new book


We are thrilled that Nicky Sim’s ‘book of the PhD’ will be published next week. The blurb says:

  • Draws on Pierre Bourdieu’s connected concepts of ‘habitus’, ‘capitals’ and ‘fields’ to form a framework that seeks to understand collaborative practices
  • Provides an up to date contextualisation of the UK political landscape in 2019 in order to inform the relationship between the youth and art sectors
  • Supports practitioners in youth work and the arts sector by creating opportunities for acknowledging difference and building respect.

It’s pretty expensive at present, but we understand that a paper copy is coming next year.

We have a discount voucher for 20% off –Youth work galleries politics partnership flyer  – but this is only valid till 9 December. Perhaps a festive present for you from someone?

CRACl postgrad day September 2019


On Wednesday 25thSeptember, a number of CRACL members reconvened for the new academic year. The session began with an exploratory activity led by Postgraduate Coordinator, Cassie Kill, who encouraged us all to portray our research through the medium of Play-Doh. After much reflection (and some relaxing sensory play!) we shared our thought processes and explained the symbolic meanings of each of our Play-Doh models.

The different interpretations of the research process and the diverse ways in which we had all conceptualized our current thinking in a physical form was fascinating. It was also incredibly valuable to receive feedback from one another and to share our responses to one another’s work. Crucially, there was a sense of collective endeavor and, for me, a realization that the PhD does not have to be a solitary experience at all. Instead, being a member of a research centre like CRACL affords the opportunity to draw on the strengths of peers and colleagues – there is both strength and safety in numbers!

Later, Dr Julia Molinari shared her recent experiences of the PhD viva process, revealing illuminating insights and pertinent advice that was seized on excitedly by the rest of us! When Julia had been subjected to enough of a grilling on recent events, we settled down to an incredible lunch. From artisan cheeses to Turkish kofta, from freshly baked bread to refreshing, ripe fruit, we were spoilt for choice! The bring-a-dish format worked well and set a high standard for subsequent meetings!

Brittany Wright

Last but not least, Fatma talked about the emerging findings of her action research study. It was interesting to learn the changes in the attitudes and perceptions of teachers, parents, and children after conducting her action plan. I am looking forward to learning more about the main findings of her study in the future.

Kubra Firat

new australian arts policy proposal

We like to keep up with what is happening in other parts of the world. It’s not surprising, given that two members of CRACL are from Australia, we noticed that during the current elections the Greens have produced a very interesting set of policy proposals.


One of them is …


Recognising the importance and impact of creative enrichment programs and initiatives, the Greens will commit $150 million over four years to an artistic partnership program, funding artists to work with teachers in classrooms around the country to deliver artistic education and inspiration.

Such partnerships will employ artists to work alongside aspiring artists in order to engage them and foster their talent across a range of creative disciplines, demonstrating the viability of a career in the arts as well as providing inspiration and strengthening creative expression.

The program will offer grants of $10,000 for individual creative professionals to work alongside teachers in a classroom for approximately 20 days, and $30,000 for arts or cultural organisations to work with schools for at least 20 days.

While the Greens are pretty unlikely to win power, it is interesting to see how this proposal might influence other parties.

We noticed that the Greens drew on some research which showed the arts contributing to learning in other subjects – we would tell the Australian Greens if we could, that the arts have their own value and don’t have to contribute to other learning areas to be of benefit. See our TALE research.




new CRACL publications – CIRCUIT



Circuit, the large art gallery – youth sector programme run through Tate London – has just published a collection of eight commissioned research papers. Two of them come from CRACL members. 

