Research on TRANSFORM-iN EDUCATION is aligned to children’s rights, agency, participation, voice, subjectivities, politics and democratic pedagogies. The significance of these is highlighted in two studies conducted in schools between 2010 and 2018, a period of governmental and educational change in the UK. In the first, data was collected in 2011-12, when there remained a valuing of children’s participation and positive contribution; by the time of the second study, 2015-16, this had been replaced by an emphasise on teacher authority, discipline and control.
Study One: Children's Rights and Participation in Primary School
Rebecca’s PhD research was an ethnographic study conducted over 10 months in one school that championed ideas of children’s rights and participation, where they were placed at the heart of the school’s policies and practices. Rebecca was interested in the ways that children’s rights and participation became incorporated into the day-to-day experiences of all those in school (including children and adults). She was curious about what difference ideas of children’s rights make and to whom, and where and when and on what basis. Her research showed that the school was celebrated as a joyful and energising place by many, and that the attention given to the alleviation of some rules and regulations (such as school uniform, lining up, responding to buzzers, whistles, and bells) enabled many children to feel relaxed and carefree whilst at school. Nonetheless, the research also suggested that maintaining a participatory value-system is hard and demanding work amidst competing pressures. It requires constant openness to asking and listening to uncertain and difficult questions which need to challenge assumptions that everyone is always able to take part and to have a voice that can be heard and taken seriously.
Study Two: Children’s Agency in the Primary Classroom
Perpetua doctoral research offers detailed examples of children’s agency in the current Year One primary classroom. She spent time within an ordinary English primary school over the course of an academic year, and a week in a Year One class ‘outstanding’ teaching school. The research demonstrates how children achieve limited agency in navigating conformity. Children are highly competent at knowing what is expected of them, and put effort into being ‘good’, sitting silent and still for long periods, and into being ‘clever’, working hard to find the correct answer. Both get them only so far educationally. Being good can camouflage an avoidance of effort, and while a child may demonstrate they know expected answers, they can avoid engaging in new and unexpected challenges where there is no clue to the answer. The research also demonstrates how children achieve agency, in brief moments in the day, pursuing movement, humour, art and collaboration, to transform what it is possible to know, do and be. Often this is done alone without the support of the teacher. The research draws attention to the importance of the materiality of the classroom and children’s emotional vulnerability to not knowing.