Resisting Neoliberalism in Education: Resources of Hope

Mary Hamilton / March 17th 2021

This blog extracts some key ideas from our recent book “Resisting Neoliberalism in Education” edited by Lyn Tett and Mary Hamilton and newly published in paperback by Policy Press, Bristol, UK.

Resisting Neoliberalism in Education

Neoliberalism has been widely criticised because of its role in prioritising ‘free markets’ as the optimum way of solving problems and organising society. In the field of education, this leads to an emphasis on the knowledge economy that can reduce both persons and education to economic actors and be detrimental to wider social and ethical goals.

The book provides innovative examples showing how neoliberalism in education can be challenged and changed at local, national and transnational levels in order to foster a more democratic culture. A number of the contributors to the book focus on literacy education, while the overall collection draws more broadly on a range of international contexts across informal, adult, school and university settings.

As attention focusses on how to build a better, sustainable society post-COVID, the messages from this book have never been more relevant. We are at a point where resetting the priorities of the education is essential.

We welcome comments on this blog and would especially like to hear of examples from your own experience of «resources of hope» that offer opportunities for resistance and change.

Resisting Neoliberalism in Education: Resources of Hope

Lyn Tett, University of Huddersfield and Mary Hamilton, University of Lancaster

In one of his last books, Pedagogy of Indignation Freire argues that neo-liberalism is a deeply fatalistic discourse which ‘speaks about the death of dreams and utopia and deproblematizes the future’ (Freire 2004:110). He reminds us that one of the key roles of critical intellectuals is to reproblematise the social reality of the present and to foster critical awareness of alternatives (see Roberts, 2005). Our aim in this book, therefore, is to offer positive examples of resistance to neoliberal education from across sectors and geographical contexts and to show how these enable neoliberalism to be challenged and changed.

Neoliberalism in education

We understand the defining features of neoliberalism to be a system of thought and practical action within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade that involves deregulation, privatization, and withdrawal of the state from many areas of social provision (Harvey, 2005). In education this leads to a competitive market approach within which educational goods (such as qualifications, curricula, institutional reputation, expert labour) are branded and exchanged in an international arena (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010). This approach prioritises individualisation of achievement and competition rather than collaboration among practitioners and among students. It creates a low trust environment where professionals (and students) have to be monitored and assessed by external yardsticks. The result is that efficiency and monetised values are prioritised over other pedagogical and social values such as diversity, equity, well-being and care. Under neoliberalism education systems have been mandated to develop efficient, creative and problem-solving learners and workers for a globally competitive economy leading to the neglect of its social and developmental responsibilities (Olssen, 2009). These institutionalised practices have been partially accomplished by persuading each individual teacher and learner to treat the effects of neoliberalism as personal rather than structural and so these become accepted by individuals as normal rather than as in need of critique and transformation. A key way in which this acceptance happens is through is the use of a plethora of metrics such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (OECD, 2016). These assessments are used to measure performativity through a focus on market considerations, which does not necessarily reflect the core values of the work, that is, the quality of the teaching, inclusion and relationships (Lynch, 2006).

Our contention is that such a system is in fundamental tension with traditional approaches and understandings of education. Living within such an environment is therefore challenging for all those participating in it. But as Foucault (1998: 95) has argued, ‘where there is power there is resistance’ because resistance involves recognising and questioning socialised norms and constraints through discourse. Whilst discourse ‘reinforces [power], it also undermines and exposes it, renders it fragile and makes it possible to thwart’ (ibid: 101). Drawing on Foucault provides a way of thinking about resistance that focuses on the role of subjectivity and transgression in refusing to accept the neoliberal practices of performativity (Ball and Olmedo, 2013). This book is an exploration of how people in different positions within neoliberal education are responding to it and where they find resources and strategies to manage the tensions and contradictions they encounter.


When we envisage resistance we often think of it as collective, public, political activity but there are many types of resistance. In this book we argue that the concept has two central dimensions: resistance must involve action (physical, material or symbolic) and be oppositional in that actors challenge or subvert dominant discourses and practices in some way. Resistance also needs to be intentional although some actions, such as when practitioners avoid using reporting mechanisms that they consider unfair to the people they work with, may be hidden from the view of powerful authorities. Resistance is also interactional because it is ‘defined not only by resisters’ perceptions of their own behaviour but also by their targets’ recognition of, and reaction to, this behaviour’ (Hollander and Einwohner, 2004: 548). The possible resources and strategies will differ from context to context but a sense of action and of opposition holds these expressions of resistance together.