Nicky Sim reports on her PhD research (a collaborative doctorate with Tate, supervised by Pat Thomson and Emily Pringle). Nicky examined the partnerships between galleries and the youth sector. She notes, towards the end of Natural Allies or Uneasy Bedfellows?:

Sections of the youth and community work field can offer insight into more inclusive ways of working and can potentially support gallery practitioners to retune their understanding of their accountabilities (Graham, 2012b). Galleries need to cultivate space for these insights to be listened to and utilised in order to avoid the scenario where (in the language of a youth work practitioner) youth work expertise exists as a “sideshow” to gallery expertise. Youth workers frequently exercise knowledge of young people’s hyperlocal social fields, and cultivate an ability to connect with young people within these fields. These are traits that few art institutions naturally possess, but which are essential for developing meaningful relationships with young people. By working more consistently together, youth and visual art practitioners have the potential to reimagine the parameters of gallery-based informal youth provision and to reassert the position of creative, open-access and democratic youth work in civic space. But any localised, temporary examples of collaboration will only be able to gain traction as replicable and sustainable models of practice if they are supported by a much wider and more integrated collaborative field – at both regional and national levels. (p. 64)


Becky Coles and Pat Thomson have been following some of the young artists engaged in Circuit programming, looking to see how Circuit fitted into their lives. They say

Some young people were orientated to being paid artists, curators and creative professionals. Among our participants, they came from the more privileged backgrounds. They could live with their parents and be financially supported; they had better knowledges about how to build experience and networks and how to develop a professional identity suited to roles in the arts and creative industries. They used Circuit to:

  • develop practical knowledge of the arts and their potential place in it
  • gain symbolic capital from their association with a gallery
  • and to find contacts in the art world.

Other young people, feeling themselves far from this competitive professional world, accepted that they would not make money from art and subsidised their lives as artists with other work. Some chose to take work, for example as a teacher, which took them away from their art practice. Others chose time to practice their art over professional work and lived a very frugal life. Neither group could afford to rent studio space. For this group, Circuit was a way to remain in contact with arts organisations and with communities of artists.


A third group, those with least family resources, wanted to find less prestigious but stable work in the arts, in marketing or community programming. A few planned their career strategy at university and
joined Circuit while still in formal education, as part of an attempt to gain experience and knowledge. However, others left university without a plan
and joined Circuit as graduates to find out more about the arts jobs market and to find work. They worked in bars, shops and call centres while trying to find stable paid work in the arts and were not always successful in finding it. Eleven interviewees left full-time education before or during the research either because they had graduated or did not complete their course. Only six of these eleven were earning their living doing the kind of work they wanted.

The research raises questions for galleries about what role they ought, or might take to help emerging young artists build careers and lives. (p 5-6)

This research is now in its fifth and final year, so there is more to come about these young artists. 


bobby’s shortlisted


Bobby Beaumont was one of 12 people shortlisted in this year’s ESRC #betterlives writing competition. Here is his entry:

Playtime in the Camps

You glance at yourself in the security checkpoint window and smile.  You like your costume; black and white stripy trousers, a freshly ironed white shirt, colourful neck scarf and cummerbund, odd stripy socks, black shoes and a bowler hat.  You and your five clown colleagues are waiting for the military official to finish copying your names from your passports.  You are used to the process, yet you always feel the same sense of unease wherever you are.  Today, outside a camp in Europe on the outskirts of a city, but the checkpoint, the military uniforms, the armed officers, the high fences, the barbed wire, the security cameras and humanitarian branding, are constant artefacts that follow the refugee and forcibly displaced human around the world, wherever they might be.  Your unease comes from these artefacts as they are assembled together to create the refugee camp, apparently the best humanity can come up with when faced with people fleeing war or famine or natural disaster or poverty.

You take such thoughts, your unease and anger at the way of things, and store them away ready to draw upon as fuel for the work to come. Then you smile a gigantic smile as you shake the hand of the military officer and thank him for his diligence before jumping back in your van and heading up the dusty track that leads to the camp.

As you approach you pull yourself out of the window of the van.  One hand clinging to the roof rack, one foot placed on the open window, your other limbs stretched out into the air and you begin to shout greetings at the top of your lungs.  The other clowns join in the chorus of shouting and singing from the slow-moving vehicle, the driver beeps the horn relentlessly and within seconds the desired effect begins to take shape.  Children appear from all sides.  Smiling and shouting, pointing and waving.  You jump down from the vehicle and beckon the children towards you, greeting each one with a smile, a high five, a fist bump, an ‘Oh Yeah.’  In this moment you see children full of energy ready to play games, sing songs, juggle, spin plates and hula hoop.

