Film screening of Tested

On Thursday 9 November we are presenting a screening of a documentary about the selective schooling process in New York. It is a powerful commentary on class and race inequality in the USA state schooling system. The LA-based director Curtis Chin is visiting especially, and will do a Q&A session after the screening.

This is a collaboration with the DMU Media School and the Documentary Media Centre, who have secured a venue for the screening in the City Centre. As places are limited, attendance will be on a ‘first come first served’ basis via email, so please let Professor Sarah Younie (address below) if you would like to book a place. We look forward to seeing you there.

DMU, Institute for Education Futures and the Leicester Media School present:

‘Tested’ – Film screening and Q&A with Writer/Director Curtis Chin

Date and time: Thursday 9th November 2017 – 6pm-8.30pm

Location: Documentary Media Centre, 1st Floor, 10 Bishop Street, Leicester LE1 6AF

Presenter: LA-based Director – Curtis Chin

Registration: booking required, please email to confirm attendance

Key contact details: Prof Sarah Younie syounie@dmu.ac.uk


Curtis Chin is an LA-based independent documentary film maker, whose film explores students experiences of selective schooling in New York. Curtis states, ‘nabbing a spot in one of New York City’s best public high schools can change kids lives…but who gets in?’ This documentary, which follows a diverse group of students and explores critical issues of equal access, stereotypes, affirmative action and the model minority myth. For more information – www.testedfilm.com

A graduate of the University of Michigan, Curtis has won awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the San Diego Asian American Film Foundation. He has spoken at over 400 universities and non-profits in the US and internationally, with guest appearances on MSNBC, CNN and NPR, and in the publication Newsweek. He is currently a Visiting Scholar at NYU.

Screening in partnership with DMU Institute for Education Futures and Leicester Media School. For further information please see https://docmediacentre.wordpress.com/2017/10/18/programme-day-9-doc-media-month-2/

IEF Seminar: academic alienation

Our first seminar of the 2017/18 season will take place on Tuesday 31st October from 13:00-14:00 in Hugh Aston, room 2.32.

Richard Hall will be leading the following session:

On the alienation of academic labour and the possibilities for mass intellectuality


As one response to the secular crisis of capitalism, higher education is being proletarianised. Its academics and students, encumbered by precarious employment, overwhelming debt, and new levels of performance management, are shorn of any autonomy. Increasingly the labour of those academics and students is subsumed and re-engineered for value production, and is prey to the vicissitudes of the twin processes of financialisation and marketization. At the core of understanding the impact of these processes and their relationships to higher education is the alienated labour of the academic, as it defines the sociability of the University. This paper examines the role of alienated labour in academic work, and relates this to feelings of hopelessness (or world-weariness/Weltschmerz) and academic ill-being, in order to ask what might be done differently. The argument centres on the role of mass intellectuality, or socially-useful knowledge and knowing, as a potential moment for overcoming alienated labour.

Reading group: neoliberalism and primary education

Following on from our successful symposium on neoliberalism and primary education, we have convened a reading group to develop our thinking in this area.

Our first reading will be Alex Moore and Matthew Clarke’s article on ‘Cruel optimism’: teacher attachment to professionalism in an era of performativity. The full citation is:

Alex Moore & Matthew Clarke (2016) ‘Cruel optimism’: teacher attachment to professionalism in an era of performativity, Journal of Education Policy, 31:5, 666-677, DOI: 10.1080/02680939.2016.1160293


This study provides a critical exploration of the way teachers’ attachment to notions of professionalism may facilitate a process whereby teachers find themselves obliged to enact centralised and local education policies that they do not believe in but are required to implement. The study argues that professionalism involves an entanglement of (past) occupational and (present) organisational discourses and that the remainders of the former facilitate the enactment of the latter. The study draws on Berlant’s notion of cruel optimism to help understand this process, whereby teachers’ attachment to professionalism may assist them in undermining the very values they believe it embodies.