The different forms of resistance identified by Hollander and Einwohner are usefully integrated within a strand of literature dealing with “everyday resistance”. These are less visible forms of resistance that Scott (1990) links to the notion of ‘transcripts’ (hidden and public) which are established ways of behaving and speaking that fit particular actors in particular social settings, whether dominant or oppressed. Resistance is a subtle form of contesting ‘public transcripts’ by making use of prescribed roles and language to resist the abuse of power – including things like ‘rumour, gossip, disguises, linguistic tricks, metaphors, euphemisms, folktales, ritual gestures, anonymity’ (1990: 137). He argues that ‘most of the political life of subordinate groups is to be found neither in the overt collective defiance of power holders nor in complete hegemonic compliance, but in the vast territory between these two polar opposites’ (Scott 1985: 136). Johansson and Vinthagen (2016) add to this framework the term ‘repertoire of resistance’, which they argue is ‘a combined result of the interplay between social structures and power relations, as well as activists’ creative experimentation with tactics and experiences of earlier attempts to practise resistance, together with the situational circumstances in which the resistance is played out’ (ibid. p. 421). This means that groups develop a collection of ways of resisting that they understand and are able to handle that are embedded in relationships and processes of interaction between the resisters and their targets. These repertoires are organised in specific contexts according to the historical and current power configurations, time, space and relationships in which they are embedded.

Resources of hope

Lilja and colleagues (2017) have demonstrated the link between these forms of ‘everyday’ resistance and more organised civil-society-based resistance. They point out that the latter ‘can encourage and create yet other forms of everyday resistance through being inspired or provoked into new resistant identities’ (p.52). They also show, however, that if resistance is unsuccessful, it eventually discourages action and people put their innovative energies into more productive issues. So, we aim to encourage action by providing resources in this book that are designed to help us find innovative and productive ways of challenging inequalities in education. In particular, we present those that subvert and challenge narrow curricula and pedagogies that privilege the dominant culture. We agree with Williams that we need to have an education system that is redesigned so that it provides full ‘human relevance and control…[and] emphasises not the ladder but the common highway’, [because every person’s] ‘ignorance diminishes me, and every [person]’s skill is a common gain of breath’ (1989: 15).

Getting to this point though, means that we have to engage with a variety of ways of challenging the dominant culture of neoliberalism. Williams (1977) suggests that such challenges occur not only through struggle and action but also through changes in deep structures of feeling and imagination. In particular, he argues that dominant discourses ‘select from and consequently exclude the full range of human practice [yet some] experiences, meanings, and values are nevertheless lived and practiced on the basis of some residue – cultural as well as social – of some previous social and cultural institution or formation’ (p.125). These residual resources were formed in the past, but are still ‘active in the cultural process …as an effective element of the present’ (p.123) through people’s ‘practical consciousness’. In addition to these resources there is ‘emergent’ culture which carries new meanings and values, and ‘depends crucially on finding new forms or adaptions of forms’ (p.126). Throughout the book there are illustrations of the use of both these forms of culture as resources with which to challenge and change neoliberalism so that the full range of knowledge can be expressed within education. The themes raised and the conceptual resources deployed reflect a range of perspectives that have the common aim of addressing questions of how the power of the neoliberal discourse might be resisted in education. the book is organised in five sections.

The first three sections are focused on local contexts of resistance and how it is enacted in the fields of adult, school and higher education. The next section focuses on school education while the final one shows how, even at the transnational level, it is possible to disrupt the neoliberal discourse.

10 Key Strategies

The notion of hope is explicitly referred to by several contributors as central to affirming identity and emboldening action.We have taken Raymond Williams notion of “resources of hope” (Williams, 1989) to draw together the rich variety of responses offered by contributors to the book and to identify what Milana & Rapana (2019: pp. 167-180) call “interstices for resistance” – points where it is possible to intervene to disrupt the dominant neoliberal regime and to help emergent, more emancipatory cultures to take root.

Some of these resources are directly relevant to educational practitioners, suggesting strategies that can be used in teaching or other aspects of institutional practice. Some are resources that can guide educational researchers in designing and carrying out ‘resistant’ research that foregrounds alternatives to neoliberal values. Some are principles and rules of thumb that can be used in both practice and research.

Many involve collaboration with others, with the aim of pooling resources and widening the spaces for action. Such collaborations can be formalised through organized public events and networks but the contributors to this book also assert the value of persisting with what may seem like mundane, everyday, acts of resistance that are based on seeing and seizing opportunities to do and say things differently. Such acts are, they argue, the bedrock for fostering wider change. Below we identify ten key ideas gathered from across the chapters that contribute to such changes.