Are these the faces of the undesirable refugees we are taught to fear and leave to die in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea?  Are these the faces of the ‘swarms’ of migrants ‘invading’ Europe’s shores?  If they are, you do not see it yourself.

Within seconds the other clowns have joined you and the gathering children.  One holds a drum and beats an infectious rhythm, another begins to chant.  The children copy, chanting and singing and dancing to the drum.  You begin to move, leading a procession of clowns and children, weaving through the rows of tents and containers in which the community live.  You continue to chant and sing, and the children continue to copy.  You ask for more noise, more movement, more energy.  Children come running from every door, a smiling mother hands you a baby from out of a window, two men appear with more drums to add to the assembling bodies.  The noise is insatiable, the noise is addictive, the noise is play manifest.

You and over one hundred children, clowns and adults gather in a clearing and form a massive circle.  The children understand the circle.  It is ritualised, a place to play and be safe.  The barbed wire, the high fences and military personnel fade to nothing once the circle is assembled.  The play circle is a symbol of unity and alliance, it is democratic, it cannot exist without each one of its members, each one holding it together and adding to its power.  It cuts through the fabric of the camp, no longer a place to contain and forget about people who do not fit into our world obsessed with borders and boundaries, instead a place and a space owned by children and their right to play.


 Article 31 in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that every child has the right to engage in play.  However, there are places and spaces in this world where the right to play is stripped from children, refugee camps can be one such place.  My research begins with a very simple question.  How can play make lives better?  To answer this question, I follow, research and perform with The Flying Seagull Project, a circus and play charity, who value the psychological well-being of a child as equal to a child’s physical needs.  Play has the power to begin to heal the wounds of war, it provides the means to begin the long journey of tackling trauma and is a battle cry against a world that forgets so many of its children.





Last Friday we held the first of three CRACL days to be held this year.

We have decided that, rather than meet monthly at lunchtime, it is better for our part-time people and those doing field work if we have full days. We will meet less often than other centres, but the day gives us more time to share and informally chat as well.

Those informal chats are really useful as, not surprisingly, there are lots of common threads among the work that people are doing. Although we are looking at apparently different topics – reading, writing, play, performing, learning in and with art and working with artists and arts organisations –  there are underlying patterns of interest among us. CRACL days allow us to see what they are – ways of thinking, being and doing which are for instance artistic, creative, resistant, and critical. It wasn’t really surprising then that, as well as listening, we also found ourselves drawing, and clowning-miming during the day. But there was more than this going on.

CRACL days are important not only to establish a sense of community but also of our shared endeavour. We are all looking at ways in which we can make a difference in the lives of children, families and communities, many of them finding it pretty tough. Very often this commitment means that we are acting against the grain of current policy and dominant practices. Getting together affirms our directions and research practices.

We are all looking forward to the next meeting –  and to each writing a blog post about our work! A big thanks to Cassie for getting us organised.


(b) logging


And a few bits and bobs

(1) The RSA released a new cultural learning toolkit this week:


Those of us who work with arts and cultural organisations will be interested in this latest initiative to improve evaluation of cultural events. But, disappointingly, university-based researchers don’t get much of a mention as being part of processes of evaluation a.ka. evidence production. Given that research is our bread and butter, and that many of us know how to generate solid evidence through a wide range of methods, this is a pity.

(2) The APPG report on music education was also recently released


(3) The old Arts Council report seems remarkably current this week

Assessing the European Union’s contribution to the arts, museums & creative industries in England 2007-2016


The Commons Select Committee Report on Live Music

reported on March 19, 2019 recommending among other things that

In 2013 our predecessor Committee recommended in its report on ‘Supporting the creative economy’ that arts be included in the list of approved EBacc subjects, and the concerns we have heard during this inquiry suggest the need is no less pressing now. We repeat the call for arts subjects to be added to the EBacc to ensure all students benefit from a creative education at GCSE.

