Odd: feeling different in the world of education

Lead Research Organisation: Manchester Metropolitan University
Department Name: Faculty of Education

Abstract

This 3-year interdisciplinary project will investigate the experiences of, and repercussions for, children who do not find it easy to 'fit in' at school. While such feelings are not always traumatic, statistics produced by Young Minds (2016) suggest three children in every classroom have diagnosed mental health issues. This proposal has been developed in partnership with the school where the research will be located, Alma Park Primary School in Levenshulme, Manchester, selected for its diverse school and local communities.

This research is timely, firstly, in its innovative approach to rethinking 'difference' to contribute new knowledge to the anti-bullying and inclusion agendas in school and secondly, in its methodology, building on the developing field of community co-produced knowledge (Facer and Enright, 2016), and focusing the lenses of art and anthropology on both the substantive inquiry into oddness, and the theoretical work of developing interdisciplinary methodology and protocols.

Over the last 5 years the UK government has invested heavily in diversity, mental health and wellbeing, with a particular focus on young children's resilience (DfE, 2016; DoH, 2014). The day-to-day work of our partner school reflects the ethos of many schools; informed by such initiatives, their commitment to 'celebrating difference' palpable, yet they express concern for individualising discourses that filter down from educational policy, collectively defining who falls outside of educational and social norms. The proposed project recognises that an interdisciplinary approach is needed to break out of conventional educational thinking about difference and conformity. We will bring together perspectives from art, anthropology and education to examine how feeling a 'misfit', 'loner' or the 'odd one out' can have a detrimental impact on some children, whilst recognising others may occupy this space more confidently. Children are perceived as capable, skilled social actors in the world, who have fascinating perspectives on this topic. Working in co-production with a whole primary school community, involving children from all year groups (aged 4-11), parents, teachers and non-teaching staff, the research will produce different kinds of practice-based collaborations to ask pressing and difficult questions of policy rhetoric and practices in school via interrogations of the generative idea of odd; what odd means; what its value is and why this matters, what it tells us about ordinary, everyday encounters with one another, places and things. The research collective will develop arts-led strategies and other resources for minimizing the destructive effects of feeling 'odd' or 'different', but will also attempt to harness the potency of difference as a force for creativity, empowerment and policy critique. For our purposes, the term odd opens a space for thinking otherwise in a school context where powerful discourses of difference, diversity and inclusion (Norwich, 2014) rub up against material processes of normalisation and conformity (Brisard, Menter & Smith, 2010). This project will generate new interdisciplinary knowledge, enhance understandings and develop creative insights into how art theory and practice, together with social science methodologies contribute empirically to an emerging field of work that attends to difference differently (Barad, 2014).

The project team have the expertise required for this interdisciplinary study: a visual anthropologist with expertise in interdisciplinary connections between anthropology and art/design (Ravetz); a socially engaged artist working in large social environments where people, object and places interact (Shaw); a co-production consultant (Pool) and educationalist (Pahl) with extensive knowledge of co-production and empirical work in schools; a PI with extensive experience of externally-funded research on children and childhood and interdisciplinary, arts-informed methodologies (Holmes).

Planned Impact

This research will generate impact in the third sector, within professional and practitioner groups, the Levenshulme community and the wider public in general. The approach to all aspects of knowledge exchange comes out of our long-term co-produced work with our partners, Alma Park School and its local community; as well as our collaborations with Catalyst Psychology, NCB and The Showroom gallery. Letters of support are attached to this application.

The project has four key impact objectives:

1. Development of new ways of understanding and responding to children who do not find it easy to 'fit in' at school
2. Provision of alternative inclusive practices in education and contributions to behaviour and anti-bullying policies
3. Mobilise the value and potential of oddness to empower children, families and local communities
4. Raise awareness of the importance and potential of research collaborations across art, anthropology and education

Pathways to achieving these impact objectives are outlined below.

Professional and practitioner groups (teachers, classroom-based practitioners and Educational Psychologists)
a) Develop practitioner reflexivity: Exhibitions, Odd celebration, training and CPD sessions, short film & user package will strengthen the critical reflexivity of Educational Psychologists, teachers and other classroom practitioners within the school, across the school's Cluster Group and in training opportunities for mental health organisations such as Catalyst Psychology to consider framings of children, families and ways of knowing.
b) Promote curriculum and school development
The outputs will inform teachers' reflective development across the curriculum, particularly in areas of the arts and inclusion
c) Initiate changes to training, school policy and practices
The project will produce a new 'Inclusion manifesto' to effect changes to school policy and practices. The work will produce practice development and training opportunities for NCB who work with children and families, national policy-makers and practitioners to research, innovate and establish best practice across the children's sector. The project outputs will force the reconsideration of labels, stereotypes, behaviour and diagnoses. Practitioners will also benefit from the use of interdisciplinary research methods.

Local community and the wider public: Community of Levenshulme, Manchester
a) Raising awareness of, and debating the importance of 'diversity', including eccentricity, quirkiness and non-conformity in communities
Families & local community will have opportunities to rethink and reflect positively on issues affecting their lives such as social cohesion and difference. The Odd Secret event among the other community-based exhibitions and celebrations will encourage community participation to harness the potency of differences in the community as a force for creativity, empowerment and policy critique.

