Tag Archives: Education

Summer Institute in Urban Studies 2014 – Some Reflections!

Elnaz Ghafoorikoohsar (SEED), Gwyneth Lonergan (SoSS) and Elisa Pieri (SoSS) reflect on their participation in the first Summer Institute in Urban Studies …

cities@manchester’s Summer Institute in Urban Studies took place last (30 June – 4 July) at the University of Manchester. The twenty eight participants – selected out of the 180 plus applicants – came from across the UK, Europe, Australia and North America, and brought with them a wide variety of research interests and experience. What united them was a keen interest in cities, whether in Europe, the United States, Africa, East Asia or the Indian Subcontinent.

Participants get to work!

The Institute provided an excellent opportunity for lively discussion on many of the pressing theoretical issues in urban studies today, including notions of urban assemblages, policy mobilities and the worlding of different cities, various forms of gentrification, sustainability, sustainable development, and climate change, and politics and post-politics in the city. Many speakers discussed the various methodological implications of studying the urban, and how to engage in academic practice that is ethically and politically responsible and accountable. Ultimately, we were interested in thinking reflexively about the future of urban studies and our role in the field. We were fortunate to hear presentations from leading urban studies scholars, both from within and from outside of the University of Manchester. These included speakers working outside of academia, in NGOs and in policy circles. Manchester’s own experience of post-industrial regeneration provided a case study, with a panel of speakers on this topic and a walking tour of East Manchester regeneration sites.


The Institute also gave participants a chance to consider many of the challenges facing early career researchers, including interdisicplinarity, different publication formats and strategies, ethical dimensions of academic research and practice, and engagement with stakeholders outside of academia. A large component of the program was devoted to professional development – for example, effective teaching, and curricular development, writing funding applications, securing a post following completion of the PhD, and planning a career trajectory. Many participants found this career guidance especially valuable, as they had not received any such advice as PhD students. Moreover, with participants coming from a wide variety of countries, it allowed us to exchange information and ideas about the different national research cultures and expectations.


The week was intense with participants enthusiastically engaged with all of the sessions, and we also enjoyed a friendly, sociable atmosphere.   The program allowed participants to explore issues with peers at a similar career stage as well as with more experienced academics, in a supportive environment. There was achieved through a mixture of both formal and informal opportunities for discussion and socialising. Many of these were classroom based, although highly varied, including a daily plenary as well as smaller workshops. Participants were expected to play an active role, completing preparatory reading in addition to chairing a panel, or acting as discussants. These activities were complemented by the walking tour, and the use of multimedia materials, including film, to stimulate discussion. An ‘official’ institute dinner was held at Yang Sing on the Thursday evening, but there were plenty of other opportunities for informal after hours socialising. Even as the Institute ended on Friday, there were already plans being made among many participants for future collaborations.


Challenging Homophobia in Manchester: Theatre and Education

Royal Exchange Theatre - image from purplemattfish via flickr

Many of you will know the stunning Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester City Centre. A grade II listed building it was originally used as a cotton and textile exchange and like much of Manchester’s industrial heritage has been reappropriated for cultural purposes. The main theatre has a unique architectural design; a seven-sided construction free-standing in the centre of the Great Hall. Designed by Richard Negri it is the largest in-the-round theatre in the UK. The theatre hosts a full schedule of high profile touring performances (drama, music and dance) as well as working with local and emerging writers and directors. However the Royal Exchange’s role in the city is not limited to staging productions.

While in some ways it is less visible, the work of their Education team is central to what the theatre does. Through this they engage with adults, children, schools, colleges and community groups from all kinds of backgrounds. Part of this work is simply making it easier and cheaper for people to attend performances who might not otherwise do so.  They also run a host of events and activities aimed at opening the Exchange to a wider range of people and enhance their theatre experience. Amanda Dalton and her Education team collaborate with all kinds of individuals and organisations to deliver workshops and classes as well as projects attached to specific plays.

One recent example of a play-attached project is ‘I Can Dream, Can’t I?’ which ran alongside a staging of Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing in November 2011. The play deals with the emerging sexuality of two teenage boys who develop a relationship in a working class area of London in the 1980’s. Supported by Manchester Pride, other partners on the project were the Albert Kennedy Trust (who help vulnerable LGBT young people find supportive places to live) and the Lesbian and Gay Foundation.