Music Commission

The Music Commission published its report this week. Pat chaired the research advisory committee of the Commission. School of Education PhDers Frances Howard from CRACL and Emily Winchip were also on the research advisory committee.

The summary report says:

  • There is a wide inconsistency of music provision in schools
  • The cost barriers to families represent a significant inequality of access to music education
  • There has been an inadequate response to how young people use technology in their experience of music
  • There is insufficient support beyond first access programmes for learners who wish to progress their music education
  • Schools need greater support in delivering a rich music curriculum that focuses on key musical skills
  • Resources and organisations are not working together effectively enough to support every learner to progress.

Of particular interest to us are the recommendations about initial teacher training

  • A re-evaluation of the focus and content of initial teacher training (ITT) for music to include more music training time allocated in PGCE courses
    and all music teacher training to have a focuson progression, including time for music in the proposed two-year PGCEs in England. Higher expectations of recruits to primary ITT, and more funding for specialist primary school music teachers

And a greater focus on partnerships between schools and higher education

  • The establishment of Research and Knowledge Exchange Centres for progression in music education, run in each country by existing academic and expert organisations and in England in partnership with Arts Council England, to generate research, promote best practice and innovation on the learning of music, funded by Research Councils, lottery funding, other charitable and philanthropic sources; working alongside and supporting the Music Champions to develop locally-available resources supporting progress in music.


‘Material play: children’s learning with new, found and recycled ‘stuff’

This post is co-written by Nina Odegard and Louisa Penfold about a recent symposium given at the Australian Association for Research in Education in Canberra, Australia. This post is published on all the participants’ blogs. 


On November 27, 2017 Pat Thomson (University of Nottingham), Nina Odegard (University College of Oslo and Akershus) and myself (University of Nottingham) presented at the AARE conference on young children’s learning with materials through play. Julianne Moss from Deakin University was the session discussant. The symposium was put together as a result of our common research interest in material-led play in early childhood education.

The symposium was built upon the proposition that many educators and artists working with young children are committed to play-based practices and understand this as critical to individual and social learning. The session focused specifically on early years arts-orientated play through asking: when children are ‘doing art’ play what are they learning with the materials they choose? The presentations explored the idea that when children are playing with materials they are simultaneously:

  • learning about concepts such as line, pattern and form;
  • learning about the properties and potentials of materials such as how they can be pushed, pilled, stretched and transformed;
  • learning what materials are and do in the world;
  • being called and directed by the materials, forming possible selves with materials and forming new relations with the world
  • being given the possibilities to work with materials without having to name, define or categorize what they are doing

Why is this important? Academics and education practitioners are becoming increasingly interested in ways that humans can and need to be de-centred in order to take account of the importance the material, both organic and inorganic, worlds in which we live. This is essential in creating discourses and practices that offer hopeful action in an ecologically and ethically challenged world. This also comes at a time when policy makers around the world increasingly position play-based early childhood curriculum as trivial and not sufficiently focused on knowledge and skills. Consequentially, we identify an urgent need to push further with discussion on why materials matter in early childhood play-based arts programmes and projects. Our concern was to not only explore and explain the importance of play in early childhood and to promote the value of the arts, but also to broaden our explanations of what this is.



Young children’s thinking with natural materials in art museums

Louisa’s presentation explored the invitations natural materials such as logs, leaves, sticks, stones and clay offer in young children’s play in art museums. Descriptive examples from data generated in an early year’s art studio session at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, was used to consider the encounters (Pacini-Ketchabaw et al., 2017) between children, artists, curators, artworks, materials and the museum space. Lenz-Taguchi’s notion of intra-active pedagogies (2010) – where one’s attention shifts from interpersonal relationships to the relations between humans and non-human entities – was drawn upon to consider children’s learning with and through artworks and materials in the art museum.

