man


In associating death with education, this paper explores how the death register, and in particular the denial of death, is reflected in the treatment of contemporary education, aiming to construct the future as an object of knowledge for providing certainty and authority. Through a reading of Gert Biesta’s theoretical considerations, I discuss how educational systems scientifically explained and measured are created to be fixed (or healed), in pursuit of a type of education as a social apparatus to enable or reach for a perfect future. I argue however, that such medical-like treatment runs the risk of negating the complex, relational, and fragile qualities of educational life.

Into the second part, I offer new perspectives on death and loss to be imagined as occasions for emancipation within pedagogical encounters between subjects; giving space for unpredictability, riskiness, ambiguity, and messiness to occur. My overall contention is that when desires of immortality overpower an appreciation of the finitude and fragility of all things, a part of life is denied.

When education is not confronted with important and challenging questions on its purposes, this should be considered dangerous or even lethal for a safe system to thrive; we miss out on what is educational in education, we miss an encounter with reality.

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Early view: Talking Tolerance: Being Deliberative about Fundamental British Values

Solution, Reconciliation, Peace, Relationship


This article reconsiders the literature on civic nationalism and argues that, rather than representing an alternative to ethno-cultural nationalism, it is more accurate to think of the two terms at either end of a continuum. Whilst the fundamental British values (FBVs) are often interpreted through a cultural discourse, which serves to alienate and marginalise minoritised students and staff, this article demonstrates how teaching can avoid this framing and engage students with a civic discourse.

Transcripts from secondary students’ conversations about religious freedom illustrate that they are capable of balancing rights sensitively, of reaching pragmatic solutions and demonstrating sympathy for others. This demonstrates that the FBVs may create opportunities for developing an ethics of care within a deliberative democratic project.

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Inspired by a paragraph: a reflection on factors that influence student engagement


This piece focuses on factors that can influence student engagement in higher education. During a challenging year due to the Covid-19 crisis, university staff did their best to adapt to online teaching, and there was considerable focus on online activities to engage and support the students.  Here, I reflect on a case of a student that was inspired more by a low-tech project proposal, and less so by other intricate synchronous and asynchronous educational activities. Interest in the subject as a motivation for learning is discussed.

Keywords: Interest, motivation, student engagement, inspiration, higher education

How can we inspire students to engage with their studies at university? Although there is considerable contact with lecturers and other students, that is certainly not enough; students are required to spend a long time engaging with the reading material on their own. How can we motivate and inspire them to do so?  

I would like to share an incident that made an impression on me in relation to the educational adjustments and student engagement in the situation of the covid-19 crisis. It highlights the importance of interest as a motivating factor for student engagement. 

During the Covid-19 crisis, many universities decided to invest in online tools and deliver most of the teaching online. As lecturers and unit leaders we did our best to adjust to the new reality of online, flipped-classroom teaching, where each unit was delivered in a blocked, condensed fashion, in twice the speed compared to the face-to-face delivery (for more details see Harkin & Nerantzi (2020); Chatzidamianos & Nerantzi, (2020), Nerantzi & Chatzidamianos (2020)). We had to re-think our teaching and the use of technology in relation to education, and we really tried to engage, inspire and support the students, who we knew were going through a challenging time. Our efforts included the design of new activities, new types of software, break-out rooms, funny hats, experiments, in-house podcasts, creative writing workshops and use of art and music, to name but a few.  According to Nixon et al (2016), from the point of view of lecturers, inspiring teaching is related to the experience of teaching and learning, the curriculum design, and the relationship between students and teachers. But what about the student perspective?

The student in question was highly motivated and focused on their studies, but felt that none of the material they encountered really interested them. The student seemed apprehensive about their studies and the 3rd-year project.    

At a later date the student informed me that they had read a summary and a suggested peer-reviewed study for a potential 3rd-year project by a colleague. The student noted that this was the most interesting topic they had come across during their studies and was anxious whether their application for the project would be successful.  I had never seen this student so enthusiastic about their studies. It was not the sophisticated software and our elaborate online synchronous or asynchronous activities that inspired this student, but a fairly low-tech project proposal, summarized in a paragraph, written on a word document, and an accompanied peer-reviewed paper.  The paragraph encouraged the students to think of research projects in a particular research area, and in relation to the accompanied academic paper.  

The incident made me think of the importance of interest as a motivator for learning. Interest in the subject is a powerful motivator (Harackiewicz et al, 2016). Harackiewicz et al (2016) make the distinction between situational and individual interest. Situational interest refers to ‘a psychological state characterized by increased attention, effort, and affect, experienced in a particular moment’ (p 2), while individual interest is a long-lasting inclination to engage with a certain topic over time. In this example, the student had an enduring interest in a certain area, and the project proposal evoked situational interest. Harackiewicz et al (2016) suggests that it is important to ignite and maintain interest, both by providing activities to stimulate interest and attention to a subject, as well as opportunities to connect academic topics with existing interests of the students.  Personalized content is not always possible to achieve in a unit with large numbers of students, but it is certainly feasible in the context of a 3rd year individual project.  

This experience has influenced my own teaching practice.  I will make sure that each reference in the bibliography for the unit I teach is accompanied by a paragraph informing the student why the paper is important and inviting them to think how they could follow it up. Reading peer-reviewed papers is a very important scholarly activity. In my experience, students tend to find it difficult to engage with academic papers. A brief introduction that gives them some context can ignite their interest for the academic papers could help them engage with the literature.  

I would not claim that educational technology and intricate and diverse pedagogical techniques are not important. They certainly are, and I will always be exploring new teaching methods and technologies.  Students are a very diverse population, with different interests and needs. I think that employing a variety of activities, will make it more likely that most students will be engaged and inspired. However, this incident made me reflect on the importance of interest as a motivation for learning, and it made me aware that sometimes a simple engaging introduction and a research question is all that is needed to inspire an emerging scholar. 

Theoretical approaches to the study of fundamental British values (FBV)

Jane Louise McDonnell
Manchester Metropolitan University
Keywords: Fundamental British values, Radical democracy

This article explores some of the critical instruments available to researchers investigating civic nationalist policy and practice via a review of the theoretical approaches that have been brought to bear on one such instance of national education policy, i.e. ‘fundamental British values’ (FBV) in England.

The article offers a review of some key theoretical perspectives that have been applied to the study of FBV before offering some reflection on additional theoretical resources that might extend and compliment the insights that these provide. Specifically, I argue that concepts and interventions from the theoretical literature described as ‘radical democracy’ might be of particular use in complementing and extending some of the analysis of FBV in the existing literature.

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