We will meet on Thursday September 14th in the Riverside Café at DMU, in the Vijay Patel Building, at midday. Please feel free to spread the word, as everyone is welcome.

If you have readings that you think we might engage with, please let either Mark Pulsford or me know. We intend to pull together a reference and resource list for researchers in this area.

Notes from our symposium on the impacts of neoliberal policy on the lived experiences of Primary school communities

We held our symposium on the Impacts of neoliberal policy on the lived experiences of Primary school communities last week. The abstract pack, with the background to the event, is available here.

In this post, I will briefly flag the key points that I took from each of our six presentations, and also from the questions and interventions that followed.

These notes should be read in conjunction with today’s National Union of Teachers’ report on the effects of SATs on children and teachers in primary schools. The report is called The SATs
effect: teachers’ verdict.

Richard Hall: I spoke about the rule of money, and how that comes to dominate our social relationships and the lived experiences of our school communities. I quote the Institute for Fiscal Studies report on Long-run comparisons of spending per pupil across different stages of education, which states (p. 32):

Overall, the picture of government spending on education has changed significantly over the last 25 years, with the focus of spending shifting towards earlier in youngsters’ lives. Most stages of education have seen significant real-terms increases in spending per pupil over this period, with 16–18 education a notable exception. However, the spending cuts expected in the coming years present a challenge to continuing to provide high-quality education at every stage.

This sense of the terrain moving under austerity is reinforced by the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act (2015). The act defines a new performance metric for education outcomes in higher education, namely the repayment of loans by course and institution. This is achieved by linking student outcomes to HMRC data, in order to predict the risk/return on Human Capital Investment. A key element of this is the ability to create incentive and reward structures for educational providers, by distinguishing those that engage with productive enterprise and employment outcomes.

The Education Evaluation fact sheet that accompanied the Bill notes its aim is as follows.

  • To provide new and improved information on learning outcomes by tracking students through education into the labour market.
  • To provide a broader range of performance data on education and training providers in the performance tables. This will secure a comprehensive accountability system and better informed interventions and policies.
  • To allow us to share, at student level, information on the destinations of former students with colleges in England and Wales. This will help to make destination measures (as a form of accountability measure) more comprehensive and robust and thus help schools and colleges with self-improvement.

This offers the possibility to track students longitudinally, and to situate primary education inside an ecosystem focused around human capital and lifetime labour market outcomes. This ecosystem is demarcated by competition between providers and individuals/families, externally imposed standards and accountability, and data or information flows that allow further financialisation and marketisation of the educational space (through the provision of services, institutional/individual loans, and trading in debt/debt-risk). Superficially, this ecosystem is revealed to us through issues of performance management and performativity, and the ways in which we internalise external standards and competition, in order that we can provide enriched data (from the EYFS profile onwards).

However if we delve deeper, we can trace the realities of performativity back to their root in alienated labour and the production/circulation of (economic/monetary) value in education. This connects issues of performance management to: the generation of human capital and employability skills (including a positive attitude in families to education choices and sustainable employment, resilience and social mobility etc.); the circulation and exchange of services as commodities inside schools; and the focus on schools generating surpluses and value-for-money. In this way it is important to delve below the surface of performance management to look at how labour and value shape the relationships inside our primary school communities (involving children, parents/carers, teachers, governors, local government, central government, management, private service providers, and so on). As a result we may be able to question whether alternatives might be generated.

Ross Purves spoke about music education, and in particular the contradictions of neoliberalism in reinforcing persistent inequities in young people’s opportunities to access and sustain engagement with music provision. Ross raised issues of teacher and pupil autonomy over creativity in the curriculum, and the monetisation of creativity.

Ross’s slides are available here..

Indrani Lahiri discussed migrant children’s schooling, in terms of a complex narrative of representation and intervention in the mediated public sphere. What does it mean to be a migrant inside institutions like schools? How are people othered in the spaces, and what is the relationship to the decolonisation of the curriculum, and the narratives that are reinforced through neoliberal governance inside our schools and the communities that they serve?