Descriptive examples of visual documentation including photography and video footage was discussed in relation to how the ‘stuff’ curated for the art studio provoked open-ended possibilities for children’s thinking and learning. The presentation concluded with the suggestion that through thinking with materials, new pedagogies are able to be constructed that allow artists, learning curators, children and their families to continuously produce and reconsider the relations between themselves, others, artworks, materials and the natural world.


5_Photo Bradley Cummings

Imagine sustainable futures – children´s experimental encounters with matter

Nina’s paper focused on the concepts of aesthetics and aesthetic explorations, ethics and how these open possibilities for creative thinking, doing and being. Concepts of new materialism were discussed in relation to the potential they bring for expanded discourses and practices relating to recycling, sustainability and consumption.

The presentation drew upon data generated in a ReMida creative recycle centre in Norway. Results suggested that children were ‘rhizomatic thinkers’ (Dahlberg, 2016, p. 131) in their aesthetic explorations of recycled materials in which children’s learning shifted between disciplines to make use of the ‘vibrant matter’ (Bennet, 2010) and ‘how matter comes to matter’ (Barad, 2008). Nina also focused on pedagogical practice, were the children’s process itself is valued, and there is a lesser or no focus on the result (Dahlberg, 2016). This builds on previous research from the ReMida centre (Odegard, 2016) that argued that recycled materials can open up to the discovery of new ‘hidden’ pedagogical spaces, that produce meeting places for the emergence of new ideas (Odegard, 2012). The children´s exploration with vibrant matter like recycled materials seems to evoke creativity, curiosity, problem-solving and narrate stories. Through this, the paper argued for a paradigm shift away from the neoliberal way of measuring and categorizing learning and towards an emphasis on the collective and creative pedagogical processes.


What can rope do with us? Agency/power and freedom/captivity in art play.

Pat’s paper, co-written with Anton Franks, discussed an ongoing ethnographic study conducted within the ‘World without walls’ programme run by Serpentine Galleries in London. The programme supports artists undertaking residencies in one early childhood centre in central London. The residencies focus on different kinds of art/play that draw upon the artist’s practice and selection of materials for the programme. The presentation discussed data generated from Albert Potrony’s residency in which the artist elected to use large material objects such as card, plastic, foam and rope.

Throughout the sessions, numerous children were drawn to/called by the rope (Bennett, 2010). Perhaps unexpectedly, the children wrapped/tied up their teachers and the learning curator with the rope. The data suggested an explicit exploration of the kinds of power-laden relationships that exist between adults and children in educational settings. Drawing on field notes, photographs and interviews, the paper presented an analysis of the materials on offer and their affordances. The presentation concluded considering the material differences made by, with and through the rope, and probe further the ways in which it co-produced caring and ethical experimentations with power, agency, captivity and freedom.

Following the presentations, attendees had an opportunity to play with an array of materials arranged in the symposium space. As a group we then asked and explored questions such as why were particular materials chosen and not others? What was possible with the materials and what wasn’t? What about the play experience can be put into words and what can’t? Did you feel a desire/need to name, categorize or define your installation? What senses were used, and what feelings were evoked through playing with the materials?

Overall, we hoped that the symposium shared thinking and opened up new discussions around early childhood education, play, the arts and materialism. We were inspired by the questions and discussion amongst the group throughout the presentation and hope to build upon this in the future.







Barad, K. (2008). Posthumanist performativity: toward an understanding of how matter comes to matter. In S. Alaimo & S. J. Hekman (Eds.), Material feminisms (pp. 120-157). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Bennet, J. (2010). Vibrant matter, a poltical ecology of things: Duke University Press.

Dahlberg, G. (2016). An ethico- aesthetic paradigm as an alternative discourse to the quality assurance discourse. 17(1), 124-133. doi:10.1177/1463949115627910

Lenz Taguchi, H. (2010). Going beyond the theory/practice divide in early childhood education: Introducing an intra-active pedagogy. New York, NY: Routledge.

