Eve Mayes

Possibly the last blog of the conference . . .

Still happy to take contributions inspired by the AARE Conference but we will be returning to regular programming next week so please follow these guidelines. Please write to jenna@aare.edu.au

Thank you very much to everyone who contributed posts and photos over the past week.

Meghan Stacey, senior lecturer in the UNSW School of Education, writes, Symposium: What’s the “new sociology of education”, then and now? Looking back to the 1970s and ahead to today

In 1971, Michael F.D. Young published the edited collection ‘Knowledge and control: new directions for the sociology of education’. This among other signature texts of the 1970s constituted work characterised as ‘the new sociology of education’, which saw the field shift from, as symposium convenor Julie McLeod put it, ‘taking problems’ to ‘making problems’. In this shift, aspects of schooling which had previously been taken for granted, such as what and whose ‘knowledge’ constitutes the curriculum, were opened up for scrutiny. 

The symposium asked contributors to consider what this ‘new sociology of education’ did and did not notice; its legacies; and what might or should constitute a ‘new’ sociology of education for today.

The first response to this remit came from Bob Lingard, who pointed to large scale assessments, datafication and globalisation as examples of forces which have shifted studies in the sociology of education and which demand a move beyond methodological nationalism. Lingard’s talk resonated with points made by the third speaker in the session, Joel Windle, who argued for ‘rescaling’ in a ‘new’ sociology of education for today, in which thinking about knowledge and control is shifted to a global level. 

Lingard and Windle’s arguments were given a useful counterweight by the fourth speaker in the session, Eve Mayes, who brought discussion of the new sociology of education to the level of classroom-based research and practice through the example of the ‘Teachers for a Fair Go’ project, highlighting the ongoing need to question ‘what schools can be’.

Yet questions of the future, and in particular a future for the sociology of education, were seen by some speakers to be under threat. Lingard noted that while in the 1970s, sociology of education would be taught in the first, second, third and fourth years of initial teacher education, this presence has since dwindled significantly. A similar point was made by the second speaker in the session, Parlo Singh, who noted an (over?) emphasis on Bourdieuian theory in the sociology of education today, despite Pierre Bourdieu having only a relatively fleeting engagement with education (unlike, for example, his contemporary Basil Bernstein). Singh argued that the lack of sociological training in today’s initial teacher education may explain this trend.

According to Jessica Gerrard and Helen Proctor, who presented the final paper in this session, “declarations of the new” always bring with them “whispers” of the old. For Gerrard and Proctor, this raises questions about just what is sought to be ‘conserved’ in ‘conservative’ views and politics. 

Yet in the context of this symposium, where the future of the sociology of education itself appears to be in danger, perhaps an important question is what needs to be ‘conserved’ from the legacy of the developments of the 1970s. In particular, there may be a need to emphasise the central role of the sociology of education in supporting, as Mayes highlighted, the ‘fair go’ that classrooms can but often do not provide for students. As such, the sociology of education is not separate from but in fact central to initial teacher education. As the discussion that followed the papers highlighted, the sociology of education supports an understanding of teachers as navigators and negotiators of a curriculum which is not taken for granted, but instead, understood as culturally contingent and power-laden. This means we should be enhancing, rather than further marginalising and denigrating, the sociological education of the pre-service teachers we teach.

As convenor of a large, sociologically-informed undergraduate education course, I am sometimes questioned as to the ‘practicality’ of my course for students of teaching. It is too ‘theoretical’, some students (and sometimes colleagues) say. And while the theory is essential, it may be that the links between this theory and the actual work of teachers in classrooms needs to be made more explicit for the next generation of teachers. As such, and as session convenor Julie McLeod suggested as the symposium concluded, foregrounding the importance of the sociology of education in schools and initial teacher education classrooms may need to be a first priority of any ‘new’ sociology of education moving forward.

Photos below are just some of the images from the conference

Louisa Field, PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, writes on Teachers’ Work and Lives

Philip Poulton

The University of Sydney

Primary Teachers as Classroom Curriculum-Makers: Emerging Findings From a Longitudinal Study Exploring Teachers’ Experiences in Curriculum-Making With a Standardised Curriculum 

“I just have to make the thing with the outcomes, in the way that others want me to make, and then I have to teach the thing in the way it says” and “I think what guides the programming is really driven by our questioning of how we do we equip these students for a world that we can’t anticipate or envision yet?” These are two examples of the very different experiences of curriculum-making for teachers in Phillip Poulton’s doctoral study. In this longitudinal study, Phillip has followed preservice teachers from their final year of initial teacher education into their first year of classroom teaching, exploring the realities of early career teachers’ reported curriculum-making experiences. This study has found that whilst these teachers reported varied curriculum-making experiences, these were not always characteristic of more knowledge-led forms of curriculum-making. Rather, these were characterised more by instances of curriculum delivery.