Third Sector: Museums and galleries (The Showroom) and Charities (NCB)
a) Exhibition work
The Showroom is respected for projects that work with communities, artists and social issues to generate discussions, events and exhibitions, Odd resonates strongly with their 'Communal Knowledge' project. The school-based 'Odd Exhibition' feeds into The Showroom final exhibition, with the intention of offering a national event. The movement of the work from school to public exhibition, places new demands on the work, needing to communicate outside the school space not just within it, and generates spaces for discussions in the gallery about the role of the children as subjects and/or critics.
b) Creating new research networks
The Odd Lab will open up and sustain new networks for exploration of follow-on events and further funding opportunities. Through the Odd Celebration and Odd Exhibition, we will broaden the odd network to draw in other potential partners in the pursuit of further funding.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Article on Arts Activities and the Curriculum for 'Research Intelligence' the British Educational research association journal 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This is an article about arts activities and the curriculum which describes how art can be linked to curriculum.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description EdDoc Talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk to a group of EdD students about Odd and difference-in-itself - ways to bring theory into research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Invited Keynote, Sweden 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact February 2019, invited keynote to an interdisciplinary group of academics and researchers at Södertörn University, Stockholm, Sweden. The aim of the talk was to discuss the importance of interdisciplinarity in childhood research in order to unsettle traditional models of child development and educational research research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Odd Newsletter 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact As the research is diverse, emerging and complex, we produced a newsletter for parents and carers to share updates and keep them informed of what's going on.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Odd Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We launched an Odd project website due to interest in the project. We aim to make this much more interactive as the project develops and will use it to locate any resources, newsletters, a blog etc. This website is for the general public, but also for young people, schools, parents/carers, other professionals with an interest in difference such as Educational Psychologists, Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services professionals (CAMHS) and organisations with an interest in bullying and young children's mental health, eg Young Minds, the National Children's Bureau and the Anti-bullying Alliance.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www2.mmu.ac.uk/esri/odd-project/about/
 
Description Outdoor Projection of film - 'Feeling Odd' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact This was an outdoor project against the side of the school to showcase a set of films made by the young people about the experience of 'Feeling Odd' in the world of Education.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description PG Lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited lecture to PG students and professional practitioners about the Odd project. The aim of the session was to provoke thinking differently and approaching research in innovative ways.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Teacher Inset Training 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact 14th November the project researchers ran an Inset training session for teachers and Senior Management at Alma Park School. We aimed to discuss how each, perhaps seemingly disparate research activity relates to the idea ands inquiry into oddness and also bears some relationship with each other. This is a complex research project that has a number of Co-Is, an artist consultant and a Research Associate all engaged in research activities in different classes around the school. It was important to open up a discussion about the research so far and share our emerging sense of what the research is about.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description UG Lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Invited lecture about the Odd research project for L4, 5 and 6 UG Childhood and Education Studies students. The aim was to get them thinking about the importance of curiosity in research and using innovative interdisciplinary methods of inquiry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
 
Description Young Advisors' Meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Odd Workshop, Young Research Advisors (YRA) session 9 June 2018

13 YRAs attended a training and discussion session held in London around the word 'Odd'. NCB and the ABA were unsure about our choice and use of this word, so although the research team and school were very committed to the word, we wanted to hear young people's opinions about this term.

Session background:
• Discussions around connotations of 'odd' - wanted to get CYP perspective
• 45 minutes session, simple PP
• YRAs - group of CYP trained in research, used to be involved in research projects. Usually of a different nature, though
• 12 CYP present, aged 9 to 17. Mix of gender, ethnicity, geography, social background.
• Described how 'odd-ness' is conceptualised in project and asked for feedback
• Feedback given through open discussion, description of odd things/experiences and a creative exercise

Discussion of word:
• The term was seen as rather abstract
• Not a word they'd normally use. The YRAs generally got the meaning, although it didn't come intuitively but required explanation, reflection and discussion.
• As we moved into
• Words the YRAs tended to use instead:
o Out of the ordinary
o Random
o Different
o Weird
o (But they recognised the possible negative connotations of these words)
• Reflects unpredictability
• Generally positive of the word

Discussion of concept:
• It is received differently by different generations (who also use different words)
• It changes over time. Homosexuality mentioned as example.
• It is influenced by society and people in society
• It depends on context and environment
• Thinking about oddness makes you able to spot it more quickly
• Maybe it's difficult to pick up if you're not used to thinking about it





Outputs:
• Asked YRAs to express whatever came into their minds with the word 'odd/odd-ness'.
• Pic 1 ('Happy Families' game if one card is missing)
o Odd number of cards.
o Experience of playing with family, and that one card is missing
o Possible negative connotation as it focusses on an absence, something incomplete, not working.
• Pic 2 (abstract drawing, but element of wearing warm clothes in sunny weather)
o Different, unexpected
o Might not be visible, but linked to conversation about odd clothes, e.g. wearing sunglasses in the rain or winter clothes in the summer.
• Rap (note the use of 'abstract')
o 'Pot' reference from conversation - experience of guy rolling a joint on the bus
o Apparent contradiction between 'not out of the ordinary' and 'extraordinary'. That and reference to abstract could indicate that the concept is difficult to approach.
• Conclusion:
o Concept can be abstract and difficult to work with.
o Understanding may be partly shaped by other inclusiveness campaigns that might fetishise odd-ness more.

Observations:
• YRAs found the project refreshingly different from the sort of social research they usually are involved in.
• The concept is less intuitive than we thought - it needed explanation, but then discussions took off.
• BUT: experienced/older YRAs more engaged. Might be a result of training, but might also be maturity/abstract thinking.
• Expressing oddness creatively was appealing to some, while others were put off (this didn't seem to be related to age/YRA experience).
• Some of those who might struggle to 'fit in' at school were also those struggled most with the concept. Some were very reluctant to engage with the concept as it made them feel uncomfortable (they didn't want to open that can of worms).
• General impression: genuine interest and a willingness to play with the concept. BUT it might require some explanation, particularly for younger children and those who feel out of place.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018