  1. Many chapters make the point that a core aspect of resistance in a difficult or hostile environment is to find ways to create dialogic, emancipatory spaces which are affirming, positive and culturally sensitive for those participating in them. Identifying and forcing open such spaces requires sustained effort and strong commitment. In practice this can be done via pedagogy and curriculum and making opportunities for professional exchange of experiences, opinions, learning, collective action and mutual aid. It is not just the collective action itself that gets results, but the process of developing this action that builds knowledge useful for resistance. Sometimes it is a matter of looking for the potential in existing places, and perhaps working to revision these.
  2. Prioritising learner perspectives. We need to change the centre of gravity of whose perspectives count within curriculum and pedagogy, to overturn negative classifications of learners and to revision students of all ages as agentic subjects and citizens with rights.
  3. Harnessing communication technologies to amplify local and submerged voices and to model citizenship within educational practice. A local dialogic, emancipatory space has much more power if it can be shared as a model and replicated or extended across many community settings and digital technologies make such sharing readily achievable.
  4. Explicit sharing of core values among practitioners enables them to resist negative changes and to counter neoliberal values of commodification and competition. Underpinning professional values make everyday tactics meaningful and can be effectively supported by informal professional networks and by more formal trade union action.
  5. Fostering Creativity both directly with learners and in dealing with the institutional demands of policy. Narrow, assessment driven curricula can be countered through interdisciplinary partnerships between teachers, visual artists and writers, incorporating performance and artistic activities inspired by indigenous knowledges into the curriculum and multiple modes of expression. Such pedagogies change the dynamic between teachers, children and peers. At the institutional level, creativity involves resourcefulness in reinterpreting policy discourses, finding ways to compromise with these in order to obtain needed resources, looking out for and seizing opportunities to do things differently.
  6. Collaborating with new groups who share similar values; including international colleagues and organizations.. For discursive shifts to happen a wider range of people need to be assembled around the policy tables, creating an enlarged policy space for working on designs for new forms of education.
  7. It is important to use both horizontal (peer alliances) and vertical (institutional) strategies to pressure for change, combining strategies from all interested participants – students, support staff, parents and citizens. Tactical work arounds become more meaningful when combined with a good knowledge of how institutional structures work and awareness of realistic possibilities for change. It is important to develop understandings of how soft power operates, making a technocratic expert system open and transparent so that you can act to intervene if appropriate.
  8. Developing and encouraging a “knowledge commons” using and strengthening possibilities for open access to information by resisting paywalls and the domination of large-scale publishing companies. It is urgent to keep libraries open as physically ungated and welcoming spaces which can offer support for discussion, mutual aid and everyday workplace acts of resistance.
  9. Encouraging both learners and professionals to take shared responsibility for promoting education as a common good rather than assuming it is for someone else or some institutional force to change the neoliberal status quo. This involves encouraging forms of educational provision that are based on active citizenship and inclusive values.
  10. The final key point – and perhaps the core contribution of this book – is about the possibilities of using educational research itself as a resource for hope and for making change. Since many contributors are researchers as well as experienced practitioners, they have developed strong arguments about this which complement the practice-oriented strategies outlined above. Firstly, they assert the importance of documenting local experience and valuing participant perspectives in investigating research problems, Offering alternative concepts and analyses of issues can help people make new meaning of their experiences and to understand that discourses have material social outcomes. This can also be achieved through research which makes institutional systems and spaces of governance transparent through offering information about less visible aspects and dynamics of governance. Researching history can recover lost or submerged knowledges, help maintain and strengthen “residual cultures” and identify continuities in change, evidenced through the actions and statements of certain ministers and officials. Historical research can reconnect us with core alternative values and show the continuity of these values into the present.


Ball, Stephen J. & Olmedo, Antonio 2013. Care of the self, resistance and subjectivity under neoliberal governmentalities, Critical Studies in Education, 54:1, 85-96

Foucault, M. 1998. The History of Sexuality: The Will to Knowledge, London, Penguin.

Freire, P. 2004. Pedagogy of Indignation, Boulder and London: Paradigm.

Harvey, D. 2005. NeoLiberalism: A brief history. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hollander, J. A., & Einwohner, R. L. 2004, December. Conceptualizing resistance. In Sociological forum 19:4, 533-554. Springer Netherlands.

Johansson, A. & Vinthagen, S. 2016. ‘Dimensions of Everyday Resistance: An Analytical Framework’ Critical Sociology, 42 (3) 417-435

Lilja, M., Baaz, M., Schulz, M. & Vinthagen, S. 2017. How resistance encourages resistance: theorizing the nexus between power, Organised Resistance and Everyday Resistance Journal of Political Power, 10:1, 40-54, doi:10.1080/2158379x.2017.1286084

Lynch, K. (2006). Neo-Liberalism and Marketisation: The Implications for Higher Education. European Educational Research Journal, 5(1) 1-17. 

Milana M. and Rapana, F. 2019 “The appropriation of cultural, economic and normative frames of reference for adult education: an Italian perspective”, In Resisting neoliberalism in education: national and transnational perspectives, Bristol: Policy Press

OECD, 2016. PISA 2015 Results, Volume 1, Paris: OECD

Olssen, M. 2009. “Neoliberalism, Education, and the Rise of a Global Common Good.” In Re-Reading Education Policy: A Handbook Studying the Policy Agenda of the 21st Century, edited by M. Simons, M. Olssen, and M. A. Peters, 433-457. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Rizvi, F. & Lingard, B. 2010. Globalizing education policy. London: Routledge.

Roberts, P. 2005. “Review Essay: Pedagogy, Politics and Intellectual Life: Freire in the Age of the Market, Pedagogy of Indignation.” Policy Futures in Education 3:4, 446-458. doi:10.2304/pfie.2005.3.4.446

Scott, J. C. 1985. Weapons of the weak: everyday forms of resistance. London, Yale University Press.

Scott, J. C. 1990. Domination and the arts of resistance: Hidden transcripts. London, Yale University Press.