For this project workshop facilitator Mandy Precious (currently Director of Burnley Youth Theatre) devised and led a series of workshops at LGF and in communities around Greater Manchester, in response to a brief from the Exchange. The workshops were attended by LGBT teenagers who were interested in trying their hand at playwriting. Mandy has lots of experience co-ordinating workshops and as a director and writer and has worked with the Royal Exchange Education team on numerous projects over the years.

Working with Mandy the young people responded to extracts from the play Beautiful Thing and explored their perceptions and experiences of being LGBT teenagers today. Professional actors were engaged by the theatre and directed by director Sam Pritchard to create a presentation of the work of the young people alongside commissioned pieces from prominent lesbian and gay professional writers including Jackie Kay, Antony Cotton, Tom Wells and Stella Duffy.

It was this project which inspired Jackie Stacey, organiser of the Sexuality Summer School at the University of Manchester, to get in touch with the Royal Exchange about working together.  Now in its 5th year, the Summer School brings together postgraduates and researchers working in the broadly defined area of sexuality studies. The Summer School is comprised of an intensive programme of masterclasses and discussions, lectures, film screenings and performances and always has some public elements (details below). Over the years the Summer School has worked with Cornerhouse, the Library Theatre and (the now sadly defunct) Queer Up North festival.

Sexuality School Poster

The theme for this year’s Summer School is ‘Homophobia and Other Aversions’ and Jackie was keen to find creative ways for the students to think this through.  Working with the Royal Exchange and Mandy Precious, and funded by cities@manchester, the Summer School will run a writing workshop for students called ‘Challenging Homophobia in Manchester: Empowering LGBT young people through creative writing and theatre’.

Participatory work like this and the ‘I Can Dream, Can’t I?’ project are a central and vital part of the life of the Royal Exchange.  Amanda Dalton explains, “we genuinely believe that taking part in theatre, as audience, writers, makers or performers, can transform people’s lives. We hope that projects such as these really do empower participants and enhance their confidence and self esteem, as well as celebrating their creativity, voice and the power of the written word – especially powerful when it is shared in a live space.”

The collaboration is also a great example of how the University can work together with cultural organisations in the city around common interests.  The Summer School students will get a chance to think about homophobia from a new perspective and with a different set of critical and creative tools.  These partnerships are very important to the Summer School.  Jackie Stacey explains, “since the demise (due to Arts Council funding cuts) of the international Arts Festival, Queer Up North, with whom the Sexuality Summer School used to collaborate, it has become crucial for us to find new partners in Manchester with whom we can work to sustain the more creative aspects of this postgraduate event. This year’s collaboration with the Royal Exchange Theatre (via the Albert Kennedy Trust) is very exciting and promises to be a highlight of the summer school.”

About the Sexuality Summer School:

The Sexuality Summer School has been held annually by the CSSC since 2008. The Sexuality Summer School is coordinated by the Centre for the Study of Sexuality and Culture (CSSC) and the Research Institute for Cosmopolitan Cultures (RICC). This year’s collaboration with the Royal Exchange is sponsored by cities@manchester.

Events Details:

The Sexuality Summer School: Homophobia and Other Aversions is fully booked for this year.  However there are three free public lectures this year which are open to all:

Tuesday 22nd May: 5pm, John Casken LT, Martin Harris Centre, University of Manchester, Oxford Road

Ann Cvetkovich (Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Texas): “To Be Able to Stand Not Knowing”: Depression, Creativity and Self-Aversion

Drawing from her forthcoming book, Depression: A Public Feeling, Cvetkovich will address the summer school theme by considering the prevalence of self-hatred within everyday life and creative practices that address it, as well as ongoing debates within queer theory about the politics of positive and negative affects.

Wednesday 23rd May: 5.15pm Kanaris Room, 2nd Floor Manchester Museum, Oxford Rd.

Lois Weaver (Professor of Contemporary Performance Practice, Queen Mary, University of London): A Long Table on Senses of Aversion

A Long Table is a performance installation that uses the form of a dinner party as a structure for public debate to encourage informal conversation on serious subjects and to experiment with formats that inspire public engagement.