Indrani’s slides are available here..

Dave Cudworth spoke about A Spatial Exploration of Neo-Liberal Schooling, and lived spaces that might be changed as they are appropriated (both for good and for ill). Dave made me consider the relationship between performance management in both time and space. David Harvey has spoken about post modernism and space-time compression (and Einsteinian view of the world, as opposed to a Newtonian view). Here we might see spaces concrete, and time is abstract, with the latter as the form of value inside neoliberal capitalism. Dave also made me consider issues of emotional space and emotional time, which are increasingly squeezed out because they do not deliver value. Here there were links to Indrani’s talk in terms of issues of marginalisation in space and time, especially in relation to gender, ethnicity, issues of migration and so on.

Dave’s slides are available here..

Emily Forster spoke about Inclusion and the neoliberal education system. For Emily, the formal education system has long been the site in which concepts of ability and disability have been constructed. She argued that there is an inherent tension between inclusion and neoliberalism and that neoliberalism is a ‘normalising’ force. However, the fact that they exist at the same time in an increasingly diverse education system means that inclusion can provide the means to resist neoliberalism. Emily made me consider the ways in which we forge, create and reproduce society, inside a performance-based culture (where we are increasingly quantified). How are ideas of gender, disability, ethnicity constructed? How do they intersect or interlock?

Emily’s slides are available here.

Mark Pulsford spoke about the mutually-defining relationship between male Primary school teachers and the ‘local community’. For Mark, a key issue is whether teachers can now be seen as active agents of neoliberalism. He argues that the ‘male’ and ‘teacher’ identities forged by and for these men are entwined with – and indeed even dependent on – notions of the ideal/deficient parent and the typical pupil from the ‘local area’. These notions revolve around an image of a ‘broken’ society in which ‘traditional’ values, as encased in the moral primacy of the normative family structure, have disintegrated. Here the argument is that context produces people, and therefore that male role models actors superheroes that can mend broken communities, as agents of neoliberalism. Here, fetishisation is central.

Mark’s slides are available here..

Other issues that were raised during the symposium related to:

  • the cognitive dissonance deployed by teachers who lack autonomy/power-over their curricula and classrooms, for whom the delivery of targets is potentially dehumanising;
  • the role of parents and carers in schooling, and in developing human capital;
  • the role of parents and carers in the relationship between schools and the State, and the implications for pupils
  • issues of pervasive prejudice, colourblind norms and perceptual segregation in schooling.

A few questions arose for me towards the end of the day, in no particular order.

  • Who does choice favour, and how is the choice agenda/personalisation fetishised against the idea of the quantified self and self-regulation (by pupils and their families/carers, by teachers, and by school management)?
  • How are bodies placed, inside rooms and activities, as opposed to having autonomy for sensuous activity?
  • Our teachers, pupils, families, communities seen as problems to be fixed? Are certain bodies, people, schools or communities seen as desirable?
  • What does progress look like in this context of an ablest culture, where standardisation and benchmarking allegedly leads to rational choices.
  • Where schools are a reflection of what society values, are we too focused on the idea of performative, professional patriarchs? Here, what is the relationship between morality, sin and resilience?

An outcome from the event beyond this blog post is the potential for a special issue/call for papers in relation to the lived experiences of Primary school communities under neoliberal governance. We are also considering a reading group, and a forum for sharing ideas and projects.

IEF Shut Up and Write session

Shut Up and Write –Launching 10 July!

This is a lively social writing approach that combines intensive writing with a sociable, scholarly atmosphere. It is open to all DMU Staff and Research Students (MPhil/PhD) and takes place every week. The session contains up to 90 minutes of intensive writing in 25 minute bursts. Arrive at 12:30, 1pm or 1:30pm and stay for as many rounds as you like. No critique, no judgement, just shut up and write! For further information see the attached PDF.