Tett, L. and Hamilton M. (2019) (Eds.) Resisting neoliberalism in education: local, national and transnational perspectives, Bristol: Policy Press

Williams, R. 1977, Marxism and literature, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Williams, R. 1989. Resources of Hope. London: Verso


Making a Difference: A Literacies Perspective on Eden North and the Morecambe Bay Curriculum

The Eden Project is an educational charity famous for its Biomes located in Cornwall. It aims to work with people to shape attitudes and knowledge about the local environment and the natural world more generally, to inspire social change and find creative and sustainable solutions to the emergencies we face due to climate change. It aligns with the UN Sustainable Development Goals related to the environment and emphasises participation and social justice.

A map of Morecambe Bay and its immediate surroundings

The Eden North project is designed to carry through these aims in a new and very different environment in the North of England – Morecambe Bay which is one of the largest tidal bays in the UK, situated on the NW coast near the big conurbations of Liverpool and Manchester. The project has generated significant excitement across all sectors of the region: county offices, businesses, schools, the volunteer sector and more. Recognition of the centrality of the Bay in the lives and interests of the region’s people has acted as a catalyst for additional discussions on educational, economic and social change. Within those discussions, the Morecambe Bay Curriculum (see below) plays a central role. While the Bay is a unique place, the issues that Eden North and the Morecambe Bay Curriculum aim to address are in no way unique to the Bay or to the North of England.

Architect’s drawing of the Eden North   “mussel shell” domes

The Morecambe Bay Curriculum (MBC) is an initiative linked to Eden North, which spans education from early years to college and University level. Its aim is ‘to promote green, technical, vocational and professional pathways to University. The Curriculum will help provide the skills and knowledge needed by employers, build capacity to develop responsible and sustainable new green enterprises and support regional graduate retention.’ Lancaster University is a partner in this initiative, working closely together with further and adult education colleges, local schools, community organisations and businesses.

In this blog post, three members of the LRC share their thoughts on the MBC, looking at it from a language and literacies perspective and in the context of climate change being a global issue faced by people across the world.

Curriculum as Participation

Diane Potts writes:

“We are rightful participants in this democracy” (Burch, 2020, December 29). Those words were spoken by LaTosha Brown, a founderof the Georgia-state, grassroots organization Black Voters Matter. It is one many such groups that have worked over the last decade to ensure the rightful participation of blacks in U.S. electoral processes. In another time and place, the quiet power of these words might not have resonated so forcefully. But amid the social isolation created by a pandemic that disproportionately impacts the economically and socially disadvantaged but also amid the more hopeful discussions surrounding the Morecambe Bay Curriculum (MBC), the words gave pause. For Brown is not arguing for a specific policy or programme nor is her organization seeking to impose their vision of the world on others. What they are working toward is something far more fundamental, the rightness of their participation in determining what that future might be.

A curriculum is a negotiated vision of the future. Within discussions of Eden Project North, negotiations have been open-ended and use of the word curriculum rather loose. For good reason. Heads and Deputy Heads, educational consultants and community members have focused on curriculum as it might be imagined, not details of how curriculum will be decided upon and delivered. Whatever form it takes, Morecambe Bay will be at the curriculum’s centre for while MBC has not been described as a place-based curriculum – at least, not to my knowledge – Morecambe Bay legitimates and circumscribes the project. The Bay, what the curriculum would have us think of as our Bay, bounds participation. Rightness, however, is not so easily addressed.

Rightness requires consideration of how and not only who will be involved. MBC is imagined as formal and informal learning and as addressing learning in and beyond educational institutions. It is a curriculum in which each of us is a source and recipient of knowledge, future knowledge that will be jointly developed but also individual and community knowledge that arises from our unique experiences and opportunities. The Bay’s diverse natural habitats, its relations with peoples and histories and its contributions to our economic, social and personal well-being bring together what is inherently a site of diversity and difference. Referencing the Bay does not, however, answer who we are to each other and who we will need to be in order to achieve the project’s larger objectives. This has implications for the development of the curriculum and not only the curriculum itself.

If rightness of participation is to be achieved, then participative practices for formulating MBC will be diverse. They cannot, for example, be limited to traditions of formal consultation for these traditions have historically excluded many who MBC seeks to involve. Quite simply, the ways in which language is organized and used are not ways that the diverse communities of the Bay recognize as theirs. Too easily, the language of bids, grants and policies hardens into structures and processes that exclude. This is no small matter. Time and again, research in education and more particularly language and literacy education has demonstrated that learners succeed when they see themselves represented in a curriculum and not only represented but represented as they understand themselves. Failure to account for diverse ways of knowing – that is, failure to understand learners as participants rather than recipients – undermines educational initiatives and the larger change efforts of which they are often part. Research in language and literacy education shows this. Research in education more broadly shows this. Educational research carried out by organizations such as the OECD shows this. While Lancaster University’s leadership has been frank in their support of non-academic voices, new practices of participation must be imagined or crucial voices will be excluded from the onset. This makes rightness among the first knotty puzzles that must be addressed, one that will require drawing upon the diversity of expertise across and beyond the university will need to be drawn upon.