Thursday 24th May: 5pm, John Casken LT, Martin Harris Centre, University of Manchester, Oxford Road

Mary Cappello (Professor of English, University of Rhode Island): Vice Viscera: The (Dis)gustatory Implications of Aversion

Mary Cappello recently won a Guggenheim Fellowship for her literary non-fiction, which explores forms of disruptive beauty, figuring memory in a postmodern age, bringing incompatible knowledges into the same space, and working at the borders of literary genres.

For more information go to the Sexuality Summer School webpage.

Caitriona Devery.

Market Forces and Education in Manchester

cities@manchester are organising a public panel debate on Tuesday 13 March, 6pm at the Anthony Burgess Foundation on ‘Using Market Forces to improve Education in Manchester: Possibilities and Challenges’. The event is free (but please book your place here) and will be followed by a drinks reception.

Education revolution or recipe for disaster?

The 2010 Academies Bill was launched with much talk of the Coalition Government’s hopes for an ‘education revolution’.  One argument in favour is that independent state schools (i.e. academies and free schools) can raise overall standards and inject new energy by creating a more competitive education ‘market-place’. There are, however, fears that this approach will further fragment the state education system and compound the disadvantage faced by children and young people from poorer backgrounds.

How have the changes played out in Manchester? What does the academic evidence say about the claims, both positive and negative? What are the options for working within this system? Our panellists – all of whom work in the field of education – will give us their perspectives on these issues on Tuesday. A short preview is given below.

Aneez Esmail (Chair of Governors, Chorlton High)

Chorlton High is currently in a consultation with parents and staff about becoming a converter Academy. Aneez will talk about the issues that the school faced in coming to a decision to consult and the concerns amongst parents and staff about the marketisation of the education system. Chorlton High School is successful because it is a comprehensive school and he will talk about the impact on the school of recent market reforms and how these have impacted on the schools ability to maintain its comprehensive ethos.

Helen Gunter (School of Education, University of Manchester)

There is a game that both children and adults play where one person puts a word on a piece of paper, and then folds it over, and passes it on. At the end of the circulation the paper is unfolded and read out. The disjuncture between the words can be simultaneously creative and ridiculous, and so the game is actually called “Exquisite Corpse” because the first time it was played the sentence that emerged was “The exquisite corpse drinks the new wine”. I wonder if we played this on Tuesday evening and began with ‘urban education’ what the outcome might be? Would we have a sentence that necessarily led to academies and free schools, what other words might we include and what imaginings and descriptions might we create in our discussions?

It seems to me in following the debates about the Academies Programme that the claims made often make as little sense as the exquisite corpse. There was no evidence in 2000 for this major change to the provision of public services, there is still no evidence in 2012 to support any continued investment in this provision. While ‘working in the interests of children’ is often used to justify the modernisation of eduction, I will make the case that the privatisation of education is not in the interests of children, but it is in the interests of those who are seeking to move to for profit services.

Stuart Leeming (New Islington Academy and Deputy High Master, Manchester Grammar)

Is the misunderstood child coming of age? Two years ago, the first applications to open Free Schools were submitted to DfE amidst much suspicion, avid scrutiny and sensationalist publicity. Everyone ‘knew’ that free schools are the province of the lunatic fringe; if you want to open a school in the attic teaching your pet dogma, that’s how you do it. Local authorities were hostile and pundits were convinced the concept wouldn’t work. What a difference twenty-four months makes!

Free Schools are the ultimate demand driven institutions; if you can’t demonstrate demand for a school that relates to real children, you can’t open a Free School. If you can demonstrate that demand, then anyone with the drive and determination has the opportunity to bid to open a school funded by the DfE.

New Islington Free School in Manchester is the progeny of an alliance between the visionary developer, Urban Splash; the education pedigree of the Manchester Grammar School; the foresight and pragmatism of Manchester City council and the commitment and support of the Homes and Communities Agency. Together, this group comprise New Islington Free School, a company limited by guarantee that is hoping to establish and run an exciting new school in the heart of the city.

Kieran McDermott (CEO, One Education)

The Academy Act and the 2012 Education Act are statutory evidence of a changed relationship. The Government’s aim is that within the lifetime of the current Parliament every school in England will be an Academy. Nearly half of all secondary schools have converted already or are in process to do so. While it remains to be seen whether this target will be achieved, all schools, regardless of their funding status, are now responsible for their own continuous improvement and have increasing autonomy and control of budgets and resources. The post code lottery model of local authority services has been found wanting and schools routinely exercise choice in sourcing services from a wide range of providers.