Date: Monday 10 July then weekly from that date except Monday 7 August 2017

Time: 12:30-2:00pm

Location: at The Kimberlin Library’s Collaboratory space (formerly the Con-fucius Centre, Opposite Gateway House).

Email: Jason Eyre (jeyre@dmu.ac.uk) for more information

Booking: none required just turn up and write.

NOTE: Andrew Reeves and Stephen Handsley from the IEF Organising Committee will be attending the session on Monday 31 July. There will be an informal chance to network over coffee in the SCR from 11.30am that day, followed by the Shut Up and Write session from 12.30pm. If you have any queries, and in order that we can judge demand for the session (or for future sessions focused on pedagogic and education research), please email Andrew (areeves@dmu.ac.uk).

Symposium: Impacts of neoliberal policy on the lived experiences of Primary school communities

Wednesday June 28th 2017

Convenors: Dr Mark Pulsford and Professor Richard Hall.

Neoliberal policy in Primary schooling symposium_abstract pack for attendees.


A recent open-invitation to apply for a PhD Scholarship exploring the impact of neoliberal policy on the lived experience of school communities in UK Primary education generated considerable interest, suggesting there is latent theoretical and practice-based concern in this area amongst DMU staff, students and their networks.

In light of this, we propose to develop a special interest group focused on the ways that neoliberal policy agendas infect and inflect the daily experiences of members of Primary school communities, be that pupils, teachers, middle and senior leaders, Teaching Assistants, peripatetic teachers, parents, Governors, donors, Faith groups, Local Authorities, Academy Trusts, ITT providers, and so on. This special interest group aims to organise reading groups, symposia, conferences and become a hub for research work in this area, including doctoral study.

To that end, we wish to convene a symposium in June 2017 that launches, forms and begins to shape the themes explored by this group. You are invited to contribute to this symposium, whether that be an academic paper/talk, panel discussion topic, poster or other form of representation. This call is exclusively open to DMU staff and students.

A further aim of the symposium is to generate publishable outputs, and the convenors intend to develop a Special Issue around this subject for a peer-reviewed academic journal with the hope that many of the symposium contributions and contributors be included in this.

Areas of interest

  • We are seeking contributions for this symposium that ground neoliberal policies and logics in the everyday routines and practices within Primary school communities. How is current education policy, framed by a neoliberal policy agenda, concretised in the mundane happenings in classrooms, playgrounds, staffrooms and offices? What can we offer to the emerging corpus of research on the ‘quotidian neoliberalisations’ (Ball and Olmedo, 2013, p.85) of educational settings and engagements? What are the pedagogical issues, implications and im/possibilities emerging in this space?
  • A consideration of how – or to what extent – disadvantage and inequality becomes normalised and accepted would be welcome, including analyses of the mechanisms and blind-spots via which this functions. Therefore explicitly addressing policies and practices of inclusion, diversity, equality and community involvement would be desirable.
  • In order to push this area of scholarship forward, the symposium would especially like to engage with a range of theoretical lenses, tools and frameworks that can be employed to make sense of the everyday experiences within Primary school communities in the contemporary period. We see these as potential resources for mapping – maybe even prompting – resistances and re-workings that challenge the neoliberal paradigm. Such resistances and re-workings might emerge through consideration of:
    • spatial theory;
    • new materialist approaches;
    • body, affect and emotion;
    • queer studies;
    • critical disability studies;
    • critical race theory;
    • critical pedagogy;
    • assemblage theory, and so on.
  • Whilst we intend to develop a special focus on the Primary sector, this does not preclude contributions from researchers whose empirical examples are from informal education settings or other phases of education (e.g. Secondary, FE, HE), but which have a theoretical or practical application to Primary school communities and its members’ experiences.

Next steps

If you have any questions or want to notify us of your interest in being involved in the special interest group, please contact both/either Richard (RHall1@dmu.ac.uk) or Mark (mpulsford@dmu.ac.uk).

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