During this presentation, Phillip drew on two individual teachers, both alike in terms of their valuing of education and conceptions of curriculum-making. However, in their first year of teaching, these two teachers found themselves in classroom fields with very different agendas and orientations towards curriculum. One teacher reported greater agency in working with curriculum in a flexible and collaborative environment, guided rather than restricted by the syllabus. The other teacher reporting a contrasting experience, finding herself in a non-collaborative environment and ticking off ‘outcomes’ prioritised above all else. Phillip’s study provides fascinating insight into the lived experiences of early career teachers who, while all aspiring to be knowledge-led curriculum-makers, were either enabled or constrained by the conditions of their individual classroom fields. Understanding more about these experiences is particularly pertinent today, especially with current discussions centred on ‘ending the lesson lottery’ and centralising lesson planning for teachers. Phillip’s doctoral study offer impetus for us to challenge such delivery agendas placed on classrooms which often narrow teachers’ curriculum-making practices. Rather, teachers’ curriculum-making needs to be reinforced as a key tenet of teacher professionalism – practices that are dependent on teachers’ professional knowledge of their students, pedagogy, and content.

Dr Claire Golledge The University of Sydney

No Capacity, No Equity: Schools, Universities, and New Challenges for Teacher Professional Learning  

Dr Claire Golledge’s paper focussed on how teacher professional learning (PL) mandates can exacerbate inequity across schools and systems. All Australian teachers are required to meet mandatory professional learning expectations in line with the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Dr Golledge’s presentation drew on her own experience as a former leader of professional learning, and from her doctoral case study research to illustrate that not all teachers are positioned equally to meet these mandatory PL requirements. To highlight this point, Dr Golledge presented two case studies of teachers in vastly different learning contexts, one in an inner city, elite, independent school and another in a regional, government school where the bulk of students come from low socio-economic backgrounds. Despite vastly different PL needs and differing capacities of these teachers to access professional learning opportunities, both of these teachers are subject to the same PL standards and requirements.  While the teacher in the independent school was supported with their PL with a healthy budget, covered classes, and access to a range of accredited PL, the teacher in the regional school faced additional challenges of funding, finding casuals to cover classes, and access to accredited professional learning within her school. Dr Golledge’s study raises a key point that we often talk about educational inequity amongst students, but what about the impact on teachers? This is something which is all too often overlooked. This presentation sparked lively conversations about the ethics and equity of for-profit professional learning providers as well as asking what role universities should play in helping to support teacher professional learning and access to research in schools.

The perplexing political life of education online

One of our intermittent blogs during the #AARE2022 conferenceIf you want to cover a session at the conference, please email jenna@aare.edu.au to check in. Thanks!

Online spaces have arguably given voice to more diverse actors and advocacy activities related to education policy. While policymakers have a responsibility to address areas of concern to Australian education, a highly digitised public sphere presents challenges to implementing appropriate reform. Online political machinations can open education policy decision making to moral panic, misinformation, and culture wars, but also offer new opportunities and hope. 

This symposium aimed to spark questions about the confluence of political shifts and online information sharing, commentary, and activism on the formation of Australian education policy. The series of papers presented in this symposium were a short overview of politics related to education online. Each raised questions about the influence of the Internet, and education-related information ecosystems, on education policy. The point of this symposium was to provide a national platform for discussing the challenges and possibilities of education projects that employ digital sociological approaches. The papers used a variety of online platforms and employed diverse methodological approaches to investigating education online. All projects are led by early career researchers and higher degree research candidates exploring cutting edge and traditional approaches to theory, qualitative and quantitative methods.