Those who have read this far will recognize themes that cut across current academic interest in design-based research (Anderson & Shattuck, 2012; Design-based Research Collective, 2003; McKenney & Reeves, 2019, participatory research methods (Penuel, Riedy, Barber, Peurach, LeBouef  & Clark, 2020) and decades-old work on decolonizing methodologies (Smith, 1999). The thinking will resonate with those engaged in theorizing culturally-sustaining pedagogies, pedagogies that assume rather than advocate for the necessity of rethinking how ways of knowing come together in curricular spaces (Harmon, 2018, Paris, 2012; Paris & Alum, 2014; Prasad & Lory, 2020). My interest rests with schools, teachers and young people engaged not only in curriculum-as-plan but curriculum-as-lived (Aoki, 1993, 2004). This reflects my longstanding involvement as a consultant and as a researcher in participatory practices that extend communities’ capacity to capitalize on existing expertise. The place of language and other semiotic resources in such practices is at the heart of my interests, not as objects of study but as the very means in which and through which we engage in social action. In the language of the day-to-day unfolding of a curriculum, the future is designed (New London Group, 1996/2000; Potts, 2018).

Knowledge, skills, dispositions: language is crucial in all. In his work on the sociology of knowledge, Bernstein (1990, 2001) wrote of recognition and realization rules; of recognizing the relevance of what one knows and of recognizing how such knowledge must be reformulated to gain wider circulation. But what teachers have taught me, those who have worked in ‘the poorest postal code in Canada’ and with children whose parents cook in restaurants, deliver packages and cross oceans to visit families, is that learners must first be supported in recognizing their experience as knowledge. What my limited experience in community work with the First Nations and aboriginal peoples of Canada has taught me is that I may be asking the wrong question. Curriculum work is language work. I imagine the lived MBC as one that begins by understanding itself as incomplete and that recognizes its participants will scribe in knowledge that is unrecognized and unrealized at the onset. Curriculum rewritten as it is lived: participants’ language will be stretched as knowledge is shared.

Where then would I position myself as a participant in this work? Engaged in the front-line of schools’ efforts, documenting, analyzing and accounting for the development and circulation of knowledge in the course of learners’ literacies development. The languaging of MBC and concordant attention to language as social action is an area in which the people of The Bay can be global thought leaders for MBC is unusual in the range of peoples involved from its inception. At a fundamental level, the project recognizes that the work of curriculum design is not separate from the delivery of curriculum content and that the onus is on each of us to learn as well as share. In this, MBC offers participation in an evolving curriculum that simultaneously provides access to privileged semiotic registers, supports reformulation of experience and engages learners in re-creation rather than replication. Participation, reformulating and re-creating: each takes us back to issues of rightness. Teachers know that. Those who have been engaged in the early discussions of MBC know that. The question is how we go forward.

Reading the Word and reading the World: the Challenge of Critical Literacies in the MBC

Uta Papen writes:

To me, the Morecambe Bay Curriculum is a relevant and welcome initiative and I am pleased to see that my institution, Lancaster University, is part of this endeavour. The MBC (and the Eden North Project) is an opportunity for the University to strengthen its commitment to the region, to environmental research, social justice and educational innovation. It is an opportunity to act as a civic university. As a member of the Literacy Research Centre, I am keen to explore what role our work on literacies and languages may be able to play in support of the MBC.

Thinking about the Morecambe Bay Curriculum from a literacies perspective, the relevance of critical literacy to its aims and spirit is the first thing that caught my attention. The MBC, as I see it, seems to be exactly about what Macedo and Freire (1987) spoke about so many years ago: it is about reading the word and reading the world.

Critical literacy, or rather critical literacies, can be defined in various ways. Following Janks (2013) and others, I see it as essentially being about examining the role of language in shaping ideas, values and attitudes and the importance of texts in seeking to persuade. Critical literacy education seeks to equip students with tools to understand and carefully examine texts and the ideas they contain and to do so from a variety of perspectives. Text analysis, however, is not the ultimate aim. With critical literacy, students and teachers are engaging in social analyses (‘reading the world’) and they embark on social action, striving for social change.

To me all this is highly relevant to the aims of the MBC. If this is to be a truly ‘green’ curriculum and a truly transformative initiative, seeking to change local lives and futures, then it will need to adopt a critical perspective of the kind Paulo Freire, Hilary Janks, Barbara Comber and others suggest. It needs to consider the teaching of reading and writing to cover the four dimensions included in Luke and Freebody’s (1999) framework and to avoid a focus on decoding and comprehension only. Thinking about the MBC through the lens of critical literacies also chimes with the points about participation and the joint imagination of social futures that Diane talks about above.

What else does a critical literacies perspective suggest that could inform the MBC and its ambition? A critical literacies perspective suggests an approach to teaching and learning the ‘science’ of climate change that avoids an exclusive focus on ‘facts’, avoiding the complex political, economic and social issues that are intimately connected to local people’s experiences of climate change. Recent comments by Ofsted’s (England’s school inspection service) chief inspector, reported in the media, about climate change and how it ought to be taught in schools, are revealing of the challenges a critical and transformative MBC might face. According to the Guardian, in a very recent debate, Amanda Spielman, responding to calls for diversifying the curriculum, stressed the importance of science in addressing climate change and sustainability. She said “I think if it is not grounded in science there is no real understanding underneath it, it becomes a morality tale or something quasi-religious”. She was reported to have suggested that the curriculum should not be revised in response to a single issue or concern.

