On Friday 24th June, adults from a variety of backgrounds, with an interest in education gathered together at Gorton Monastery after 3 years since our last Catalyst Psychology conference. This conference asked participants to reimagine how school might become a place where the pressure to be identified, rehabilitated and conform to the dominant culture, can feel less overwhelming for all.
The conference featured the work of a research collective, The Odd Project, led by Rachel Holmes, a professor in the Education and Social Research Institute, Manchester Metropolitan University. The collective included young people, teachers, parents, lunchtime organisers, caretaker, cleaners and researchers from art, anthropology and education. Whilst honouring accounts that young people may (or may not) offer of feeling different, out of place or unpopular, this research did not focus on individuals who feel ‘odd’, but diversified the possibilities of how odd-ness might be encountered in school.
Keynote 1 - A struggle without an end: working with minor identities in school
Identity is a theoretical and political issue. Elizabeth Grosz (2005), an Australian philosopher and feminist theorist, proposes that as we move into a much less certain or predictable future, the conundrum of identity is more a struggle without an end rather than attaining and settling with recognizable positions and roles that are valued.
The keynote thought through the tensions of being a young person identified as someone e.g. 7 year-old female, with EAL and eligible for FSM, labelled or diagnosed with something e.g ASC and how this process of recognition normalises forms of identity that elide difference and aggravate deeply embedded social inequalities.
It also reflected on the ways a teacher’s identity, an Educational Psychologist’s sense of how they’ve become who they are in the job they do, and a researcher’s habits and practices of noticing in school, contribute to, and impact on how a young person understands and navigates herself in the school context in or by which she is shaped.
Drawing on different knowledges and languages, including for example embodiment and affect, we looked at how the Odd project’s compositional methods tried to ignite less recognisable and more changeable ways of attuning to a young person and their relations with others and the everyday materiality of school.
Rachel Holmes is an educational researcher bringing together applied educational research, social science research and arts-based research within cultures of childhood. She is a professor in the Education and Social Research Institute, Manchester Metropolitan University.
Seminars and Workshops
The seminars and workshops included a combination of discussion and doing, and were both exploratory and experiential. Presenters shared their research methods and insights with participants in ways that were beyond words and thinking into the realms of affect and embodied learning. This often required different forms of participation that could be provocative, and allowed us to reflect on our own practices in the light of the workshop encounters.
1A Installation 'In time' film screening
18 minute film, dir. Amanda Ravetz
This short film explored Amanda's experience of the moving undercurrents of a primary school classroom in Manchester, UK, in 2019. It combined lo-fi footage taken by Amanda and her 4 and 5 year old classmates, with documentation from two movement workshops led by dance artist Anna Macdonald, to communicate Amanda’s experiences of taking up 'position of child' in school.
By touching the same surfaces and entering the same rhythms as others, the methodology was an experiment in the practice of 'more-than-oneness' - rather than of mining the imagined depths of childhood. Amidst the physical distancing of a global pandemic, the radical connectivity of young humans to each other and all that surrounds them suggests that entering this same space, rather than imposed catch-up curricula from outside, might be a pathway to healing.
1B Seminar Sense-making
The physical environment of school is the background to all other education processes but we rarely pay attention to its influence beyond maintenance or improvement. Children in Year 5 were invited to take Becky around their school, using a range of visual and sonic instruments, to locate sounds, places and sites that they considered generated ‘oddness’. This seminar reflected on this experience and invited participants to use the instruments to explore the relationship between people and environment. The seminar encouraged us to think about ‘oddness’ as a quality produced in interaction between children and environment, and about how oddness might be maintained as a positive quality in education rather than a problem.
Becky Shaw is an artist and Reader in Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University. She uses performances, objects and print artworks to explore the relationship between individual and society in complex social structures such as education, work and neighbourhoods. http://beckyshaw.net/
1C Seminar Weird and wonderful
Kate Pahl, with Steve Pool
This seminar aimed to engage participants in exploring creative methods that can be used with children in school. Kate discussed the film, collage, and artifactual approaches they have used on the Odd project to surface children’s thoughts and ideas. The seminar was experiential and enabled participants to think about how creativity can unlock ideas and thoughts in new ways. By taking part in the experiential dimension of this seminar, participants were encouraged to consider how creative methods can enable children to think and know differently, as well as share their own, and learn more about the diverse creative methods that others attending this seminar have used with children.