The market for school improvement is long standing but has becoming increasingly competitive and complex with national and multi-national organisations competing for business. One Education was established to meet the challenge faced by schools as local authorities faced with significant financial challenge are reducing traditional services or pulling out of supporting schools altogether. One Education is an ethical, commercially viable, school support company. We push hard to innovate in everything we do, reduce costs wherever we can and make a real difference to the schools and academies we serve. We know that every penny a school spends must make a difference.

Academy chains are growing rapidly across local authority boundaries and many have already acquired national profiles. The question is regularly asked; whose schools are they? The argument has been won about giving school leaders freedom from the “dead hand of bureaucracy”, but few are advocating that schools should be unaccountable to the communities they serve. But as this new and diverse education ecology emerges, all of us involved in education will need to be more open to new ways of working, new partnerships and new accountabilities, if we really want to create the kind of education system that a fulfilled and successful future for our children demands.

Julie Thorpe (Co-operative College)

Co-operation – an idea which spread widely as basis for economic and social organisation in the nineteeth century – is back in fashion. Providing a tried and tested model, it offers a response to the vacuum which has arisen since the financial crisis called into question free-market economics approches to the provision of goods and services, and the consequent structures of our towns and cities. Not only the ‘flavour of the month’ in policy circles, there is also a growing body of scientific study suggesting that it might be our best bet for a sustainable future. Education has always been a key principle of the co-operative movement and we are currently experiencing an explosion of new co-operative approaches within the mainstream school system.

The debate will be chaired by Gillian Evans (University of Manchester)

For full details of this and other cities@manchester Urban Forums please see our website.

Some independent thinking on the Academies Programme

by Helen Gunter, School of Education.

The ‘independent’ school continues to dominate thinking about the appropriate way to educate children. It remains iconic in ways that show how publicly funded schools are always in deficit and how reform needs to learn from this successful approach to education. For the past thirty years the independent school has been used as a model for experimental reforms to publicly funded education:

  • In 1986 the Conservative Government launched the City Technology College initiative. The plan was to establish CTCs as ‘state-independent schools’ in urban areas, sponsored by business and with an emphasis on practical and technical education. 15 were set up, and the majority have now converted to Academy status.In 1988 the Conservative Government enabled schools to obtain Grant Maintained Status (GMS) by opting out of Local Education Authorities. A total of 1196 schools opted out, and they were brought back into the system by New Labour in 1997 as Foundation Schools.
  • In 2000 the New Labour Government launched the City Academies Programme where in urban areas schools deemed to be ‘failing’ would be closed and relaunched as Academies free from Local Education Authorities. In return for sponsorship of up to £2m, sponsors took control of the school, curriculum and workforce. The Academies Programme changed, notably the emphasis on ‘City’ was dropped in 2002, and from 2006 sponsorship was dropped. In 2010 the Conservative led Coalition expanded the Academies Programme as a system wide reform, offering academy status to schools that were officially outstanding. At the time of writing 629 Academies as state independent schools have been created.
  • In 2006 the New Labour Education and Inspections Act allowed for parents, cooperative groups and private businesses to run schools. The Conservative led Coalition from 2010 see this as their preferred option, and have launched Free Schools as demand led (by parents, teachers, businesses) state independent schools. At the time of writing 24 Free Schools as state independent schools have been created.

This emphasis on the independent school has its origins in a neoliberal and neoconservative alliance. Neoliberal in the sense of bringing private interests and private business cultures and practices into public services, and as the reform of schools shows through the dismantling public services as a means of opening up provision to the market. Neoconservative through the control of the curriculum, student behaviour, and workforce terms and conditions of service, with an emphasis on either a traditional academic curriculum for those deemed suitable, and a vocational curriculum for the labour force.

I will focus specifically on the Academies Programme, and in examining the literatures there are accounts that are pro-Academies, an indeed are written by insider apologists for the dominance of elite and powerful private interests, e.g. Astle, J. and Ryan, C. (eds) (2008) Academies and the Future of State Education. (London: CentreForum). There are oppositional accounts that have opened up the way in which pro-Academy interests have used public money and systems to gain advantages in ways that border on corruption, e.g. Beckett, F. (2007) The Great City Academy Fraud. (London: Continuum). There is the Anti Academies Alliance that operates as a national activist campaign against the undemocratic way in which schools are being closed.