If schools have to treat climate change as a purely scientific issue, as Spielman’s words suggest, how will the MBC deal with the complex interconnectivities between ecological change, economic stagnation, social inequalities and local people’s personal experiences of the area they live in? To exclude these complexities would mean to separate science from society and it would be a bit like separating reading the word from reading the world. Critical literacy, to return to my starting point, is not a solely rational endeavour but involves emotions (Papen and Peach, forthcoming).

A related challenge is this: If the MBC has transformative ambitions, how is it to engage with the National Curriculum and its associated assessment regime? If the MBC is to be a truly local and critical curriculum, it is bound to hit against national standards for literacy and education and associated mandatory assessments. For example, how would a focus on critical, green, collaborative, local and engaging learning at primary school level square with the requirements of the Phonics Screening Check or the SATs tests, national assessments that undoubtedly shape what teachers can and can’t do in their daily lessons? In the wake of assessment related curricular necessities and constraints, might the MBC risk being no more than an ‘add on’? Similarly, what about secondary education and the requirements of GSCE and A-levels, which necessarily constrain schools and teachers to teach required exam content and to train students in the genres of subject specific exams?

I may underestimate the spaces available for local engagements with the curriculum. Drawing on local funds of knowledge and local concerns it may be possible to flexibly engage with the parameters of the national curriculum and yet to develop local content that follows the spirit of the MBC’s green ambition. Assessment structures may be a bigger challenge to the MBC, specifically when assessments are high stakes and externally set. It may need to engage with these structures, seeking to change established assessment practices as well as the content of these assessments.

Lifelong and Lifewide: Home and Community Literacies in the Morecambe Bay Curriculum

Mary Hamilton writes:

When I went into the Eden Project website as I began writing this blog, I found a message that the project in Cornwall was temporarily closed while they dealt with the effects of significant flooding. Flooding events are becoming commonplace in the UK, the sea and rain pour onto the land unpredictably leaving devastation and fear behind with long-lasting consequences for the communities they touch. The Eden project emphasises the ways in which it can work with people to make sense of such events, to shape attitudes and knowledge about the local environment and the natural world more generally, to inspire social change and find creative and sustainable solutions to the emergencies we face due to climate change. 

Consistent with the aims of its parent project, The Eden Project North is working with all sectors of the educational system to draw on as much local expertise and energy as possible, and has funded an appointment in the Department of Educational Research at Lancaster university to support this work. In offering a way to connect the different spaces where education and learning happen in Morecambe Bay, the project has already taken a radical step.

As Uta says above, developing a curriculum that has radically different starting points from the current English national curriculum presents big challenges for schools – though we might argue that through media exposure and their own lived experience, children’s awareness of the issues of planetary emergency may already have outstripped the existing curriculum and this awareness is waiting to be recognised and harnessed for change. Morecambe Bay and the rivers that feed it, is a vast and moving landscape of water that affects all of us who live here. It has strong industrial and rural connections. It is home to a nuclear power station, a wind farm, a gas field, ship building, railways, fishing, tourism and is famous for its wildlife including the millions of birds that live and travel across it. All these can be starting points for the lived local curriculum that Diane discusses.

A definition of education that includes informal and lifelong learning offers further ways to develop a new approach to curriculum. After school clubs, community activities that cross generations, further and adult education and the university are not subject to the national curriculum in the same way as schools. These are places to experiment with new ideas and make new connections which can in turn affect learning in schools and beyond (Ivanic et al, 2009}.

Some of the roots of the Lancaster Literacy Research Centre lie in such experimentation. My own work has focussed on developing sound theory that sees literacy not simply as a set of technical skills but as a part of social practice, inextricably linked to the context of peoples’ lives, relationships and concerns (Barton and Hamilton, 2012). Such a perspective and the ethnographic evidence and practical expertise on which it is based, resonates with the ambitions of the Eden Project North. Our work can make a crucial contribution to realising these ambitions. It fits particularly well with the aim of drawing on the local  ‘funds of knowledge’ that exist in homes and communities around the Bay to inform curriculum (Gonzales et al, 2006; Moll, 2019), using multiple, alternative forms of learning including art, performance, physical outdoor learning and strengthening the role of strong, collaborative, self-managed, community resources such as local media, advice centres and libraries in supporting learning (Hamilton, 2015).

Literacy, the mastery of the written word, including its new digital forms, is essential to any curriculum and there are choices about how to work with learners to achieve it. These choices determine our attitudes toward language variety and dialect, community languages and how the language resources of newcomers are treated. A theory of literacy as social practice links with international work on literacy and the creation of local post-colonial curricula (Andreotti, 2012). Paradoxically, strengthening the power of the local to inspire learners also develops a bigger sense of history, how we got to where we are now and our connectedness with others in creating alternative futures.


We can see from the three perspectives offered above that The Lancaster Literacy Research Centre (LLRC) has a great deal of expertise about how to develop critical, responsive pedagogies in relation to language and literacy. Together with other perspectives, these can, we hope, feed into the MBC. The roles of learner and teacher are remade through such pedagogies, to create an evolving, living and participatory MBC. Documenting these processes and joint creations will be important and the collaborative ethnographic methods that we have been using for many years can lend support to such effort, so that what happens in the Eden North Project and the MBC can be shared with others, in contexts similar to or different from the Bay, informing their journeys to new curricula and new spaces of learning and exchange.