Kate Pahl is Professor of Arts and Literacy at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her work is concerned with exploring how children and young people can express themselves through a variety of ways, and how adults can listen to children. Her current project ‘Voices of the Future’ is a three-year project designed to explore children and young people’s experiences and visions for the UK Treescapes of the future.
Steve Pool originally trained in fine art sculpture. He has worked as a freelance artist within education galleries and communities for twenty years. He has worked as an artist filmmaker on nine AHRC connected communities’ research projects.
Photo Credit: MMU Odd Project website
1D Seminar 'On the Edge Watching': Where are our autistic girls?
We’re coming to understand now that many girls reach adulthood before they are identified as being autistic. A recent research study has estimated that up to 80% of autistic girls reach their 18th birthday without being diagnosed. It also estimated that the commonly quoted statistic of 4 autistic boys for every 1 girl, might, in reality, be much closer to 4 girls for every 3 boys. That means there are likely many girls in our schools who are autistic, but don’t yet know - and neither do their teachers. How do they experience their childhoods as young undiagnosed autistic girls? If they haven’t yet realised they’re autistic, is there any value in them receiving the diagnosis at all? Do they need our support – and how can we support them, if we don’t know who they are?
This talk addressed those questions, and more, by drawing on the perspectives of 37 late-diagnosed autistic women.
Charlotte Naylor is an educational psychologist in training at Nottingham University. This seminar was a presentation of her doctoral research in progress.
1E Seminar Wilding
Amanda Ravetz, with Anna Macdonald
This seminar aimed to ask what can we know as adults about what it feels like to be part of a cohort of nursery or reception class children? How can we fully value the many varieties of being human - including difference and what might we judge to be ‘too wild’ for a classroom setting? Amanda discussed her research in the nursery and reception classes of Alma Park school in 2018. This was an immersive and at times overwhelming experience of moving from head-led consciousness to something more ‘vegetal’ or body-centred. Anna described a movement workshop she devised to help communicate Amanda’s experiences and insights to groups of educational psychologists, teachers, and university students. This seminar prompted participants to think more about how young people use different ways to gather bodily knowledge in their experiencing of, and relationship with each other and school.
Amanda Ravetz is a visual anthropologist and filmmaker specialising in social art practice. She is a professor of research at Manchester School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University.
2B Workshop Space-making: the edge of school
Becky Shaw and Jo Ray
This workshop aimed to think about the relationship between, and the significance for children of time and space in school. We asked how children begin to understand that school itself might be odd? An ‘Odd after school club’ was designed as a new ‘place’ and ‘time’ to reflect, with children, on how the ‘usual’ place and time of school feels. Becky and Jo built an environment where relationships, behaviour and activities were less hierarchical. Although of course they also needed some of school’s structures to undertake their activity safely. A key activity involved playing hide and seek in the school after normal hours, where the potential for transgression and disruption was ever present. They used large paper photographs as ‘skins’ to hide in, negotiating where the child and school begin and end. In this seminar participants can also try hiding in the skins. Through this seminar we asked how work with children can build in ways to ‘see’ school from a different perspective, and what the risks might be in opening up this possibility.
Jo Ray is an artist and Senior Lecturer in Design at University of Derby. As Research Associate for the Odd Project 2018-2021 she supported the work of the research team in Alma Park school, and helped to develop outputs from the project including the Odd Threads resource, made together with Max Munday. Jo’s art practice-led research explores the role of making as thinking, in different contexts including school, enthusiast clubs, universities and other communities.
2C Seminar Exam Stress and collaboration with students
Schools are experiencing increased pressure to ensure improved student attainment in national tests and exams. Evidence shows this can have a negative impact on the wellbeing of staff and pupils. Schools have been identified as well-placed to support students’ mental health and encouraging the active participation of children and young people in school life is in line with current legislation and has the potential to create a positive, long-lasting impact.
This seminar summarised Emma’s thesis research which involved collaboration with GCSE students to explore their experiences of assessment and the co-creation of video training for staff. There were opportunities to discuss facilitators and barriers to including children and young people in whole-school research projects, as well as exploring the pros and cons of different training formats.
Emma Forshaw is an educational psychologist in training at Manchester University and is on placement with Catalyst Psychology.