First, Barrie Shannon from the University of Newcastle spoke about how young people, especially young queer people, are looking online for relevant, affirming information about health, sex, gender and identity. Shannon explained that there is a wide body of knowledge that suggests young people in Australia are dissatisfied with the quality of the sexuality education they receive from school, that tends to take a heteronormative focus on puberty and reproduction, and the information that is presented is often piecemeal, irrelevant, or cautionary, framed as a minefield of potential risks and dangers. Further to this, contemporary political discourse in Australia positions trans youth in the fray of ongoing ‘culture wars’, with schools serving as central battlegrounds. This presentation drew on narrative data from trans, nonbinary and gender diverse Australians aged 18-26 who reported using social networking sites to find information, make friends and establish communities of care. Using the microblogging platform Tumblr as a case study, Shannon illustrated how the affordances of certain social networking sites facilitate alternative ways of communicating, peer-learning, and teaching that are not delivered by a formal authority figure and are not mediated by government policies or curriculum documents. 

Next, Blake Cutler from Monash University spoke about his work with Lucas Walsh, Libby Tudball, and Thuc Huynh surrounding  the rapid growth of the School Strikes 4 Climate movement over the past few years. Cutler argued that this movement has been an important way for young people to negotiate and enact their participatory citizenship and democratic rights, given the barriers they face to engage in formal means of civic participation. The presentation explored the role of Twitter in how young people identify with and express their political and civic identities in relation to the climate strikes. The team collected a total of 92,360 tweets from between 1 October 2018 and 5 October 2021 that contained the #auspol hashtag with at least one of the following: #climatestrikeonline, #fridaysforfuture, #climatestrike, #schoolstrike4climate. Using a novel deep learning algorithm they predicted the demographics of users to explore the role of young people (i.e., those under 29 y.o.) in this online space. 

Next, Keith Heggart from the University of Technology Sydney spoke about how Edutwitter is a fraught environment, with competing discourses about teaching approaches, how to teach reading, and the role of teachers in society. He explained how this space has become filled with a variety of third party actors, such as educational gurus, think tanks and institutes that work between politicians and the populace in the formulation of education policy. Heggart’s presentation examined the role of various non-governmental agencies in determining Australian education policy. Two sites were considered: Critical Race Theory in Australia, and the anti-vax movement amongst the Teachers Professional Association of Australia. These two sites provided evidence of policy borrowing (where policy is uncritically taken from other jurisdictions on the basis of its outrage appeal), policy washing (where extreme positions are cleaned through various interactions in order to appear more acceptable) and ideological absence (where organisations and other actors are quick to abandon principled positions in the pursuit of influence). 

Next, Naomi Barnes from QUT spoke about Wikipedia as a place where knowledge is contested and often vandalised. Unknown to many, Wikipedia communities have taken a major role in advocating for informed understandings of concepts like Critical Race Theory (CRT). As politicians increasingly do their policymaking in the media, Wikipedia stands as an important site of knowledge production. While ideas like CRT morph into policy objects, editors protect the page from misinformation and bad actors through a variety of editorial processes. Barnes explained this politics of knowledge protection and production within the context of the recent Australian Curriculum Review that saw both the Commonwealth and NSW Senates, courtesy of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party and Tasmanian Liberal senators, ban CRT for Australian schools. This replicates a pattern in the political spheres of both the USA and the UK and is a danger to evidence informed policy making. 

Finally, Jessica Prouten, an Educational Doctorate candidate at QUT, spoke about the link between the presentation of teacher identity on social media, looking at how practitioners manage the interplay between personal, professional, monetised, relational and activist spheres. The paper used Foucault’s ideas of governmentality as a lens to understand social media policy as related to teachers and how people manage behaviour and have their behaviour managed by a network of gazes. 

These papers, collectively, highlighted the simultaneous affordances and perplexities of online spaces, and prompted questions about the politics of education online, including:

  • What do these various online communities and spaces enable and constrain for those engaged with them?
  • What kinds of literacies do young people, educators, education leaders and policy makers and researchers need in navigating the politics of education online? and
  • What are the ethical considerations, for researchers, when working in these online spaces?

These papers, collectively, prompted a robust discussion of the politics of education online.

Dr Naomi Barnes is a network analyst and theorist interested in how ideas influence education policy. She is a senior lecturer in literacy teaching and has worked for Education Queensland as a senior writer and has worked as a secondary English, hstory and geography teacher in government, Catholic and independent schools.

Eve Mayes is a Senior Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Pedagogy and Curriculum. She currently lives and works on unceded Wadawurrung Country. Her publications and research interests are in the areas of student voice and activism, climate justice education, affective methodologies and participatory research. Eve is currently working on the ARC DECRA project: Striking Voices: Australian school-aged climate justice activism (2022-2025).