Anderson, T., & Shattuck, J. (2012). Design-based research: A decade of progress in education research?. Educational Researcher, 41(1), 16-25.doi:

Andreotti, V. (2011). Actionable postcolonial theory in education. Springer.

Aoki, T. T. (1993). Legitimating lived curriculum: Towards a curricular landscape of multiplicity. Journal of Curriculum and Supervision, 8(3), 255-68.

Aoki, T. T. (2004). Curriculum in a new key: The collected works of Ted T. Aoki. Routledge.

Barton, D., & Hamilton, M. (2012). Local literacies: Reading and writing in one community. Routledge.

Bernstein, B. (1990). Structuring of pedagogic discourse, Volume 4: Class, codes and control. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Bernstein, B. (2001). Symbolic control: Issues of empirical description of agencies and agents. International Journal of Social Research Methodology 4(1), 21-33.

Burch, A. D. S. (2020, December 29).Turning out the vote in Georgia.

Cottafava, D., Cavaglià, G., & Corazza, L. (2019). Education of sustainable development goals through students’ active engagement. Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal.

Design-Based Research Collective. (2003). Design-based research: An emerging paradigm for educational inquiry. Educational Researcher, 32(1), 5-8. DOI:

Freire, P., & Macedo, D. (1987). Literacy: Reading the Word and the World. South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey.

González, N., Moll, L. C., & Amanti, C. (Eds.). (2006). Funds of knowledge: Theorizing practices in households, communities, and classrooms. Routledge.

Hamilton, M. (2015). The Pecket Way: Negotiating multimodal learning spaces in a user-run community education project in Hamilton, M., Heydon, R., Hibbert, K., & Stooke, R. (Eds.). (2015) Negotiating spaces for literacy learning: Multimodality and governmentality. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp201-219.

Harmon, R. (Ed.) Bilingual learners and social equity. Springer, Cham.

Janks, Hilary (2013) Critical literacy in teaching and research Education Inquiry. 4 (2):225-242. DOI: 10.3402/edui.v4i2.22071

Luke, A. & Freebody, P. (1999) Further Notes on the Four Resources Model, Reading Online.

Moll, L. C. (2019). Elaborating funds of knowledge: community-oriented practices in international contexts. Literacy Research: Theory, Method, and Practice68(1), 130-138.

New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review 66(1), 60-91.

Papen, Uta and Peach, Emily (forthcoming) Picture books and critical literacy: using multimodal interaction analysis to examine children’s engagements with a picture book about war and child refugees. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Paris, D. (2012). Culturally sustaining pedagogy: A needed change in stance, terminology, and practice. Educational Researcher, 41(3), 93-97. DOI:

Paris, D., & Alim, H. S. (2014). What are we seeking to sustain through culturally sustaining pedagogy? A loving critique forward. Harvard Educational Review, 84(1), 85-100. DOI:

Penuel, W. R., Riedy, R., Barber, M. S., Peurach, D. J., LeBouef, W. A., & Clark, T. (2020). Principles of collaborative education research with stakeholders: Toward requirements for a new research and development infrastructure. Review of Educational Research, 90(5), 627-674. DOI:

Potts, D. (2018). Critical praxis, design and reflection literacy: A lesson in multimodality. In R. Harmon (Ed.)  Bilingual learners and social equity (pp. 201-223). Springer, Cham.

Prasad, G., & Lory, M. P. (2020). Linguistic and Cultural Collaboration in Schools: Reconciling Majority and Minoritized Language Users. TESOL Quarterly, 54(4), 797-822. DOI:

Smith, L. T. (1999). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. Zed Books Ltd.

Academic publishing practices in universities in England

Members of the ESRC-funded ‘Dynamics of Knowledge Creation: Academics’ writing practices in the contemporary university workplace’, research project team have posted here before about different aspects of the project. The project set out to investigate how academics’ writing practices across three disciplines were changing in response to wider changes in higher education.

One of the latest outputs from the project is an article called Hobson’s choice: the effects of research evaluation on academics’ writing practices in England, which is available via open access here. As the name suggests, the article examines the influence of research evaluation policies, namely the REF, and institutions’ interpretations of this on academics’ writing practices across three disciplines.

One of the key findings reported in this article is that academics’ ability to succeed in their career is closely tied to their ability to meet quantitative and qualitative targets driven by research evaluation systems. For example, early career academics on probation are often required to produce a specified number of scholarly publications within a certain period. Academics often talked about these requirements in terms that echoed the nomenclature of the REF, saying, for instance, “I have to publish two papers at three-star”. Similarly, one head of department told us that the minimum requirement for academics in her department was to publish “one good publication a year”. She explained that this meant a single-authored paper in a good journal. This obviously may constrain the type of collaborations academics feel free to enter into since sole-authored papers are preferred. It also promotes the notion that journal articles are valued over and above, say, monographs. This was a point of contention for many of the historians we interviewed, since it clashes with their traditional view of the scholarly monograph as the gold standard for publication.