2D Workshop Storying professional identity through narrative means
How do you maintain a sense of self, satisfaction and motivation at work? How has who you are shaped the work that you do? This workshop aims to help practitioners to draw on their past and present narratives (stories) in their personal and professional journeys. There will be an opportunity to explore values, ethics and guiding intentions that we hold on to as part of our professional identity. Practitioners will engage in a process of storying through narrative ‘telling’ by organising and mapping out their professional journey. An opportunity will be given to engage in re-telling these narratives in a way that feels authentic and meaningful. From this workshop, practitioners will be able to reflect on what has influenced their practice, potential crossroads faced on their professional journey and seek ways to embed their values through interactions and communication. You will leave the session with a renewed sense of purpose and empowerment in aligning your goals and professional identity.
Rebecca Wright is an educational psychologist with Catalyst Psychology. Rebecca has been involved with the Odd Project.
2E Workshop Sitting
Anna Macdonald, with Amanda Ravetz
This workshop aimed to foreground the importance of bodily movement as young people sensorily experience and gather embodied knowledge about the realities, fantasies and complexities of their school lives. In the Odd project, Amanda with Anna began to develop simple yet powerful approaches from movement studies to access and share the affective and sensory ways in which young children come to feel and know. Drawing on these techniques and insights, this workshop offered a chance to hear about, discuss and safely sample Anna’s theoretical and practical approaches to movement as a way of knowing and connecting with children, gently touching into our own collections of childhood embodied experiences as we go. This experiential workshop will prompted participants to think beyond words and vision in order to understand more about the many different experiences children undergo in school.
Anna Macdonald is a dance artist who specialises in somatic and participatory research. Her work moves between moving image, and contemporary performance practice and focuses on the relationship between the body, time and affect. Anna is currently course leader for MA Performance: Society at UAL: Central St Martins.
Photo Credit: Odd Project website
3 A Workshop Making the image of the child
Becky Shaw, Jo Ray and Miles Umney
This workshop aimed to think about how identity is performed by children and adults in different ways and at different times in school. How we are seen, perceived, (mis)understood, valued or become (in)visible at school matters to us all. Becky, Jo and Miles took a series of images with the children, as they showed them all the different ways they perform versions of themselves for different assumed viewers. Participants were invited to make their school photos, before reflecting on some of the images made with the children. The workshop will explored how children navigate the different ways they are expected to perform, and how children and adults can reflect together on the ways they see each other.
Miles Umney is Director of Holm- a media production company that specialises in working with cultural and artistic organisations. Previous clients include: The Albany, Ikon Gallery, Lewisham Council, MK Gallery, Milton Keynes Council, the Open University, Royal College of Art, University of Sheffield, and Wigmore Hall.
3B Workshop Refusal
Kate Pahl, with Steve Pool
This workshop aimed to explore why ‘no’ can be a good word for children to use with regard to adult requests. By exploring the implications of ‘no’ as a way of thinking about how children experience research, consideration will be given to the conditions when and why it is OK to say no to teachers. By proposing the concept of ‘research creation’ Kate and Steve looked at how children can be more meaningfully included in researching and exploring their own worlds. They introduced the group to co-produced methods of doing research with children, which acknowledge children’s own perspectives and ideas about what research could be. This workshop provoked thought about young people’s agency, the reality of what it means to have and use voice in the classroom, and the opportunities for young people of resistance and refusal in school.
3C Workshop Who am I? A practical introduction to building a sense of identity in ourselves and other
This was a relaxed and interactive opportunity to gain a brief overview of how identity is formed from a psychological perspective. As well as some direct input from Tim, there was also an opportunity to ‘play’. This ‘play’ was time to practice using a range of activities and resources which explore the different ‘parts’, ‘layers’ and ‘competencies’ of who we are – the ‘we’ being children, young people and adults.
Tim Watson is a Partner Educational Psychologist with Catalyst Psychology and has his own practice New Horizons Psychology
Exhibits and activities
Sarah 'Smizz' Smith
At the conference, participants were asked to imagine what a future school might look like. Smizz collated the ideas into a Manifesto named 'The Neon Paper'. 'These ideas are meant to be shared. Feel free to edit, add, share with as many people as possible. Most of all, being heard helps towards doing something'.