Official accounts of the Academies Programme have recognized gains, but in the main reports have identified the problems associated with this huge investment, and the PricewaterhouseCoopers five year evaluation for the Government showed that there is  no “Academy Effect”. In other words, operating as an independent school with all the advantages generated by the Academies Programme has not created an identifiable and distinctive impact on teaching and learning. The irony being that Academies depended on the very professionals, children and families that the predecessor schools had, but through the market the composition of these schools and the educational product they offered has changed.

I recently edited a collection of papers from people directly involved in the Academies Programme: The State and Education Policy: the Academies Programme (London: Continuum) where professionals; researchers; a lawyer; consultants; and activists have examined the evidence and recounted their experiences. Over all, the general view is that the Academies Programme is highly problematic. This is on a number of levels: first, the Academies have not been successful on their own terms – they have not improved on their predecessor schools. There is important evidence that the curriculum has been dumbed down in order to enable Key Stage results to improve, and there is evidence that Academies are now teaching different children to those in the predecessor schools, with claims that the composition of Academies have been manipulated in order to exclude children and parents who don’t, or won’t, or can’t play the game. Second, there are bigger picture issues about the state of the polity. The stories of how parents, children and communities have been ridden roughshod over are plentiful, and in the name of choice people have been denied a choice.

It was and remains a policy without a robust and convincing evidence base – the Gove mythbuster document is a selection of soundbites rather than a detailed analysis of data. It is a policy that is framed on the basis of giving children in disadvantaged areas more of an investment, but in reality it is about promoting markets and generating a labour force. I did research in a city academy and it was turning what had been two improved comprehensive schools into a ‘secondary modern by the back door’: the sponsors were helping the school to buy a garage so that the boys could train as car mechanics, and a hairdressing salon so that the girls could train in beauty therapy! One of the sponsors insisted a House system be set up as their son was at an independent school and the sponsor liked this system. It seems that education is being determined by the whims of rich people and out of date ideas about the curriculum, and about education!

I used to teach in a very successful 11-18 comprehensive school and I currently work as a researcher in a very successful 11-18 comprehensive school. The country is full of successful comprehensive schools, including our inner cities. But these schools are being forced to convert to Academy status. I used to own a share in the two comprehensives in my town: as a tax payer I funded the schools and I support this as a citizen. I now no longer have this shared and communal ownership as one of the schools is now an academy and is no longer under local democratic control. Interestingly academies are grouping together as Chains, with owners able to control a number of schools. It seems that the discredited idea of a local authority is being recreated, but the taxpayer cannot remove the people who own or run the chain. While currently there is a not for profit approach in England, we need to ask how long this will last as this does exist in the US where much inspiration for the Academies come from.

The emphasis has been on centralized regulation of publicly funded education through testing and performance management. Independence in the form of CTCs, GMS schools, Academies and Free Schools, is presented as a reward for good behaviour. Direct and centralized control through testing remains, and the role and powers of the Secretary of State continue to grow so that schools are directly controlled. Even though these experimental school types usually fail, it does not seem to prevent the idea of independence being repackaged and promoted in new ways. While the voucher system was deemed not to be appropriate in the 1980s, the situation is such that vouchers may be seen as a viable option in the privatization process.

The opportunity for the democratic renewal in the public provision of education continues to exist, and there is evidence through the opposition to Academies that parents and communities want to be involved in productive ways. People have been politicized through the process. New and innovative ways of being involved could have been generated. So there are important issues to discuss about the purposes of education, and what a publicly funded SYSTEM as distinct from schools as autonomous businesses means. It is clear that both Blair and Cameron want the dismantling of a public system – after all they are both beneficiaries of the independent sector – and that they will dress this up as being in the interests of children like me who grew up and went to school in an urban area. I am a beneficiary of the comprehensive system – I failed the 11+ and went to a secondary modern school, and then the school went comprehensive and all of a sudden we had new investment, new teachers with degrees, and a sixth form. So my commitment is to the common school where all can learn together – we may not have got it right in the 1960s, but this was no reason to abolish it by stealth.