Another finding discussed in the Hobson’s choice article is that the effects of research evaluation regimes were unevenly distributed across institutions and age groups. Academics in research-intensive universities experienced extreme pressure to maintain a high level of performance year-in, year-out, with little acknowledgement by institutions of the learning curve that is part and parcel of writing for publication. Those in teaching-focused institutions, on the other hand, were under less immediate pressure because research was often not made a priority. However, one effect of this is that career mobility for academics at these institutions may be curtailed since they are not enabled to fully participate in the scholarly activity that would allow them to move to higher-ranking, research-intensive universities. This is a particular issue for younger academics who may start their careers in less research-intensive institutions with the hope of establishing a research trajectory over time.

The full article can be found here without the need for institutional log in or payment.

by Sharon McCulloch, Lancaster University

Cultures of counting: Metrics through a critical lens — The Dynamics of Knowledge Creation

Tuesday 24th May sees the Academics’ Writing project’s fourth and final workshop on the role of metrics in academic life. This time, we have invited two expert speakers to talk about what responsible metrics might look like in the context of both REF and TEF. The speakers are Professor Paul Ashwin of Lancaster University and Professor […]

Read the rest by clicking on the Academics Writing blog

via Cultures of counting: Metrics through a critical lens — The Dynamics of Knowledge Creation

Contested space: The representations of literac(ies) on primary classroom walls

Wendy A. Crocker, PhD,

University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada

What is the role of the materials displayed on classroom walls? In my recent presentation to the Literacies Discussion Group at Lancaster, I shared the evolution of a project that grew from a niggling question that I have had as a teacher, an elementary principal, and now as a researcher: What is the relationship between what is displayed on the walls of primary (age 4-8) classrooms and the literacies of those students? In this post, I present an overview of that talk, and highlight some of the discussion from the assembled scholars.

The role of environment

There is general acknowledgement in the literature that the environment is important for learning. Indeed Loris Malaguzzi contends that the environment is the “third teacher” in Reggio-inspired pedagogy, placing the furniture arrangement, materials, and décor on par with the teaching/learning that takes place in a space.  Further, programmatic curriculum documents remind teachers of primary grades in Ontario, Canada that their classrooms should reflect “the ideas, values, attitudes, and cultures of those who use the space” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014, p. 20)

Beliefs about literacies

In this work, I look through the theoretical and analytical lenses of local literacies (Barton & Hamilton, 1998), multiliteracies (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000), and geosemiotics (Scollon & Scollon, 2003) to consider the tensions between authentic expressions of children’s learning of literac(ies) and evidence of the prescribed literacy mandates of an accountability culture.



Project overview and themes in the data

The project was conceived of as a photo case study, and grew to include 31 classes across five schools in the same rural southwestern Ontario area. The data set comprises over 3000 still shots which have been analyzed by class, across grades in a school, and across grades and schools to identify commonalities in what is seen on the walls of a classroom or in the classrooms of a particular grade.

In setting photos side by side and making comparisons grade by grade, I identified themes related to: teacher created and teacher purchased materials; the height placement of particular materials; behaviour charts/motivational materials; the privileging of English print materials in light of a student population that possessed several non-English literacies; and the surprising amount of what I term “institutional literacy” – the documents that are important for the safe running of a school but that have little impact on student learning.

Literacy Group Discussion

I shared 150 photos in grade by grade amalagams (all five schools represented) with the scholars at the discussion group. We spent 20 minutes examining the photos and discussing our observations, raising many of the points that I had uncovered in my analysis of the larger data sets. What surfaced in the conversation was the privilgeing of print and demonstrations of “correctness” in evidence as the grades grew closer to the grade three year (age 8) the grade at which the provincial standardized test in reading, writing, and math is administered in Ontario.There was discussion about inheriting décor (i.e. an alphabet train above the display board) and the related cost of creating an environment that is visually appealing.

Findings and next steps

From this study, it appears that the walls of primary classrooms are contested spaces where the literacies of the students vie for display space.  Mulitliteracies, as expressions of multiple languages and meaning-making, were rare. Demonstrations of school and print literacy rival the institutional literacy expressed as maps, charts, and directions mandated by the Ministry of Education and the central office of the Board for the safety and regulation of those in the school building. Further, the washback effect of large scale literacy and numeracy assessment measures places materials suggested as “best practice” by the Ministry (e.g., anchor charts, success criteria) in competition for limited display space in classrooms.

Building on this rich foundation of photo data, the next phase of this study involves conversations with the teachers to determine how they determine what is displayed on the walls, and their perceptions of whose literacies dominate the contests spaces of primary classroom walls.



Barton, D., & Hamilton, M. (1998). Local literac(ies). New York: Routledge.

Cope, B. & Kalantzis, M. (2009). “Multiliteracies”: New Literacies, New Learning. Pedagogies, An International Journal  4 (3), 164-195

Ontario Ministry of Education (2014). The third teacher. Capacity building series. Student Achievement Division. Retrieved from

Scollon, R. & Scollon-Wong, S. (2003). Discourses in Place: Language in the Material World. London: Routledge.