Education: A spanner in the works; a tool in breaking the cycle of offending

Adeela Ahmed Shafi

image asI started my PhD this year. The topic is one of many that have interested me for some time, became more closely defined doing my MEd here at the GSoE and went on to be crystallised from something you might consider quite unrelated.

I did a unit on Education Policy in a Global Context as part of my Masters in the Psychology of Education pathway and whilst reading around the unit and doing the assignment, it dawned on me how Western politicians, researchers and charities often make big claims about the role of education in terms of transformation of a society and the opening of opportunities and so on.  I agree with the claims.  As a country we spend masses on International Aid and many of the projects focus on education.  I myself have raised funds to build a school in rural area of Pakistan believing this same thing. It took 6 years to do but my belief in it kept me going.
imageIt puzzled me then that why is it when we have kids in prison that we do not seize the opportunity of doing the same for them.  Why are we not able to give them the opportunities that we believe education can provide when they are in ‘custody’ and in a controlled environment 24hrs a day for a set period?  Agreed that when they come out they return to the same environment which makes them vulnerable to re-offending, however, should true education not provide them with the ‘light’ to take control and have the agency to resist the pressures and offer an alternative way?

1Hence, I thought that is what I want to do a PhD on.  I want to explore the educational experiences of kids in prison, I want to see what can be done to change the way they view themselves.  I want it to be a place which, as well as ‘punishment’, offers a chance to change through education, presents realistic opportunities for alternatives…actually prevents re-offending.

It’s a tall order I know, but its got to start somewhere and for me it is with my humble PhD on young offender learning.

Be good to get other people’s ideas on this.  Please do comment.



80 by 18: Reflections and ruminations


The Learning Lives group are involved in a number of innovative research projects.  One of these is the 80 by 18 project which forms part of Keri Facer’s work for the AHRC Connected Communities programme. Here Paul Strauss (the project researcher) discusses the project and calls for contributions…

We held our second 80 by18 project workshop yesterday at the M-Shed, and now seems a good time for sharing some reflections. Around 30 people were at the table representing themselves and their organisations, almost all of whom work directly with Children &Young People in some form or have a strong interest in the work of those that do.

Despite a lower turnout than the first workshop in February, it was a really productive session. Workshop participants – some 80 by18 old hands, some newbies – got really engaged and helped us continue generating ideas for “experiences”, as well as conducting a first review and thematic categorisation on the 300 or so ideas that have already come in.

Here are some reflections – both mine and others’ – on the gathering process, and the ideas we’ve received so far:

  • “Bystander syndrome” – people think it’s such as good concept that someone else is bound to put in their idea, or one just as good. Pin people down! Get the ideas in! We can sift out duplicates later
  • Diversity of ideas – to get a good spread, it matters a great deal where ideas are sourced from –geographically, culturally, and organisationally/ institutionally. We’re doing all sorts of things to try to source diverse ideas, including street fieldwork in particularly targeted neighbourhoods, making links with community organisations and interest groups all over the city, and finding ways to capture the views of more marginalised young people.
  • Quirky ideas? Some really inspiring ideas have come in, but taking an overview of them the more fully formed ones (idea + resources to make it happen + why it’s important) seem to reflect white, middle class, professional Bristol. What’s missing – felt several participants – is “quirky old Bristol”. Quirky is a word we keep coming back to in this project…

One submitted idea that was held up as emblematic of the type of thing we’re looking for was: “Visit every Poundland in Bristol”. On the surface, this seems a bit ridiculous (where are they all anyway, and why would you attempt to do this?). But actually it’s a quirky challenge that takes you places you mightn’t ordinarily go – including geographically/ sociologically – and is as much about the journey/ the process/ the adventure and what you’d see on the way. Shared reflection on this led to a new project coinage – “the Poundland factor”!

Another idea which was ‘favourited’ was “pick your own blackberries and make them into jam”. Why? The simplicity of it – on the one hand – but more the fact that it’s not a one off experience but something  formative, involving skills and knowledge that you are likely to come back to many times in life and which may open up a different perspective on your locality and its resources. So there we have a “blackberry jam factor”, too.

A final reflection is that the 80by18 project is already about much more than developing a list. Some really revealing conversations are starting to take place within its gaps and “spaces” – about its significance as neutral space for networking and connecting and sharing ideas across the boundaries and structures that people working with children & young people  find themselves stuck within.  There is a clear sense that, as resources get squeezed, and as structures are dismantled and networks disrupted from the centre, these are the sorts of spaces where interesting conversations might happen and loose or not so loose federations spring up.

The call for ideas has been extended to 20th of April. Please do keep putting your own in, talking and sharing and encouraging others to submit theirs. Pin people down! Face to face is best. We’re adopting the ethos which should be familiar to anyone who’s been involved with recent mass social movements: if you think of something that needs doing, go for it! (He writes, before leaving the country for three weeks…)

Paul Strauss

To be cool or preferring not to be: Visiting researchers

The Learning Lives group welcome visiting researchers interested in our research areas.  Here Solveig Roth describes her experience as a visiting PhD scholar…

I’ve had the privilege of staying 6 months with the ‘Learning Lives’ research group at the University ooslounif Bristol led by Prof. Keri Facer as a PhD candidate from the Department of Educational Research, University of Oslo. Keri Facer has also been my supervisor. I have found this stay very rewarding. The PhD theses ‘To be cool or preferring not to be’: Young people’s reflections about their learning lives is part of the ethnographic ‘Learning Lives’ study of 60 people from a multi-cultural suburb city in Norway (Prof. Ola Erstad). I have followed 14 young people from this project as they negotiate a variety of social contexts in the course of their everyday lives analyzing the funds of knowledge that are available to them (Roth, forthcoming).

The research group here in Bristol conducts relevant projects that involve also young persons’ learning lives in order to be prepared for the future (global) learning context that is bound to come (e.g. learning in the city). I think that the approach of this group has helped me a lot to put focus on applying new ideas in this new and intensely developing field of research. The way we have worked together in a group discussing articles and papers to be published, the ethics and the knowledge in the feedback process, have put me in a position to understand and get new inklings on my own research. In addition, I have been given the possibility to participate and present my work in many interesting research events and workshops organized by the GSOE along with other international PhD candidates and researchers. I look to continue learning from and (working with) these new colleagues of mine.

Many thanks for this stay!

Solveig Roth, University of Oslo.

Creating safe spaces to discuss work in progress

 A select few of us met today to discuss  Adeela Shafi and Jo Rose‘s paper in progress entitled: Restrictions into opportunities: How boundaries in the life course can shape educational pathways.

Students on the part-time BA in English Literature and Community EngagementThe paper raises a number of interesting issues related to mature students attending university and the relationship between the ‘restrictions’ they have experienced in their learning trajectories, experiences and histories. Adeela and Jo want to make the point that in later life these restrictions can be ‘re-seen’ and become opportunities instead.

We spent an hour talking through the paper together, identifying the key arguments and how they might best be presented, our different (interdisciplinary) take on the issues and literature and discussing the strengths of the paper as well as how it might be improved. We were also able to share our own experiences of writing, techniques to improve academic writing and the sometimes stressful process of reviewing.

At the end of the session we talked briefly about our perspective on the usefulness of this kind of session. Everybody present felt that although initially nerve wracking (for the authors putting their work ‘out there’) we had all gained something from the process of discussion. It was felt that it was important that the space we created was non confrontational and that the encounter built a collegial space that enabled deeper reflection, interdisciplinary sharing and critical engagement with the ideas in the paper.