Odegard, N. (2012). When matter comes to matter – Working pedagogically with junk materials. Education Inquiry, 3(3), 387-400.

Odegard, Nina, & Rossholt, Nina. (2016). In-between spaces. Tales from a Remida. In Ann Beate Reinertsen (Ed.), Becoming Earth. A Post Human Turn in Educational Discourse Collapsing Nature/Culture Divides. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Pacini-Ketchabaw, V; Kind, S; & Kocher, L. (2017). Encounters with materials in early childhood education. New York, NY: Routledge.

Sue Ellis and three domains of literacy

Prof Sue Ellis, University of Strathclyde

MA CALL students and staff were really energised by a recent CRACL presentation by Sue Ellis. We were especially drawn to the three domains of literacy that Sue used to enable trainee teachers to try new ways of working with young readers. We all felt that the model was useful not only to help highlight the sorts of literacies that are most valued and neglected in schools, but also as a way of thinking about potentially more integrated approaches to teaching literacy. We also responded to the way that the research Sue drew on positioned teachers as having choice and agency rather than being victims of an overtly performative culture.

As Brittany Wright elaborates:

The term ‘intervention’ has become so ubiquitous within schools that it has taken on a mechanical, robotic connotation that can speak more of Cybermen than success. A child underachieves. The child is identified as requiring ‘intervention’. The child achieves. Woe betide any student (and their teacher, for that matter) who does not achieve in line with age-related expectations following the ‘procedure’. I’m being hyperbolic, but the point is that, for many teachers, the term ‘intervention’ is part of the language associated with the high-stakes accountability, performance of success, and target-focused culture of education in England.

In contrast, the fantastic session that Sue Ellis delivered at the School of Education on Tuesday 14th November put the pupil firmly at the heart of the intervention process. Ellis explained the usefulness and far-reaching applications of the University of Strathclyde’s three domains model of literacy, emphasising that consideration of the socio-cultural and personal/social identity domains of a learner does not necessitate the exclusion of cognitive concerns, but can actually be used in order to support the learner’s literacy. This comprehensive, all-encompassing approach is not only of paramount importance in supporting learners to make progress, but it also shows that kindness and academic progress are not mutually exclusive. 

Sue Ellis reminded me that, behind all of the newspaper headlines relating to low levels of student wellbeing, teacher stress levels, and general educational doom and gloom, there are inspiring practitioners who are making the difference for their learners with integrity, inquisitiveness, and, most importantly, kindness as their driving principles. Looking across a room filled with educators, working across a variety of fields, on a dark and wintry Tuesday evening reminded me of the strength of our education sector. Ellis reminded me of our heart. It has always been, and will remain, in the right place. 

Chaofan Sun added:

As far as I am concerned, the most impressive part of Sue’s lecture, apart from pupils’ interesting writing, is her ‘3 Domain’ Model. It really makes sense to me, because actually we take literacy as autonomous skill for granted. On the official level, in National Chinese Curriculum Standards for Primary School, there are 3 dimensional targets, which are Knowledge & Skills, Process & Step, Emotional attitude & values in the teaching of every text. Then when it comes to the practical level, in strict accordance with this framework, during the everyday designing and teaching process, teachers unconsciously attach great importance to cognitive knowledge and skills. Maybe that is because in China, study was/is the only way to achieve social mobility, and the further you go to the academic ivory tower the farther you will be from the real-life world.

Also Sue’s model makes sense to my study on this course. Apart from Goffman’s theory, nearly all of the content is brand new to me. I am literally immersed in and inspired by the  topic of creativity and ways of working. Because of the strict division of the Chinese academic system, some of the creative activities are scarcely referred at the majority of kinderkartens.

Seminars are so important for introducing new work and new ways of drawing on existing research. We’d like to thank Sue for giving us so much to think about and if you would like to access the slides Sue used in her talk you can download them here. 


Post written by Becky Parry.